August 05, 2017

Finishing School. Book Review by Brenda Leyland

Finishing School.
The Happy Ending to That Writing Project 
You Can't Seem to Get Done
by Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton

TarcherPerigee 2017
An Imprint of Penguin Random House LLC

“Not finishing a piece of writing can feel like the death of a dream. That bright and beautiful impulse to express something truthful represents the very best in you, the part that wants to connect with other people and share with them how you make sense of the world. Many writers start strong, with big ambitions, but eventually reach a crisis of completion.” – Cary Tennis 

Sound familiar? Has your beloved writing project reached a crisis of completion? Maybe you don’t know how to finish it or something keeps getting in the way of finishing it. Maybe you don't even want to finish at this point, though you know deep down you do. And, when you think about working on it, often feelings of shame, failure, and guilt show up, which certainly don't help.

If that's the case, dear reader, take courage -- I might have just the book you need. Hot off the press, Finishing School promises to help writers out of their slumps and get back on track.

“Finishing School restores order to your work. It helps you set aside a realistic number of hours each week and define a task that can be completed in whatever time you have. Every week you finish something and, week by week, you get the project done.”

I really enjoyed reading Finishing School -- it felt like a breath of fresh air. Bestselling author Anne Lamott is quoted as saying, "I love Cary Tennis's mind, and heart, and work." I would have to agree. The book is filled with great personal anecdotal material by the authors who are both established writers. It does not give advice on how to write better. There is no reading aloud in front of a group or showing your writing to anyone else for critique. And, no banging on the head for being a sloth. It’s not about being better organized or more disciplined. Tennis and Morton offer a simple method, without fuss or too many rules, to help you complete the project. Without judgment.

Divided into two parts, the book starts out by identifying “The Six Emotional Pitfalls” which hold back many aspiring writers, often causing them to give up. Perhaps you recognize some of them: Doubt, Shame, Yearning, Fear, Judgment, and Arrogance. Co-authors Cary Tennis and Danelle Morton share their own struggles with these powerful emotions, giving helpful insights and advice on how to stick handle your way through these emotional pitfalls -- advice I could have used ten or twelve years ago when I was sorting some of these out for myself.

In the book's second half, the authors talk about the Finishing School method and how it works. Cary Tennis convened the first class of Finishing School and Danelle Morton became one of his first pupils. Both had a languishing project they were desperate to get done. What they learned and discovered in this first school, where writers met once a week for two hours, became the basis for this book.

One line Cary Tennis said caught my eye. During Finishing School, Tennis encourages writers to give their project the status of “most important work in your life”. This sets it in a ‘sacred’ place in your mind and reminds you to honour your commitment to it.

Although the book was written for writers, the method used is easily transferable for anyone who has a large task they want to finish.

As Tennis says, “If finishing this project is something you really want to do, you have to go after it with everything you have within you.” Finishing School is the book that could help you do it.

Sensitive Reader Discretion: A small amount of cuss words are scattered throughout the book.

Brenda Leyland is working on her Project 60: gathering the memories of a lifetime lived thus far. She invites you to visit her blog at It's A Beautiful Life and connect with her on Facebook.


  1. thanks for this Brenda. It sounds motivating. And if anyone else out there would like to review a book here on the blog, get in touch! the 5th of each month is set aside for book reviews!

  2. Thanks, Brenda, for sharing your review of what sounds like an inspiring book--a book I could certainly use. I appreciate something that shows how to "get 'er done" without too much muss and fuss and without becoming bothered by too many rules. Sometimes a good attitude shift is exactly what I need.

  3. Thank you, Brenda! Sounds like a book I need to read.

  4. Thanks for the review, Brenda. I'm going to look for this at my library!


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