Do you ever feel like you're not making as much progress with your writing as you'd like to be making?
As a developmental editor and book coach, I work with many, many writers who have been stuck at the starting line or in the middle of a draft and who are not reaching the goals they’ve envisioned for themselves.
And usually, most of their problems boil down to mindset.
So much of the writing or editing process has to do with managing your mind. And unfortunately, there's no getting out of having to manage your mind. It's just a fact of life if you want to be a successful writer.
You can understand story structure, you can study all the books and take all the courses on character creation or worldbuilding or whatever, but until you understand that what you think about is going to create the emotion that either drives the action or inaction, you’re never going to take action.
And what I mean by this is if stress, fear, and panic are fueling the actions you’re taking, you’re not going to be able to produce results at the level you want to produce.
So, in today's post, I'm going to share the three main roadblocks that sideline many writers (and many people in general) and cause them to get stuck in a state of inaction.
Not only that, but I’ll also walk you through specific ways to start taking massive action, getting more done, and achieving those big results you really want.
I don’t know about you, but I can remember times, back when I was first starting out with my own writing that I was hustling my butt off to try and get things done.
I was all over the place, connecting with other writers, trying to build an author platform, filling out questionnaires about my characters and my story world, reading all kinds of books about writing, taking online courses about writing -- you name it, I was probably doing it.
But the problem was that I wasn’t taking action on the things that could actually take me to a place where I could a) become a better writer, and b) finish my draft.
I was just doing stuff that I thought I should be doing. And I was tired all the time -- because to some degree, I was really just chasing my tail around and around and around.
Now, this type of busy work -- or this kind of busy hustle we can sometimes find ourselves in -- is really just produced by negative emotions like stress, fear, and panic.
In hindsight, I was trying to do all these different things because I was so afraid that if I didn’t “catch up” and learn all the things or do all the things that I would never write or publish my book. But guess what?
Even if I did all the things like take a course on writing dialogue, or fill out 100 character questionnaires, or go to a writing conference, or whatever -- I still wouldn’t have had a finished book.
So, ideally, you want to avoid getting into this state of busy hustle, or this state where you’re working hard but not really producing anything meaningful.
Instead, your goal should be to get to a place of productive hustle, where results are consistently produced, and where you’re constantly moving forward with your work.
So, how do we do that? Well, here’s the trick I use with the writers I work with...
When it's time to sit down to write, don’t just sit down to “work on something.” Instead, sit down to produce something.
For example, I want you to stop saying, “Tomorrow I’m going to work on chapter one of my novel.” Instead, say “Tomorrow, I’m going to produce chapter one of my novel.”
Can you feel the difference?
Notice that this is just a small shift in the language we use, but it really does work!
Okay, let’s move on to the next roadblock…
Many people, especially those who are new to writing, give themselves too much time to get things done.
And by that, I mean they might spend three weeks writing one scene because they end up going over it a bunch of times and not moving forward.
So, while they may be putting in the time to “work on their novel”, what they actually produce doesn’t line up with the many hours they've been working.
Instead, what I’d like you to do is take a look at the things you actually need to do and then assign a time frame in which you’ll get them done.
Now, it’s not just about a deadline or a timeframe in which to get it done, it’s about the time it takes to get the work done, too. Usually, people over-estimate the time they need when it comes to the "smaller stuff" like writing a scene or creating an author bio or things like that.
So, as an example, instead of saying “I’ll finish writing scene number ten by Thursday,” I suggest getting even more specific and maybe even shrinking your time frame a bit.
Try saying something like “I will write scene number ten in one hour. I’ll sit down and produce scene number ten in that hour.” And then don’t let yourself go over that time limit.
Of course, you do need to be realistic about the time frames you assign to things… some things will naturally take longer than others so just keep that in mind.
Now, you might be wondering or worrying about what kind of results can actually be produced if you go this route…
For my fellow perfectionists out there, this can be REALLY tough because you’re going to have to embrace the fact that you might produce some B-minus work.
But here’s the thing...
B-minus work can change people’s lives. Work that you don’t produce, or that you don’t finish at all, does absolutely nothing in the world.
