I went to Midland, Texas over the weekend. On a taxi ride from the airport, the driver asked what I did for a living and commented, “I’ve always wanted to write a novel.” There was a genuine ache in his voice, as if he’d left something undone on his bucket list, and I thought, The cure for always wanting to write a novel is to write a novel.
While I was registering for the convention a bit later, I heard one woman behind me tell another, “I keep wanting to start my next novel, but it has been months!” And I thought, The cure for wanting to start a novel is to start the novel.
Over the course of the next few days, I hear other people talk about being unable to finish their novels, and so on, and the line, “The cure for. . .” kept ringing through my head.
Writing isn’t hard. Stephen King points out that the hardest part about writing is that first sentence. For many people, they have to confront a fear of failure at that time, but I think that that fear of failure is born from ignorance.
I think that first pages are hard for many of us because we are forced to confront the fact that in most cases, we really don’t have much of an idea of where the story is going. The key to fixing that is to brainstorm, to let yourself develop a strong plot by daydreaming about the story, until you get so excited that you can’t hold back from writing any longer.
So basic “ignorance” is the first hurdle we have to face with any story. Don’t think that just because you’re not new, that ignorance isn’t a problem. I have a novel I’m working on now, and I already know that writing the third act is going to be a monumental challenge. But I’ll climb that mountain one step at a time when I get there.
Of course there are a lot of other reasons why people don’t write. Some people just put it off forever because they let it slide down on their list of priorities. The cure for this is to reorganize your priorities, placing it at the number one or two spot on your list.
There is of course the problem of “lack of time.” Sometimes you just feel too worn out to write. I got sepsis about a month ago and spent a few days in the hospital, and I really have had to pace myself this month. But the truth is, I have just as many hours in the day now as I did before I got sick.
For other writers, they just have trouble learning the skill of immersing themselves in the task of writing. When you learn to dive into your novel, the creation process becomes easy.
Other people face emotional blocks to their writing—fear, frustration, distraction, anger. There are several emotions that can really block you.
For most people, the real problem is often what I will call “bad writing habits.” They jump on their computer and immediately start playing card games or checking email, because they’ve built up a long-standing habit of doing that thing on a computer rather than write.
If you ever find yourself wishing that you had written something, or wishing that you could write, see if you can figure out what is holding you back, and then come up with your own solution.
I’ll be teaching a workshop along with Forrest Wolverton for writers who struggle to stay motivated, or manage their priorities, or deal with more serious issues. Me, I’m just an old writer, but Forrest is a therapist who works with young people who have “failure to thrive” syndrome, and he has a fantastic record there, and he’s been really interested in helping writers to get over their blocks for the past couple of years. If you’re interested in joining us, the Writer’s Peak Workshop is coming up the first week of November.