In the middle of your shower, you have the best idea in the universe for a book. You can’t wait to write it down.
You dry off, forsake your post-shower ritual to throw on some clothes, and leap to your laptop to put that thing on the page that will earn you money, prestige, and respect. This is your prize-winning, bestselling, once-in-a-lifetime-idea.
You write for a few minutes. Then you sit and think. Then you write some more. Then you sit and think again. And then you write some more.
This goes on for over an hour, and then after creating a writing calendar for the next three months to bang out the first draft, you move on to other aspects of your day. You wake up the next morning to commence with your plan, open up the Word document, and realize something.
What you wrote is absolutely awful.
You try to write down some more that day. It’s still awful. You continue to write, and this goes on for a little UNDER an hour. You move on to other aspects of your day.
The next day, you write some more, and – you guessed it – it’s awful. You continue to write, and this goes on for about twenty minutes. You move on to other aspects of your day.
A week later, you are writing nothing at all.
My guess is some version of an experience like this sounds familiar to you. We start out with ideas for which we have tremendous enthusiasm and want to write. But, despite our best intentions, our enthusiasm slowly (and sometimes quickly) crumbles away.
While there are a handful of reasons why we might fail to see a book project through, there are many more reasons we tell ourselves why we can’t: we have too many commitments, there are too many people in our life who have to take a priority, and other reasons having something to do with not having time.
And all of those reasons are crap.
The truth is, right now you’re 352 words into this article. In the couple of minutes you’ve been reading this, you could have written 50 or 100 words yourself. You do have time to write. That’s not actually the problem.
The truth is something different. The reason why you don’t write every day isn’t because you don’t have the time. It’s the same reason why initial enthusiasm for a project crumbles away. It’s also the subject matter of many books that have sold many copies.
Discipline, or a lack thereof, is the reason why we don’t see projects to the end. We lack the consistency to make an appearance at the keyboard of our laptop or the open face of our marble composition notebook. As much as we like the idea of completing something of value, we don’t take all of the steps necessary to actually create it.
But here’s the thing. From all of the writing I’ve observed through my clients, from all of the stories I’ve heard other writers tell, and from everything else I’ve noted after years and years of working with creative professionals, there is one very real, unavoidable, and undeniable reason why our discipline falls apart for a book project we believed to have so much potential.
We don’t commit to our calendar because we fear we are wrong on the page.
By reading something we’ve written and hating it, as was the case in the above hypothetical example, we fall victim to a belief that the idea itself is intrinsically hate-worthy. We fear that we’re wrong to even be creating at all.
But if you look at some of the first drafts of the absolute most revered writers, you’ll see that what showed up in their finished work is often vastly different than what happened at first. Stephen King shows a first draft of his in his memoir on writing, which looks like it was written by a different person. J.K. Rowling wrote something like fifteen drafts of chapter one of the first Harry Potter book.
What this means is that they only became the successes that they did because of their willingness to write down something that isn’t working until they figured out what did. The likelihood of you creating something of value is entirely defined by your ability to free yourself of the fear of being wrong. Your discipline is the result of writing consistently, not writing WELL consistently.
Writing 50 or 100 words that don’t work is better than not writing anything at all. In fact, I encourage you to set a challenge to yourself: write 500 words that don’t work every day for 30 days. Revel in its awfulness. And if something of value comes out of all of that, great. If not, great. The point here is to harness discipline by overcoming the fear of being wrong. And to seal the deal – to declare to yourself that you will write 500 words that don’t work every day for the next 30 days – make the following declaration:
“I solemnly swear to write something of absolutely no value.”
When you get to that point of wanting to publish, should you pursue a traditional deal or self-publish? Check out my cheat sheet here to help you decide.