In April I read Jon Acuff’s book, Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done. I bought it long before ‘furloughed’, ‘lockdown’ and ‘social distancing’ became part of our daily vernacular. But I hadn’t got round to reading it.
I’m slightly sceptical about self-help books claiming they will transform your life, as is Acuff himself. The volume of advice in these books is too overwhelming to implement in daily life. I had a very specific goal in mind when I decided to buy this book. I was hoping it would help me nudge closer to the finish line with my goal of writing a novel.
I’ve wanted to write a novel for as long as I can remember. Technically I have already written and published several books. As a child, I used to write stories in folded up pieces of A4 paper, illustrate them (badly), laminate the covers (also badly) and make my family read them. I even made barcodes for the back with random numbers used to make ISBN numbers. A pioneer of the self-publishing industry, if I do say so myself. However, as an adult, I stopped writing for a long time because of a huge debilitating sense of self-doubt. The blank page was too scary to overcome!
Now I’m gaining confidence in my ability to write and I believe my goal can become reality. In the past I’ve starting writing novels full of enthusiam, only to slowly feel my motivation slipping away.
Acuff says when we start a goal we have a perfect vision of how we will accomplish this and on the day our efforts to reach our goal are less than perfect we run into difficulties. If you decide to run two kilometers each day, you will be motivated to do that until the day when, for whatever reason, you fail to run your daily kilometers. Then you feel like a failure and you end up giving up your goal, you never end up finishing. It’s a vicious cycle stopping you from finish what you start out to do.
The most important things to stop this perfectionism creeping in and sabotaging your goal is making the goal easier and recognising progress will never be perfect. This was a hard sell for me. I’ve even said in job interviews that my greatest weakness is my perfectionism (cringe!). But Acuff’s advice makes complete sense.
I realise my expectations of myself have been too high. There is no way I would be able to write 2’000 words a day for the next 2 months when I also have to go to work and have other commitments. I was setting myself up to fail. Every. Single. Time.
With that advice in mind, I decided to set myself a realistic target. I am going to get this book written. I’m being realistic that the first draft will be completed by the end of May. I have some time off work and I’ve set myself a manageable daily word target: if I miss the target for one or even two days, it’s not the end of the world. I can and will get back on track.
Acuff says the moment you begin a new project, you get distracted by other ideas in your head. Perfectionism floods your creative brain with idea when your project is not going so well. I cannot stress how true this is.
Three days into writing my novel draft, my brain was awash with so many ideas. Ideas for short stories, flash fiction and even a book series! The most notable idea was publishing a book called “Lockdown Limericks: Poems written under Lockdown”. I’ve written two limericks during lockdown. All of a sudden, I’m envisioning being on The Times Bestseller list! I wrote two poems! Two! And the second one wasn’t even that good!
All these ideas are now safely written down in a notebook and I’ve promised myself I will only look at them when this first draft is written.
I’ve very aware of my thoughts and feelings as I set out towards my goal. I recognise the ‘hiding places’ and ‘secret rules’ that Acuff mentions and explains in detail.
I will write my book. I will finish this time. And Finish: Give Yourself The Gift of Done will be on my writing desk to remind me of what traps I might fall into and to guide me to the finish line.