Finishing School: The Happy Ending To That Writing Project You Can't Seem To Get Done by Cary TennisFinishing School: The Happy Ending To That Writing Project You Can't Seem To Get Done by Cary Tennis

Finishing School: The Happy Ending To That Writing Project You Can't Seem To Get Done

byCary Tennis, Danelle Morton

Paperback | January 10, 2017

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All too many people start a writing project with grand ambitions but reach a crisis of completion. Finishing School helps writers reignite the passion that started them on the project in the first place and work steadily to get it done.

Untold millions of writing projects—begun with hope and a little bit of hubris—lie abandoned in desk drawers, in dated files on computer desktops, and in the far reaches of the mind. Too often, writers get tangled in self-abuse—their self-doubt, shame, yearning for perfection, and even arrogance get in the way. In Finishing School, Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton help writers overcome these emotional blocks and break down daunting projects into manageable pieces.
      Tennis first convened a Finishing School so that writers could help one another stay on track and complete their work. Since they weren’t actually critiquing one another’s writing, there was no jockeying for the title of best writer or the usual writing group politics; there was only a shared commitment to progress. Without guilt, blame, and outside critique, students were more productive than they imagined possible. Through this program, they were able to complete novels that they’d been struggling with for almost two decades, finish screenplays drafts, and revive interest in long-neglected PhD theses. In this book, the authors share this proven and easily replicable technique, as well as their own writing success stories.
Cary Tennis wrote the advice column "Since You Asked," which appeared on Salon.com for twelve years. As an advice columnist, he never missed a deadline, but in his literary writing, he found himself stalled. Through the Finishing School method that he created, he completed his novel and now helps others through theirs in his writing wo...
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Title:Finishing School: The Happy Ending To That Writing Project You Can't Seem To Get DoneFormat:PaperbackDimensions:272 pages, 8 × 5.1 × 0.7 inPublished:January 10, 2017Publisher:Penguin Publishing GroupLanguage:English

The following ISBNs are associated with this title:

