Goins, Writer

On Writing, Ideas, and Making a Difference

Why I Started Writing Fiction: The Power of Beginning Again

Last week, I decided to do something I never thought I’d do. I sat down to write a novel. Yes, I’m doing NaNoWriMo, and the lessons to learn from this first novel are surprising.

Why I Started Writing Fiction (And You Should Begin Again)

So this is it. I’m finally writing fiction. I’m doing this for a few reasons, and think you should consider making a few changes as well (more on that in a minute). But here’s why I want to try to write a novel:

  • Because I want to learn more about storytelling. Learning new skills is really important to feeling energized about the work I do. Even if it means trying and failing.
  • Because I thought it’d be fun. I love stories and feel like I have something to say, but just the act of getting a story out on “paper” sounded fun, like a release from the seriousness of my current work.
  • Because I want to prove to myself I can do it. To try something I’m not sure I can accomplish. The challenge of a task so big that I will be required to grow is exciting.

So I’m going to to try writing fiction. But the truth is I’ve been here before — a long, long time ago.

Remember who you are

When I was 10, I tried writing a graphic novel about a character that closely resembled Wolverine from the X-Men. It was the very epitome of “derivative” and the pencil drawings on college-ruled paper bound by bread bag twisty-ties were a far cry from a professional publication. Nonetheless, it was fun.

Around seventh grade, I wrote another book that was a medical thriller based closely around a Robin Cook novel with some pieces of Michael Crichton’s early work thrown in for good measure. Again, derivative… but still fun.

Then when I was out of college, I wrote a short story — about thirty pages (is that a novella?) — about a seafaring wanderer who finds love with one of the natives on a deserted island, and has to fight a giant dragon for the sake of love. Then I gave that story to my girlfriend who became my wife. Also fun and maybe one of the reasons I’m happily married today.

Then, adulthood happened. And I became a semi-successful author and online entrepreneur. The more work I did, the more success I had, and the greater people’s expectations rose. But I longed for the thrill of trying something new, of becoming a student again.

And sometimes, that can be really scary.

Don’t let yourself stagnate

Here’s something many people won’t tell you. The hardest place to be is not where everything you’re doing doesn’t work — the place of failure. That’s an easy place to be. Because if you’re failing, you know you need to keep trying new things. You have to keep moving, because where you are doesn’t work.

The hardest place to be, though, is the place of comfort, where you are successful enough that you’re afraid to risk it all on something that might not work. That’s where I’ve found myself recently. And in this place, creativity dies.

Life is lived best in the place of risk and trust. Things are more thrilling when we are at the edge of what’s possible, beyond what is expected or considered normal. And when we push ourselves to do what we aren’t sure is possible, we grow.

So here is my confession: I’m not sure I can write fiction. But I want to try. It’s like the story about the man who climbed the mountain. When asked why he did it, he said, “Because I wasn’t sure I could.”

This is why just a week ago, I stepped up and said something I never thought I’d say, at least not in the past five years of more serious writing: I’m writing a novel.

Why not give it a try?

Lessons from beginning again

I’m only a week into this new chapter of writing fiction, but here’s what I’m already learning from the experience of beginning again:

1. It humbles you.

In a world of self-proclaimed experts, it’s hard to start over, to admit you need help. It’s a humbling to rely on other people and once again become a student. But with that vulnerability comes an openness and honesty that almost always leads to better work.

So, I’ve been reaching out to friends and experts who know this world far better than I do. The result has been frustrating, enlightening, and interesting (I’ll share more on this soon). I don’t love this feeling of having to start all over, but I’m leaning into it and it’s been a good reminder that I still have a lot to learn.

2. It’s fun.

This is a bigger deal than you may think. If we’re not having fun, we aren’t fully alive. If we are the most successful people in our fields but aren’t enjoying the work we’re doing, then something is wrong. At least for me, it’s only a matter of time before I quit.

3. It’s challenging.

The happiest place for a person to be, according to most modern psychologists, is in the place of “flow,” where what you’re doing is both enjoyable and difficult enough that it requires your best work. Put another way, we thrive as human beings when we do hard things.

Embrace a student’s perspective

The creative life is filled with risk and reward, but sometimes we just need to do something new for the sake of its newness. Not because we’re guaranteed success, but because the worst place an artist can be is stuck. And when we answer that call to begin again, we must remember that community is essential.

So I’m writing a novel. Not because I want to write fiction for a living, but because I’m not sure I can do it. And the newness of this experience is stretching me, forcing me to become a student again, which means I am finding teachers to help guide me.

