There’s something authors know that unpublished writers don’t, and it’s not how to write better. We’ve all seen terrible writing published, and we all know someone who is an incredible writer or artist who has never actually sent their work out to market.
To finish your work, and move to that next level called ‘published’ or ‘author’, you need to know how to overcome resistance. Resistance is a term coined by Steven Pressfield in Turning Pro and The War of Art, but you might recognise it more easily as procrastination, over-thinking, writer’s block, fear, distraction, or any other method of conscious or unconscious sabotage that shows up just as you’re getting close to the finish line of your work.
What prompted me to post this was a memoir coaching client who told me her goal was to finish her draft by Christmas. This lovely human had been working on her book draft for ten years and only had one chapter to go.
I asked her (as kindly as I could) if she could finish that chapter within the week, which she resisted, at first. I remained silent and let her get her excuses out into the verbal world where she could hear how silly they were. Truly, I did nothing but wait for her to finish – having her say them out loud was what produced the transformation! Perhaps it was the fact of paying me money to listen to these excuses that made her question them – having invested in my help and expertise most definitely helped. I used to think it was accountability that she was paying for, but now I realise it’s the simple matter of paying for something that makes you stop wasting your own time.
So – after our first 1:1 session in which I proposed the idea that since she had 250 000 words and only one chapter to go, wasn’t working at the time, and had entire days free, she could use my worksheets and finish that final chapter that week – she initially recoiled, ran through her excuses, we hung up the phone, and three days later, she had finished writing her book draft.
A memoir draft that had taken her a decade.
Do you know how liberated she felt? I could feel the relief and the joy in the message she sent me when it was all finished. I’m always SO thrilled to see the transformation that takes place when people realise they’re capable of so much more than they really give themselves credit for.
How fear shows up when you’re writing a book
A funny thing happens when we get close to the end of a major project. A project that could completely change our lives, that could transform our relationships, catapult us into that esteemed position of ‘author’ that we claim to have been wanting for aeons, that could see us having to Turn Pro and learn how to hold ourselves in agent and editor and publisher meetings, or even send our author bio out there for all the world to see….Or that simply means we’ve done that thing we never thought we could do, so we’ll have to completely reassess everything we ever thought possible before.
What do we do?
We flee the scene of the crime in whatever way is our preferred distraction method.
We book a ticket to Mexico. We tear down the house (or throw out the oven, as was the case for one writer I knew. She then had to get ANOTHER oven, and get it installed… nice little one-to-two month chaos distraction right there!). For me, two weeks away from completing my writing degree at RMIT in Melbourne, I packed up my entire life and heave it into my car within the space of four hours.
An extremely talented creative friend has a habit of attracting chaos into her life just as she’s about to ink the signature on her latest piece. Whether it’s a boyfriend with a drinking problem or an acquaintance with serious health issues that require her utmost and immediate attention, she flies into rescue mode, abandoning the work just as it’s poised to be complete.
Why does the sabotage show up near the end of the draft?
Nearing the end-point of something often sees us sabotaging ourselves and heading for the biggest distraction we can find. We do this because failure is much easier to digest than success. How so?
Success demands a lot more of us than failure. I saw this in a big way when i launched my online course to the world last year. When people started to jump into the course and purchase it, it meant I needed to show up in my life in an entirely new way. It meant I could no longer take the easy option and say to myself “oh no-one wants it so at least I tried”. They wanted it alright. But that meant I needed to constantly (and consistently) measure and improve on the thing that had taken everything out of me just to get to that point! Just like a book. The first draft is only the beginning. When you start to query, that’s a whole new set of skills and confidence you’ll need to build!
Why mindset matters
I listen to a lot of self-development podcasts and read a lot of books about the psychology of habit, and human potential. It’s an interest of mine, ever since I wrote freelance in my twenties and noticed that the more I worked on my internal beliefs, my daily habits and strove to constantly uplevel – the more I got published. It was astounding, really. This showed me that mindset mattered more than the number of pitches I wrote for stories (although sure, I needed to pitch!). But what you can take away from this is one question to ask yourself, if you come to the end of a project and quit just before the finish line.
Ask yourself: Why am I afraid of success?
Most probably, it’s the fear of the unknown: you know this quiet internal struggle of the drafting process. you just don’t know how the successful sale of your memoir will look and feel. And that’s ok. Write down every reason you can think of that you’re afraid – and then work your way through the list, discounting each excuses one by one. Try it! It works!
When I was working on my first book, I had an endless voice in the background saying “who do you think you are to think you’ll be published?”. So I did two things which are on the list down the bottom of this post: I paid for an interstate trip because it gave me the opportunity to speak with someone who had been published. And I subscribed to every publisher’s latest release catalogue I could find, so that every month I would see how many books were being published every month, every year. This helped me come up with a new chant (to yell over the old one!) which was that since so many people were getting publishing deals, why couldn’t I be next?
How to overcome resistance
- Clear the clutter from your life: eliminate chaos and look at where you’re spending your time and energy
- Invest in opportunities that put you ‘in the room’ with people who have been there already (published, successful, etc).
- Pay yourself to finish a project (you can do this via booking a non-negotiable ‘reward’ for your efforts or even giving yourself a weekly ‘salary’ until it’s done. Treat it like your work – because it is!)
- Get excited and research the next step: where you’ll start pitching, what happens in the publishing process, go to some book launches, that sort of thing!
- Always focus on the next step – don’t get overwhelmed by the entire process. One bite, one step at a time. Finish the draft first, before you worry about pitching it or what your relatives will think when it’s a movie!!
- Actively work to re-frame your excuses and fears. Start by listing them, then go through them and ask yourself: what if this wasn’t true? What would the opposite look like?
- Search out mentors for your ideal outcome (ie. a published memoir!)
- Seek support from positive examples in your writing field
- Consider the best case scenario – ie. what if you finish your book next week and feel terrific?!!! It’s possible!
- Find something personal that matters to you, that represents the best thing that could happen with your book and use that as a visual and psychological anchor to get you over the finish line
- Follow a step-by-step process to write and finish your memoir: I recommend my program 90 Day Memoir, but I’m biased.
- Watch my free masterclass to learn the 3-step process to finishing a memoir in a way that feels good.
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You, Louisa, are so cheerful and pleasant and confident … all while exposing and defining the very think I (we) encounter along the way. I have written 4 of my intended 12 memoirs. I am polishing 6, 7, & 8 right now. The first one was hard because it was the firs tone. The second one had a lot of family matters so that was very hard. Third and fifth dealt with depression and breast cancer… again a lot of self-disclosure. Now? I am wrestling with 4 pieces. Keeping track of it is pretty tricky. And, yes, the END is in sight. Thank you for sharing so much!
Thank you Eleanor, that’s so many books you’ve written!