When are you going to finish that book?

By David Joel Miller, writer, blogger, and mental health professional.

When are you going to finish that book?

I had been struggling to write a book for several years. In fact, I tried writing various books off and on for about sixty years. But none of those books ever made it to the finish line. I could get the idea, and I could start writing, but I somehow couldn’t seem to finish the project. Maybe you’ve done that also? I thought that was all part of the process.

That “going to write a book someday” is a bit of a family tradition. I recall my father saying that he was going to write a book someday. He even took a class or two in writing. If he finished those classes, I never heard. But I do know that when he died, he hadn’t finished his book.

Then I get a nudge.

I was having lunch with a colleague. We had gone to graduate school together and tried to find time to sit down and talk about our journey toward becoming better therapists. Just to be clear, we didn’t talk about specific clients. That might violate the client’s confidentiality. But we did talk about ourselves and our struggles, both professionally and personally.

So, one day the two of us were having lunch, and I mentioned that since I was well on my way to writing my blog, I was going back to working on my book. My friend looked me right in the eye and asked, “when are you going to finish that book?”

When am I going to finish that book?

So, I told her I didn’t know. There was still a lot to do on it. Her response startled me. “Can you promise me you will finish the book by the end of the month?” At the time, that question flabbergasted me. I thought books were supposed to take years to write.

I now know that there are writers who specialize in rapid writing and release. Writing rapidly is a skill, and it doesn’t always equate with producing a lot of usable material. NaNoWriMo is an excellent exercise for learning to write that first draft quickly. I’ll tell you about my experiences with NaNoWriMo and rapid writing in a future blog post. That experience was one of the stops on my journey, but it wasn’t the final destination

I told my colleague that no, it wasn’t possible for me to finish the book by the end of that month. I thought that would put an end to that conversation. But she was not to be deterred so easily.

“Can you promise me you’ll finish it by the end of the year?”

That question really took me aback. At this point in my life, I was approaching seventy, and I was getting ready to put in for retirement. Something about that point in your life makes you stop and take a second look. I had to consider if I didn’t finish the book now, when would I?

One of the things I had learned from my mental health research was that as people get older and their abilities start to decline, regrets weigh on their minds. I had learned that what people regret is rarely the things they had done, even when those things had caused them problems. What many senior citizens regret are the things they’d always wanted to do but hadn’t done. While I wasn’t prepared to write myself off as a “senior citizen,” I had to consider whether I would regret never having finished that book. And the answer was a resounding yes.

I accept the challenge.

After thinking it over for a moment, I gave my friend an answer. Yes, I would finish my book by the end of the year. And I took out a piece of paper that was in my pocket, my to-do list for the week, and wrote: “finish my book” at the end of the list. I had learned from my work in substance abuse counseling that you can think about doing something, but that doesn’t make it a reality. But writing it down and telling someone else that you were going to do it really improves the chances you would take action. Since my usual habit was to cross things off my to-do list and recopy the list, I knew I was going to keep seeing that item on the list until I finished my book or gave up on it forever.

My rough draft becomes a finished manuscript.

Later that year, just before my seventieth birthday and my impending “retirement,” I finished that draft of my book. The question was, what was I going to do with the rough draft? I knew there were a lot of problems with the draft, but I just wasn’t sure what they were, so I started work on a system for polishing a first draft.

My apologies to readers who think that that’s all there is to it.

After completing that first draft, I thought I had a finished book. It turned out that the process of taking a first draft all the way to publication is a lot harder than just completing the first draft of the manuscript. You have to have a first draft, or you can’t publish anything. But as I was to learn, there were many more challenges ahead.

So far, my journey has been kind of like deciding to become a mountain climber and taking a hike from my house to the foot of the trail that leads up the mountain. Getting this far was hard, but it was only the beginning.

Staying connected with David Joel Miller.

Seven David Joel Miller Books are available now! And more are on the way.

For these and my upcoming books, please visit my Author Page – David Joel Miller

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For more information about David Joel Miller’s work in mental health, please visit the counselorssoapbox.com website.

For my videos on mental health, substance abuse, and having a happy life, please see: Counselorssoapbox YouTube Video Channel

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