Race to the finish

On Finishing (and Perfectionism!): A Review of Jon Acuff’s Finish

Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of DoneI’ve just finished reading Finish: Give Yourself the Gift of Done* by Jon Acuff. It’s a delightfully irreverent book packed with useful insights — sometimes counterintuitive — about how and why we stop ourselves from finishing (hint: perfectionism is the root cause).

It’s been a particularly fun read right now for three reasons.

First, I’ve been reading it alongside several of my Circle members and we’ve been discussing it on our online site. I have a feeling we’ll be doing this again. It’s a mini online book club. Yay!

Second, I’m just about to lead the goal setting call for the Deep Dive Writing Intensive I’m running (we start writing next week!) so I’m looking forward to incorporating some of Acuff’s principles into our goal setting work. And since the Deep Dive Writing Intensive is designed to help people finish (or make major progress in that direction), it’s particularly apropos.

Third, I know I’m a recovering perfectionist. Or at least a perfectionist who’s trying to recover. (The first step is admitting you have a problem!) So this book was useful on both professional and personal fronts.

Here are some of my favorite takeaways from the book:

  1. The “day after perfect” is the make-or-break day. Acuff says the “day after perfect” often turns up as soon as day two of pursuing a goal. I see this happening with writers who put in a big burst of enthusiastic writing for their first day out (sometimes later), then crash and burn the next day by going into massive writing aversion and avoidance the next day… which can lead to despair and giving up. I much prefer to see writers pacing themselves for the long haul. Acuff makes the point that we have to focus on “moving forward imperfectly” and “trying again… today, tomorrow, or next week.” I’ve always been a fan of “starting over tomorrow,” whenever I get off track with my goals so I’m right there with him.
  2. There’s a difference between commitments and distractions. Acuff makes a useful distinction between the things we’re committed to doing, like our day jobs and our kids, as our commitments, and things like Netflix — and those side projects you turn to when it’s time to write — as distractions. See how simple that is? I found this useful for reinforcing what I do when I write out my Three Big Rocks list, which is to focus on the key things I want to accomplish for my goals that day. I don’t include my standing commitments (taking care of my kids and exercising, for example), because I think of them as “givens,” but prioritize the three major commitments I’m making for the day.
  3. You can look for your own sweet spot with rewards or penalties (or both) when it comes to goal setting. Acuff says, “make it fun if you want it done,” and recommends establishing a reward or a penalty for your goal. I’m more motivated by rewards than punishment, but his writing had me think more about deciding on really fun rewards, and deciding on them in advance. I’m particularly thinking about how I can do this on the daily and weekly scale (one example he gave was how author Sammy Rhoades would reward himself with a Friday afternoon movie for meeting his writing goals, which sounds right up my alley).
  4. Pay attention to where you “hide” from your goals. Acuff describes both “hiding places” — where we go to avoid our goals — and “noble obstacles” — the clever schemes we design to make it so we can’t possibly focus on our goals because we’re serving some higher purpose. I’ve seen so many writers over the years come up with the most fascinating and suddenly highly important non-writing or OTHER writing projects than they originally come into our programs with. This is really worth paying attention to and short-circuiting.
  5. Put your new idea at the finish line for your current one. If you tend to come up with a new idea that’s much more appealing than your current project the minute you start (in the coaching world, we call these Bright Shiny Objects), Acuff recommends making the new idea the project you “get to” work on when you finish your current one. With writing, I recommend what I call a “Project Queue” (tips on how to do this with writing projects are in my free guide, “How to Choose Your (Next) Book“). The core idea is to promise to work on the new idea next. In a sense it even becomes a reward for getting to the end of the current one. Yay!
  6. Aim a little lower with your goal setting. Acuff recommends cutting our goals in half, either by cutting the quantity or output in two, or by doubling the amount of time we give ourselves. This is because most of us are entirely unrealistic about how we set our goals. I’ve personally been setting fewer and fewer goals over the last few years, after seeing myself being unable to attain the multiple, too-fast-paced goals I was aiming for, and I can see right now from checking my 2018 goals list that I may have a bit more tweaking to do after reading Finish, especially after the hard start to the year I’ve had. 
  7. The “day before done” is another place many of us go astray. I’ve witnessed this in my own writing, suddenly becoming apathetic toward a screenplay, telling myself I’ve just lost interest in the story. Acuff identifies three primary fears triggered by a looming finish, including a fear of what happens next (Amazon reviews!), a fear it won’t be perfect, and a fear of “what now?” The key, he says, is addressing these fears with a combination of trusting yourself to figure it out and being open to seeing what happens.

