You didn’t do it. You said you were going to. You thought about it, dreamed about it, imagined what people would say when you finally did it. But here you are, still having not written a book. So why didn’t you do it?
In all my conversations and coaching sessions with writers over the years, I’ve learned there are three main reasons why so many writers never complete, or maybe even begin their books.
Currently, I’m working on my fifth book. I’m two edits in. 65,000 words. It’s the best thing I’ve ever written. The most research I’ve ever done.
I am so, so proud of the work that’s gone into this book — the original interviews, hundreds of books I’ve read, the five months of just thinking about it before writing it. By the time I’m done, I’ll have spent three years getting this message right.
And yet, every day, I face three big reasons not to go any further. To just give up and think, “Oh, well. At least I tried.”
Of course, that’s the worst thing I could do at this stage, and probably the worst thing you could do, too. We give our obstacles more power than they deserve, and we give up without ever really facing them.
In that vein, I think that once you name something, it loses a lot of its power. You can acknowledge that any challenges you face are not completely paralyzing.
You can go to work.
You can finish your book.
You can learn to do it despite yourself.
So once we name and acknowledge these three big reasons, we can start working toward a solution. We can learn to lean in and work through the obstacles that are far from insurmountable.
So here they are — the three big reasons every writer struggles to start or finish a book.
This is a question of identity. Who are you? Are you a writer, or an aspiring writer?
As I’ve said before, I believe activity follows identity. If you want to be a writer, first you must call yourself one. This takes bravery. You must believe it and then become it, acting your way into this title you’ve now claimed.
It’s not easy. One does not automatically follow the other, but I also believe that the latter cannot happen at all without the former.
If you want to be a writer, first you must call yourself one.
Hemingway said, “Those who say they want to be writers, and aren’t, don’t.” He knew that if we suspend ourselves in a perpetual state of aspiring to be something, we won’t ever be it, and we won’t ever do it.
Shame researcher Brené Brown says that when we have an idea, we have just three seconds to make a physical action toward that idea before our brains pull the emergency break and talk us out of it.
So, if you want to be a writer, say it aloud. Or write it down. Do it before you can pull the emergency break on yourself and your calling. Do it afraid.
2. Lack of time
I can relate to this obstacle every day. There are so many details to attend to that it’s easy to neglect our writing, or delay it for “a better time.” But the truth is that a better time will never come. It just won’t.
Years ago, before I had kids, I had Thursday nights to myself when my wife would leave the house to meet some friends. I considered that time to be my dedicated writing window, and I looked forward to it all week.
When it came around, I would set the mood for myself very intentionally. I’d light candles, make a great drink, play some inspiring classical music — the works. I was convinced that the timing and environment needed to be just right before the Muse would grant me a visit.
You don’t need more time to write. What you do need is to make the most of the time you have.
Every week, it was the same story — I’d spend so much time preparing to write that by the time I had 15 minutes left on the clock, I hadn’t written a single word.
Frantic, and desperate to have something to show for my dedicated writing time, I would spend the last 15 minutes blazing through 1000 words, and I’d look up, breathless, just as my wife was walking through the door. “How’d the writing go?” she would ask.
It took that happening several times before I realized that writing was less about having dedicated time than I thought. It was about having a deadline and a reason to finish.
You don’t need more time to write. It doesn’t exist. What you do need is to make the most of the time you have.
3. Lack of focus
The irony, of course, is that when we make the most of the time we have, we are often inundated with too many new ideas to act on.
This is the burden of the creative mind: we must welcome the ideas while tuning out the distractions. We must receive and ignore selectively, and hope we get it right.
The research for my latest book has led me down the rabbit hole of understanding distraction to be one of our greatest gifts as writers. It is our capacity to hold multiple ideas at once that makes us creative in the first place, but it is our ability to execute on those multiple ideas that separate us from the amateurs.
It has always been true that lack of focus is one of every writer’s greatest challenges.
It’s not enough to simply have lots of ideas. At a certain point, we have to be able to channel that energy into our writing and actually get something down on paper.
I don’t believe that focus is any harder now than it was in the days of our writing heroes. Even Rainer Maria Rilke once said, “We lead our lives so poorly because we arrive in the present always unprepared, incapable, and too distracted for everything.”
It has always been true that lack of focus is one of every writer’s greatest challenges, and that if we can overcome it, we have nearly reached our goal.
There is hope (and it’s free!)
So what’s a writer to do in the face of these three great challenges? Fear, lack of time, and lack of focus will likely never disappear entirely, but what are we to do in the meantime? Is there any way to hack the process of confident, focused, productive writing?
I believe there is.
This week, I’m co-launching a free video series that will help you attack the three big obstacles listed above.
Want to fight fear, lack of time, and lack of focus? Want to ensure you write that book this year? Join my friend Tim Grahl and me as we share exactly what steps you need to take to become a prolific, productive writer.
And who’s Tim, you ask?
You may know him as the book marketing expert and author of Your First 1000 Copies. He’s the pro behind the bestselling book launches of authors like Daniel Pink, Hugh Howey, and over 100 more. But he’s a lot more than that. He’s also one of the most organized and disciplined writers I know. We put our heads together to create this amazing resource just for you.
Again, this is a free video series just for my and Tim’s audiences. We’ve designed it to help you with exactly what you’ve been asking us to create for years, and we can’t wait to see your writing career take off as a result.
Click the image below to get started today:
What fear of writing do you struggle with the most? Share in the comments.