When I was taking too many years to write my book, I was my own worst enemy. I had more reasons for not working on my book than I did for writing it. I didn’t have the habits I needed to support the work that was most important to me. I got in my own way thousands of times by believing that unless things were just so then I couldn’t get down to work.
My limiting beliefs were not uncommon and they plague plenty of writers. But until you stop believing these things and start believing something else, you’ll never be able to commit fully to the project you want to work on and let it take you where you want to go.
1.) Writing when you’re feeling inspired/want to write. I wrote about this some time ago in a post. There are many problems with this limiting belief, but the biggest one is that it doesn’t teach you to write even when you don’t feel like it. The truth is if you make the effort enough times, then you will write when you don’t feel like it, and it teaches you to be much more productive than you would be if you didn’t.
Resistance is a normal thing. Even the best of us feel resistance when we sit down to work. The only way to overcome it is to sit down, stare it square in the eye, and do it anyway.
2.) “Having Time”. You don’t “have” time; you “make” time. When do we have time for anything? I don’t have time to do my dishes, but I do them, because a.) I’m not a slob and b.) I don’t want to piss off my roommates. You do things every day that you don’t “have” time for, because you can’t not do them.
Writing is a lot like this. How many times a day do you long for the fulfillment that writing gives you? What happens if you don’t write, where will you be? Ask yourself that question, and you’ll find the drive to make time.
3.) Writer’s block. I don’t believe in writer’s block. Saying you “have writer’s block” implies that there is something afflicting you, something that is out of your control, and you just have to wait until it goes away. It is not out of your control, because if you’re feeling blocked, chances are changing something can get you unblocked.
Try something else for a while, change your genre and write something different. Play with writing prompts. Take a class in dance or painting or improv or anything. Read a book or listen to podcasts in a field you don’t normally follow (for me it’s anything science related). Just use a different part of your brain and change your routine, do something new or different. You are anything but powerless.
4.) I am only successful if I make X amount of money and have Y amount of readers. It drives me a little batshit crazy whenever someone makes the comment about me becoming the next J.K. Rowling. To become the next J.K. Rowling means I have to sell billions of copies of my books to people all over the world, franchise them into movies, and create a cult classic. If its unclear what that kind of pressure this can put on a creative, just look at Harper Lee, who never wrote anything after To Kill a Mockingbird, because the pressure to perform at that level was too much.
While that would be a dream come true, it’s only a dream, and I don’t need that to become successful. Neither do you. You are the master of your own success. Define who you want to help and how many readers would make you feel like you’ve done your job, and focus on just that.
5.) I need the right space. Strangely enough during the the most unproductive periods when I was not working on my book, I had a dedicated writing space. I had a desk in a nook separate from other parts of my apartment. It was a comfortable space to work, yet I hardly worked at all, because my life wasn’t in order. I didn’t stick to a routine, and I allowed myself to get distracted from my work. Last summer I traveled for a month but stayed on top of my project, because I stuck to a routine, which was, simply, write today. I wrote on airplanes and kitchen tables, sometimes jet lagged and sometimes late in the day. These days, I write in my sparse bedroom. Space does nothing if you don’t have the right habits.
6.) It needs to be good/great/perfect. The first law of writing is that your first draft sucks. Your first draft always sucks. Your first draft must fulfill its purpose by sucking wholeheartedly. Anything you’ve read that inspired you, moved you, taught you something, or made you think deeply sucked the first time it was put to writing. It did not come out perfectly the first time it was written. Great writers will make their work seem effortless, but the truth is they labored over their work, edited, revised, and re-wrote it a few times at least before calling it “done”.
7.) Write drunk. Edit sober. Turns out Hemingway may not have actually said this. Even so, this is pretty crummy advice. Not entirely terrible, but it’s misunderstood easily. Don’t take it as, you should literally write drunk. I have tried writing with even one glass of wine, and it was anything but inspiring. My thoughts were unclear and foggy. Nowadays I don’t drink but once or twice a week, because a drink at night will affect my creativity the next day. But write with the idea of being drunk. Write a little recklessly. Write like nothing matters. Write without boundaries, and when you edit, put it all together so it makes sense. Be thoughtful and clear-headed. A translation of this would be, “Write recklessly. Edit your shit together.”
At the end of the day the only thing that matters is habits and routine, even if that routine is, write today. And unlike all the myths and limiting beliefs listed above, that is something you do have control over. This is the difference between the people who “have a book” in them and actually write a book.
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