ISBN - 10:0399184708

ISBN - 13:9780399184703

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How We Chose the Six Emotional PitfallsDanelleWhen Finishing School strips away the excuses and the unreasonable expectations we bring to the act of writing, we see our behavior in stark relief. What is behind the irritation, the clouded thinking, the sudden desire to deviate from the plan? For this book to be helpful to all, and not just for those who want to commit to taking Finishing School classes, we thought we should explore what we have learned about the emotions that prevent people from finishing writing projects.We have observed some truly astonishing things in Finishing School. We have seen that when people used the simple techniques in this program, the thoughts and feelings that had held them back became transparent to them. People who had been stuck got unstuck. People who had been fearful became confident. People who had been unhappy with their work enjoyed it again. Insights and breakthroughs brought people a lighthearted relief they had not felt in years.We thought this book should ask why that is so, and offer some answers. We made a list of things we had heard people say, voices and beliefs that tormented them and kept them from finishing. We read the list out loud. It was a little embarrassing at first, saying these things out loud, because they hit home, sometimes uncomfortably so. Once we got going, though, it turned out to be fun. We were shouting out all these awful statements, many of which became chapters in this book.The next time we met, it was clear that the pages that chronicled this negativity easily divided into six categories: doubt, shame, judgment, yearning, fear, and arrogance.DOUBT-I can't do this. I'm a terrible writer. No, I'm a good writer, better than most people I know, but I'll never be like Flannery O'Connor. My brain isn't that big and my ideas are not that original. I'll never finish, so why go on?SHAME-I'm a loser. I never finish anything and now I'm not going to finish this. I'm ashamed to even look at the writing I did two years ago. Everyone knows I'm a loser. Where did I get the idea that anyone would want to read my stupid words?YEARNING-This has to be perfect and it has to be good enough to make me famous. I'm going to write something beautiful and perfect, and everyone will know that I am perfect too, because this is an expression of me. I cannot make a single mistake. And unless every sentence is perfect, it's not worth doing.FEAR-If I do finish, it will be a failure. Getting rejected will be so humiliating and discouraging that it's better not even to try. Those people who say what doesn't kill you makes you stronger are liars. What doesn't kill you destroys some piece of you. What doesn't kill you makes you want to go crawl into a hole and never show your face again. If I never finish, at least I've never failed.JUDGMENT-My writing sucks. I'm scared to let other people read it because I don't want to be found out as the mediocre person I know myself to be. If I finish, I'm going to be the butt of jokes I'll never hear, banned from family gatherings because of the things I wrote about them. When I reveal to others my true self, they will despise me. The idea of sending my work out for sale, or to agents, makes me sick to my stomach.ARROGANCE-I don't need any help to get things done. I just do it. That's what I do. I get so annoyed by writers' groups, those losers. None of them has ever published anything. I don't want to share the credit, or the pain, with anyone. My pain is so much more exquisite than the pain of losers, because I am not a loser and I do not want their unexceptional support.After we whittled the list down to six, we decided it was very useful for anyone who wanted to examine the reasons why they had not finished their work. The pitfalls that resonated for Cary were different from those that resonated with me. We found that our students identified with one, two, or three, but not all. Everybody resonated with shame. Cary felt shame, arrogance, and fear I felt arrogance and judgment, with shame coming in third.The list helped writers get back to work by making them understand that they weren't necessarily lazy or undisciplined but were facing big emotional issues when they sat down to write.Creative people need a way to speak about this without fear. By naming these emotional blocks and exploring them in this book, we hope to take away some of the sting these statements carry, just as we experienced on the day that we exposed to each other our most depressing judgments about ourselves and our work. This is why a significant part of this book is devoted to trying to identify and explore the Six Emotional Pitfalls.How can identifying them be useful to you? It can help you to be honest about the turmoil the pitfalls cause and to recognize that in this turmoil you are joined by everyone who has ever tried to write. All writers who have written about the difficulty of writing cite these emotions, be they famous and successful or amateurs writing alone and just for themselves. These emotions are real. They reflect the seriousness with which you take the task, but they are not a verdict. They are, like all emotions, something that comes and passes. If you have a way to discuss them, you may find the process of recognizing and releasing them easier, and because of that you will get back to work.Doubt "I Think I Can't"Doubt Masquerading as Self-Knowledge: "I'm a Terrible Writer"CaryDo you ever say to yourself, "I'm a terrible writer"?You just shouldn't say that, because it's not true. It can't be true. Here is why. If you are feeling bad about yourself, fine. I feel bad about myself too. But saying "I'm a terrible writer" is what cognitive therapists call global labeling, or globalizing. It not only isn't true-and that's one good reason not to say it-but it can actually harm you. Cognitive therapists know that the things we say about ourselves affect our moods; saying them can actually affect how we feel and, in a sense, bring about the very things they assert. That is, if you keep saying, "I'm a terrible writer," you will find yourself unable to write and thus will never achieve the thing you want to achieve.Saying "I'm a terrible writer" can be pretty useful, though, in one sense. It's a great way to avoid feeling things you don't want to feel.So when you find yourself thinking, "I'm a terrible writer," ask what it is you don't want to feel. Is it the uncertainty of ever attaining your hopes and dreams for yourself as a writer? Is it your fervent but fragile desire to be understood and appreciated for your writing? Is it the particular emotions that come up during your actual writing, feelings that seem like they might get out of control or threaten your secure sense of who you are, what you are worth, and how you look to other people?Saying "I'm a terrible writer" must serve some purpose. If it didn't