How To Finish Writing Your Book: Just Show Up
I don’t need any hard data on the topic to know that the number of people that start writing a book far eclipses those that actually finish one. Most of us probably know at least one person that falls into that category, their unfinished masterpiece collecting dust on their shelf or laying forgotten in a drawer somewhere. In fact, many of us (myself included) were likely IN that category for a long period of time before finally taking writing seriously. But the key to finally getting it done wasn’t anything more complex than simply chipping away at it, and as Ginger points out, the more consistently we can do that, the easier it will eventually become and the more successful and prolific we’ll be.
Here at Hidden Gems, we’ve spoken a lot about how important it is to write every day – and I mean a LOT. We’ve written about logging your words, about scheduling your day, and about methods to increase your word count.
Well, here’s one more to add to the mix – but this one is the simplest, and the most effective.
Simply show up.
Simply showing up and putting words on paper – any number of words – is the first and most important step towards becoming a really prolific writer. It’s the foundation upon which everything else is based – and it’s a step too many of us overlook along the way.
I speak from experience. Back when I completed my first NaNoWriMo, I was fired up at just how much I’d written by logging around 1,500 words a day. That’s a novel in a month! Imagine if you did that every month!
But, of course, it’s not that simple. Certainly, there are writers who log incredible daily wordcounts – but they didn’t start doing that overnight. They started by doing the simplest of simple things: Just showing up.
What does ‘showing up’ mean?
For me, my day begins at 4am.
Actually, I’ll be honest, it’s normally closer to 5:30am, but I aim to get up at 4am, and on the days I achieve it, you’d better bloody believe I’m posting it on Instagram (hashtag #4amclub, baby!)
But even though I have the goal of writing 2,000 words a day, sometimes it won’t be that much. Sometimes it’ll be 1,500. Sometimes it’ll be 1,000. Occasionally, if one of my kids gets up early, I’ll be lucky to write 2 words.
But do you know what 2 words is? More than 0.
By simply showing up and writing any number of words, you’re making a commitment to writing – and just like you could probably only last a few minutes on the treadmill the first time you started working out, ‘just showing up’ gives you a baseline to build on.
It’s training you to do the important thing, which is to sit down in front of a computer or typewriter (or notepad, I don’t know your life) and begin. Your characters and story will do the rest (and it might take some time to get them up to speed.)
Showing up builds a habit – and by setting the goal of writing just one word or more, it takes the pressure off you to reach those incredible wordcounts all the other writers are boasting about (and, trust me, they’re only posting about them on Instagram on the days they achieve them – just as I’m only a proud member of the #4amclub on the days I actually drag myself out of bed at 4am.)
Just like going to the gym, it’s all about consistency – and 100 words a day for ten days will ultimately serve your writing better than writing 1,000 words every ten days.
Let your story bake
Another reason why ‘just showing up’ is a good goal is because stories take time to develop. Anybody who thinks being a writer is just about hammering away at a keyboard doesn’t understand the craft. Stories need to be plotted, characters need to be identified, and key phrases and set pieces need to be agreed upon. All of this tends to happen elsewhere. In fact, the last five of my books came together while I was doing the washing up or walking the dog – and my ‘writing’ time was simply downloading the words in my head onto a screen.
The best way to follow the ‘just show up’ attitude is to spend your downtime thinking about your book – working through plot holes, imagining the dialogue, or just getting a feel for your story.
Remember, your brain is a computer – and when they talk about people “only using 10% of their brain” they’re not talking about the physical grey matter between your lugholes. You use 100% of your computer hardware when you switch it on, but your computer’s operating capacity allows you to run multiple programs, so unless you’ve got any loaded, the background processes might only utilize 10% of your computer’s resources.
Your brain is the same! The background programs – remembering to walk, or drive, or not pee your pants – use a fraction of your brain’s computer program; and you can utilize the rest to help plot your book. Seriously, think of it like that – and then make sure you reserve that brainpower for plotting and characterization rather than daydreaming about feeding your boss into a wood-chipper, or winning the lottery.
I’ve often looked at my productivity and lamented how it takes me 2 or 3 months to finish a book – but I often have to admit that I wouldn’t have been able to finish that book if I hadn’t had that time in which to write it. Experiences, people, and circumstances often add color and character to your book, and so just like a soufflé when you open the oven too early, your finished work can be flat and lifeless if you don’t give it time to ‘bake’ properly.
So, taking the attitude of ‘just show up’ means that you’re not under the same pressure to write the book within a specific timeframe. It’s entirely possibly you haven’t become the person you need to be to finish the book yet – that the ‘thing’ which would tip it over the edge from ‘good’ to ‘great’ is an experience you haven’t yet had – and therefore can’t incorporate in your writing.
Just showing up – writing what flows – means you’re working on your craft even when you’re not seeming to make much progress with it.
The only habit that matters
When it comes down to it, the idea of writing every day – even if you just ‘show up’ and don’t get many words on paper – is fundamental to your identity as a writer.
I’ve quoted Oscar Wilde before, who said that you define yourself with verbs, not adjectives – so you’re not a writer unless you’re writing. This is demonstrated by your commitment to show up, ready to work, even if inspiration has taken the day off and your muse is still in the bathroom.
Making a commitment to show up every day resets your brain. It forces your noggin to accept that writing isn’t a hobby, or a whim for you. You show up every day just like a bodybuilder shows up at the gym, or a marathon runner straps on their sneakers. This is who you are – and being present is the one thing you have control over (and it helps keep the rest of the process flowing.)
While I still log my daily words, I’ve now come to accept that the more important thing is simply ticking the box that says ‘I showed up’ because, at the end of the day, that’s what really makes or breaks being a writer, and it’s probably the most important thing you can do on your journey to success.