Saying You Want to Write Versus Actually Writing

I just heard this great quote by Ernest Hemingway, thanks to Rachel Aaron:

Those who say they want to be writers, and aren’t writing, don’t.

So, are you talking about writing… or actually doing it?

This is the difference between amateurs and professionals. This is the crux of the matter. This is where the so-called rubber meets the road.

Writers write. Posers talk about writing. Here’s how you shun the latter and become the former:

Step 1: Stop talking

Turn off Twitter.

Block out distractions.

Stop lying to yourself when you say, “Some day, I will do this.” You will not.

Some say that talk is cheap. In this case, they’re right. Pardon the poignancy of the phrase, but shut up. If all you ever do is talk about the novel you’re going to write, then you are a liar and a coward.

Fear has taken over. You must fight to regain control. Nobody wants to hear what you are going to do. Not publishers or future employers or would-be readers. They want to know what you’ve done or what you’re doing.

No one ever won an award or led a revolution by what he said he was going to do. He did it by doing it.

Step 2: Start writing

Pretty simple. Begin. Start today, not tomorrow. Write.

Whether you want to or feel like it is irrelevant. Use a writing prompt if you need one. Time yourself, if you need something to motivate you. Shut yourself in your office or bedroom or a coffee shop and begin.

Forget about publishing and marketing and agents. And just write. That is all you need to know right now.

Step 3: Repeat

Keep doing it. Persevere. Do not give up. As you continue, you’ll find yourself slowly becoming a writer. And one day, you won’t have to think about it.

You may not necessarily like it, but you’ll do it. You’ll get up in the morning, ready to go to work. You won’t talk about it; you’ll just do it.

And then, you’ll no longer be an amateur. You’ll stop being someone who talks about what she is going to do. And you’ll actually be doing it.

You’ll find yourself so busy creating that there will be little time to talk about it.

Do you talk about writing? Or do you actually do it? Share in the comments.

97 thoughts on “Saying You Want to Write Versus Actually Writing

  1. I’ve actually been writing.  And I love it!  Most of my writing is done on my blog, but I also keep a journal that holds many of my thoughts and ideas.

  2. Great words of advice.  I read your Writer’s Manifesto two weeks ago.  Last week I started my long procrastinated blog site.  Thanks for sharing your wisdom.  BTW, you were mentioned in the first post on my site.

  3. I have to admit, I was completely opposite. My writing was done in secrecy. Something about telling people I was a writer seemed pretentious. That actually was a good way for me to start it all out. Now I feel proud to tell people I’m a writer.  

    1. I was the same way. Even my best of friends didn’t know I was writing until a few months ago. Now that I’m querying and working on several more pieces those closest to me are probably getting sick of hearing about what these imaginary people in my head are up too.

      Great post Jeff. This advice can apply to so many other aspects of life too.

  4. Great stuff Jeff! To be honest, I am one of those procrastinators, but between your “Writer’s Manifesto” & Michael’s “Goal Setting:The 90 Day Challenge”, I might just get cured! Thanks for all your post…..I learned something new everyday.

  5. Amen. No way to to it except to get to it. 

    I be Hemingway would have loved to blog. Blogging is such a simple way to test out new ideas, fall into the daily discipline of galvanizing ideas, get immediate feedback and…

    …begin writing now. Like, t’day mate.

    Once you get in the rhythm you find ideas for writing are not as hard to come by as you might expect. (But if you’re stuck, here are a few ideas:

  6. I’m reading Annie Dillard’s The Writing Life. “What then shall I do this morning?” she says. “How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives. What we do with this hour, and that one, is what we are doing.” 

    Like you’re saying, if you spend the morning writing, then you might be a writer. Maybe. But if you don’t, then you definitely aren’t.  

    Good post Jeff.

  7. I think this applies to anything. Writing, running, being a missionary, trading stocks. It is easy to talk and maybe even dream, but the only way to do is to do. Thanks Jeff.

  8. Very straightforward friend! Thanks.

    I used to talk about it. I had to work out many messes in my life before I stopped being a liar and actually put my “wants” into action. 

    Not I have a publisher interested in my book. You’re right. They weren’t interested in what I was going to do. They were interested in what I had already done or was doing. 

