It’s a painful thing, having a book stuck inside. Especially when it goes on for years. I’ve known writers to go for 15 years or longer with a book stuck inside. If this sounds like you, you’ve probably been ashamed of it, believing you’re the only one. You’re not. Not by a long shot!
Here are seven reasons a book can get stuck inside a writer—or closet writer—with no outlet, along with some simple solutions.
1. You feel overwhelmed about all the work involved
Writing a book takes a lot of work. Anything worth achieving takes concerted effort—that’s part of the richness of it. You stretch and grow as you progress. That’s a much better option for you than putting it off and feeling unfulfilled.
But the real reason you feel overwhelmed is because your mental picture of the book is too big. You need to chunk it down into baby steps. Which leads us to the next point.
2. You’re not sure how to get started
We, humans, tend to box things in. We think we have to write an outline first. Or start at Chapter One. But that may be the best way to stifle yourself.
How about starting with what you’re passionate about? You don’t have to write a chapter right off the bat. You can start by telling yourself the story of your own book, in writing. Let it flow out of you any old which way. Tell it to yourself with all the fire of your original dream for the book.
This act of telling yourself the story of your own book will give you a vision you can start with. Once you can step back and see the overview, it will be easier to plan a structure for your book. The most important step to take is to actually start writing your book.
3. You don’t believe in yourself enough to risk it
This is a biggie that often originates in childhood. It can seem so convincing, it then puts a limiting lens on almost everything we do. But it is possible to create self-belief out of the ashes.
One way is to read books or watch movies about people who overcame incredible odds to live their dreams.
Gaby: A True Story is a 1987 movie about a woman born with cerebral palsy. Gaby was passionate about living life on her own terms. Against all odds, she became a writer, even though she could only move her body enough to point to alphabet letters with her toe.
True-life stories such as these show the indomitability of the human spirit. Now take it one step further and apply it to yourself.
How to bypass your resistance
To bypass your resistance to believing in yourself, first, think of at least one person you know who has potential to achieve. This should be someone who is currently not doing anything with their gifts because of fear or self-doubt.
Think of how frustrating it is to watch them waste their potential. Think about what you would say to encourage them to go for it.
Now pretend you’re another person. Begin writing encouragement to this Other Person about why they need to write their book. Be sure to point out all the strengths this person possesses, that you can clearly see because you’re an observer.
“You cannot perform in a manner inconsistent with the way you see yourself.”
— Zig Ziglar
4. You fear there’s nothing new under the sun
When I was in my 20s and longing to be a writer, I would walk into the library and be crushed by the sight of all the books on the shelves. My emotions screamed “It’s all been written before. I have nothing new to add.”
This is a by-product of lack of self-belief. And it’s a fallacy.
Even if you hear writing models that seem to say it’s all been done before (example: “there are only seven basic plots”), this should not be taken as a limit. Instead, these types of models can give you a helpful framework. You add the human element. You add your unique self.
No one can write your story or non-fiction book the way you can. Because no one else has lived your exact life experience.
There are not more than five musical notes, yet the combinations of these five give rise to more melodies than can ever be heard. There are not more than five primary colors, yet in combination, they produce more hues than can ever be seen. There are not more than five cardinal tastes, yet combinations of them yield more flavors than can ever be tasted.
― Sun Tzu, The Art of War
5. You fear you won’t know how to make it compelling
Almost nobody starts out brilliant. There may be a few geniuses who can write sparkling chapters from the first minute, but most of us need to write what’s called a first draft.
If you don’t write the messy first draft, you won’t have anything to shape into an end product.
The more you write, the more you’ll find your voice. If you sound awkward at first, that’s completely normal. Besides, you’re not the best judge of it. You’re simply too close to your own writing, especially in the beginning, to be able to assess it.
Find someone who believes in you to give you feedback and to encourage you about what you’re getting right.
Yes, you can also get a critique to help you improve your writing, but resist the urge to jump the gun. Getting a critique too soon can be like criticizing a child who’s learning to ride a bike.
“Our chief want is someone who will inspire us to be what we know we could be.”
― Ralph Waldo Emerson
6. You’re afraid your grammar won’t cut the mustard
Never let this stop you from writing your book!
Grammar can be fixed. But it’s not something you should try to deal with during a first draft. The right stage to address grammar is during revisions and editing.
If you’re not a skilled editor, you can hire one.
7. English is your second language
This is similar to the grammar issue above. It can all be fixed at the right stage of the book, and with the right help.
In sometimes working with writers who have English as their second language, I’ve repeatedly noticed that they try harder than the average bear to get it right. And that they’re often doing a lot better than they think.
Learning by doing
If you wait till you have “the time” to write your book, that day may never come.
If you wait till you have the self-belief to do it, staying in a fog of procrastination will only create more self-doubt.
Writing a book is a messy process, even for experienced writers. So jump in the mud puddle and get your hands and feet dirty! Sometimes just doing it is the only way to learn.