Finish the drill
The fear and satisfaction of finishing a project ... plus Links of the Week, including pimento cheese, the White House record collection, and a Ukrainian hero dog
The other night I did a book event with the great Judy Goldman, talking about writing memoirs. A woman in the audience had a question. She was 70,000 words into her own memoir, and in her words, she “couldn’t close the deal.”
There are two common things I hear from people who want to write. One is that the they can’t get started. The other is that they can’t finish.
Both problems, I think, come from fear.
The fear of getting started is the worry that nothing you could write will be as good as the vision you have in your mind. The fear of finishing is that now you’ve written something and you KNOW it’s not as good as the vision you have in your mind.
These are thoughts that all writers, even the best and most confident, have in their minds at one time or another.
One key to living any kind of a creative life is having the courage to put something out into the world knowing it’s not exactly right.
When I did a reading from THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM at this event, I skipped over phrases and whole sentences that I’d cut or change if I had one more shot at the manuscript. They’re not errors. They’re just places where I could make the book better. You can always make something better. That doesn’t mean you should spend the rest of your life doing it.
The value of of putting your imperfect thing out into the world is so much greater than the value of holding onto it while you go back and tinker with it one more time, and one more, and one more.
If the rest of the world never sees or hears your work, then it never has a chance to change someone else’s life.
But just as important, you never get the satisfaction of having finished. If you never finish, you never get to fully move on to the next thing. You never build up a body of work.
Lee Child writes the Jack Reacher thrillers (now with the help of his brother). I admire Child for a lot of things, but the thing I admire most is that he finishes a new book every year. Every fall since 1997, as sure as sweater weather, there’s a new Jack Reacher novel. Not all of them are great. But he does his best and hits the SEND button and moves on.
Lee Child, of course, gets paid a lot of money to finish his books. But he didn’t at the beginning. Finish what you’re working on, even if you think it’s crap. At least it’ll be finished crap. What you’re likely to learn, as your work finally reaches fresh air, is that it’s better than you think.
10 things I wanted to share this week:
In case you missed my post from last week, I taped an episode of the TV show TrueSouth that should air this fall.
This week’s guest on the SouthBound podcast was Marissa R. Moss, whose new book HER COUNTRY documents how women in country music have fought (and sometimes beaten) the white male establishment in Nashville.
My weekly for WFAE was about the Supreme Court possibly overturning Roe v. Wade, and what should naturally follow in order to protect children.
Sam Anderson—my pick for the current heavyweight champion of feature writing—has written a brilliant piece for the NYT on his struggle with his weight, and how losing weight doesn’t fundamentally change who you are. This is something I’ve obviously read and written a lot about, and Sam’s piece might be the best I’ve ever read on the subject. I am both thoroughly jealous and so glad he’s around.
DOG NEWS: While I work on my book about the Westminster Dog Show and the bond between dogs and their people, I’m devoting this slot to dog stories. This week: Patron, the Ukrainian bomb-sniffing dog.
Cynthia R. Greenlee in the Oxford American on pimento cheese in mysteries, and the mysteries of pimento cheese.
The Pulitzers were announced this week. All the winners are worth your time, but the one story that floored me when it came out was Jennifer Senior’s piece from The Atlantic on how 9/11 still wrecks a family, 20 years later.
The White House’s weirdly cool record collection. I love the idea of somebody playing the Clash within hearing distance of the Oval Office.
Lord, did I love this story from Kim Severson in the NYT on the Gullah Geechee cook publishing her own cookbook at age 89. She also has some smart romantic advice: “Make your wedding small and your marriage big.”
I had a blast doing research for my interview with Marissa Moss about her book on women in country music. One video I had somehow never seen before: Beyoncé and the Dixie Chicks (now just the Chicks) doing “Daddy Lessons.”
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