    Love your direct speaking!

  9. I love your no-nonsense tone here, Jeff. As always, I find your words to be poignant for much more than writing. I’m taking this to heart for my personal desire to write, but also for the desire my husband and I have to be in ministry. It’s time to quit talking and get to doing. 🙂

    1. Awesome, Melissa. Love that you’re wrestling with these issues of calling and how to do it. I’m applying this lesson to a lot of different areas in my life, as well — turns out that I TALK about a lot of things I don’t do. For example, I haven’t played guitar in probably a month, but I still call myself a guitar player. For someone who used to play semi-professionally, this is embarrassing.

  10. Why stop at writing?! Your words should inspire all of us who claim to be: 1) leaders, 2) parents, 3) siblings, 4) spouses, 5) Christians. The list goes on and on. So many roles we play in life where we talk about being “better” or more “active,” yet we fall short at a behavioral level. Jeff you are much more eloquent than Nike, but it is fundamentally a “Just Do It” post. Nice Job.

  11. Great advice, and tone in this post.

    Like NIKE said “Just DO IT!”. Forget whatever fears, reasons, [insert excuse here] for not DOING what you want and say your going “to do” – and Just DO IT!

    One of my favorite sayings is “Talk is Cheap. Practice what you Preach.” It serves as a reminder for taking action.

  12. Jeff…

    “You won’t talk about it; you’ll just do it. And then, you’ll no longer be an amateur. You’ll stop being someone
    who talks about what she is going to do. And you’ll actually be doing

    I love that line.

    It’s crazy how similar the tone and message of our posts today were!

    Great start to the blogging week bud! Keep up the great work!

  13. Way to call out the posers on a Monday morning. My 3rd cup of coffee hasn’t even kicked in yet. 🙂

    I am somewhat guilty of this. While I do write, I talk about how I want to write better (process, frequency, content, etc), but then I don’t.

    No more talking about it. I’ll let you know when it’s DONE.

  14. I love the directness of your calling the posers out! I think I do both. I talk about writing and also do it too. The thing is that I’d rather not find a balance between doing the two; I’d rather just write.

  15. Great stuff here, Jeff!  I had a writing project I had been putting off and forced myself to just start today… it ended up being a very productive day.

    I love how practical your posts are… it seems like I can always put them into action.

  16. Great post Jeff, love how straight forward not holding back your posts are. I was exactly like this a year and half ago. 

    Now I have a writing schedule that I stick to every night. I have a  time to stop, although that doesn’t work all the time. 

    I’ve learned as you said that if you are not writing you are “lying to yourself”. I stopped the lying and started working. 2000 words a night is my goal, every night, sometimes I go over, but always at least 2000.

    Setting a goal of 2000 has changed the way I view my writing. I learn more from your posts than any one I follow. 

    1. awesome. hemingway had a similar discipline, although it was much more lax. every day, he just needed to write. sometimes, it was 300 words; other times, 1500. but what amazed me was that it was just a little bit each day. much like exercising…

  17. So does writing a comment count? 🙂

    Despite a week-long silence on my blog, I’ve been writing like crazy in recent days. Traveling, hit-and-miss Internet service, and slow loading have kept me out of the normal loop. I have to plan better next time I leave the country.

  18. I’ve been a talker about writing for so long, but never actually done something about it. 

    Rachel’s quote really made it clear to me that because I’m not writing, I shouldn’t even start writing.

    As I’ve looked at the post over the last few days, I’ve decided to cut my losses and not bother writing anymore, it is obviously not the thing for me.  I’ve attempted to build my blog over many different topics over the years, and nothing has come from it yet.

    My current attempt has seen me flounder on my blog, and even at the moment I am stuck in a rut of not doing anything towards my blog.

    So I’m out, I’m going to leave my blog to slowly die a horrible death.

    1. Wow. This is tough to hear, Andrew. I didn’t expect this kind of reaction. I trust that you’ve thought about this and are doing what you believe to be right, but still… seems sad.

      1. The thing that makes it obvious to me, is that no matter how often I read posts like these calling people to write, I’m never actually motivated to write more, if anything they actually discourage me from writing because I feel that my writing is never any good.

