Chip MacGregor

February 11, 2015

Before You Write: Part 5, Surefire Ways to Fail


brick green no smile b:wI’ve been spending the past few weeks outlining some before-you-write strategies that can help position you for greater success during the novel-writing process. Today, I’m talking about what is probably the easiest step in the whole writing process: quitting! Seriously, you wouldn’t even believe how easy it is to let your writing ambition die a quiet death while your day job and your personal life and your volunteer commitments and your own psyche chip away at your writing time and your confidence and your momentum. I’ve been droning for five weeks about all kinds of exercises and plans and busywork you can do before you even begin to write your novel, and guess what: it only gets harder from there! So who needs that kind of aggravation and stress in their lives, right? Right, you say! You’ve had enough of juggling to make room for writing and then of struggling to get published, you want out! But, you say, you feel so “passionate” about your story, or you “love” writing so much, or you feel such a sense of “accomplishment” when you finish a book, blah blah blah– how can you just let all that go, you may be asking? Well, here are some really good ways to wuss out on writing your novel before you even start.

  • Set an imaginary deadline for yourself. Wait, you might be saying. I thought deadlines could help motivate me? Well, sure, they can when you stick to the goals you need to in order to meet them, but what about when you fall behind? Example: I’ve attempted to participate in NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) three or four times, “attempted” being a word which here means “I’ve briefly entertained the crazy notion and made vague efforts towards starting a novel during the month of November.” The problem with NaNoWriMo for me is always the reality that, if I am going to complete 50,000 words by the end of the month, I have to average 1600 words per day. Not impossible, right? But inevitably, early in the month there will be a day (coughthefirstdaycough) when I don’t hit my target word count. And then another day, and another (otherwise known as the second and third days). Now the mental tally I’m keeping reminds me that I either have to write 6000 words in one day to catch up, or bump up my daily goal up by a couple hundred words for the rest of the month. And then I miss another day, falling further behind, and another, and now my daily word count is completely unrealistic and I have no hope of finishing the novel by the end of the month and that’s the whole point of the stupid game, isn’t it, to finish a novel by the last day in November, so if I’m not going to come anywhere close to that I might as well just forget the whole thing.This kind of attitude, especially when your deadline is completely self-imposed (i.e., “I want to finish this novel before my baby is born”), just makes it easy to make excuses for yourself for quitting. “But my goal was to write 5000 words per week and be done with my first draft in four months, and now that I’ve completely missed two weeks and come up short in the third, I might as well just abandon this and try again in a couple months. Or years.” Or worse, “Well, it didn’t happen before I moved/had kids/took that job, so now it’s too late.” Sound familiar? While it is discouraging to fall short of the goals you set yourself, that shouldn’t be a cue to give up completely, but rather a prompt to reevaluate the goals you set and figure out what you need to do differently in order to accomplish them, whether that’s make more room in your schedule or adjust your goals to be more attainable.
  • Be hypercritical of every word you write. Nothing spoils a writing party like letting the Judge show up early. Editing as you go is fine to an extent– many authors prefer to start out their writing time with a quick once-over edit of the content they created the day before– but if you second-guess every word choice, every syntax choice, or every line of dialogue as you write it, you’re going to nitpick yourself into a paralyzed standstill. Not to mention you’re going to rob yourself of the joy/fun of the writing process, which will further lessen your motivation to write. Save the Judge persona for the end of the writing process– after you’ve gotten your story down on paper, polished it up and fixed the trouble spots is the time for you to be ruthless in your evaluation of what’s good and what’s not.
  • Write in a vacuum. It’s ten times easier to let your writing ambitions quietly fizzle out if no one else knows about them. Sure, it can be terrifying to let people know you’re writing a book, especially if you don’t know a lot of other writers or if you’ve never written a book before–  maybe the second you start to tell someone else about your plot, you start thinking how dumb it sounds, or you timidly mention to a coworker that you’re writing a novel and now they ask you weekly when it’s going to be published– but having the accountability that comes from being vulnerable enough to tell some of the people in your life what you’re working on can be invaluable in motivating you to keep pursuing your goals. Using my pathetic attempts to participate in NaNoWriMo as an example once again, I can tell you that HECK no, I didn’t tell anyone I was planning to try and I definitely didn’t join any of those online encouragement groups for tracking your progress– if I was going to fizzle out, I was for darn sure going to do it behind closed doors so no one could witness my shame and failure. Now, for a fairly gimmicky event like NaNoWriMo, the stakes were pretty low if I ended up deciding to quit, but if I’m serious about pursuing a career as a writer, or even just serious about finishing a story I’m passionate about, I owe it to myself to be a little more public about my commitment so I have some positive peer pressure lined up for the days I feel like backing out.

Obviously, if you’ve gotten this far in entertaining the idea of writing a book, there is something about your story or about writing that you’re passionate about and that is worth pursuing. As you begin the process, be vigilant against the easy ways out that will crop up and tempt you to just give up– you started writing for a reason, and you owe it to yourself to see it through!

Share :

1 Comment

  • Kristen Joy Wilks says:

    Thanks for the great post, Erin. I’ve quit several times, once for over a month. After competing in a contest is an especially dramatic time to quit. Gets me every time. One judge gives you a 99.7 and the other a 64. Argh! But I keep coming back to writing, for better or worse. For years my writing goal was “Get something written 5 days a week” that worked really well. I didn’t try NaNoWriMo until at least a decade in, I knew I wouldn’t finish with 3 littles at home. But I finally tried in my 13th year of writing, with an encouragement group, and yeah, I did it, barely. Amazing what a decade of simple easy goals can help you do. Thanks for the encouragement and God Bless.

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.