You’ve been talking about this book for years. Now it’s time to fish or cut bait.
Honestly—I’m here to let you off the hook. Do you mean it? Do you truly want to write a book?
So? If you got that, what would it mean?
And then if you got that, what would it give you?
Dig down deeper, layer by layer, until you can feel why you want this.
Could you meet that need in some other way? (Easier ways exist.) Choose not to write that book. Give it up and do something else. Do nothing. It’s beats doing nothing except berating yourself.
If you’re not writing, this is your homework: do NOT write your book. Figure out what you’d rather do. If you can possibly avoid writing a book, do it! Do it on purpose! Do it with joy! (If quitting your book is difficult, see Evan Harris’s The Art of Quitting for more about that.)
If your book is rolling this week, keep it up—and also spend a few minutes clarifying your Why. Post that reason or that list of reasons over your desk, pat yourself on the back, and write some more.
If you just can’t quit, then come on back. The door is always open.
Whoosh–slap. Whoosh–slap. Did you learn to jump rope? Remember watching two friends turn a rope, as they called you in? Whoosh–slap. Whoosh–slap. Watching, waiting, feeling the rhythm, gathering courage, fearing the rope. Once you got the hang of it, you could jump all day.
If you are hesitating to write your book, let’s use that hesitation! Feel the rhythm, watch for your opening:
1) Calendar. Create your year, month, week, and today. Where are the openings? Where do your daily check-ins fit? Where can you carve out a few hours regularly? Consistency counts: let your subconscious/muse/divine inspiration/intuition/talent angel/idea fairy know when and where to find you.
2) Circadian rhythm. When do write best? First thing in the morning, while your inner critic sleeps in? Lunchtime, after a brisk walk? Evening, as the perceptions of your day settle? Experiment. Then adjust your calendar.
3) Count. Children expect to miss; they are after the longest winning streak, not infinity. Keep track of writing commitments met–maybe treat yourself to gold star on your calendar. If an illness, accident, or spontaneous opportunity takes you out of the game–start a new count. It’s your turn again. Jump.
4) Catch the rhythm. Read! Make that part of your writing schedule. Even during your writing time, it can be helpful to read a few paragraphs of a favorite book, revel in fine prose for a few minutes, then jump. Competitive jump ropers can jump in before the rope slaps the ground.
Forget your opposable thumbs. What makes you distinctively human is your storytelling. Even if you couldn’t entertain your own family around the dinner table, you tell stories in every moment. You remember stories you call memories. You interpret others’ words and actions, making up stories and believing them. And you invent stories about how you hope or fear everything will all turn out. Maybe you grew up hearing, “Stop that daydreaming!” If you were lucky, you managed to keep creating interior cinema. You are human–a born storyteller.
No matter what you write about, there are stories to tell. Even in nonfiction, there is the backstory of what sparked your passion, or who mentored you, or how you developed your expertise. Or there are stories to illustrate principles you have learned. And for many books, story is everything. That can feel intimidating–to realize that every book requires storytelling skills.
Scott Simon of NPR makes it simple. Here he shares a few trade secrets that make his own reporting so interesting and memorable. Enjoy!
Consider that your book has been secretly growing in the silence. Your subconscious is all over it, and you might have more of it on paper than you realize. Check for evidence of your story or your area of expertise in various corners of your life. Have you. . . .
Blogged about it?
Taught a class?
Discussed it with someone?
Gotten on a soapbox about it?
Been told you should write a book about it?
Started a draft?
Made notes on scraps of paper?
Dreamed about it?
Daydreamed about it?
Read other books like it?
Wished for a book that doesn’t exist yet?
If you want, you can start hunting and gathering. Or you can simply open your awareness to the clues. Observe that you are already writing a book. Is this book your usual suspect? Or has another book emerged to surprise you?
Yes, this is the year you’re going to write that book—your first book, or your next book. That’s why you’re here.
However, this is not the usual resolution, or exactly a goal. I love the way Leo Babauta of Zen Habits suggests that we can change our lives in four lines:
1. Start very small.
2. Do only one change at a time.
3. Be present and enjoy the activity (don’t focus on results).
4. Be grateful for every step you take.
In case you believe you must work harder than that, Leo offers examples of dramatic changes he made by beginning so simply. You can find that here. And more about Leo here.
So this week, you’re going to breathe, and smile, and be grateful for the enjoyment you will feel this year, because you will enjoy the process. You may think about writing if you like. You can start writing, if you promise to keep it small and enjoy it. Be grateful that you’re even thinking about writing, that you are capable of writing.
Things felt tight last year? Of course! You have been preparing to shed. It made your vision cloudy, too. Aren’t you glad it’s time to peel back the resistance and display your new radiance? You’ve grown and you’re ready to share what you’ve learned. Yes, you already know enough to achieve that dream. Yes, it’s the right year. Yes, you’re ready. You wouldn’t be reading this if you weren’t. I’m magic, that way. It isn’t possible to find me before you’re ready. Happy New Year—Your Year!
Congratulations to you who finished writing a book this year! And congratulations to you who started a book. (If that was your intention, there’s still time!) They say, “Well begun is half done,” and that has been proven to me. By the time a new client arrives for help getting started, the book is usually half written, though unrecognizable. It’s challenging to get started—even to know that you have already started. It’s hard to know where to begin, and it usually feels like a big mess. And then it’s common to get stuck partway through, usually right before the end, because there’s a chance you’ll be judged and you’re afraid to let go. (That would be me. I have no qualms about finishing your book!)
Would it comfort you to know we’re not so unique? It’s part of our human process and it doesn’t have to be final. In a Harvard Business Review article Reclaim Your Creative Confidence, Tom and David Kelly of IDEO focus on four fears that block creativity:
Fear of the Messy Unknown
Fear of Being Judged
Fear of the First Step
Fear of Letting Go
Here’s part of the summary: “The authors use an approach based on the work of psychologist Albert Bandura in helping patients get over their snake phobias: You break challenges down into small steps and then build confidence by succeeding on one after another. Creativity is something you practice, say the authors, not just a talent you are born with.” Amen! Catch Alison Beard’s interview with the Kelly brothers for the Harvard Business Review Ideacast.
Personally, I enjoy that first step and that messy unknown—when it’s YOUR book we’re working on. Other people’s books ring clear for me. But I need others’ encouragement for my own work as well. It keeps me humble, and expands my tool kit for helping others.
So if you’re preparing for a start, or a re-start, check out the Kelly brothers’ article and interview. And remember what Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. said: “Faith is taking the first step even when you don’t see the whole staircase.”