7 Things I Learned Mid-Book

I should have been barreling along in my nonfiction book, Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation, in strict obedience to my schedule for the deadline in the contract’s pdf stone. But I could only slouch at my desk and stare beyond the screen, with little groans escaping from my throat. I pecked a phrase, deleted it, pecked another, almost retched. My malady: mid-book slog.

As each day passed and I tried not to notice the date, I was 24 hours closer to noncompletion, which meant begging for an extension (but I was supposed to be a professional!). With cold hands, I realized my word couldn’t be counted on.

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Column by Noelle Sterne, author, editor, academician, writing coach,
mentor, and spiritual counselor. Sterne has published over 300 pieces
in print and online venues. A spiritually-oriented chapter appears in
Transform Your Life (Transformation Services, 2014). A story appears in
Chicken Soup for the Soul: Touched by an Angel (2014), and another
will appear in a Tiny Buddha collection (HarperOne, 2015). 
Her handbook
for graduate students helps them overcome largely ignored
but equally
important nonacademic difficulties in their writing: Challenges in Writing
Your Dissertation: Coping with the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual
(Rowman & Littlefield Education, September 2015). In Noelle’s book
Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams (Unity Books,
she draws examples from her academic consulting and other
aspects of life to help
readers release regrets, relabel their past, and
reach their lifelong yearnings. For more
about both books and Noelle’s
work, see her website:www.trustyourlifenow.com

Mortified, I took radical steps: got up earlier, worked later, and finally started producing. In this grueling process, I learned many things. Here are seven.

1. Every fifteen minutes counts. Keep going. Flat and stupid as the words seem, keep going.

2. You’ll never use all the notes, articles, scraps of ideas, and brilliant phrases you’ve collected. Of every morsel I’d dutifully collected that I thought was so perfect, I used about a quarter. Unable to bear discarding them, I refiled them. You never know.

3. Time not working is still working. Sometimes between bites of tuna-lunch, I rushed to the keyboard to get down the word that escaped me all morning, or a related idea that suddenly popped in.

4. Ask your mind/muse/alter ego/God/Inner Idiot for answers. You’ll get them. “I need an example.” Whoa—a great one arrives in an email. “What else can I say to flesh out this section?” Whoa—another great thought surfaces.

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5. Ignore everything else when you’re on your writing schedule. It’s all too distracting. So what if the laundry piles higher than Machu Pichu, the garbage reeks and neighbors in the hall look accusingly in your direction, the mail piles up, your hair is greasy? You’ve gotten another page written.

6. When it’s time to edit, steel yourself. Oh God, it’s horrid! I didn’t fulfill my query and proposal promises! What am I going to do? No time!

Take a deep breath and start excising.

7. After a few pages, you’re shocked to see your writing is tighter and less adjectivally-dripping. Lean mean clean. Repeat as needed.

Finally, remember: This is what you want to do, this is what you clawed, clung to, and persisted at through everything until you could do it. As stagnant and uphill as you feel mid-book, nothing matches the fullness of sitting and writing.

You know you’re doing important work. Nothing means as much. Nothing fulfills your day, and life, as much. So, recognize these seven remedies for mid-book slog and, like me, you’ll finally finish—even on time.


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