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Just Do It

Question of the day: I really, really want to write fiction. I get so excited about doing it, but then I find a million reasons to procrastinate or focus on my other freelancing work. How can I get into the swing of things and actually crank out some pages?

Ah, yes. Tthis is why everyone believes that they can write a book. They have the brilliant idea, so how hard can it be to execute?

Well, as you're learning, the execution might actually be the hardest part. And trust me, I hear you. I STILL struggle to sit down every day and actually write. If left to my own devices, I'd fritter the day away on Facebook or Twitter or online shopping or gossip sites or...well, you get the idea. There are A LOT of ways to waste your day, especially when you're freelancing and actually devote a portion of that day to "real work." In those few moments in between, you may not want to be on the clock.

But here's the truth - as obvious as it sounds: if you don't write your book, IT WILL NOT GET WRITTEN. It's that simple. It will remain in your head forever, and every time you walk into a bookstore or read reviews in magazines, you'll think, "Oh, that should be me." But it shouldn't be you, BECAUSE YOU HAVE NOT WRITTEN THE BOOK! There are just no two ways around it. You either write the book or you don't. And if you don't, there's no use in talking about it's nothing more than an idea, an unfulfilled promise. Six years ago, I was one of those people: those I-can-write-a-book people. Finally, I got so sick of myself that I actually wrote the damn thing. It wasn't very good, but hell, I wrote it, so it was something. It was a step toward something else.

So what I recommend is this. Promise yourself that you will devote a small period of time - even just twenty minutes - to working on your fiction every day. Or establish a (low) word count that you must hit before you cruise over to your Scrabble app. Set an egg timer if need be. I've found that if you treat writing like exercise - something that maybe you dread but after a while, becomes a bit of a habit - it gets a lot easier. When I first started running, for example, the 45 minute jog was torture. But then I realized, really, anyone can pretty much tolerate 45 minutes of ANYTHING. So think of it that way: you can survive 20 minutes (or 45 minutes) of writing. You'll be absolutely none the worse for it. 

Do this daily. Every day. Eventually, it will become ingrained. And even if you still dread it (as I sometimes do), it will be part of your routine, and you'll do it anyway. I went running this morning. I didn't love it, but it was second nature. The same will be true of your fiction. And if you don't, maybe that book - and a career as a novelist - isn't in you after all. 

(See? You really don't like it when I imply that, so as I said - get writing.)

Reader Comments (7)

Hehe, what a lovely, cheery kick in the pants.

I agree that there's no way around it but to just sit down and do it. And yes, like exercise, some days it will feel great, and some days you would rather stick a fork in your thigh. Here's the secret, though: the good days tend to breed more good days. The more you do this, the better you will get at it, and the more you will enjoy it.

For the bad days, I like to use Freedom (an internet-disabling program for Mac). I also sometimes watch videos of inspiring authors (like JK Rowling) at book signings or interviews. Hearing them talk about their struggles, and then seeing for myself how successful they've become, gives me hope and motivation.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterKristan

I think a large part of the problem (at least in America) is the idea of failure. If you don't do it, you're a failure! Um, no. It's okay to not be a writer - or doctor - or painter - or equestrian. Whatever. That doesn't mean you're a failure, it's just not for you. Find something else you enjoy when you do it, and that you want to do in practice and not just in theory. In theory I want to be on Broadway. In practice, I'd get pelted with tomatoes. So it is with writing. Maybe you love the idea of writing more than actually writing. That's *okay*. Just try to admit it sooner than later.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterJess Tudor

Jess- that's an interesting point. I wonder if, though, a big part of it is also the idea that people also think that because, say, they write thank-you notes or essays in college or whatnot, that they can therefore write a book. It's different than almost any other skill because a) you don't have to be trained for it (like a doctor or whatnot), and b) you may not have a sense of whether or not you're any good, akin to your Broadway example....we all KNOW (within a realm of reason), whether or not we're cut out for Broadway. But writing...well, anyone can do it - in theory. It's putting that to work that's the difficult part. I suspect that some of it may be failure, but I think a lot of it is that people don't realize how DIFFICULT it is to write a book until they've actually started doing it.

Just food for thought. Thanks for weighing in and making me think about it some more!

And Kristan, as always, thanks for chiming in with your own wise words.

December 2, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAllison Winn Scotch

I have an idea for a memoir. I believe (hope) people would like it too. But like you said, they won't get to read it unless I finish writing it first. Great advice. :)

December 3, 2010 | Unregistered Commentermaryawrites

Part of the problem might be the freelance work. I'm finding it harder to sit down and write for fun now that I'm writing a lot for work. When I wrote my first book, I was doing very little freelance writing, and it was nothing to sit in front of the computer all night when I'd been active all day. Now, after a long day of staring bleary-eyed at a computer screen, it's harder to make myself sit down and open my WIP.

I've been toying with the idea of setting out a specific block of time during my workdays to work on fiction. Because putting in that time is the only way I'll ever turn that unpaid writing work into paid writing work!

December 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterStaceyW

Great post, Allison, thanks. I was in a similar position to the question writer when I wrote my novel. I was doing a lot of nonfiction writing, and when I wasn't working on actual assignments I had to devote a lot of time to scaring up new assignments, plus my kids were very young, blah blah blah. The ONLY WAY I completed my novel was to do just what Allison suggested. I devoted part of each and every chunk of work time to the novel and I committed myself to doing that until I had the first draft done. As the fiction started to work out I was able to ease up on the nonfiction (okay, the tanking economy helped there) but for a good long time I had to work on the novel without any sign whatsoever that it would see the light of day. I think you have to put your blinders on and just write if you want to get it done. Worry about the rest of it--the agent, getting published, etc.--after you have that first draft completed. Good luck!

December 3, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterMeg Moore

I think that our society has glorified "Procrastination" and held it up as something that is cooler than honest, hard work. I don't know how many Facebook statuses I've seen where people admit they are procrastinating, add a smiley face, and then all their friends click "like." It makes me feel sick.

Whenever people ask me "how on earth" I've been able to complete full-length novels (I'm on the home-stretch of my 2nd), I always introduce the word DISCIPLINE. It's kind of amusing to watch them grimace. But after years of thinking that some sort of supernatural inspiration would come floating down and possess me until a beautiful novel was finished, I've realized that my writing just doesn't work that way. I usually feel like I have to pull the story out kicking and screaming.

For those of you who have had children, which is more difficult; giving birth to a novel, or a child?

Just kidding! ;)

December 13, 2010 | Unregistered CommenterAmanda Flynn

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