With tons of writers fresh off National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) and others inspired by the promise of the new year, it’s a great time to tackle a new project—or continue working on your current one. But there are still a few folks putting their breaks on.
How many of us want to dive into something like NaNoWriMo but never manage to get into it? And what about the other eleven months of the year?
Chances are, there’s a good reason you’re not writing the book you want to write—or at least you’re telling yourself it’s a good reason. Time for some straight talk: Enough procrastination, friends. Here’s how to get to work.
“I’m too busy.”
Of all the complaints writers have, time is often their biggest challenge. For those authors fortunate enough to make books their career, it’s less of a problem (and they’re usually the first to admit how fortunate they are). However, the rest of us are not so lucky. Families, full-time jobs, freelancing, personal disasters, commitments, volunteer work, and even illness all conspire to eat up most of our days. Then you add in necessary details like food, sleep, hygiene, occasional visits with friends and family, laundry, chores, traffic—well, you get the point.
So how do you find time to write your book? Well, the answer is deceptively easy-sounding: you make the time. We know, we know. Easier said than done. But truly, you can. They key is prioritizing it. Here are a few ways to make room in your life for your book:
- Take a vacation or even a weekend, and make it a solo writing retreat—either at home, at a cottage, or somewhere inspirational.
- Schedule some writing time during the quietest part of your day, such as the early, early morning, or late at night.
- “Steal” minutes from other activities—like waiting in doctors’ offices, standing in endless checkout lines, sitting on the sidelines during your children’s extracurriculars, or lunchtime at the office—by carrying a notepad or tablet computer with you.
- Make a weekly writing date with yourself. If you can’t trust your family to give you the peace and quiet you need, run for the blissful quiet of a library or small coffee shop.
- Ask your family for help. Delegate household tasks and duties to other members, and ask them for suggestions on where they can help you make time. Writers who work from home full-time often use “signals” to indicate that they are writing and are not to be disturbed unless it’s an emergency. Headphones, “working pants,” or even a simple “Leave Me Alone, I’m Writing” sign can let your spouse, children, and/or parents know you are working.
- Choose an accountability partner. Find someone who is facing the same struggle, and hold each other accountable with weekly word count goals, added incentives, and little rewards.
“I’m not a good enough writer.”
There are two camps who use this excuse: The first group is made up of those who are, in fact, good writers but fear they might be terrible. Many of them are already published or writing on a semiprofessional basis. Others keep their writing secretly tucked away in dark places, terrified that someone might see it and judge. Writers in this (alarmingly large) group often feel moments of crippling self-doubt and wonder what mad chip in our brains exploded and possessed us to think we wanted to write for living. The true culprit for these writers and authors often lies with Imposter Syndrome. If this is you, check out some ways to manage it in our more in-depth blog, Overcoming Imposter Syndrome: 5 Tips Writers Can Use to Defeat Our Own Worst Enemy.
The second group is those writers and authors who genuinely feel their writing is not strong enough to be published. Whether it’s a lack of experience, discouraging feedback from editors and agents, or some other factor, these writers are looking for ways to improve their craft. If this is you, just remember that every writer has the potential to improve their writing. Every day we learn something new about ourselves and our art. It’s one of the reasons writing can be such a rewarding and challenging career choice. Here are a few ways we can all polish up our writing:
- Read. Read as many books as you can—not just in your favorite genre but in others too. Great writers have the ability to introduce us to new ways of thinking and of expressing ourselves. And at the very least, it can be encouraging to read a variety of books and realize there is a market for many different styles of writing.
- Take a class. Whether it’s auditing a university course, taking a weekly writing class at a rec center, or even returning to school full-time, structured learning environments can improve the quality of writing and help you find and hone your own style.
- Find a writing group. Feedback, shared work, and peer support can be just the boost your writing needs. These tend to be highly supportive environments that are committed to making you a better writer. Added bonus: you can help other people too.
- Try writing for different places. A lot of writers get stuck on the idea of writing books, but in the meantime, your writing can grow simply by writing and publishing blogs, interviews, articles, essays, short stories, poetry, and more. The more you write and publish, the more your writing will improve.
- Seek out a mentor. Finding a mentor can be tricky work, especially because those authors who are inclined to mentor often go through educational institution channels. Mentorship is one reason to enroll in a university or online course taught by an author you respect. Beyond that, sometimes it takes approaching an author who writes in your genre. Ask your local librarian or independent bookseller if they know of an author in your area.
- Join a writing organization. The trick with writing organizations is that you only really get out what you put into them. While many require membership fees (and occasionally proof of writing experience), organizations can hook you up with resources, writing groups, mentors, and more.
“I’ll write a book … one day.”
One day. By invoking this small but dangerous phrase, you are solemnly committing to a course of inaction.
Instead of “one day,” tell yourself, “This is not a priority for me right now.” And that’s OK … if you don’t want to actually write a book. But if you’re serious about your goal, ask yourself what is stopping you from starting your book tomorrow. What can you do to make it a priority without compromising things like your home and family?
In her article for Forbes, Margie Warrell suggests that when we make excuses (because often, we are truly just making excuses) to not do something, it’s because we’re avoiding the “emotional discomfort” of change.
“As the days roll steadily by, our fears grow larger, not smaller, until they eventually lead to a burial ground for unfulfilled dreams and untapped potential. All the time, our procrastination can exact a steep toll on our finances, career, business, relationships, and health. We are loath to admit it, but in electing to put off today what can be done tomorrow, we inadvertently sell out on our happiness—both today, and in the many tomorrows that comprise our future.”
In short, “one day” means fear has taken over. Which leads to the next big reason you’re not writing your book …
“I’m too scared to write my book.”
FEAR. It can propel us to great heights, or it can reduce us to the smallest and most terrified of creatures.
Of course, you will never hear a writer or author say, “I’m too scared to write my book.” What they’ll say instead are things like “I’m worried no one will buy my book” or “I’m scared of failure” or even (and I can vouch for this one) “I am terrified of success.” There are so many unknown factors, some of which can be devastating and even heartbreaking.
The best writing is an act of vulnerability. Of taking your soul and capturing it in such a way that others can see into you. Even for the bravest of souls, it’s a terrifying prospect. So how do you proceed forward in the face of fear?
“This is every writer’s opportunity with fear—to learn to live with the negative stories that get airtime in our minds, without letting them limit what we know we are called to do,” says Sage Cohen in “10 Ways to Harness Fear and Fuel Your Writing.” “Chances are good that your fear is just trying to protect you from meeting pain. Once you give it a chance to see that you’re going to be just fine, it will likely let up, and eventually even shut up for good.
Cohen suggests that instead of worrying about factors you can’t control (like the results of our work), focus on those things we do control, like process. She suggests training ourselves out of bad, procrastinatory habits (“OK, I will do laundry for 15 minutes, and then write for 30”) and even reminding yourself why you are writing and what you hope to achieve with it as a means of focusing away from the fear.
“In short, fear isn’t the problem—fearing fear is where we run into trouble,” Cohen writes. “When we exit this loop, we’ll be in a better place to see clearly, aspire meaningfully, and stop tripping over our own self-defeating feet.”