Finishing School: The Happy Ending to That Writing Project You Can’t Seem to Get Done by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton (2017)
The title of this book grabbed me immediately. Of course I have a writing project that I can’t seem to get done. I’ve had this idea bouncing around my head since I was a junior in high school, over twenty years ago. I’ve started it several times, and I have finished one version of it, but it didn’t feel right and I have (in my mind) tinkered with it more and more. But here’s the rub: I haven’t touched it in nearly three years. Do I want to finish it? Absolutely. Do I know how to do that? Absolutely not.
This is where Finishing School comes in. Cary Tennis, the creator of the concept, and Danelle Morton, one of his first Finishing School pupils, do not tell you how to write your book, but how to finish it. This isn’t a typical writing book. There is nothing said about characterization or plot or point of view or voice. It’s all about getting it done. Quantity over quality (because quality comes after quantity is achieved). Tennis notes that regret often comes from failure to try. He writes, “It doesn’t hurt so much if you tried and failed. It does not weigh so heavily on the conscience. But failure to try can really haunt you. So try, at least.”
The authors begin by addressing “The Six Emotional Pitfalls” which cause many aspiring writers to simply give up, and how to acknowledge those struggles and move past them as you do your work. Again, Finishing School is not about how to make your writing better, but simply how to finish it. After addressing the emotional obstacles many writers face, Tennis and Morton explain the concept and execution of Finishing School, and how it differs from traditional writing groups. “The issue we tackle is not the is not the quality of the work on any given Tuesday but the habit of writing….Finishing School’s sole focus is the steady application of time to the craft, every week reinforcing the qualities and habits necessary to one day saying that you are done.”
Time management plays a major role in the program. The aspiring writer has to state clear goals and set aside a sufficient amount of time to accomplish them during the week. Some will commit more time than others, but if one is not willing to carve out a slice of the clock for writing, is there really any commitment present? This has been a major problem for me, and Finishing School has encouraged me to take an honest look at both my writing and my desire to write.
Tennis and Morton also teach the reader how to create a Finishing School with other local writers, either one-on-one or a group. The authors finish their book with a section titled, “Finishing,” including a look at John Steinbeck’s self-torture while he wrote the classic, The Grapes of Wrath. Every author, no matter how accomplished, faces similar emotional pitfalls. But one thing is certain: “If finishing this project is something you really want to do, you have to go after it with everything you have within you.”
More of a motivational book than a “how to write” book, Finishing School just might give you the push you need to get back into that long-neglected novel/screenplay/poetry/short story anthology/whatever-project-you-have-not-looked-at-in-years. Before reading Finishing School, I last looked at my draft almost three years ago. Now I am looking at my calendar to determine the best time for me to tackle it again.