It’s important to start, but success is always found in the finish.

You’ve heard the expression “a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” That is true, but there are approximately 2,154,999 more steps to go (seriously, I did the research…it’s more if you are shorter, less if you are taller). And those steps are just as meaningful.


How to Reach the Finish Line Strong
Getting to the finish line strong requires a strategy. Dan Erickson can help. (Click to Tweet)

With that in mind, I asked Dan Erickson to share with us how to be a finisher.

Dan teaches public speaking, mass media, and feature writing courses at a college in the Pacific Northwest.  He blogs about writing and writing as a form of therapy at http://www.danerickson.net. He writes songs, poetry and has written two books, A Train Called Forgiveness and At the Crossing of Justice and Mercy. He’s also an on-again/off-again runner like myself.

Here’s what Dan had to say:

guest-postI’ve heard a lot of talk about getting things started lately. Start running. Start writing. Start a blog. The latest book, Start, by Jon Acuff recommends we punch fear in the face. I agree. The Nike slogan “Just Do It” has lent itself to a generation of athletes.

There’s nothing wrong with a little motivation for getting started. We all need a little kick in the hind end from time to time. But what does it take to finish?

As a writer, I’ve discovered a few secrets to getting things completed. Assuming you’ve started, here are some tips to keep you moving toward the finish line:

Five Sure Ways to Reach the Finish Line Strong

  1. Set your goals: In order to reach the finish line, you have to know what and where it is. At the outset of your project you need to set your goals. Sometimes those goals might be specific. If you’re training for a marathon, you know the date of the event. You have to be trained and ready. Writing books, I like to keep deadlines a bit looser, setting an approximate date until I’ve completed the first draft. Then I up the ante and set a release date.
  2. Make it a regular habit: Long-term projects require consistent dedication. When writing a book, you need to practice writing daily. Some days I may not actually work on the book, but I’m constantly writing and plotting ideas. If you’re training for a marathon, you may not run daily, but you need to be exercising and eating right every day. You still need to focus on the end goal and actually write a chapter or run ten or twenty miles on the weekend. Believe me, doing something on your project daily is the surest way to reach the finish line.
  3. Wake up early: Making something a regular habit requires time. In order to reach the finish line, you’ll need to schedule dedicated chunks of time for working on your project. Many successful people have found that getting up an hour earlier is the best way to keep moving toward a goal. Early mornings are a great time to write or run. Your mind is fresh, your body is rested, it’s quiet outside, and it’s easier to focus. Mornings can be a very productive time of day.
  4. Find a partner: Getting help from others is a key to success in any venture. A running partner can help keep you motivated when you feel like quitting because your legs and lungs are burning up. Editors, photographers, and narrators can help to complete a quality book-writing project. Partners and team members can also hold you accountable to stay on track.
  5. Show appreciation: Being thankful and grateful, both for your own talents, and for those who help you, goes a long way in helping you to realize your goal. When we thank God for our strengths and weaknesses, He hears, and helps us along. When we thank others, our spouses, our children, our colleagues, and our partners, they in turn encourage and energize us to keep moving. Appreciation begets appreciation, which becomes a motivator in itself.

So go ahead. Get started on something. Plan for that marathon. Set that end date for your next book. Just remember to keep plugging daily. Don’t be afraid to ask for help. And always be thankful!

Question: Can you think of other ways to help reach the finish line?

31 thoughts on “How to be a Strong Finisher

  1. Let's Grow Leaders says:

    Great advice. Mornings work well for me too, particularly on weekends when the house is quiet. Curious… have your run a marathon?

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I have my first half-marathon in late September. Not sure about Dan…

      No marathons for me I don’t think.

      1. Dan Erickson says:

        I’m getting myself motivated to start running again. I just finished another session of Karate (gold belt now) and rejoined the Y. My single-dad duties make running a more difficult exercise option, but I’ll be doing some this spring and summer. As for a half-marathon, we’ll see. I need to re-read “Born to Run.” Then maybe I’ll get motivated to run an ultra.

