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Question of the Month: Homestretch

by Susan Henderson on June 4, 2012

Any advice or encouragement for someone who can see the finish line?

I’m hoping to have a completed first draft of my new book within a month or two. I’m trying to stay focused, though my kids come first (always), and we’re currently involved in all the end of the school year madness with AP exams, finals, regents, an ACT test, SAT II subject tests, not to mention concerts and award ceremonies.

In January, when I was making good progress toward the middle of my new book, I had such confidence in my vision and my abilities. The strange thing, now that I can see the finish line, is that I’m full of insecurities.

I remember this same feeling would come over me when I was a rower in high school. I would train hard for race day and go in with a competitive attitude and muscles flexed. But when the coxswain shouted that she could see the finish line, I’d suddenly be aware of the fatigue, my fear of losing, the thought that maybe I wasn’t strong enough or talented enough to compete at this level after all.

So this is where I am, hoping to go strong toward the finish line and fighting this voice inside my head that’s scared I’m not good enough to pull it off.

*

Next month I’ll share some photos and wisdoms from recent conferences and panels I was a part of, but for now I’m going to keep my focus on finishing this draft.

Some thank you’s to those who posted about my book: LeftBrainWrite, JuneSuderblogReaders and ReferenceThe Mom Cage, and South Taranaki Library. Hope to see some of you this Monday, June 4th, 7pm at the Syosset Library, where I’ve been invited to help kick off the Adult Summer Reading Club. And then I’m going to beat back this fear and doubt and get myself across the finish line!

{ 27 comments… read them below or add one }

Jeff Sinclair June 4, 2012 at 5:23 am

It’s a fear of failure. I do it. Lately in my life, in hindsight I’ve realized that I’ve been doing it for as long as I can remember. When we’ve finished something, it means completion. Completion means the work is up for evaluation, resulting in a pass or fail. The prospect of a fail always outweighs the prospect of a pass or a success.

I’ve found myself lingering with projects for no other reason than to avoid being evaluated, which is ridiculous. But it’s a rational fear. It’s not easy putting yourself out there in this harshly critical world. For me, I started to overcome all of this when I realized I was firmly entrenched in my own ability and my own path, and that no critique would deter me from it, or could if it tried.

When I realized that my own path is simply an inevitability no one could alter, I found the resolve to just power through everything. I made the very serious decision to hone my craft when I was fourteen, and it took me almost twenty years to reach the milestone of finishing a novel.

My days of being unsure of my ability are gone, but the odd insecurity rears its head from time to time. Remember, this is what you were meant to do. The world needs your stuff… every last word.

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Susan Henderson June 4, 2012 at 10:57 am

Jeff, Thank you for this. Once again, you’ve nailed it and provided an immediate sense of comfort. You know, I didn’t even realize until I read your response that I’ve been doing this my whole life, too. In elementary school, we used to have to run a timed mile, and I would always stop before the end because I would rather people think I was stubborn or quirky than come in at the back of the pack. I remember literally sitting on the track one year until everyone passed me. That way when I came in last place it wasn’t because I was slow or weak but because I was a kid who liked to stir up trouble. So true, though, because the moment you finish the race or the manuscript, your performance is up for evaluation.

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Nathalie (@spacedlaw) June 4, 2012 at 11:11 am

Well done, you! Don’t let your voices take over. Crack that whip and send them yelping away.

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Susan Henderson June 4, 2012 at 12:07 pm

I feel like I need a strategy to quiet the voices. I’ve never owned a whip… maybe it’s time.

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Dylan June 7, 2012 at 6:41 pm

If you finished Up From The Blue (and so beautifully) without a whip, you may not be a writer who needs one.

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Susan Henderson June 7, 2012 at 8:23 pm

You might be right. It’s weird, I’d been operating on fear for a while (and getting nothing done), and then I posted this and the next day I’m not only past my writer’s block but absolutely on fire. I think the lesson is I respond well to love and a sense of community. Better than fear, pressure and a whip… at least for me.

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Juliet deWal June 4, 2012 at 1:24 pm

I just released my latest book yesterday and have been frantically scouring the pages of it for the last 10 hours or so, determined to find anything wrong with it before someone else does.

The final stretch of the last three chapters was the worst. Like you, I’d enjoyed a very creative, very free stretch of writing, but then the closer to the actual deadline and publication, the more I began to come unravelled.

I’m not sure if it was the fact that for the cozy part of the writing process, I forgot that anyone else existed in the world my characters live in except me, and then as publication drew closer and with it, the weight of public opinion, I found myself second guessing everything.

