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(Click the image to purchase book)

With this being the year of the UFO’s (unfinished objects), how could I say no to a request to review a book on finishing a project?  While writing is not my focus this year, I thought there would be good information in this book anyway.  Boy, was I right.  I can’t stop talking about this book.  It’s the first book that had me reaching for a highlighter.  I opted to grab various sticky notes.


This is what my book looked like before I had finished part one.  Now that I am finished, my book looks a little more like it’s been attacked by a porcupine.

Let’s get into the basics – the book is divided into 5 parts.  The first part is nearly half the book and covers the emotional reasons why we may not finish a writing project (to be honest, this can translate to any creative project).  The emotions are:  Doubt, Shame, Yearning, Fear, Judgement, and Arrogance.

The topics are broken down to simple chapters, each just a few pages long.  The chapters cover the definitions, suggestions and the authors’ personal experiences with the emotions.

I found myself in the pages of this book.  It was just a bit hard to get through because my mind kept drifting.  I loved the writing but it was pulling at my brain in such a good way.

There were two things I absolutely loved about this Part: The Winchester Mystery Novel.  I’m sure we all have one in our pile of stories – that never ending story with little focus and even less of a chance of completion.  The great thing is that Cary Tennis does not suggest dumping the story, he offers ways to fix the problems so you can move forward with the project.

My other favorite was this quote: “Because we fear death, we deny death.  Because we deny death, we pretend time is limitless.  Because we pretend time is limitless, we feel we can always get around to our project later.  Because we feel we can always get around to our project later, we never do.  Because we never do, we lose our shot at immortality, and we become unhappy and don’t know why we can’t do it, and we begin to hate ourselves and see psychotherapy.”

Part two is on how Finishing School works.  The idea is that you set goals and have a buddy to help you remain accountable but, more importantly, there is an opportunity to really understand why you are not making progress.  It’s not about the group analyzing your work but giving you the opportunity to analyze for yourself.

Part three is on time management.  The two things I walked away from that section with were:

Focusing on the finished goal (say a published book) is not an effective way to set goals.  However, knowing that you want to work in that direction is not “wrong”.  Simply break up your goal into bite sized pieces that work on your week to week plan.  I’m not explaining this well but they suggested picking something each week such as figuring out a scene instead of word counts.  For example, instead of saying I am going to write 10k words this week, say I am going to figure out what happens to Mary as she goes to the grocery store.

Danelle said that she likes to take time each morning and write a list of everything she wants to accomplish that day (by everything I mean everything from taking out the trash to writing an article to calling a source to writing a note to a friend).  Alongside each item she writes how long she expects the task to take and whether or not she will enjoy the task.  She includes things she may have finished prior to writing the list (so she can take inventory of what she has accomplished through the day).  Then she starts with the things that she wants to do the least or the things that will take the least amount of time.  She also says she has a rule that she doesn’t berate herself for not finishing the list.  And, of course, items that are scheduled are more or less set in stone such as appointments and deadlines.

Part 4 went through how to develop your own Finishing School program.  I’ve shared the basics for the program previously so I’m not going to repeat them.  Most of this section was examples and various scenarios you might find your “school” in.

Part 5 was on finishing.  The first chapter was on John Steinbeck’s Working Days which was interesting but I can’t really think how to sum it up since Cary was talking about process and it bounced all over the place.  More or less it was to show that everyone struggles through the process.  What I liked best about this section was his chapter on how you know you are finished.  He said that you should make up a checklist  – things like “Is my character consistent and yet evolves?” and “Are there x number of sentences that make me feel brilliant?”

Another thing he talks about is your Documentation of Completion.  This is something you write that declares you are finished and what the plan is for the project from that point.  It included a pledge not to edit anything once you have sent it off for submission.

In conclusion, I loved this book.  I shared the information all over the place.  I’m thinking about reading it again.  It’s like having a conversation with a friend as opposed to reading a self-help book.  It makes me want to tackle projects.  I am inspired to not only complete projects but to work on those issues that hold me back.  I finished this book thinking that maybe, just maybe, I could be a writer.