    2. Dan Erickson says:

      Although I’ve been a runner throughout much of my life, I haven’t run a marathon. I used the comparison to writing a book because I knew Matt is working toward his goal of running the half marathon. I have written a couple of books and I’m working toward a Black Belt in Karate. I’ll be 50 in July. Maybe there’s a marathon in me yet.

  2. Trevor Wilson says:

    Good insight Dan. You know me . . . I’m all about the early mornings. There’s just no better time to go out and get things accomplished than when the sun is just beginning to rise. You know you’ve made the early morning switch when you wake up before the rooster.

    But your other points are spot on as well. I think another factor in finishing strong is being sure to start with the right intentions and expectations. If we have misaligned ideas about why we’re pursuing something and what we expect of the endeavor, it’s just all too easy to lose motivation and fizzle out.

    Good stuff Dan.


    1. Dan Erickson says:

      Thanks, Trevor. I like your point about having the right intentions. As a writer, that’s the only way one keeps writing. For me, the intention is to write for the love of writing and share in hopes of helping others. This way, I’ll never stop.

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      I wish I had a rooster.

      One of the reasons I like the winter is I can accomplish so much before the sun comes up. It’s like a race to see how much I can do.

      This time of year that is hard since I get up at 5:30 and the sun comes up about 15 minutes after. Usually by the sunrise, I haven’t done much.

  3. Jon Stolpe says:

    Have fun along the way! On long trips, it always helped to play games in the car or stop along the way at a fun or interesting place on the journey. Deciding to be positive about the journey is extremely helpful. When we’re negative the trip is long and our finish is guaranteed to be weak.

    1. Dan Erickson says:

      Great point, Jon. I think a lack of fun might be a reason that many people give up on long-term goals and projects.

  4. Bob Winchester says:

    I’m so glad you brought this topic up Dan!

    Personally, I’m a serial “Starter”. I think it’s one of the reasons I haven’t read Jon’s book yet. I know how to start. It’s the finishing strong that’s tough. Somewhere in between starting and finishing things get hard…they get boring…they lose their appeal. I can punch fear in the face, no problem! It’s the 20th punch that gets me tired.

    All of your points are solid and great reminders (especially the last one).

    Thanks for sharing!!!

    1. Dan Erickson says:

      I hear you, Bob. I’ve written two books in a trilogy and the third is going to be the biggest challenge.

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      That is well said Bob. “Serial Starter” is a great way to describe me…unfortunately.

  5. Great list, Dan. I know it’s cliche, but I naturally envision and enjoy visualizing the finished product and the impact it might have to keep me motivated through the tough times, whether it’s working out or writing a manuscript.

    I like the fact that you set delivery dates for your books while you were still polishing them. And both of your books are top notch! Excellent work!

    1. Dan Erickson says:

      Thanks, Floyd. There is still some room for improvement in my books. My narrator finds a few typos and inconsistencies. But that just pushes me to do better on the next one.
      Your point of having a vision might be cliche, but I think the greatest entrepereurs of our time have all been strong visionaries, so it’s a very valid point.

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      I dare say that the delivery date was the #1 reason he has finished two while most people would be stuck on #1.

      The Great American Novel is a myth…the statistical probability of spending 10 years writing one book and it being a hit are small. The chances of your 10th book being a hit are much great, even if the first few weren’t that great…but you finished them because you had a deadline.

      Big lesson in there.

  6. Wade_Thorson says:

    Great list Matt, the other item I think is critical is to have the positive attitude that you will be successful in reaching the finish line. If you tell your self it is possible to finish knowing there will be hurddles along the way but convinced you will finish it will great improve your success.

    1. Dan Erickson says:

      I agree that postive attitude is crucial, Wade. What can we do when our attitude wanes a bit to re-energize? Any ideas?

  7. Laura Johnson says:

    Kind of ironic… I completed my first marathon this last fall, reaching goals I had for myself, but I have not completed the first draft of my first novel. I love running, but writing is my passion. How is it that I find running easier to make time for than writing?
    Self doubt?
    Running literally takes me away from everything, but writing occurres around distractions?
    Something else I haven’t thought of?
    Thanks for the list!!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      Do you wake up every day thinking about running? Probably not. So while it’s a goal, it doesn’t have a ton of meaning to you. Meaning = potential to disappoint = fear = barrier to completion.