matter to you, you wouldn't say anything at all. It's a clear signal that you have some powerful feelings about the issue of your writing.Well, surprise. Those powerful feelings you have about your writing-those feelings that in the past have stopped you from writing-can actually be used to stimulate some good writing, perhaps the best writing you've done in a long time. Because they're real feelings. Real feelings make good writing. That's the simple, honest truth.So make no mistake: I am saying that you shouldn't say, "I'm a terrible writer." You should never say that, because it is masking some other thought or feeling you are having about yourself. If you do say it, here are some of the things you might actually mean:I am uncomfortable revealing my true self.I want to learn to write better but I fear being judged by others, so I beat them to the punch.I'm not sure how to improve, so it seems pointless to begin.It's frustrating to do something when I'm not better at it than everyone else.I was hurt once by something someone said about my writing and I never forgot it. I don't think about it consciously all that much, though, do I?Saying "I'm a terrible writer" has often elicited sympathy and agreement, so it's easier than saying I'd like to improve my writing but don't know how.When I say I'm a terrible writer, I actually mean that I feel shame, disgust, hopelessness, fear, and anger too-anger at all those who would critique my writing without giving me concrete suggestions for getting better.Okay, now try this, just as an experiment. Say to yourself, "I'm a terrible writer." Notice how it feels. What event or experience is flashing through your mind? What do you see? What do you remember?As writers, we can work with negative statements like that. We can neutralize them by using them as jumping-off points for imaginative and emotional work. We can make good writing out of them.Write about what it means for you to say, "I am a terrible writer." It might be something someone said about your writing, or getting a bad grade on a report, or whatever. Write about that. Recall it in detail. That memory is yours and yours alone, and it is powerful and worth writing honestly about. If you write honestly, it will not be terrible writing. In writing something that is not terrible, you will have disproved the axiom "I'm a terrible writer."Maybe you don't want to disprove the axiom. The axiom can get you out of things. Long-term, though, it's stopping you from doing something you want to do.So write about the event that flashes through your mind when you say, "I'm a terrible writer." Pay attention to what happens as you begin to write about this thing.You may start to feel drowsy or irritated or frustrated. Maybe that is when the thought comes to mind, "I am a terrible writer."Keep going. When images come into your head, pay attention to their physical details, the quality of light, the voices. Write it all down. It's material!No person is free from negative thoughts like these. What makes a writer different from other people is that you can look at a negative thought and make a choice to use it. You can turn it into something. You might attribute it to a fictional character and ask that character, "Why do you say that?" And the character might answer, "I say that because in fifth grade I turned in a paper and it came back with red marks all over it. So, in my fifth-grade mind, I decided I must be a terrible writer."If you continue to interrogate this character, images may arise. You might imagine the desk of this child and the voice of the teacher and the stuffy air in the classroom and the tears that fell onto the paper, that wide-lined pulpy paper of elementary school. You'll feel the smooth, laminated plywood surface of the metal desk with the compartment underneath. You'll feel how the child sitting at that desk fervently longed to be able to write, how the dream of being able to write hovered over him like a glimmering object just out of reach. In handwriting class, he tried to get the letters right but kept reversing the P and the R. Some girls in his class had such beautiful handwriting that he wondered how they did it. Their handwriting seemed one with their beauty and their person, and he marveled at their unattainable grace. You'll remember how worried he was that if his parents saw his paper with all the red marks on it, they would think he was screwing up in school. You'll feel the humiliation he anticipated and how he cried when he showed his mother the paper and how his mother was so kind about it. But still, many years later, when the grown man had to write a report for his boss, sometimes he would hear that voice in his head saying, "I'm a terrible writer." He'd look around for someone else who would write it, or he'd delay writing it, or he'd wait until the last minute and then dash something off. After all, he believes deep down he's a terrible writer.A writer can experience something and then enter into the emotion of it and unpack what is there by following the images that come to mind. This is the great power of being a writer: anything that comes into our heads, however screwed up or crazy it is, can be used as material. We can do this with our very worst secret and most shameful thoughts and feelings. We can attribute them to fictional characters, and if people ask us if they represent us, we can say, "No, of course not. It's fiction."These thoughts, these awful thoughts that haunt us, we use them as fuel for our work. We burn them up in the furnace of the heart. The memories, the pain, the crazy things that come into our heads-they're all just fuel. We burn them all in the furnace of the heart.Doubt Clothed in Cynicism: "All My Ideas Are ClichŽs, but ClichŽs Sell"DanelleMany people say they have a book in them, and I believe them. Everyone has lived through at least one time in life that could become a book if they could find the way to tell that story. All you have to do is ask a few questions and it tumbles out, even if you're chatting with strangers. The trouble comes when you try to take it from the perfect way it exists in your mind and get it onto the page. The story may be strong and clear in your head, but when you sit down to write it, the ghosts of dozens of successful novels smother your confidence, and you begin to think that your beautiful idea is a tired clichŽ.At a New Year's Day party in 2016, I tried an experiment that demonstrated this, although I didn't intend it to.I had moved to a new town and wanted to make friends. As I was driving to the party, I tried to think what I could ask people besides where they grew up and what they did for a living. I wanted to come up with a question that would reveal something more. I decided to ask, "Did you ever have a moment when your whole life fell apart?" That's a bold question, so I expected some would refuse to answer, but I knew that those who answered would be more likely to become a friend.

