Today I want to discuss something both exciting and incredibly frightening, writing a book. You’ve always wanted to write a book; you’ve promised yourself you would one day, but it hasn’t happened.
My discussion will tackle why books seem so difficult to begin, and why this mindset is really a mirage. I will go over common lies would-be writers tell themselves. Lastly, I will discuss how to burn down these fears and get started writing that book you’ve always promised yourself you’d write.
Many of you who read my blog post have not ever written a book. I commend you for listening to me bather on about the minutiae involved in writing, editing, and publishing a book. You’re saints for continually reading my posts.
Now your time has come. Writing is not an exclusive group, and the only thing that separates you from writers who’ve written a book is that the latter group has developed a habit of sitting down and writing. This difference is not based on “talent,” or something outside of your control; this difference is based on habit formation.
So let’s discuss that story you’ve kept bottled up for months, years, decades, and let’s identify what prevents you from writing that story. Grab a pen and a sheet of paper—you’ll want to write down some of your ideas while reading this.
If I can manage to get you excited enough about you story, and if I can convince you that your mental blocks are all in your mind, then I will discuss how to motivate yourself to write your book!
I am absolutely positive each and every one of you has a story to tell; some may have several or dozens. But every individual has one. Some of these stories are completely fictional. Others are based on real people and real events.
This is where you’re going to need that pen and paper. Think about this story. You might have shelved it a long time ago, so this exercise could be a little difficult. Let me help you by asking a few questions. Make sure to write down your answers.
- What was that story about? Was it just a fascinating idea or a picture you saw? If so, extrapolate—what story could come out of it?
- What drew you to this story?
- Why is it worth telling?
- Have you thought of the characters involved in that story? If so, what are they like?
- Are there any details of that story that really grabbed you? If so, what are they?
This is where you begin.
Reasons We Avoid Writing
Yes, that’s right. You are avoiding writing. Many of you are fairly aware of this, but you tell yourself you are not avoiding it indefinitely. You’ll pick up writing once you get a little extra free time.
It’s amazing how well we lie to ourselves. If you are telling yourself this lie, then you need to sit up a little straighter and listen to what I am about to say. No one ever wrote a book with this attitude. No one.
I’ll Write When I Have More Free Time
Our lives are never going to get less busy. There will always be something that demands our attention. Further, “free time” is not an absolute measurement; it’s not like you either have it or you don’t (despite popular opinion). Instead, it—like most things—is a sliding scale, a matter of degree. The truth is that if you are not writing during the free time you currently have, then you will not write when you get more free time. Period.
I’ll Begin Tomorrow
The content of this lie is very similar to lying about free time. There are an infinite number of tomorrows to promise yourself. There are also an infinite number of todays. Try promising yourself that instead. My guess is that you’ll be more productive with that promise.
I’m Not a Good Writer
For those who have not written a book because they believe they are not good writers, here’s a little secret that published writers won’t admit: most people begin their writing career as terrible writers. Why? Because writing a book is not something we’re taught in school. Writers have to educate themselves through experience. That means writing a really crappy first draft.
Let me tell you another secret: you are already a better writer than most people who sit down and write their first draft without this worry. Why? Writers who are aware their writing needs work are more open to constructive feedback. You will not believe the sheer number of writers who come to me, talking about how amazing their book is. Many times these books are worse than those who willingly admit they need help. This is because writers who do not have times of self-doubt are also extremely unresponsive to outside feedback.
Obviously there is a huge drawback to believing you are not a good writer: you are so scared of writing rubbish that you never try. Accept that your first draft will be awful—my first drafts always are, and I work with words for a living. Take that first huge leap and write your idea down; you can worry about cleaning it up later.
How Do I Begin?
Okay, this is the fun part. You have an idea. Right now it may be vague and undeveloped, but it won’t be forever. You have also read through the list of lies we tell ourselves to avoid writing today.
Do not feel ashamed if you’ve made excuses for yourself. I’m not here to concentrate on what you’ve been doing wrong. I’m here to identify what’s prevented you from writing so you can remove those obstacles. But more than that, I’m here to encourage and inspire you to begin!
Writing a book is an endurance sport. To treat it as anything else is to already admit defeat. It will take a long time to complete. Who cares? The years will pass anyway, regardless of your action or inaction.
Create a Writing Schedule
I find that acts of endurance must be approached in baby steps. Promise yourself to write a thousand words a week. To get an idea of how long that is, this sentence just hit the thousand word mark, so this sentence and everything above it is your weekly goal. If you can do this, you’ll have a book-length draft by the end of the year.
If you’d prefer to measure your progress by time rather than word count, then try writing one to two hours per week, or twenty to thirty minutes a day.
Start off small; make this task manageable. Remember, your goal is endurance. If you cannot meet this goal week after week, then you’ll want to decrease the time/words you write until it becomes manageable. Any amount of writing is better than none at all.
I Have No Idea What To Write!
Many of you might be panicking. Your idea is majorly underdeveloped. How are you supposed to write a book?
What I’m about to tell you next might give you some reassurance. I’ve found—and I’ve talked to many writers who also share this opinion—that the hardest part of writing a book is the first draft. It’s difficult to write a story out of thin air. No idea is ever fully developed when you go to write your first draft despite how much brainstorming you’ve managed to do.
For those who want get started and worry about organization later, I’d suggest writing through a stream of consciousness and never hitting the backspace button. You can edit the problems out later.
Some of you need to organize your idea before you begin to write. So I’d suggest beginning your writing habit by spending the amount of time you’ve allotted yourself to focus on brainstorming and outlining your story. But remember what I said above; there will always be areas of your story that your brainstorming will not cover.
Go where your story takes you. You might be surprised what you come up with when you wing it. You’ll explore aspects of your world that you hadn’t even known were there.
You have your idea. You’ve confronted the lies we tell ourselves. Now you have a sense of how to write your story. There is nothing to stop you from writing but your own inaction. So give it a try. The worst that can happen is that you’ll end up right where you currently are—further along than you were before you read this.
Laura Carlson, Editor
American Editing Services