This week, as in almost all weeks, I sat down with a close friend who “is writing a book.” He asked me if he could bounce a few ideas off of me about his project. I’ve had this conversation at least two hundred times since my first exhilarating (and very surprising) experience of watching one of my books go bestseller.
Time demands are such today that I must decline most of these requests for coffee over a book idea – my wife wants me to spend my time in ways that allow her to buy groceries, if you can believe that – but I said “yes” this week, because it was a friend.
And it got me thinking! I love seeing dreams about writing come to life. Over this decade, I’ve guided over a dozen aspiring authors through the mind and market maze of getting a book onto paper and then out to the world, watching their books become real.
So, if I may, I’d like to occasionally put onto paper the things I’ve been asked over the years about the writing process, publishing, sales and marketing. I’ve already stated one of my reasons for this; it is fun and fulfilling to see a book get out of someone’s soul and into the light of day. But I have another reason: I believe human beings who “have a book inside of them” have a book inside of them. When someone tells me they have a book inside of them, I take it seriously. They have something to say.
They have a point of view, a story, a heartache, a certain life experience, a cause. Whatever it is that is pushing them to write is unique to them. Nobody else is going to write their book!
For today, I’m not going to address publishing, sales and marketing, audience or the financials. I’ll address these things from time to time. Today, I’m going to address the writing itself. There’s no point in thinking about publishers if the page is still blank. And a blank page is the hurdle that must be overcome first. Here are the three deadliest mind games I’ve encountered in working with aspiring writers.
1. “I have Writer’s block!” I’ve heard several versions of this. “I like to write when I feel inspired.” “I know what I want to say, but I just don’t know how to say it.” Here’s some news: what people call “Writer’s Block” is nothing more than the experience of sitting down in front of a blank piece of paper without knowing what word or sentence to write down. It sounds just awful – blank paper, no words forthcoming – but any accomplished writer will report that it’s an everyday nuisance. Calling it “Writer’s Block” makes it sound like a tragic and very real virus, like Dengue Fever. If you’ve caught it, you’re cooked!
The cure for “writer’s block” is writing. The reason I stop writing, when I stop writing, is that continuing to write will be hard. Write something! Write badly! Slog away for awhile. I have great empathy for the would-be writer who just can’t write, much in the same way, I imagine, that a runner might have empathy for me who hates to run. If I said, I just can’t keep jogging, the real runner would likely say, “jog anyway!”
Write anyway. Not knowing what to write is an irritation known by all writers. Don’t count yourself out. Don’t talk yourself into a sense of defeat. It’s normal. Now, get back to writing!
2. “What if nobody wants to read what I write?” This one is an easier mind game to address. You are writing what you are writing, putting down the stories, ideas, concerns, etc. that are within you, and you are afflicted with doubt as to the worth of it all. My counsel is, write it down because God put it inside of you. Write it because you want and need to write it. Write because you must write. Like the wide receiver going downfield for a pass, keep your eye on the ball. Catch it, clutch it, tuck it in and protect it. Don’t glance at the scoreboard while reaching out for the pass. Don’t look over your shoulder for the hit you fear is coming just before snagging the pass. Catch the ball! Write your words! When your manuscript is done, we can discuss what should be done with it.
3. “Will it be a bestseller?” This mind game is of the opposite kind as the one above. Fear kills progress for writers. So does fantasy. Here’s some more news: actually finishing your piece of writing – article, journal, dissertation, book – will separate you from the vast crowd that is going to write the next great American novel. It doesn’t matter if it’s going to be a bestseller if it doesn’t get written.
What’s important in an overall sense is getting your words out of your soul and onto paper. Whatever the value and impact your writing will be, it is lost if it stays inside of you. Is there a book inside of you? Please get it out of you, and make it available to the world. Let your light shine!