By Christine Carron
One of the most profound lessons I integrated from my years of dance training was to finish well. At its core, this directive is a guard against performance meltdowns in situations where a dancer flubs or forgets the steps, or worse, falls. It calls you to pick yourself up, keep going, land the ending, and take your bow. Head held high.
For me, this mantra became a personal standard in my life. To finish well no matter what. Sometimes finishing well is easy, when everything has gone our way.
But like when a dancer takes a major tumble, to finish well something that we are not proud of, happy with, and possibly even ashamed of is self-mastery at its finest. It is also a massively useful skill to build on the writerly adventure.
Think about it. How cool would it be to land a finish well end to habits, behaviors, or situations that get in the way of the writing life you want to create. Things like:
Sometimes we might attempt to finish (end, drop, stop, leave) something through wishful thinking, crossing our fingers and hoping that time or someone else will make the problem go away. Other times we beat ourselves up for not stopping whatever it is we want to finish.
Perhaps wishful thinking or punishment has worked occasionally for you, but if you are like me, some of your habits have been resistant to these methods. Finishing well offers an alternative option. One that builds self-esteem, channels courage, and cultivates compassion even as it eases the path of change.
The foundation to finish well is to get real about a habit, behavior, or situation's impact. For example, during the pandemic, I got into the habit of watching a lot of TV.
So. Much. TV.
What was the impact? It was eating into my writing and reading time. Not good. It was also tanking my mental and emotional state—I often felt completely bleck after the TV deep dives. Definitely not good for my writing productivity.
The tricky bit about getting real is that, once you do, it is so easy to slide into self-criticism. What is wrong with you? Stop with all the TV and write already! Look at the impact it is having. If you were really committed to writing, you would get your derriere in gear!
This is where courage comes in. Courage not to go for the familiar comfort of criticism, but rather to shift into curiosity.
One of my mentors, psychologist Hal Stone, once said that any “bad” behavior, no matter how self-destructive it appears on the surface (binge drinking, cutting, doing drugs, etc.) is actually a protection measure. That, on a subconscious level, engaging in that behavior is safer than whatever the behavior is allowing the person to avoid.
That statement resonated with me. It felt so deeply true, and it gave me a more compassionate frame through which to see not only others but also myself.
If we apply that same frame when we are struggling with a pattern that isn’t serving us, key questions to ask are: How is this protecting me? Or, what is this protecting me from?
With the excessive TV watching, when I sat with those questions, what came up for me had nothing to do with writing. Excessive TV watching was soothing the general overwhelm of the pandemic. It was also numbing the loneliness of being cut off from in-person human interaction.
Tender, vulnerable truths.
Once you have clarity on how a behavior (or a habit, or staying in a situation) is protecting you, it is so much easier to move into compassion, even gratitude. To befriend what is happening instead of battling it.
Befriending a behavior (habit, situation) gentles it, makes it more malleable, less entrenched. It moves you from polarization to playfulness. When you reach this point, you are hitting your finishing well stride. The process of habit transformation feels fun instead of onerous, and it’s easier to swap in more supportive behaviors/actions.
One of the ways I have been releasing the excessive TV habit over the past couple months is by allowing myself to read purely for pleasure, which, let’s face it, can be hard to do as a writer. For me, this has meant tearing through gobs of historical romance novels, and I am currently working my way through John Grisham’s entire oeuvre.
I am still getting the soothing of being distracted, but for me it feels better because reading engages my brain differently than TV does. I am also getting mini-dollops of in-person interaction, because librarians are awesome.
A final quality that I have found to be key to finishing well is trust. There are two parts to the trust factor: (a) trust that change is possible and (b) trust that the change will happen in perfect timing.
Trust is the ultimate finishing touch to finishing well, but it is not a move for the faint of heart. It takes faith, especially if the process takes longer than you want it to take.
Have I totally landed a finish well end for my excessive TV habit? Not quite yet, but I’m well on my way. And happily the changes I am making on that front absolutely are creating positive momentum on the writing front. A few weeks ago, I read the opening chapter of my middle grade novel-in-progress at an open mic. I’ve been reconnecting to my poetry practice. Yesterday, I reached out to get on a waiting list for a pop-up poetry critique group. Yay!
On the writing adventure, you will have habits, behaviors, and situations that mess with your progress. How much of an adventure would it be if there were no challenges along the way? You could choose to be harsh on yourself when those challenges arise, but now you have an alternate approach.
So go ahead. Finish well.
Land the ending. Take the bow. Receive the standing ovation.
You have got this!
The Goodjelly Prompt of the Week