This week I want to share with you some stories from the writers who joined my First Book Finish course to finally finish their books. I hope that these writers can provide you with a boost of inspiration and motivation — particularly if you’re someone who’s put off finishing your book.
First Book Finisher: Kirsti Salmi
Kirsti was writing her first novel when she joined the First Book Finish program. She’s finished her book and revised it — including shifting to a new point-of-view. Kirsti feels the First Book Finish program changed her writing life. (Really and truly!) Click below to watch an interview with Kirsti that goes into more detail about her experience with the First Book Finish program.
— Kirsti Salmi [Novel]
First Book Finisher: Ioanna Sahas Martin
Ioanna felt adrift and overwhelmed before she joined the First Book Finish program, and found having a structured program to follow was what really made the difference in keeping her focused. She finished the first draft of her novel, got it out to beta readers for feedback and made a revision plan — now Ioanna says she finally feels like “a Real Writer.” Click below to watch an interview with Ioanna that goes into more detail about her experience with the First Book Finish program.
— Ioanna Sahas Martin [Novel]
So those are some folks who were writing novels, but what about poetry? As a working poet myself, I love working with poets who are trying to finish their poetry collections and several poets also joined the program. (For poets, short story writers and essayists, I do a special class on “Curating the Collection” that shows how to take a group of individual pieces of writing and shape them into a coherent whole.)
First Book Finisher: Melinda Roy
Melinda Roy is a poet who completed her first poetry collection in the First Book Finish Program. (You can find her online on Twitter @defnotapoet or Instagram @melinda_writes). Melinda said:
“I felt unorganized and without focus. I had lots of poems but no sense of which worked together to form a book. Before I joined the program, my writing was mood-dependent and inconsistent, and I felt frustrated, uninspired and was really questioning the validity of pursuing a book. I didn't know what to expect from an online program like this, or if I would end up with a book I was proud of.
The weekly check-ins were a great motivator and a good way to practice reflecting on progress and obstacles. The one-on-one calls, the call with Dr. MacIntosh (on writing from trauma) and the exercise of putting a poetry manuscript together were the parts of the program I valued the most.
I learned that revision can be fun! I loved the impromptu short-writing sessions – I would normally have scrolled through my phone, but having a goal that included these short writing sessions turned those moments of impatience or boredom into something fruitful. I was always surprised with what would come up in those sessions that happened outside of my normal writing space. My biggest win from the program is seeing my scattered collection of poems turn into a book that has structure, clear themes and a point-of-view.
Now, I feel excited and accomplished. I know I can take on another large project and not dread it, because I know how to accomplish my writing goals now: set achievable targets, celebrate successes and don't aim for perfection the first time out.”
— Melinda Roy [Poetry]
First Book Finish also works well for writers working on memoir or creative nonfiction.
First Book Finisher: Robin K. Macdonald
Robin K. Macdonald had been working on her memoir for a while when she joined the program, and her book was left unfinished as she procrastinated. Here’s what Robin had to say about her experience with First Book Finish:
“Before I took the First Book Finish program, I had a little more than a half of a first draft of my manuscript completed, with some more polished sections. I had a tendency to procrastinate about the left-brain aspects of the craft, including planning. I questioned whether it would be possible to complete this project ever, and was doubting whether or not I could see it through and if I had what I needed to get there.
At that stage in my writing, what I needed was what Rhonda suggested – a pen to the page, fingers on the keyboard, regular commitment. What got me to my goal was creating a plan and putting Rhonda's suggestion to write a shitty first draft right through to the end, scene by scene, into practice. I stopped re-writing scenes and kept writing those that still needed to be written. This allowed me to complete all the scenes more or less according to my plan, to know that I had a complete story and gave me the confidence to know that completing this project is possible.
I appreciated having multiple options to connect with Rhonda to ask questions – the one-on-one sessions, and being able to send questions in for the weekly calls. Rhonda is knowledgeable on all aspects of the craft and was able to answer all my questions. This helped me to work through obstacles as they arose and to keep moving the project along.
If you’re wondering about taking the program, my advice is to take it! Rhonda provides the tools and support necessary to manifest your project. She holds a deep care for and commitment to writers and the craft, which includes making space for a life that includes writing. She comes to this role from her own deep experience and makes her care felt in tangible ways no matter where in the world you are.”
— Robin K. Macdonald [Memoir]
FIRST BOOK FINISHER: HELEN FARRAR
Helen Farrar has a very busy life, with a day-job plus some at-times heavy family care responsibilities. She came into the program with a partial memoir and left with her draft completely finished. Helen said:
“The timing of the First Book Finish program was ideal. What I wanted was to find the support and encouragement to make real progress in the memoir I had wanted to write for over a decade. At the time, I was procrastinating and felt undisciplined, like a novice, and unsure.
I had around 15,000 words of unrelated content gathered over many years, and at the moment I signed up for the program I felt keen and excited, but also full of doubts and imposter syndrome.
I loved all of it…the on-line content; the peer group; the accountability of weekly updates, and mostly the personal commitment of Rhonda to journey with each of us and her mentoring, encouragement and wise advice. It was important for me to make that ‘progress-not-perfection' mind shift; and realize I could write 2-3,000 words a week even with my busy and unpredictable life.
I completed the first draft of my memoir, completing an additional 38,000 words during the duration of the course, and am bold enough to now consider myself a ‘writer' (well in private at least!) And I've started to think about other books I'd like to write…
If you have a desire to write but lack the motivation, time, discipline, or self-belief to do so, then I highly recommend taking this program.”
–Helen Farrar [Memoir]
Throughout the program, students also posted their ongoing #writingwins to help track their progress and stay motivated.
Our writing lives are a mix of big wins and smaller victories, and we should celebrate each of these throughout our journey. (Some days we should get a prize for getting to our writing desks at all!)
Over time, even smaller #writingwins rack up when you’re able to maintain a consistent writing practice.
Here’s a selection of the #writingwins posted as the program progressed:
I'm so proud of Kirsti, Ioanna, Melinda, Robin, Helen (and all the other Finishers in the program!) and want to thank them for their generous words and allowing me to share their stories.