If you’ve got a book in your heart that is NOT on the page yet, this blog post is for you.
As you know by now, I’m a huge believer that anyone who has a story living inside of them MUST write that story—or find some other way to perform it for other people (on stage, through song, dancing). We need to make sense of the questions that rattle around inside of us, or die trying.
Aldous Huxley said, “Experience is not what happens to you. It is what you do with what happens to you.” Writing is one thing we do with what’s happened to us. It’s one way we work with meaning. Psychologist Jerome Bruner suggested that that when we look closely at the way we think about our lives, we are “trafficking in human possibilities rather than settled certainties.”
If you’re reading this, it’s because, like me, you believe there is value in trafficking with possibility, in sitting with what has happened in your life, holding in your mind the memory of a series of events, and turning those events over and over on the page until a story arc emerges—one that makes sense to you, one that might make sense to others. You believe that words have the power to change us and to change the world.
So, if you believe in the value of writing your story as I do, why aren’t you writing it? I’ll tell you why in a moment, but first let me reassure you that you aren’t alone. Did you know that in the year 2011 (the most recent statistic I could find in a quick search), 126,838 would-be novelists started to work on rough drafts of their novels during National Novel Writing Month (November). And only 36,843 of them completed their goal of 50,000 words! And this is in spite of dozens of encouraging emails coming at them throughout the month, opportunities to connect with other writers in their geographical areas, and loads of accountability on the nanowrimo.org site.
So what goes wrong for 71% of those NaNoWriMo authors? Well, to be fair, the very set-up of the challenge is to write 50,000 words in 30 DAYS, so… it’s a lot of words in a short period of time. But even so, the task should be doable (if you write 1, 667 words each day). But for MOST writers it isn’t. Why?
More importantly, why aren’t YOU getting YOUR book done? Day after day? Month after month? Year after year?
I know why you aren’t writing, and I know why you WON’T get around to writing your book without the right kind of help.
Let me share with you the top 3 reasons most would-be authors do not complete their material and the ONLY fix for getting your book done.
I’ve been working with writers of all ages for over 20 years, and these are the three things I hear over and over and over and over and over and over and… you get the picture.
#1: “No one will want to read my story.” Another variation of this is, “My mother/ex-husband/children/sister will be humiliated/pissed off/sad if I write this story.” Essentially, most of us are terrified that either no one or SOMEone will be impacted by what we have to say. The imagined judgment, whether we fear indifference or crushing criticism, is enough to prevent writers from working at their keyboards. Tragically, most of us (and this includes me sometimes) have projected ourselves into a future that we will NEVER get to in the first place if we don’t write our stories. No one can judge you if you don’t say a word, after all!
#2: “I don’t have the time to sit down and work on my writing.” This is a red herring, of course, but a powerful one. I’m no different than any of you. I most long to write whenever I’m out on a run, grocery shopping, at work, doing laundry, or any number of other things. My life is as full as it can be, and so is yours. I say this time thing is a red herring because we always make time for what is essential. We pay our bills no matter how busy we are. We brush our teeth and take showers no matter if it’s the middle of summer vacation or the holiday season. But writing somehow feels non-essential to many of us. Even to those of us who use writing as a way to stay sane may put it aside and replace our writing time with other pursuits. With only 18 waking hours each day, we have to make choices. Right?
#3: “I got stuck.” Okay, this is legitimate. Especially if you’re writing a book-length manuscript, it’s easy to get to a certain point in a narrative and not really be sure where to go. If you’ve never written through a sticky point in a project, you might set aside your writing and be left with a perpetual, “Now what?” Frustrating as it is, sometimes we bump up against limitations in our writing skills. Fair enough. But there must be a way to push through anyhow.
So what IS the answer to these dilemmas? The good news is that the solution to all three issues is the same thing:
Knowledgeable support and accountability!
Here’s the thing, fellow story-tellers. NO ONE writes alone. Even those amazing, super-driven, mass-producing authors you love to read have agents, developmental editors, copy-editors, proofreaders, and friends with their paws in the gravy. When you read a finished book you love, REST ASSURED there was a writing coach or mentor (whether formally hired or informally engaged) who was walking beside your favorite author. Think of some of the famous writing friendships: Charles Dickens and Hans Christian Anderson, C.S. Lewis and J. R. R. Tolkien, Truman Capote and Harper Lee. These masters wrestled one another’s material to the ground and challenged one another. They were co-mentors. And then, they all had editors and agents pushing and prodding them as well.
So where do you get the kind of mentorship you need to finish your book? I recommend a writing coach. Listen, whether it’s me or someone else, a writing coach will give you the following things that will help you rock your writing:
- Strong accountability with deadlines and goals
- Honest and constructive feedback on how your story is holding together as you go
- Coaching on how to create a writing life that fits for your life-style and your personality
- Help discovering WHO you are writing for and, therefore, what to leave out and what to leave in your story arc
- Coaching on narrative skills (how to work with scenic details, how to create believable dialogue, how to revise effectively, etc.)
- Inspiration and support when you’re tired
So how do you find a good coach? Stay tuned for my next post. In the meantime, ask your questions below. And sign up for a free half hour coaching session with me to see if you and I are a good fit to work together on behalf of your book.