As we ticked in 2013, I sat despairing, “My book isn’t finished. I missed my deadline.”
My big, stupid goal for the last quarter of the year didn’t happen. Rebel Mama wasn’t done. DESPAIR. Why am I a writer? I should go get a job. Maybe I should go to grad school. Oh god. Why do I suck so hard? FML.
So I did what any responsible business owner would do and wrote this blog post on every possible reason the book didn’t end up finished in time. Naturally.
Whether it’s a novel or non-fiction, you have a book in you waiting to enter the world. So why hasn’t it yet?
1. It’s a stupid idea.
Penelope Trunk told me my book idea was stupid. She was right. The mess it had become was starting to suck, and so I didn’t really want to write it. After bombing my interview with her, she gave me the best career advice of my life, and I started writing the stories I was terrified to share. If your idea is stupid, stop wasting time on it. No one likes boring, including (I hope) the writer.
Action: Talk to someone in your target market about your book. If they lose interest after your pitch, either your pitch sucks or your idea does. Head back to the drawing board. If your idea passes the pitch test, get back to work.
2. You don’t have a routine.
Great writers have great routines. They write whether they feel like it or not. They write because to not write would be giving up. Great writers are freedom fighters. If you want your cause to take off, people have to know about it; and if the book isn’t written yet, why should they care?
(Sidenote: I’ll give some of you a pass on this, because you know, you may have small children. I get it. Trying to put a strict routine in place when you’re operating on an infant’s schedule is an act of lunacy. In which case, just move on to the next reason your book isn’t written.)
3. You don’t have a system to turn to in place of a routine.
If you can’t have a routine, have the next best thing: a system. When you do have 15 minutes to sit down and write, don’t be an idiot and waste sitting there thinking, “Where do I start?” That’s huge pressure you’re putting on yourself to perform with no lead-in or warm up. If you’re going to perform at a moment’s notice, prepare in advance. Have your outline ready and a task manager open with a list of the sections that need written.
Action: Get organized. This concept by fantasy author Rachel Aaron revolutionized my work habits. (If you want to know my personal writing routine, subscribe here, and you’ll get it in my next post. Great tips for moms, especially.)
4. You don’t have clarity around the concept yet.
The hardest part about writing a book is refining it to say exactly what you want it to say. That sounds stupid simple, but the fact is that the act of synthesizing, condensing, and distilling is much harder than being loquacious is. One strong sentence is worth more than five pages of rambling because no one is going to care enough to read crappy writing for that long. Mediocrity is a choice. (Crappy writers, move on to the next step.)
Action: Revisit your book outline. Is your thesis the same now as it was before? What’s your core takeaway? If this is where you keep getting stuck, it’s time to work with a coach and potentially an editor.
5. You’re a crappy writer.
Not all of us are writers. Use the medium that best suits you and your style. Once you start getting money through the door, you can pay someone else to turn it into a book.
Action: Pick a different medium. As an ENFP, I’m only too aware that I perform better on a stage than on paper. This is why I’m moving into speaking and out of writing for other people. It just makes more sense. What strength are you neglecting by forcing yourself to do something you probably don’t even enjoy very much? The other option is to work with a writer who makes you sound smart in print.
6. Your arbitrary deadline was unrealistic.
Like any business owner worth their salt, you’ve set a deadline for launching your book since every book is a startup. And since most of suck at predicting how long a project will take to accomplish, you can see a looming deadline come and go, even when you’re writing like a crazy person to try and finish it.
Action: Get better at making time estimates. Set a new deadline. Ship it.
7. You’re a perfectionist.
This is actually code for “I’m terrified of being judged so I keep stalling on hitting the publish button.” You probably feel unqualified. Chances are you wrestle with the importance of what you want to say and your ability to say it and be taken seriously.
8. You have to get money through the door now.
When the landlord’s calling because rent is overdue and creditors are harassing you to pony up, your mind is preoccupied. It’s much faster to get the cashflow moving again with services, and your book suddenly takes the back burner. Life happens. Important events come up and take the limelight, even when we want and need to get that book done to move on with our lives.
Action: Work with the 80/20 rule. 80% of your projects are bringing money in the door, and the other 20% are an investment in your future. Reframe how you spend your creative energy because it is a limited resource.
9. You’ve got bright shiny object syndrome.
The tech and marketing and other goodies around getting your book published are sexy and distracting. (Trust me. I know.)
Action: Outline your book marketing plan. Go ahead. Revel in the forecasts and apps and ideas. Get it out of your system, and then get back to work.
10. You’re scared.
I’m not going to coddle you because there are a million coaches out there who will feed you a line of bullshit about how you must not be ready for a reason. Sit down and do the work. Face your fear. Ship now. The world needs art, and if your art sucks? Well, it will probably sit in the shadows where no one can see it. Art is temporary. Lucky you – it means you’ll learn so you do it better the next time.
Why write at all?
The fact is that you’re going to die. It could be tomorrow, and your writing career could be over before it even starts. There have been too many awful events taking place in our world over the past six months for you to take for granted that you are alive. You have a choice in how you spend your time in the land of the living. Will you be so selfish as to squander it? Get over yourself.
Leave the legacy of your choosing. And if that means writing a book? Write it. Get the resources you need so you can.
P.S. I didn’t *just* write this post. After I was done berating myself, I got to work. The book’s nearly finished now, thanks to better planning, clearing the decks, etc. I’ll give you an update and the secret to how I finished and rewrote the entire book in a week in my next post. Subscribe here to make sure you get it.