As an example, I want to tell you about a writer I worked with last year… she wrote a book that wasn’t 100% perfect but she decided to self-publish it anyway. She really wanted to move onto the next book and to get a feel for the self-publishing process.
Once she self-published her book, she got some negative feedback which caused her to feel quite a bit of shame and embarrassment. It was kind of like her worst nightmare came true -- I’m sure you can imagine how that feels, right?
Anyway, one day, she received an email from a reader who said their life was changed because of that imperfect book.
So, long story short, that one email made this author realize that if she had waited until her book was 100% ready to go, had she waited for A+ work, that reader’s life would have never been affected.
And that’s when she decided that she was okay producing B- work. She had proof that B- could still produce good results and impact readers.
Not only that but making this decision to publish B- work made a HUGE difference in her ability to write fiction. And because of that decision, she has moved on to self-publish two more books this year. She has also learned A LOT about self-publishing and she's become a better writer, too.
So, letting go of this need for perfect work actually helped her achieve the kind of writing life she wanted all along. And that’s pretty awesome, right?
So, the key point here is that when you decide how long something will take -- do your best to stick to that timeframe. Also, try to get on board with producing B- work, especially for something like a first draft or a novel or even the first version of a scene.
If you can do this, you'll start to see major momentum with your writing.
Now, let’s move on to roadblock number three…
No one loves failure and discomfort, but the truth is, if we’re going to learn and grow and become stronger writers, then there ARE going to be times when we’ll need to step outside of our comfort zone and times when we face failure.
As human beings, our brains are literally wired to avoid any kind of failure or discomfort -- but the only way to become a successful writer is to fail repeatedly so that we can learn and grow. So, what are we supposed to do!?
Well, we have to show our brains that we aren’t going to die because of discomfort and failure. We have to learn how to move into discomfort, and then get comfortable with that discomfort.
Here’s an example from a writer I worked with last year… this writer is very much like me in the way that in an ideal world, we’d have all the details of our story worked out before we start writing. Unfortunately, that’s not usually how it works.
My big challenge to this writer was to send in scenes in which not everything was figured out. Since she was writing science fiction, there was a lot of worldbuilding stuff to figure out -- descriptions of planets, or spaceships, or technology that we don’t have here on Earth, things like that. Figuring out these details used to hold her up and prevent her from making forward progress.
So, instead of stopping to figure things out, I suggested that she start to use the letters ‘TK’ in place of any missing details.
You may have heard of using ‘TK’ before, but just in case you haven’t, it stands for “to come,” meaning the details are to come. Now, it’s TK, not TC because the letters T and K do not appear next to each other in any word in the English language.
Because of that, if you use TK in place of details, you can easily locate the areas you need to figure out by searching your document for all instances of TK.
Anyway, back to the point here... once she gave herself permission to use 'TK' -- and to not stop and figure out every last little detail, she started flying through her first draft. Not only that but she said it felt like a huge weight had been lifted off her shoulders and that writing was actually feeling fun again. Pretty great, right?
What I'm trying to say here is that being uncomfortable is just a part of the writing process.
If writing was easy and comfortable all the time, everybody would do it. So, instead of shying away from failure and discomfort, try to lean into it. Try to accept it as just a normal part of the learning process.
Also, think about it this way -- something you’re uncomfortable with this year probably won’t even be on your radar next year.
If you’ve never worked with beta readers before, it’s probably going to feel a bit strange and uncomfortable the first time -- of course, it will! But the next time you work with beta readers? You’ll know what to expect and it won’t feel uncomfortable anymore.
So, long story short, just hang in there. Being uncomfortable won't kill you. Instead, facing failure and discomfort will push you to grow and become a better, stronger writer.
Hopefully, being aware of these roadblocks will help you avoid them if and when they come up in your writing practice.
If you're still struggling to move past your mental roadblocks, consider working with a book coach who can guide you through the writing process step-by-step. Click here to learn more about my book coaching services.
👉 Let's discuss in the comments: What kind of roadblocks come up for you when you're writing or editing your book? Do you have any special tips for managing your mind when times get tough?
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