        I also think that another reason behind it is because I haven’t found a topic that I can write endlessly in.  Over the 6 or so years I’ve had a domain and blogged, I’ve lasted no more than 6 months in any one particular topic before throwing the towel in.

        I know that I should persevere onwards, but with web traffic levels bordering on the non-existant even after 6 months, I really do wonder why I even just wasted my 6 months. 

        I know that this post wasn’t your intention to drive people out of writing, but sometimes that is the reality for some people.

        1. Andrew, I totally understand how you feel. I always feel the same way when I read these type of blogs and people’s response to them. I have never felt like I was a writer, nor do I feel encouraged or excited to write….it’s just not something I have ever felt talented enough to do.

          Except, that God put me in a job, as an editor/writer/report for the local paper, that really forces me to write. Sometimes it is about things I love (sports), and sometimes it is about thing I have never, up until 4 months ago, had a clue about. I have learned more in the last four months about politics and city government then I have ever known, nor wanted to know. I have also learned a lot about writing.

          God put me in this job, and everyday I want to quit because I am not adequate, but God knows better than I do. I have to trust that He knows what He is doing.

          Andrew, I covered a story last month about our town’s first soldier to die in war. In addition to covering the story for my job, I was friends with this young man’s parents. This young man was a friend of my son. His parents ask me to ride with them, in the convoy, that would travel 3 hours to Dallas, to bring this young man home for the last time. I watched on the tarmac at Love Field as the Ft. Hood Honor Guard took him off the plane to be put into the hearse. I traveled with this family, 300 Patriot Guard Riders, numerous county, city and state officials and police, the 150 miles back along a route that saw over a thousand people line the roadways from Dallas to a tiny town in East Texas. The stories I had to write during that time were the hardest ones I have ever done. As the mother of a former soldier that was wounded in Iraq, I was both humbled and honored that God gave me the opportunity to share this young man’s life with others, hopefully in a way that one day his one month old daughter will know who her father was, and what he meant to so many that lined that highway, in 100 degree temperatures to salute a fallen hero.

          Andrew, if God only put me in this job for that one story, it would be worth all the struggles I have daily because of my inadequacies. God gave you a platform. Maybe He didn’t want you to stick with one subject. Maybe you are doing exactly what He wants. Andrew, just write what God puts into your heart to write. Don’t worry about the numbers. If you reach just one person, and it makes a difference in their lives, then you have done exactly what God is leading you to do.

          I hope and pray you continue to write. Let these blogs and comments spur you on to greater learning. Put a link to your blog on here. I would love to read what you have done. But more than anything, don’t give up on yourself or on God.

          1. Thanks Beth.  Just click on my name and that will take you to my blog.  

            I just really wonder whether blogging really is for me.  I know that traffic doesn’t really count, but it is discouraging when I can count the number of visitors per day on one hand. 

  19. It’s so funny how writers (myself majorly included) will psyche themselves out. I always freak out about sitting down to write, but when I make myself, I write, and I get stuff done.

  20. I know, I come pretty late for this one (I have found it on Twitter today), but I really have an urge to comment. I hate the posers, in any profession, just talking about their work, but when it comes to the results, they have nothing to show.
    Life is short, time passes by enormously fast and we will anyway regret the things we have not done, and one of the worst regrets ever is not even having tried to fulfill our dreams. 
    You are absolutely right! Thanks!  

  21. Hi Jeff.  That is a good quote that can be applied to so many things.  I work a lot with personal change, and when you talk about it and are not doing it, you won’t.  It seems like an easy enough equation, but really missed by a lot.  Thanks for the post and the steps to get there.  

  22. I stumbled across this post today, honestly from googling, “want to write” and hoping for some inspirational quote I could write out to put above my desk or something. Funny how sometimes you find what you need to read instead of what you were looking for… Thanks for reminding me to shut up and write, even if I didn’t get the message for a while! Now I’m off to pull out my notebook and do some editing and writing that I’ve been putting off…

  23. Okay, so I write and write and write and keep writing. Then what? Who’s going to read it and how am I going to get paid? That’s my big mental block. That’s my dilemma.

  24. Thank you again Jeff. I have a problem though. I have been asked to write about something personal and I have a problem writing about it. The words just does not come the way I want them to. Thank you.

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