And here’s the fun part: I’ll be sharing everything I’m learning this month with you. I don’t know what will happen, but I’m committed to the process, to learning and growing and sharing every lessons I collect along the way. I hope it makes me not only a better writer and storyteller, but also a better teacher and guide to this community.

I hope you’ll join me.

Your turn to try something new

There is an edge to this kind of creative work, the kind that stretches you and forces you to grow. Sometimes, other people don’t understand it; sometimes, even you don’t understand it. But your job is to answer that call anyway, the call to be creative – to try new things even if they don’t succeed.

When we do this, we grow. We become more of the artists and writers and entrepreneurs we aspire to be. We end up doing better and more interesting work, the kind we can be proud to tell our grandkids about.

So wherever you are, today I want to challenge you to try something new. Not because you’ll be great at it, but quite the opposite. Because you may be horrible at it. But enjoy the lack of pressure associated with such an attempt.

There is awesome freedom in the experience of doing something you aren’t expected to be great at. Have fun, take risks, and remember that the ability to try new things is one of the characteristics that makes us human.

If you feel stuck, as I have felt in the past, then maybe it’s time to shake things up. Maybe it’s time to write a novel or pick up music lessons. Maybe it’s time to take up cycling or weight lifting, to learn how to swim or play the banjo. I don’t know. But I do know that you weren’t put on this earth to just keep doing the same things over and over again, to never try anything new, to not risk failure.

It is in the new that we remember we’re alive.

What is something new you want to try? What have you learned from becoming a student again? Share in the comments.

About Jeff Goins

I write books and help writers get their work out into the world. I am the best-selling author of four books, including The Art of Work. Each week, I send out a newsletter with free tips on writing and creativity.

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  • Social Media Wizard

    Absolutely loved this Jeff! I grew up writing fantasy novels and then short stories but in the last few years I have focused on blogging. I have just started a creative writing project along the side. It is a great outlet and really gets my writing juices flowing.

    Really looking forward to following along with you.

  • Stefan

    Hi Jeff. I didn’t know where to send you a message, so I’ll just write it here. I have a question about Tribe Writers. Is there a difference between that course and Intentional Blog? And I’m also wondering when will be the next Tribe Writers? I couldn’t join this time because I didn’t have enough money (okay, I didn’t have any money), but I’m sure I’ll have it for the next time. And final question, maybe you noticed but I’m not native English speaker. I want to have a blog in English, but I’m afraid that my bad English grammar and lack of vocabulary will be an obstacle. Do you have some advice maybe? Thank you for reading this. Greetings from Croatia

    • Hi Stefan, you can send these questions to jeff@goinswriter.com. IB is about blogging. Tribe Writers is about becoming a professional writer. I think it’s okay to not have great grammar as long as your writing is clear. It looks pretty good to me.

  • Very cool. Best of luck with your novel! Are you plotting or pantsing?

    • A little of both, but mostly pantsing!

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  • This is year three for me and though I’m less confident of win #3, I’m glad to see you doing this!
    I definitely echo your list- especially #3.
    Embracing my creative side has led to much better writing in all the things I do, not just in blogging and such. I write a LOT for a living and never really realized I did.

    My next challenge (one I’m not looking forward to) is to engage the Editorial process. Creating is fine. Writing 50,000 words is fine. But having someone else look over what you did and suggest changes is always something that taps into an emotional side few of us truly embrace.
    My hope is it will make me a better (and more frequent) blogger!

  • Frank McKinley

    That’s cool, Jeff!

    I’m starting the Intentional Blog course tonight. I’ve been blogging for a while, but it’s time to up my game. My hope is that I can write everything with an audience in mind (besides myself).

    Thanks for what you do!

  • Kendall McCullough

    Every step of school I thought I was going to fail. I’ve never felt it was my strong point. But I kept trying because I knew it was good for me. Now I’m in my last year of graduate school. It’s amazing to look back and see how I got here. I’be grown so much. I’m also starting to let go of shame and write more consistently than ever before. It’s a trip! Glad you’re delving into that. If you are looking for a good writing course I recommend Ted Dekker’s creative way. He not only teaches you how to write fiction, but addressses our identity and fear as writers & human beings. Blessings on your journey! I hope to join you in the realm of fiction writing soon myself.

  • Thank you, Jeff! You inspire us to keep starting anew and reminding me that this journey isn’t A struggle, it’s THE struggle that gives spice to life.

