text reads Mindset Over Craft in Neon Font
The Formula for Finishing

If you happen to have an unfinished manuscript (or two, or…) lying around, you’re not alone. 

It may be an urban legend that 97% of writers never finish their books (I can’t find an original source to cite for that statistic) but let’s just say it feels accurate. Many writers I know have an unfinished or half-completed book in a drawer or a closet somewhere, and I did for years as well.

I don’t mean the book you gave up on and firmly decided not to write. (That’s one way to handle it!) 

I’m referring to the story you love, or the set of poems or stories that felt alive to you as you were writing them, and yet there it lies…a coat of dust on it thicker than the June pollen coating your car. 

You didn’t mean to abandon this book, it just sort of happened. You felt anxious about it so you took a little break, and now here we are in the purgatory of unfinished.

Unfinished books are bad for us as writers. We have to either decide that we won’t be finishing that book, or we must work to finish. Just letting it languish in a drawer or box somewhere eats away at our self-identity and our belief in ourselves.

Plus — and I firmly believe this — somewhere out there is a reader who’s waiting for your book. It might be the book to shift her perspective, or entertain her during a tough time (a pandemic, even!) or to help her understand something for the first time and not feel so alone in this world.

These are all the reasons we turn to books and why they matter. Yours matters no less just because you haven’t finished it yet.

But what’s the secret to finally finishing?

In my experience, there’s a very specific way to finish and it can actually be turned into a formula. In formula format, it looks like this… 

M

__   = F

C

M over C equals F.

Mindset over Craft equals Finished.

Finishing first drafts and finishing the revision steps that follow.

formula M/C=F Mindset Over Craft Equals Finished
Mindset Over Craft Equals Finished

Write that on a Post-It Note and stick it somewhere you’ll see if every time you sit down to write: Mindset over Craft = Finishing.

Writers tend to think that we get “stuck” with a book and stop writing because we couldn’t figure out some element of craft. Such as…

How to write a compelling Act 2 that advances the story…

Whether or not we know our protagonists well enough…

How to structure a story with more than one POV character…

How to create line breaks that open up the poem…

 

But that’s not really why we don’t finish writing the books we start. 

We don’t finish writing the books we start because we get tangled up in our heads about the elements of writing craft. We let our craft questions twist our mindset.

And it happens so easily.

We find ourselves wondering if these scenes in Act 2 are advancing the story enough and suddenly the voice of our Inner Critic pops in to tell us we’re shit writers and we don’t know what we’re doing.

The idea that we don’t know our protagonist well enough appears in our mind, and then we hear a nasty voice telling us the book wasn’t any damn good anyway and we’ve read a hundred books that are better. 

We’re trying to sort out how to structure our story with more than one POV character, and our Inner Critic wants to know why we’re so damned stupid. It’s the voice that tells us this is hard and we’ll never figure it out. And no one is ever going to publish it anyway, so why bother?

We’re revising a poem to make the line breaks work and every word we’ve written feels awkward and cliched. Instead of taking a break and coming back to it with fresh eyes, we take a break…and don’t come back for 18 months or more, by which time we feel overwhelmed by the task in front of us.

Does any of this sound familiar? 

What about this…

You’re an unpublished writer working on a book, so you regularly think “who am I to think that I could write a book?” and that thought leads you to believe that you’re wasting your time and you should instead focus on your paid work, or your kids, or your extended family, or your volunteer commitments, or your partner’s new project, or… anything else.

Or this…

You’re a busy person with a LOT going on in your life. Paid work, family, homeschooling and/or elder care. Maybe chronic illness or mental health challenges. So you tell yourself that you’re too busy to write a book, as though no one dealing with all of this has ever finished a book — as though it were factually impossible.

Oh, and if that last paragraph feels very true for you, I need you to read the interviews I’ve done with these writers:

Christy-Ann Conlin

Michelle Butler Hallett

Zsuzsi Gartner

Every woman I know who’s finished a book has a LOT going on — it’s the essential nature of our lives. I know you think your situation is unique, and it may be, but I know for a fact that busy-ness is not what’s standing between you and your finished book.

What’s standing between you and your finished book is HOW. YOU. THINK. about finishing your book.

Mindset over craft equals finishing.

M

__   = F

C

text only Mindset Over Craft Equals Finished
M Over C = F

 

When I created my First Book Finish program, all the advice I received was to structure the program to stand on its own — a set of videos and PDFs inside a course area that writers could log into and follow on their own. That’s usually the way these things are done, I was told.

And even though the program has a whole Module on mindset, where we deal with things like focus and self-sabotage and writer’s block, I knew that leaving it like that would effectively be abandoning writers to their own devices. That’s why I added 12 weeks of group coaching to the programme and a few more special components as well — like accountability pods — to help get writers OVER their mindset issues and all the way to the FINISH line.

And I know it works, because the completion rate in my program is 86%. Eighty-six percent of the writers who join the online program end up finishing their books. (Shout out to all the #Finishers!) Which is an amazing statistic when you consider that most online courses have a completion rate of under 10%.

I don’t think it’s because I am teaching writers anything magical about the craft of writing. We do have lessons on craft in the program, but that’s not where the magic is. 

The magic of writing is all in learning how to manage our mindset.

Mindset over craft equals finishing.

M

__   = F

C

So if you are sitting with an unfinished book, know that there isn’t some element of craft you just have to figure out before you can finish. Your plot is not your problem, your mindset is. 

The great thing is, once you shift your perspective and learn what it takes to get your mindset right, writing becomes much easier because you have the tools you need to shut down your Inner Critic before she even opens her mouth.

Mindset over craft equals finishing.

 

The next session of First Book Finish will start in July 2021. To get on the Waiting List so you can be the first to hear about it and receive a special offer ONLY for writers on the Waiting List, you can sign up right here.

Have you heard about my free mini-course The Notebook Project? #thenotebookproject is a mini-course with a set of videos for you to access immediately all about how to use a writer's notebook to advance your writing practice, PLUS 4 new writing exercises every month for 6 months. It's free for my email subscribers and you can sign up right here.

 

My Formula for Finishing Books