The secret of getting ahead is getting started ~ Mark Twain
Here’s an interesting fact about procrastination. It’s not a problem for some people; usually those of us who write for a living.
There were many times, as a freelance features writer, when I had to imagine the hot, fetid breath of a deadline on my neck before I’d start to write an article. Usually I’d completed the research for it in advance; but still couldn’t put pen to paper. Not until I was experiencing, in my mind’s eye, a disgruntled commissioning editor telling me I’d never work for them again. At which point I usually pulled something terrific out of nowhere. Weird how that happens!
Have you experienced that?
I guess what I’m pointing out is that procrastination is not an issue unless we’re unable to optimize our performance because of lack of time, lack of forethought, or lack of material.
Having shoved that label out of the way, what other reasons might be causing your book – or any other big writing project — to stay imprisoned in your head?
Here are ten possibilities (which, you’ll no doubt realize, are strongly linked). Which ones do you relate to?
Tweeting, Facebook fanning, ensuring you’re LinkedIn, commenting, blogging, updating your status, checking who’s posted something on your wall, responding to emails…the opportunities for distraction are endless.
I’ve known many a client rebel at the idea, but if you sense that you’re becoming distracted by social media (or friends dropping in unannounced or anything else that shifts your attention away from your writing) try this: Designate particular times for these activities. For example, I know several people who state under their email signature the hours at which they check their messages. Depends on your relationship with technology.
I prefer to be the master, not the slave!
Writing a full-length book is a big endeavor, make no bones about it. I’ve been doing this for almost a quarter of a century and still get that knot in my stomach at the beginning of a writing project: there just seems so much to do! The common advice, and really I’ve not found anything better, is to try and have fun breaking down the BIG thing into lots of little things.
Think of your book as simply a series of pages (which it is), and a collection of chapters (which it is). Focus on one little piece at a time. Chew on the bite size portion rather than try and stuff the whole pie in your mouth!
We could always tell the perfectionists in graduate school. They were the ones who had to run just one more study, read a few more journal articles, speak with a couple more people. As one professor advised: unless you plan to be here for the rest of your life, let this be good enough.
No dissertation, journal article, book is going to represent the sum total of who you are and what you know. Do the best possible job with the material you have–and get it done. Then, if you choose to, you can build on that work with something new.
I wish I had a dollar for every person who told me they could write a book, get their Ph.D., start that business or whatever, but always have some excuse for not doing so. Oftentimes what lies at the heart of their inaction is a fear of failure. Because if they tried and “failed” then they would no longer be able to boast that they could have written a book etc. Fear of success is another pernicious impediment to starting anything. What might you be afraid of?
Remember, as Mark Fisher and Marc Allen wrote in How To Think Like A Millionaire:
We’re born with two fears: falling and loud noises. All other fears are acquired.
They’re usually also unfounded.
Sorry, I don’t buy this one. We all have the same 10,080 minutes every week. Time is like money; it’s not that you don’t have enough, you just choose to spend it on something else. Which brings us to…
If your book has been whirling around in your head for months, years even, or if that manuscript you started in 2008 still hasn’t seen the light of day, then publishing a book is obviously not a compelling enough outcome for you.
As motivational speaker Charles “Tremendous” Jones is reputed to have said:
Everyone has a success mechanism and a failure mechanism. The failure mechanism goes off by itself. The success mechanism only goes off with a goal.
Maybe writing a book isn’t a big priority; does that mean you should give up trying to write one? Not necessarily. But the secret to finding the motivation to write is to align the book with some other important goal or outcome.
Writing is so much easier when you have a why.
7. OTHER PRIORITIES
This is a cousin of motivation. If you are achieving all sorts of other, supposedly less-important things while leaving your book to languish in the unseen then this is a motivation issue. Review your values, the sine qua non of your life and see if you can make any connection at all between what you profess is important and the action of writing a book.
If you can’t find a relationship, great insight! Cross that book off your “to do” list and get on with what makes you happy.
8. NOT ENOUGH INFORMATION
Sometimes I find it hard to begin writing because I sense a piece of vital knowledge is missing. I may not know what it is, so it’s hard to know where to look for it. It sounds kind of woo-woo, I know, but I’ve learned to trust that whatever I need will show up when the time is right. And it does.
In the meantime, there are always other book-related tasks that don’t involve writing but still are necessary to move the project forward, so I get on with them.
As Edgar Cayce pointed out you have to, “Start where you are.” If that means in the middle of your book rather than on line one of page one of chapter one, start there!
9. NO ROADMAP
This is another variation of “not enough information,” but is more about not knowing how to craft a book, rather than missing content.
This one is easy. If you don’t know how to scope out and structure a book then find someone who has done this already and work with them professionally. Or maybe someone in your social circle has written a book in a similar genre (if you’re writing nonfiction it’s best to stick to those guys rather than novelists) and would agree to being taken to lunch in exchange for some pointers? There are plenty of books out there too.
Type “how to write a book” into Amazon and you’ll get over 11,000 authors willing to help.
12. THINKING TOO MUCH
This might seem like an odd inclusion coming from someone like me who believes most people don’t think enough. But, as Dr. Vance Havner once said:
It is not enough to stare at the steps; we must step up the stairs.
Do something, anything. Stop thinking and take action. Try Julia Cameron’s technique of “morning pages.” Take a pad of paper (and I recommend writing by hand rather than working on the computer…there’s something about handwriting rather than pecking on a keyboard that stimulates creativity), and start writing.
It could be total cobblers in the beginning. Just don’t censor yourself. Determine to enjoy the experience. Who knows what you might start by thinking less and doing more.
Now — are you ready to get started with that book? Seems an impossible dream? Be inspired by St. Francis of Assisi who said:
Start by doing what’s necessary, then do what’s possible; and suddenly you’re doing the impossible.