More my favorites in this book are the “secret rules” we use to sabotage ourselves (“If I lose all this weight, then I’ll have to go dancing/be looked at/feel more vulnerable”), choosing what to “bomb” (where you’re strategically choosing to suck at something in order to prioritize your goal), using data to track your goals and “celebrate your imperfect progress,” and many more.

While there were times I wasn’t 100% sure if I thought Acuff was actually writing about resistance and not so much about perfectionism (which I consider to be a subcategory of resistance), I loved what he shared and he has stirred some useful thinking and insight for all of us who have read it. 

Highly recommended. 

* This is an Amazon affiliate link, which means Called to Write will earn a small commission if you purchase the book after clicking on this link, for which we are greatly appreciative!
Photo by Braden Collum on Unsplash

Free teleclass: Setting Motivating Writing Goals & Intentions

The fourth and final class in my free Master Your Creative Productivity series was last night and the recording is now available! 

If you missed the series, you can still sign up to get the recordings, which will only be available for another week, through Friday, April 8. You’ll get instant access to the recording archives when you register.

Here’s what we’ve covered in the class series:

Part I: Powerful Tools to Help You Write Productively

  • Defining what being productive means.
  • 3 writing productivity principles.
  • 5 time principles to help you be more effective with EVERYTHING you do.
  • 7 writing productivity power tools you can put to use right away.

Part II: The Anti-Creativity Cycle and How to Break It

  • Defining perfectionism and 5 thoughts about the role perfectionism plays in our writing lives.
  • The Anti-Creativity Cycle of perfectionism, procrastination, and paralysis and a laundry list of ways it shows up.
  • Other creative blocks and obstacles like impostor syndrome, fear of success and fear of failure, and more.
  • 15 solutions and antidotes for the Anti-Creativity Cycle and other creative blocks.

Part III: Keeping Your Creative Energy Vibrant for Optimal Writing Productivity

  • The trick to managing the emotional ups and downs of a long-form writing project.
  • Simple but important ways to take care of your physical body AND your creative mind.
  • 3 energy boosting strategies.
  • 3 nifty techniques to balance and recharge your energy.
  • 5 creative recovery skills for whenever (or if ever!) you get off track.

Part IV: Setting Motivating Writing Goals & Intentions

  • 5 ways to set yourself up for success with your goals in advance.
  • Smart goal setting that works.
  • Reverse engineering your writing timelines.
  • The power of a plan for revisions.
  • Using intentions to supercharge your writing sessions.
  • How to set motivating rewards and celebrations.
  • BONUS: Managing distractions.

I’ve been getting terrific feedback from the writers who have participated and I’d love to have you take advantage of this opportunity too. You’ll find that the series is packed with practical tools and strategies you can put into place right away to help you boost your productivity as a writer.

 

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Free Download: Make 2016 Your Year to Write

If you’re anything like me, you’ve probably dashed down a set of ideas for goals for the year but have been meaning to come back around and refine them, having just now finally recovered from the holidays or that cold you picked up at Aunt Susie’s house or getting the kids reorganized for school.

The good news is that it’s not too late to set goals and resolutions for 2016 that work and will help you make this an amazing year for writing. And I’ve got a fantastic tool to help you. 

At the end of 2015, I ran a seven-part series on completing the prior year and planning ahead for the next one. This year, I’ve updated it and created a downloadable version of it as a PDF guidebook, along with two options for completing the exercises: a workbook and Scrivener-style journal, along with a quick start guide. It’s called Make 2016 Your Year to Write: 7 Steps to Goals and Resolutions that Work for Writers.

This process is a great way to contemplate what’s worked for you, what hasn’t, where you want to head next, and why.

The 7 steps include:

  1. Reflecting on your writing life and career so far
  2. Noticing your writing patterns and challenges
  3. Tapping into what you want for your writing life
  4. Examining the gap between where you are now and where you want to go
  5. Tuning into your vision for your writing career
  6. Setting goals for your writing year
  7. Making your writing happen

You can complete the seven steps all in an afternoon, or work through them one day at a time, whichever works best for you. Each step includes a brief discussion and some examples from other writers to get you thinking.

If you’d like to pick up a copy of this free program, click here to download it.