  • That’s awesome to hear, Jeff. You have a great non-fiction voice, I’d be very interested to “hear” the fiction voice! What’s your genre??

    I did NaNoWriMo once in 2010, and eventually turned those 50k into a self-published book of 100k. Since 2010 it seems that every November comes along and something so big is happening that I just can’t do it again. (Like, exhausted pregnant wife or brand new baby up all night or moving to a new house big things. Every. November.) But I WILL do it again.

    Enjoy it, it’s a wild ride.

    • Genre: I’m not sure. I’m working on a coming of age novel. So I think it’s technically Young Adult. We’ll see.

  • This is awesome, Jeff! What’s your NaNoWriMo username so we can support you? (I’m https://nanowrimo.org/participants/juneva-spragg) Happy writing! 😀

  • I’ve always wondered if you’d ever return to your fiction roots. Welcome back. NaNoWriMo rocks. It helped me do a massive rewrite for my literary agent. That novel is now published and has over 200 reviews. Enjoy beginning again.

    • Very cool! Link?

      • Aren’t you the nice guy ever?! It’s called Pennies from Burger Heaven (SkipJack Publishing): https://www.amazon.com/Pennies-Burger-Heaven-ebook/dp/B019FZFOWE

        To jog your memory, not only did NaNo help me finish/publish Pennies, but YOU did, too. For awhile, I had a blog called Mudpie Writing and wrote you a thank you letter about how you + Tribe Writers helped me reclaim my mojo. You mentioned my TY on your podcast. I’m forever grateful to you for helping me achieve my dream…

  • This scares the crap out of me. Nice work bro. I’m adjusting the word count but I’m in.

  • Lottie Hancock

    NaNoWriMo is a lot of fun and very enlightening. I learned so much about my writing process once I took the plunge myself. I even talked about it on my blog https://lottiespicks.blogspot.com/ and I believe it is a great way to release the creative outlet that we so craftily bury.

    • Awesome, Lottie. Thanks for sharing this!

  • Jay Warner

    Funny thing, all along I have thought you started out as a fiction writer, so it’s interesting to hear you describe it as out of your comfort zone. You appear very comfortable with it from the outside looking in. I am also in NaNoWriMo and this year maybe I will actually finish by November 30.

  • gjsuap

    Hey Jeff!! Welcome as a #WriMo. The most difficult task of the NaNoWriMo is to get the constancy to write 1,667 daily words. I think you will had no problem with that.
    And also remember: the goal is to get a FIRST draft of 50,000 words, not necessarily to deliver the “Great American Classic of 21st Century” in a month. Enjoy!
    I’m Gjsuap on NaNoWriMo, in case I can help you. 😉

  • Gabi Montoya-Eyerman

    Good luck and have fun! NaNoWriMo is a blast, especially when you can get some friends in on the fun.

  • Right there with you! I’ve been working on a non-fiction book for while a while but I have an idea for a novel kicking around, too. There are days I want to just work no that rather than the non-fiction project but I’ve been resisting. Maybe I shouldn’t.

  • Christine

    May the Muse supply a steady stream of ideas into your mind this month. I’ll be cheering you on to the finish. (But I’m not surprised you’re giving it a shot. 😉 )
    The hype around Nanowrimo always fires up my ink-jets and I’m ready to blast off — but this time round I’ve anchored myself to the goal of finishing past projects.

  • Anthony Simeone

    Jeff, best of luck to you on the return to fiction writing! I’ve tried my hand at NaNoWriMo for about three years, and have been slowly increasing my word count each time. This year, I’m determined to do two things:

    1) Hit the 50K mark (or more)
    2) Use the experience to firm up my personal commitment to WRITE EVERY DAY!

    For number 2, signing up for Tribe Writers (and reading You Are A Writer) has helped tremendously in that regard! I’m determined that this year, a firm dedication to NaNoWriMo will also add to the discipline of what your course helped me start.

    Keep us abreast of your progress (and would you mind being one of my writing buddies, so we can help keep each other accountable)!

  • Valerie J Runyan

    Hi Jeff-

    This is Valerie and ironically your newsletter is not the only one I have got in my box today, as a matter of fact yesterday I received a tweet with a link to a site to teach other women how to write better, the thing is that I have always wanted to teach writing but didn’t think I could because of as I have come to learn easily evaporated reasons. Since you are doing something you don’t think you can do well, I have decided to go ahead and fill out the submission form to teach writing! Thank you for sharing your journey- I will be right along side you!

