What’s the one thing you’ve learned?
That difficult closing question about your book/job/life/experience
When writers talk about their books, they often start with a story about their initial idea. I wrote about this time-honoured opener in last week’s newsletter. Now let’s move on to how they end.
Unfortunately, this isn’t always in their control.
Once the awkward introduction is out of the way, most book talks begin with a personal backstory, a spot of reading, questions from the facilitator, then questions from the floor. In my experience (which over the last few weeks has been considerable) there are two classic closing questions.
What’s the one thing you have learned?
Both are hard to answer! When I was recently asked what’s the one thing I’d learned from over a decade researching writing practice, I knew people were hankering for the ONE MAGIC TIP that I could pass on like a productivity baton. That’s after I'd spoken for an hour explaining why there isn’t one tip, why writing rules don’t work for everyone, why you need to reflect on your writing and figure things out for you, your life, right now. Downer. That’s no way to end a talk.
So instead I spoke about what’s working for me at the moment and that’s joy. Having fun with my writing. Only writing for a few minutes if that’s all I can do, feeling grateful for that, not feeling guilty, and finding the good things in my writing.
Close down rituals
Endings matter. That’s why I love a close down ritual at the end of a writing session and also my working day (deep work advocate Cal Newport does this and it’s weird but works for him). My closing ritual is about finding good things about my writing, even if it’s just showing up and opening my work-in-progress.
Attaching positive feelings to your writing is a form of cognitive re-framing, it makes it more likely you’ll remember your writing favourably and therefore return to it. Likewise, ending a talk on an upbeat note will pass that feeling onto others. They are more likely to recall your talk positively, even if you spoke about really difficult things. They will hopefully remember you in a fond light.
As is much quoted (though apparently never said by Maya Angelou), people won’t remember what you said or did, but they will remember how you made them feel.
Writing is hard. Finding time, prioritising it, keeping focus, fighting distraction, overcoming blocks can make it a struggle. But there is pleasure to be found in writing and having written. I hope I passed a small baton of joy to the writers who listened to my talk.
Keep going, Bec
Do you have a closing ritual for your writing? Have you heard of any other writers who end their writing day in a weird, inspiring or interesting way? We’d love to hear – post in the comments below and if you liked this – click the heart and let us know.
Hello & thank you
A big hello to everyone who recently joined the Breakthroughs & Blocks mailing list and thank you to previous subscribers for your patience as we find our feet on Substack. We really appreciate your support ❤️ We’re switching the newsletter to weekly with an end of month wrap up – in your inbox next Wednesday.
Thanks to everyone who joined our recent ‘Written Conversation’ on Zoom. So many brilliant questions!
Each month we’re hosting a webinar themed around our book Written. January’s conversation was with Oliver Burkeman who wrote the foreword (watch / read / highlights). In February Bec shared her story from the introduction about why productivity is personal.
In March we move to Chapter 1: Break The Rules, a conversation with the acclaimed memoirist, non-fiction writer, novelist and superstar writing tutor Cathy Rentzenbrink. We’ll be talking about confidence, writing rules and why every writer needs someone to share wasabi peas with.
Sign up via Eventbrite.
This week Bec has been writing and running writing workshops at Gladstone’s Library, a glorious residential library that meets all your writing (and procrastination) needs.
Yesterday I wrote a story for my grandson's 9th birthday. When I finished it I thought it was really good so I read it to someone. I then read it to my grandson. But at the close of the writing session I did a virtual happy dance because I was so excited it turned out well that may be my closing moment or it might be also to say aloud, tada. I also love your idea when you reframe by seeing all the positives of what you wrote and what turned out lovely I think I'll add that to my brief closing
I am going to Gladstones Library later this year as a treat to myself to write and read. I'm so looking forward to it. I love the idea of a close down routine and definitely want to start implementing one myself. Thanks for the great content.