by Patricia Fry
What Keeps You From Writing?
Will you ever write that novel that’s rolling around in your head? Why do you keep putting off writing your memoirs or that nonfiction book you’ve outlined?
There are many reasons why people who want to write, don’t write. For some, it is a matter of priorities. They want to write a book, but life gets in the way. Others have stories inside them that are simply itching to be told, but they’re timid about putting them down on paper. While some writers can’t not write—writing is their passion—others claim they want to write, but they just can’t get started.
What keeps you from writing? See if you recognize yourself here:
You just can’t find the time to write. “Not enough time” is the excuse that most would-be writers use. Or they’ll say, “I’m just too busy.” I heard a new author being interviewed on the radio this morning. She said that she has always wanted to write a book, but, like so many other would-be writers, she just couldn’t find the time. A few years ago, she began to examine how she was spending her time. She suddenly realized that those frequent business trips, which she thought prevented her from writing, may actually provide opportunities for her to write. And she began writing during long airport waits and flights. Within a matter of months, she completed her book and promptly found a publisher.
What if you don’t fly? Examine how you spend your allotted twenty-four hours each day (your 168 hours each week/your 720 hours each month). Can you find windows or even pockets of time during which you can write? If you can eke out just an hour per day, that’s seven hours per week or thirty hours every month. Even on this schedule, little by little, bit by bit, you can write a book. Statistics show that it takes approximately 740 hours to write a nonfiction book. I completed a book once in eight months while holding down a fulltime job and writing for only twenty hours each week.
You come up with every excuse not to write. You are the queen/king of excuses: “I can’t find my fuzzy bunny slippers—there’s no way I can write if I’m not wearing my fuzzy bunny slippers.” Or “It’s supposed to rain today—I can’t write when I’m distracted by the sound of raindrops outside my window.” Or how about this one, “The neighbors have a new dog. What if he barks while I’m trying to concentrate on my writing work?”
I can’t tell you how many people I meet every year who say they are going to write someday—after their kids are in school, become teenagers, start college or marry and have kids of their own. When they become grandparents, they start all over by saying, “I’ll write when the grandkids start school, become teenagers…”
What is your excuse? Will you start writing when you retire, get a day off, move, set up office space, lose weight or win the lottery?
Face it folks, excuses keep you stuck in a do nothing, go nowhere mode. If you truly want to write, short circuit those excuses with an action such as—oh, I don’t know, maybe sitting down at the keyboard and actually writing something.
You are a writing class groupie. You spend all of your time and energy taking writing classes and attending writing seminars.
Classes, workshops and conferences are wonderful opportunities to learn about the writing craft and the publishing industry. I recommend them to writers at any stage of their passion. But I also caution those writers to pace themselves. Don’t use these learning opportunities as excuses not to write. Instead of seeking more and more instruction, inspiration and feedback, put what you’ve learned to practice. Some would-be authors become so enamored with the conference environment that they can’t seem to move forward on their own. They find it a cozy, comfortable womb where they can write what they want—where there is no real pressure or requirements. They talk about being published, but never actually enter the sometimes wicked and competitive world of publishing.
If you resemble these remarks—if you stay on the fringes of the real writing/publishing world through seminars and workshops and writers critique group, hiring a steady string of consultants and editors—maybe it’s time for a reality check. If you truly want to become a published author, sit down and actually write something and then be brave enough to submit it.
You refuse to seek the help you need. At the other end of the spectrum is the writer who has his/her own agenda. He has a story to tell or advice to give readers and refuses to get any kind of help. He just forges ahead right or wrong, with visions of accolades and book sales dancing in his head. The only “go it on your own” writer who experiences publishing success is the one who just happens to luck out.
Hopeful authors who don’t study the publishing industry, who avoid seminars, books, articles and advice about how to write, publish and promote a book, generally aren’t aware of their options, make the wrong choices and fail.
You can’t handle rejection. The world of authorship may look easy to penetrate. There are certainly plenty of books out there in bookstores and at Amazon.com. But once you actually drum up the courage to submit a book manuscript to an agent or publisher, you quickly learn about rejection.
A gentleman told me recently, “I sent my manuscript to ten publishers and received rejections from all of them. That’s it for me. I’m not putting myself through that again.” I told this man that he hasn’t even begun to experience the rejection that many successful authors do. Authorship carries with it a lot of rejection. Of course, there are those who slip right in on an angel wing, land the publisher of their dreams and rake in enough in royalties to finance an expensive sports car. But most authors—even some of the most acclaimed—have been rejected by some of the best publishers around. It’s part of the game. And it is certainly no reason to throw in the towel.
It’s widely known, for example, that James Redfield’s Celestine Prophecy was rejected by every publisher he approached before he decided to self-publish. Warner Books now publishes this bestselling book. Richard Paul Evans received several rejection letters for his novella, The Christmas Box before Simon and Schuster agreed to publish this very popular book.
The sure way to fail as an author is to quit writing or marketing your manuscript or to stop promoting your book.
You’re a closet writer. Some of you are marvelous writers and your friends keep nagging you to seek a publisher for your latest manuscripts. But you just can’t get it together to actually show it around to publishers. You enjoy writing and a part of you would like to have your work read, but you’re afraid. Some of you are afraid of failure and others are afraid of success.
You prefer the status quo—what’s known. When you think of publishing, you feel overwhelmed and then you quickly stop thinking about it and go back to writing for yourself.
That’s okay. However, if you’re reading this article, you are probably thinking a little harder about becoming a published author. And you can—just take one step at a time. I suggest starting by studying the publishing industry, your options and the consequences of your decisions. Learn what your responsibilities as a published author are. Ease into this competitive business: Research good books on the subject, attend publishing conferences, hang out at online forums where published authors discuss their issues and experiences and join publishing organizations.
You’re too ill, crippled or tired to write. I know writers who accomplish their writing goals even though they are bedridden. In fact, I wrote most of my first book, Hint’s For the Backyard Rider (A.S. Barnes, 1978), while in bed recovering for several months from a back injury. I wrote in longhand and I could sometimes sit up long enough to use a small manual typewriter positioned next to me on the bed.
A friend of mine has been confined to bed for years after an accident and she just completed the first in a series of children’s books. I receive email from people with disabling ailments fairly frequently, and who are writing, nonetheless.
You’re embarrassed about your lack of writing skill. A successful author is often a naturally talented writer. Many novelists are excellent storytellers. A prolific author of nonfiction can generally write with clarity. He has good organizational skills. Most writers know where their strengths and weaknesses are, but sometimes it’s hard for someone to evaluate his or her writing abilities.
How do you know when what you write is good or not? Get feedback from avid readers in your genre. Study books like the one you are writing. Take a good writing class. Hire an editor or writing coach. Hang out at online forums where writers are talking about writing. Subscribe to writing-related newsletters and magazines. Practice, practice, practice.
There should be no excuse for not writing if writing is what you really want to do. I challenge you to examine the list of reasons that keep you from writing. Study your current priorities. If you really want to write, change those things that keep you from this dream and make this the year that you become an author.
Patricia Fry is the Executive Director of SPAWN (Small Publishers, Artists and Writers Network) www.spawn.org and the author of 35 books. See her most recent books in the left column of this page.