  • I love that you’re doing NaNoWriMo! I didn’t realize that you write mostly non-fiction until now. I love the excitement around NaNo, it’s very inspiring! I joined NaNo last year and accomplished absolutely nothing aside from a 200-word blurb. I joined again this year in the hopes of at least coming up with an outline. It’s always been my dream to write a novel – it’s why I love writing after all – but I haven’t even written a decent short story in my life. I have tons of story ideas in my head but just need to learn how to turn those into actual stories! Good luck with NaNo – I’m sure you’ll do great since you already have a writing habit! 🙂

    • Well, it’s certainly been interesting. I hope I can stick with it!

  • Awesome post! This is my third year of doing NaNoWriMo, and I think my biggest problem of not finishing was not having an outline set in place. I’m finishing that up now, and I realized how much it helps. 🙂 Good luck in your journey! And have lots of fun!

  • I started writing occasional short stories for an on-line art site and found readers respond to the truth of stories more than listicles and non-fiction articles. Here’s one about the power of forgiveness: https://faso.com/fineartviews/113295/the-flower-thief

    • dreamalchemist

      Story is the default mode in which the brain learns and thinks. Also, story is the only imaginative experience that lays down memories as if it was a real experience. Very powerful.

    • Very cool, John.

  • I knew it. Well done. You’ve compelled me to finish this recent beastly story I’ve been working on for far too long. 😉

  • Poornima Mohan

    Good one! Certainly motivated me to start something new! I’ve been working on some art and its all in my head one with a lot of confusion and clarity at the same time. Looks like I’d have to dig a little deeper!!!

  • David Mike

    I need to start a podcast. There are a few people who want to read my book but only digest books via audio. So this can be my intro tho the audio version.

    • I think that would be a great idea, David.

  • dreamalchemist

    congratulations, Jeff, Have fun. It is the door to ecstatic service of high quality.

  • Anja Skrba

    I think it’s wonderful how you pointing out the importance of learning new skills and trying to do something new even if it means trying and failing! Also, I consider this is be a great way to show everyone how a good writer is not tied for just one genre and also, a great way to test yourself!

    So yeey Jeff, I’m very glad you decided to take new challenges!

  • Tika

    Jeff, it is good to try new things. Any tips if for 7th years old kids who would like to get a mentoring about writing to become writer one day ?

  • Stephan de Villiers

    I’ve been a “someday” writer my whole life, you know, the “Someday I’ll write a book” passiveness. Until about three months ago. It started with reading a big little book called “You Are a Writer (So Start Acting Like One)”, maybe you’ve heard of it?

    Anyway, so I found a simple web page -Morning Pages- to start writing daily. So I did, 750+ words per day.

    Then I saw a tweet about NaNoWriMo, 2 days before it started, so I checked it out and thought to myself, maybe I should sign up? So I did.

    And now, I am close to 14 000 words into the first draft of my novel, finally allowing the story idea I’ve been walking around with for a year, to develop.

    All because – “I did”

    So my little lesson? – If you don’t begin with “Do”, you’ll never get to “Done”

    Thanks for the work you are doing!

    • Wow, Stephan!

      • Hi Jeff, in follow up on my previous comment, I can now say “NaNoWriMo – Done!” I wrote my 50k draft story and actually had to start summarizing parts towards the end to stay close to 50k and finish in time. I now have a draft novel to work with. I decided to publish this draft on Smashwords, as part of their NaNoWriMo support initiative (good or bad idea? I don’t know yet) and now I have pressure from friends and family and actually a few strangers to re-write and edit the book into something hopefully publish worthy. The draft is available here: https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/686315 (if the link is ok in your comments?)
        Once again, thanks for your work and the inspiration you give regular people to start following their passion and dreams, spanning wider than just writing!

  • Writing my recent novel was indeed, lots of fun, and quite interesting. I started to do an outline…to no avail. Useless exercise really. I followed Stephen King’s lead as a pantser and allowed the characters to pull me through the story. When I sat down in the mornings, I never knew where the protagonist was going to take me. I knew how I wanted the story to end, but once I got there, the protagonist wasn’t quite finished with me yet. It went just a little further. It was a very cool experience. Almost surreal.

  • I am looking forward to reading the story you are writing.

  • I feel you Jeff. I had a fairly successful blog for a Kenyan audience for 2 years, biut stopped writing in it coz I was not passionate about the topic. I started a new blog in October for a wider audience. I love what I am writing but its starting from scratch. The readers I have now are the readers I had 2 months after starting my old blog. I will also start speaking soon which is terrifying. I’m scared, excited, challenged, but somehow happy!