Many years ago, I sat in a classroom somewhere in Finland. I believe I was in 7th grade. The subject was English. The teacher announced that our homework would be to write a fiction story – in English. Like most Scandinavian teens I already had several years of English under my belt. I had also immersed myself deeply in adventure gaming of the “enter your action” type, the predecessors to the point and click adventure games of Monkey Island, for example. In other words, the English I learned in school I enhanced on my own in front of a computer, dictionary in hand. This extra deep dive into English served me well when this assignment came along. A week later, my teacher announced to the class that she had decided to read my story out loud to the class. At first, I was embarrassed but at the same time, proud of my accomplishment. To this day, I’ll never forget that story. In a way, it was the beginning of my writing journey.
In the years since I’ve written stories here and there. I have fond memories of writing a sci-fi story about a dying planet Earth that had to be evacuated onto this massive space ship before Earth disintegrated before their eyes. In fact, I’m pretty sure I have the story somewhere, on an old floppy disc. Of course, it isn’t any good but it was fun to write.
Fast forward a few decades. Since then, I’ve participated in several NaNoWriMo’s. I’ve won a couple. In one instance, I’ve got an actual physical printed book to show for it (no, nothing worth publishing, it was the price every winner received). I have participated in the 3-Day Novel Writing Challenge and literally written a story (a novella, I suppose) in three days. This included editing and formatting. Yet, about six months ago, about a year into participating in the Monthly Writing Challenge on Twitter, I still found myself struggling. I had plenty to write about yet I never seemed to get any closer to the finish line. That elusive first draft just sat there in the distance like a tease, sticking out its tongue.
Then, one day towards the end of last year or early this year (I don’t quite remember the exact timeframe), Martin McConnell told me about his latest project, Finish the Damn Book. I’ve gotten to know him over the last couple of years as an enthusiastic writer of sci-fi, amongst other things, but also very passionate about encouraging writers to write. So, in a way, it was not surprising to see that the book about writing books. He shared his early drafts with his Twitter followers and I eagerly picked up a copy and read through it. It was a breath of fresh air.
Many of my own struggles with writing go back to a bit of insecurity on my own part. English is my second language and to this day I think twice about some things that native speakers wouldn’t care about. I was also trying to find my writing style. Being a pantser, my preference has always been to just write and forget the outline. In fact, my first NaNoWriMo novel I wrote for a month straight, with only a vague idea for the first day. The rest was just writing to see where the story would take me. For some, that’s messy. For me, it’s a discovery and a journey. Yet, I’ve always felt that pressure to outline, organize, have a sense of where I’m going, to plan everything out. Supposedly it makes a better novel. Although that’s all fine and works for some, trying to do that on the first draft (which it seemed like I tried to) always turned into a disaster. I put too much thought into it, I went back to edit before I was anywhere done to fill in plot points I thought of throughout and before I knew it, I lost steam and interest.
What Finish the Damn Book did for me was exactly that: it helped me to finish my first draft without getting sidetracked with details, edits, or words. It gave me the permission, if you will, to write the way I like to write and realize that’s actually ok. Who really cares about the first draft. It’s the first draft, just get it done! So I did. I finished the first draft of what will become a full-length novella or novel.
See, my problem was that I was trying to be too organized. I had the story in my mind and I was trying to plan it. I was trying to map it out, take it step by step. In the end, once I cast that aside and just started typing, the whole story came out, chapter after chapter, almost as if it had a life of its own. It turned into the story it might not have if I hadn’t read FTDB.
FTDB is a motivational book. It’s not a book about sentence structure, a point of view, useless words or any of that. It’s a book written in order to encourage you, to tell you that even you can finish that book you’ve got in your mind. You don’t need an education or a fancy title, you just need to write. Every day. Martin does a fantastic job at making this abundantly clear.
Personally, what makes the book so motivational is that it’s written in a very conversational style. It’s very blunt and to the point, full of Martin’s own personal experiences, his successes as well as his failures. He’s showing us the potholes in the road to a finished book that you and I might otherwise hit. It’s like you’re getting a pep talk from your coach before you get out on the field to face the pitcher. It’s easy to read and very inspirational. In fact, as I’m writing this and glancing at the chapter headings on the other half of my screen, I feel instantly motivated to just write more. However, I won’t. Not tonight.
No, now it’s your turn. If you’re at all like I was six months ago, with an idea in your head that you just feel have to come out perfectly, you need to stop and read this book. Tonight. It’ll help you see past the details, to get the core of the story on paper so that you can go back and edit later. Get that story written.
Finish the Damn Book is due to be released later this month, on April 28th. If you’re reading this prior to that date, all is not lost. You don’t have to wait! Fortunately for you, Martin has made the first seven chapters available for free to those that would like to get a head start. You can download these chapters for free right here:
Do it. Now!
Then, go pre-order the full version of the book here:
Then, read the seven chapters you got for free. Once you’re done, it’s time to start writing. It doesn’t matter what time it is. Oh, it’s 11 pm? You’ve got to get up early? You can’t work properly without enough sleep? Doesn’t matter. Open up Word, Scrivener, Libre Office or whatever it is that you use, even a plain old notebook and a pen. Start writing. Then, write every day, until that first draft is done. Forget about the details. Look forward, don’t look back. In fact, I wouldn’t be surprised if you wake up the following morning, energized what you achieved the prior night.
Don’t thank me. Thank Martin McConnell, motivator extraordinaire. Oh, and while you’re at it, go check out his website for more writing tips, links to his YouTube channel and much more. You can find it here:
Now, what are you waiting for? Go write!