Like hitting month eight of pregnancy and realizing—oh man, there’s only one way out of this!
Or that feeling of sending your children off to school—you’re terrified that someone will hurt them, not only, but terrified that they will do something stupid that will have you found out as a horrible, horrible mother!

We pour so much of ourselves into what we write, it’s no wonder we feel naked and exposed.

I think the only answer is to be honest with one another—does this book make my ass look fat?
And encourage one another liberally!

xoxj

(PS when your copy comes in the mail, be sure to start on page 287!)

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Susan Henderson June 4, 2012 at 4:15 pm

Oh, you’re so right about that joyful part of writing when no one else is involved in the process. It’s just you and the characters in that funny dance where you don’t exactly know who’s leading whom.

So funny you mentioned pregnancy because I remember when I was still pregnant with my oldest, we came up with a name for him that we loved. For a month we tried it out privately and smiled with how good it felt. And then we decided to share the name with some friends and family. They said things like, that sounds like a fat kid’s name or wow, whenever I hear that name I think of acne or that dopey episode of The Brady Bunch. After that, we gave up on the name Oliver, though I still love it, and didn’t tell a soul the new name until after he was born and the name was on the birth certificate. I guess what writers hear once they begin sharing their work isn’t too far from that and so the cocooning feels so much safer and allows for more productivity.

So looking forward to your book. I hope my mailman brings it today!

Everyone, look! http://inspiteofallthedamage.com/2012/06/04/tada-how-awesome-was-that/

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Juliet deWal June 4, 2012 at 9:50 pm

First of all—wow, thank you! (tearfully smiling at the screen).
Secondly, I LOVE the name Oliver and it’s actually the name of the child in my book! So, so love it.

I have a character, Micah, in my third book and she almost frightens me in her willfulness and inability to behave in any manner I’d want her to.

I love you, Susan. You are one of a truly inspiring kind of loveliness.

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Susan Henderson June 5, 2012 at 12:05 pm

<3 you.

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Susan Henderson June 21, 2012 at 12:49 am

Still waiting for your book to arrive. Oh Canada!

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Billy Bones June 4, 2012 at 1:49 pm

I think it’s terribly rude that books won’t finish themselves. That said, I have doubts…boy do I have doubts…especially because my current WIP is going to be self published and I won’t have the incredibly useful services of an editor. I am also sure that I’ll be lucky to sell fifty copies. But I won’t let that stop me, simply because I owe it to my characters, and I owe it to myself to give them up in order to make space for the others that are brewing.

Also, it helps to be pig-headed, which I am.

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Susan Henderson June 4, 2012 at 4:18 pm

You are right to listen to your heart, your characters, and your fierce need to tell the story before you worry about all the rest. The art and the purpose of what we do can get lost when we worry too much or too early on with feedback and marketing and all the rest.

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Billy Bones June 6, 2012 at 2:18 pm

I’ve been thinking this question over some more. It occurs to me that I have the opposite problem. I am overly willing to share before my stories are at their best.

Someone said that writing is not a race. I have to stay mindful of that.

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Susan Henderson June 6, 2012 at 5:21 pm

I think withholding for too long and sharing too soon are two sides of the same coin. What we always want and fear not getting is validation. We want to know we connected, our heart to the reader’s heart.

Great point about the race, and it’s why I debated for so long whether to use the metaphor of a crew regatta or a finish line. Because you’re so right, it’s not a race, and we’re certainly not competing against each other. But it does often feel like a race in the sense that it’s easy to be motivated at the start and then hard to keep that focus and energy after the initial burst.

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Ronlyn Domingue June 4, 2012 at 1:50 pm

You can do it, Susan! You did it before. This time might be different, feel different, but you still have the chops.

My struggle is over with “good enough,” at least for now. The greatest hurdle for me as I approach the first full revisio-draft (I work in loops) is I’m just sick of the book. Almost six years on this project and it’s more emotionally grueling and wwwaaayyyyy longer than I ever thought it would be. I’m tired of the dark spaces I have to crawl through and the words, words, words that spew as a result. There’s no turning back now because I’m close to the end, but that doesn’t mean I don’t fantasize about abandoning the project, if only to spare my sanity.

See you at the finish line!

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Susan Henderson June 4, 2012 at 4:21 pm

I remember that feeling so well with my first book–that I’d looked at it for too long and dreaded going back in again. I’m so glad for the company here and knowing we’re both headed for the finish line. Such a long strange trip!

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Ellen Meister June 9, 2012 at 11:26 am

If don’t finish, I can’t read it! You wouldn’t do that to me, would you?

