Do you know which creature in the animal kingdom has the longest gestation period?
Elephant? Nope. Frill shark? Ha! What’s so big about a 3.5 year pregnancy?
The answer is a woman with an unfinished novel she started in college that insists on being born butt first.
Technically, I finished said novel for my master’s degree thesis back in the early 90s. Then I decided to rewrite it.
I worked on a few chapters, and several years back, submitted them for agent review via a special opportunity offered at the Festival of Faith in Writing. Real-life agents would actually be reviewing conference attendees’ manuscript proposals.
Two months later I received an email from an acquisitions editor at Moody Publishers. The book was different than what they normally published, but he wanted to see the whole manuscript.
He wants to see my novel! Oh, my gosh. You’re real, God! I knew it. You. ROCK!
Dear Mr. Editor,
Thank you so much for your interest in my manuscript. I am in the process of rewriting it.
[Also, 98 percent of the original novel is in hard copy format because I typed it in like 1702 on a word processor…it was kind of like Gutenburg’s printing press, except it plugged in, and now I have to enlist the help of my family to retype 40,000+ words into a real computer. Then I have to complete the rewrite while I work a full-time job, teach an evening college writing course, raise a family, and occasionally go to the bathroom.]
The woman who ended up not finishing her novel when she found out that, although you told her to take her time with the rewrite, you left for a different publishing house in the meantime
But this post isn’t just about writing a novel. It’s about things left unfinished.
Recently, a convergence of three things motivated me to type The End.
A deadline, Big Magic, and an encouraging word
The incentive of not getting shot
As a professional writer, my work most often revolves around deadlines.
The historical definition of deadline is “a line drawn within or around a prison that a prisoner passes at the risk of being shot.” Hence, passing a deadline is something prisoners, and writers, tend to avoid.
Of course, the biggest deadline that looms for all of us is biting the big one. Barring any unforeseen events, I may have another 40 years left in me…minus the last 10 when I’m either too tired or senile to write, which leaves 30…minus 20 sucked up by fear of failure, social media, and grandchildren.
I can’t recall ever having missed an assignment deadline, at least not one set by a boss or client. The ones I set myself, with no specific reason or reward, tend to get pushed out by “paying” projects.
That’s why I attached an incentive to the deadline for finishing the novel rewrite…the Chicago Writing Workshop. I have paid the tidy sum of $29 for 10 glorious minutes to regale an agent with the synopsis of my book.
Setting a deadline in connection with a reward (attending the conference) and accountability (the agent meeting) motivated me to hire author and editor Andi Cumbo-Floyd to review my book summary and to write a new ending to the book.
Big Magic vs. Big Dedication
I just started reading Elizabeth Gilbert’s bestseller Big Magic. She has an interesting theory about ideas.
“Ideas are a disembodied, energetic life-form. They are completely separate from us, but capable of interacting with us–albeit strangely. Ideas have no material body, but they do have consciousness, and they most certainly have will. Ideas are driven by a single impulse: to be made manifest. And the only way an idea can be made manifest in our world is through collaboration with a human partner.”
Hm, sounds kinky.
Not only does our idea need us, she says, but if we don’t dedicate ourselves to the relationship, our inspiration could very well pack a small bag, lie about going out for a gallon of milk, and run off with someone who thinks he’s brilliant. [My words, not the lovely Gilbert’s.]
Gilbert shares an example via her experience with the strange–but not uncommon–phenomenon of the exact same idea almost magically being sparked and developed in the minds of two completely unconnected individuals. This happened to her with the concept for a book she never wrote but another writer later did. She explains that her idea grew tired of waiting for her to follow through and left her.
This kind of scared the crap out of me.
I will admit that I can sound equally hoo-doo-voo-doo to some with all my Jesus talk about the work of the Holy Spirit. But Gilbert’s theory reminded me of the time a well-meaning minister told me if I messed up God’s Plan A for my life, there was always Plan B, C, D.
However, I don’t believe ideas commit adultery or that God ever gives up on rooting for us to stay the course no matter how many times we stray from the path.
I do agree with Gilbert that following through on an idea takes dedication. Maybe even biblical long-suffering and obedience.
The last word
Now my friends and family, especially my husband, will read this post and scold me, because they have been nothing but supportive and encouraging when it comes to getting this book published. And I will always give them the credit for motivating and inspiring me.
As I was in the process of having Andi edit my summary, I confessed that I had grown tired of the book. Unlike Gilbert’s fickle idea fairies, the compulsion to finish the book never left me, instead becoming a burden…a “should” rather than a commitment.
Andi responded with these words: “You are called to finish your book.”
Not called to publish, not called to sell a million copies, just to FINISH.
Sometimes we need to change the reason we hope to accomplish a goal or live out a dream. I asked myself why I really needed to finish this. Part of the answer is and always will be that writers write to be published. They just do.
But I also needed a stronger motivation than my writerly lust to see my words in print. I decided I would live out my gratitude to God for the words and stories he’s given me.
When the book is done, there will be a deep satisfaction in being ready to enter the publishing fray, in following through with Plan A, and in answering the Call to Finish.
What have you left unfinished? How do you decide whether or not to finish? What might motivate you to see it through?