Janine Kovac: “Top 10 Reasons to Love Finishing School”

I’ll be the first to admit it–I have a love/hate relationship with Finishing School. But at the end of last month’s session, I had gleaned 10 great lessons from the experience. Here they are:

1) I increased my tolerance.
I had a fairly clear schedule in April and I thought that I’d just sit down and write for six hours, because that’s the time I’d carved out in my day. But it didn’t work like that. I had trouble focusing. Then I beat myself up for it. “I’m just not the kind of person who can sit and write for six hours.” But then by Week 3, something had shifted. The restlessness was there, but eventually it gave way to sitting and writing.

2) I was able to write in new places.
My new, open schedule meant that I had a new desk to write at. And again, I had trouble focusing. But I had my weekly deadlines and subtly, almost sneakily, the writer part of me took over and the more I wrote, the more I was able to write in new places–the bus stop, a BART station, a cafe, my new desk.

3) I realized that “binge writing” is awesome–but the system I had before worked really well, too.
The thing about writing all the time is that, well, now you’re writing all the time. My writing gathered its own momentum and other parts of my life suffered. Children went without baths. Laundry piled up. My household sorta fell apart. As good as it felt to be writing more, I realized that the balance I’d previously maintained had a lot of advantages as well. (There’s a lot to be said for a functional household!)

4) I learned about how I write.
For example, I don’t tinker with sentences. I’ll rearrange sentences within a paragraph but if a sentence isn’t working and the answer doesn’t come to me, I’ll get further if I just delete the sentence.

5) My writing has a process.
I often write my first drafts in present tense. And then I used to judge myself because I don’t like writing in present tense. But this past month I realized that this is part of my process. Writing a scene first in present tense helps me figure out how I want to manipulate the reader. Then I can go back, shape the text and put it in past tense.

6) The message of my memoir isn’t necessarily the message I learned from the experience.
I don’t have to preach the lesson that I learned from my experience. I am just a character in my memoir and the lesson in the memoir is more universal.

7) I am learning how to write by writing this memoir.
I am learning how to set up a scene, build tension, craft dialogue. I am learning how to absorb feedback and make revisions. It’s easier for me as a memoir because so much is already documented or exists as a strong memory. I don’t have to make anything up. But I am learning how to tell a story.

8) I learned about my ego.
This is examples 6 and 7 combined. The reason a scene is important to me is not why that scene is (or isn’t) important to the story.

9) My writing has phases to it.
I have different phases of writing–a raw-material generation phase, a scratching phase, and a tweaking phase. And if I’m generating raw material, I can’t beat myself up because I’m not tweaking it. By the same token, if I’m writing general topics (the scratching phase), I have to remember that this is still part of the writing, even if it’s jotting down ideas instead of crafting sentences.

10) A writer is someone who writes.
I really got this adage this month! I am a writer. I don’t necessarily have to write this memoir, but this is the story that’s at the front of my brain, so it’s the story that’s coming out first. It’s like the painter whose paintings are all red because all she has at her disposal is red paint. There is a lot of freedom in this realization. This is how I know I will finish this memoir.