Editorial Reviews

"The authors of Finishing School, a unique and genuinely helpful guide to actually completing that magnum opus drawing dust on your cluttered desk, help you remember why it is you wanted to write your book and understand the long and challenging work of sustaining a project through pesky blocks, the loss of energy and enthusiasm, the omnipresent fear of not getting it right, and crippling deadline pressure. Tennis and Morton are writers; they feel our pain. More importantly they get the pleasure of creation and know how to instill it in those who have lost their way. This book helped me."—George Hodgman, New York Times bestselling author of Bettyville"I love Cary Tennis's mind, and heart, and work."—Anne Lamott, New York Times bestselling author of Bird by Bird“A must for every writer and artist of any kind, Finishing School belongs on the bookshelf right next to Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird and Stephen King’s On Writing. I can't wait to tell every writer I know to buy it.” —Cole Kazdin, four-time Emmy-winning television news producer, writer, and performer"Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton accomplish something remarkable in Finishing School—an actually useful book for writers (or anyone) about how to complete a project and not let their doubts, fears, or anything else interfere with successful completion of an article, a novel, or a dramatic play. And they do it in simple, easy steps that make sense and will resonate with anyone who writes."—David Cay Johnston, Pulitzer Prize winner and New York Times bestselling author of The Making of Donald Trump "Finishing School is the ideal book for writers who are great at starting things but not so great at completing them. Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton know the reasons a piece of writing, begun with such enthusiasm, can languish on a shelf for years. With wisdom and compassion, they’ll inspire you to cross the finish line."—Sy Safransky, editor and publisher of The Sun“Practical and specific, Finishing School guides the writer who needs structure. It is for the writer who has abandoned a dream part-way through. ‘You did not keep your promise to your story,’ the authors say. ‘The project becomes your adversary. . . .The answer is Finishing School.’  For a great many writers, it will be so.” —Pat Schneider, author of Writing Alone and With Others and founder of Amherst Writers & Artists"With warmth, humor, and a really personal touch, Tennis and Morton show you how to neutralize the emotional barriers that impede writing—including fear, doubt, and shame—and provide a great plan for the actual writing and finishing of your book. Even if you've read plenty of other creativity books, you'll find lots of great insights here." —Hillary Rettig, author of The 7 Secrets of the Prolific“This book insightfully pinpoints the importance of time budgeting and management, and of setting reasonable expectations for completion. . . . its advice and methodology will be useful for countless writers and would-be writers, and for people wanting to complete unfinished projects of any kind.”—Publishers Weekly"Countless writers have dream projects they just can’t seem to get finished or even off the ground, a problem that Tennis and Morton tackle with a combination of sensitivity and practicality. . . . Straightforward and realistic, Finishing School offers a viable option for anyone longing to complete a writing project."—Booklist