Go, Sue, go. You’re one of the best writers I know. Don’t fear success. It’s waiting for you with a big, warm grin …

xoEllen

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Susan Henderson June 9, 2012 at 5:09 pm

You are a sweetheart, and our lunch dates have motivated and buoyed me more than you know! xo

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Jessica Keener June 9, 2012 at 11:46 am

Thanks, Sue, for this post. I’m experiencing this fear right now as I prepare to “finish” my revisions this summer for my new novel. How do I manage my fear? I’ve been circling a lot and making a big deal out of the smallest steps –(Look! Wow! I read the first pages! Look! I took the whole manuscript and flipped through it.). I’m so scared that I don’t want to talk about it. I’m going to pretend that I can do this and I’m going to reread everyone’s comments here because there is much wisdom around this subject. Channel your joy, Sue. You are a beautiful writer. You will do it.

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Susan Henderson June 9, 2012 at 5:13 pm

Ha! I know exactly what you mean about making a big deal of small steps. I’ve been doing things like, Today I’ll clean my desk so I can get more done tomorrow. Or, Let me print all of this today and tomorrow I’ll really get to work on it. Reading these comments helps–everyone here is so wise and experienced and big-hearted. Also read the thread on Dylan Landis’ FaceBook page because she’s a huge source of inspiration.

Here’s to our new novels!

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Mary Akers June 9, 2012 at 4:34 pm

In the same home stretch. Feeling your pain. Doing my best to get there. I will! Oh, and I [heart] Susan Henderson.

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Susan Henderson June 9, 2012 at 5:14 pm

It is so mutual! And I’m excited to know so many of my favorite writers are creating books I want to read!

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Despina Yeargin June 13, 2012 at 12:59 pm

Susan, perhaps you’re afraid of falling into the trap that so many published writers seem to have fallen into, where (all of a sudden) it’s time to close, wrap up and say “goodbye” to this project and they hurry up and finish. Sort of the same thing as the exam that we struggle through and our time’s almost up, so we pick an answer–any answer–just to get it over with. I don’t think you will fall into that trap.

I think it’s more a fear of letting go. It’s a relationship that we build with our stories/writing. We know that it’s time for the relationship to evolve or to end, but we have to find the best possible way of evolving or ending. It’s tough. What to do?

Thoughts:
–Draft or outline 3 options for getting to the end and find your favorite
–Don’t look back and don’t look at others. Isn’t this advice that is given to athletes? I guess that for you in nearing the end of your novel, this would be translated as FOCUS or TUNNEL VISION.
–Sometimes the best thing is to TAKE A BREAK and come back to the story with a fresh energy.

When you’ve done it, when you’ve crossed your personal “finish line”, I hope that you’ll resurrect your journey and share it with us.

I found a wonderful (!!!!) article in one of my favorite magazines today. Perhaps there’s an answer for you (for all of us) there. It’s called THE POWER OF PRONOUNS. http://odewire.com/?p=248416&preview=true According to this article, you’re doing the right (healthy) thing, by sharing your concerns with us.

Best wishes! We are all cheering you on. Can you hear us?

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Susan Henderson June 15, 2012 at 11:10 pm

Despina! I’m always so glad when you’re here!

I actually spoke to many seasoned authors before I started writing the new book and was told again and again not to hurry, not to have others give input too early, not to be too quick to show my work or involve publishing people in the process. I was told to enjoy the process, enjoy the privacy of it, give it time to morph from my original idea into something I never even dreamed of without many (or better yet, any) others being a part of the process. It’s the one thing I’ve done well, and it’s been a really enjoyable process–no worries if I set my work aside to focus on kids and life and allow the story to hit a dead end without any sense of panic or failure. If there’s one thing I do well, it’s listen to advice and try to learn from others who know better than I do.

That said, I’m going to take all of your athlete’s advice. And I read (and loved!) the article you linked to, as well. I think I expected this finish would feel like the final push in a race, but it may just be a quiet and relaxed finish. Like running a marathon at my own pace and not trying to come in first. I’ll get competitive on the second or third draft!

So… still writing, and will share every bit of it when I’m at the very end of the journey. Thank you for the cheering, it means more to me than you could possibly know! xo

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Despina Yeargin June 29, 2012 at 10:57 am

Aaaahhh….your words sound so satisfying. I love what you’ve said in the first paragraph. That’s good advice to share. May I share that on my blog and fb page? With a link to here and to your book, of course?

ODE magazine is a wonderful read, always!

Hugs galore. “RHA, Susan!”

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Susan Henderson June 29, 2012 at 1:29 pm

Of course you can! xo

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