Recently, I heard this question:
“I want to write, desperately, but I have never written anything because I can never find the perfect idea. I’m afraid I will never finish anything because I will lose interest partway through. How can I pick the right project?”
We’ve all been here. A lie that exists in all writers is the idea that our ideas are supposed to entertain us.
When a good idea arrives and flops itself down on your sofa, looking for dinner, it’s your job to entertain it until it’s strong enough to exist independently of you. Starting a novel, screenplay, or movie and expecting it to work at keeping your interest is a bit like deciding to having children just so they can do your chores for you.
So why write at all? Hopefully, you read my first post and have been mulling over that question. If you feel words burning in your bones, then the answer to why you need to write is probably hidden somewhere inside of you too.
So, do I love writing?
Because True Love is when you value something or someone so much you decide to invest yourself even when you aren’t getting anything back.
Recently, I hit one of those walls – the romantic whirlwind of inspiration is gone and the story is not loving me back. And I have to decide: do I love writing enough to keep going even when it doesn’t feel immediately gratifying to write?
If the answer is no, then I think that’s okay, but I think we all have to be honest with ourselves. If the answer is no, then I will never be a professional writer. I can write for fun, but if I’m not willing to do it even when it feels like work, then I will never make a living at it. So I keep saying yes.
I don’t think you will ever find an idea so perfect that your interest never wanes or your eye never wanders. That’s the creative equivalent of sitting up in your tower waiting for Prince Charming to come galloping up on his white horse.
So you have to pick one you love enough to pour some sweat and tears into. Maybe not a perfect one, but a special one.
Answering yes… over and over and over again to the same story… is incredibly hard. There’s not something wrong with you, it’s hard for everybody. It’s the difference between a summer fling and a marriage. If you want to finish things, and see an amazing, long-term payoff, then you have to say “I do” and then you have to stick to it.
Now, for the good news: it is possible, and here are 5 ways to beat writer’s block, procrastination and cold feet to finally Finish Your Story!
Some people can “pants” and if you are one of those people, then all my hats are off to you! But I really believe that pantsing does not work for many of the people who attempt it. If you’ve never invested yourself in outlining or understanding story paradigm, and you also never finish anything, I recommend you brush up on some of the basics – I suggest Snowflake, 3-Act Structure, and Dan Harmon’s Story Circles*.
My outlines always morph as I’m writing and discover fun new avenues, but having some sense of the major “tent poles” keeps me from getting completely lost and overwhelmed in the middle. My outlines aren’t fancy. Literally just bullet points of the major things that need to happen. I fill smaller details in between as ideas come to me. (I initially learned how to plot using the Save the Cat beat sheet, which I’m sure will talk about in more detail in the future, because I love it!)
[*Dan Harmon is a genius, but his blog is profane. Proceed with with discretion.]
Self-imposed goals that are unreasonable or over-ambitious can be a form of self-sabotage (quietly raises hand). But, if you’re like me, then you need some sense of where you’re going in order to keep from feeling abstract and overwhelmed.
When I wrote Raptor Uprising, I set a target word count, because writing your first novel feels stupid hard. I’m supposed to write how many words? It can feel inhuman to write an entire book.
I set my target low (50,000 words, which is also the NaNoWriMo target) which I was able to exceed by the time the first draft was done. Lots of people like to set a target in Scrivener and watch the word count meter fill up. If you don’t have Scrivener, make a paper chain and tear off a link every time you write 1,000 words. Fill a jar with M&M’s and eat your way to the bottom. Give yourself gold stars. Whatever works!
I am just now trying sprints on days I “can’t” write and I love it. If you set small goals and meet them every day – whether that’s a certain word count, or an hour of writing, or thirty minutes, or five minutes – then you WILL get there eventually.
Don’t think “I have to finish this story”. Just think, “I only have to write 200 words.” Write “banana” 200 times if you have to. Congratulations! You wrote something today. And it was very avant-garde.
You know those little eyepieces they attach to the bridles of cart horses? They’re called blinders and they effectively blind the horse to anything but what’s directly ahead of him. Otherwise, he will notice the huge cart rolling along behind him and go “Great gravy there’s a giant cart right behind me, I should totally freak out!”. (Horses, like creatives, love to overreact.)
I slow myself down by self-editing and so do you. My compulsion to sit and stare at what I’ve already written, instead of actually writing, is so bad that I’ve started making every new chapter its own document. When I finish one I close it and try not to look back unless I need reference.
When my stories were on one long document, every single time I sat down to write I would re-read everything I had already written. Don’t do that. It will majorly kill whatever energy you have. When you’re drafting, look forward. Look forward. Look forward. Don’t worry about that huge cart rolling behind you.
Make playlists of music that inspire your characters. Fill a board on Pinterest with pictures that evoke the story. Read and watch things that have elements you’re envious of. Yes, too much of this can turn into procrastination, but it’s great to have things you can turn to when you’ve forgotten why the idea excited you in the first place.
Surround yourself with things that inspire what you’re working on!
Most importantly, remember that you can do it. Speak to yourself in a kind tone of voice. Let yourself feel excited about the things you’re working on. Explore unforeseen developments. And even when it’s work, remember how awesome the work really is – creating new worlds for other people to inhabit!
Lions don’t write novels, monkeys don’t make films, and I believe that’s one reason that you and I are “made in the Image of God”. So let your work – even the grindy part – be a blessing, not a curse. Now, go forth and write!
PS: if you missed my post on Writer’s Block, be sure to check that one out – procrastination and fear often go hand in hand.