      Same goes for certain tasks that I have. I have no problem getting our grocery shopping done or the reports I owe my clients. But writing…that’s hard.

      1. Dan Erickson says:

        I think it’s partially about creating the habit, Matt. I know you’re willing to put yourself out there, so it’s likely just a matter of a small chunk of daily time. That’s tough when we live such busy lives.

      2. When Matt says writing is hard, I have to disagree. I find it quite easy to write 1000 words every day about some random ideas and I think it´s the BEST writing or ideas the world has seen.(go figure) What it is hard is to write good, knowing all the techniques of prose, plot, scenes, subplots, type of writing for each genre, finding your voice, e.t.c. That´s hard, and a challenge. After a 10 hiatus of not writing, I had been at the University for only 1 year trying to major in English Literature with creative writing and lost the scholarship though I´ve stopped looking for it , I found again through starting by own blog 3 weeks ago(what a world is this social media, I was baffled at first and still am as to where it can take you) that I´m actually not the BEST, and still have a looooong way to go to master at least a decent technique of writing, plus if the ultimate goal is to get published I find I don´t have time almost, I´m chocked between reading all the e-mails and trying to keep up with all the people in e-mail and blog, that takes me hours, plus reading techniques about writing from other published authors, and then me writing. That´s pretty much how I structure my day. So to Dan´s point 3, yeah I wake up at the most 7:30 am because I feel like time is not in my side and I want to get as much information and write as much as I can, and still don´t feel I have enough hours in the day to do that. Actually I´m becoming quite a recluse, I´m going to end up with only one friend, called MacKintosh.

      3. Matt McWilliams says:

        At least your only friend isn’t named “PC” 🙂

        I still think writing is hard when compared to cleaning my office, killing weeds, or checking one more time to make sure I closed the fridge…point being that I love to write, but nothing ever holds me back from doing those other things.

        Thanks for joining us Charly!

      4. My pleasure Matt, it´s quite something for a novice like me to see all this world, it´s quite something(intimidating) and at the same time I can see a whole bunch of opportunities than I can grab on to. Let´s see where it takes me and my friend MacKintosh. Thanks for the reply.

      5. Dan Erickson says:

        I agree that writing is not literally hard. But finding time can be hard. And to write things that are great and then share them is harder. To gain financial reward from writing, harder still. I take it as a challenge and keep on keeping on. My friend is MacBook Air. Love it!

    2. Dan Erickson says:

      Writing does require that we put ourselves out there, Laura. I’ve learned to be way less self-conscious since I started blogging and publishing books. I wrote an article earlier this week about how we perceive ourselves over at http://www.selfstairway.com. It might prove helpful to your concerns about self doubt.

  8. Dan Erickson says:

    Thanks for the opportunity to guest post on your blog. I hope your readers found the post informative and helpful. It’s always an honor to share passion and experience.

  9. Jana Botkin says:

    Good list!

    I’m drawing a book, along with every other task (designing, writing, gathering info from other folks, finding a printer and a binder, marketing, blogging about the process). The project is HUGE.

    Four things are helping:
    1. Setting little steps and goals

    2. Reminding myself OFTEN why I thought this was a good idea
    3. Giving myself treats along the way. For example, I listen to podcasts (Michael Hyatt’s was GREAT this week – fun to hear your question, Matt!), audio books, and sometimes music.
    4. Knowing lots of people are waiting for the book

    1. Dan Erickson says:

      Sounds good, Jana. Knowing others are waiting for your book is very encouraging.

    2. Matt McWilliams says:

      I agree with @DanErickson8:disqus – #4 is a hugely important driver.

      The truth is that there are always people wanting/waiting/needing your art and that should drive us.

  10. Tom Dixon says:

    Waking up early has been a huge part of my strategy for following my dream. I’m about half way through Jon Acuff’s book – enjoying every page. Great tips – and great to see you on Matt’s blog!

    1. Matt McWilliams says:

      I am already re-reading it 🙂

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