Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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March 16, 2011

A Million Ways Not to Write a Book


By Laura Drake

This novel writing is very hard stuff.  Trying to learn craft while balancing plot, ideas, genre, and market. How anyone finishes a novel amazes me.

Sometimes it feels like I’m golfing and juggling . . . at the same time.

We all have our own ways not to write. You know what I mean – the conscious or unconscious things  we do to avoid writing the damn book. Mine is the “I can’t write because I don’t know what happens next,” model.  It even sounds legitimate, until the quandary stretches out two weeks, and I’m forced to face the fact that I’m avoiding.

It wasn’t until I joined a writer’s group though, that I found that everyone has their own way of not writing a book. The excuses below are a few of the categories I’ve noticed:

  • Too busy; life is too disorganized. I’ll get back to it when . . . fill in the blank.
  • I’m blocked.
  • I have to do more research. I need to take more classes. When I know more, then I can write.
  • I have so many ideas swimming around in my head that I can’t decide which one to write about.
  • I start a story, but when I get to the middle, it peters out, and I move on to a new idea.
  • I’ve completed the novel, but it’s not ready. Years of revision – it’s never ready.
  • I’ve finished the story and edited it, but I never get around to sending it out.
  • I’ve written the first six chapters, polished it, and entered every contest known to man. It’s even placed in contests. I just never finish the book.
  • I have this wonderful idea. No really, no one has ever thought to do a book on this fascinating subject. Why don’t you write it, and we’ll both share in the riches we’ll get from it?
  • I’m afraid the person (family member) I wrote about in a novel (and disguised) is going to recognize themselves. My family will implode.
  • I don’t understand the character well enough. I need to do character studies, interviews, horoscopes on them to be able to write.
  • And mine; how can I write on, when I don’t know what happens next?

I may have missed a few, but you get the idea. Please, don’t misunderstand me. I’m not being critical. I am right there in the mix, and I believe every author, from Plato to Stephen King, has their own way of not writing the book.


One of the most important things that separates the successful published author from one who never finished the book is that they plowed through the above. One of my favorite quotes is from Randy Pausch:

“Brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want something badly enough. They are there to keep out the other people"

Those reasons are just roadblocks our brain throws up to cover up the fact that we’re scared.  We can’t live with the thought that we’re too afraid of failure to reach for our dreams. Instead of writing, we  use a perfectly legitimate excuse. I know, because I do it too.

But guess what? When I ignore the fact that I don’t know what comes next, and sit down and type, something happens. . . The words flow and they are usually better than I imagined.

All the reasons above are perfectly legitimate.  They’re all true.  The question is: are you going to let them keep you from your dreams of holding that published book in your hand, and opening it for the first time? From  seeing someone in a coffee shop  reading your book?

I’m not. I’m going now to write the next part, in spite of the fact that I don’t know what it is.

0 comments on “A Million Ways Not to Write a Book”

  1. Thanks for writing this. Like you, I fit in the 'I don't know what comes next' category, but I've heard all of these at one time. I got a good laugh from the list because when I look back on it all, these do seem funny. 😀

  2. So true - and something i have really been grappling with for the last month or so. At first I procrastinated with th writing, now I'm doing the same with the revisions. Of course, you hit it on the head - it all comes down to fear. Thanks for reminding me of that. After all, naming the problem is half the battle.

  3. I can relate too well to many of those brick walls. Great quote. I will soldier on!!

  4. Great quote by Randy Pausch! And I remember using these. Then I discovered that I was standing in my own way. I thought I was a panster, but discovered I'm actually a plotter. I also discovered that I freeze when I try to plot on the computer, but give me pen and paper and the words pour out. But once I start actually writing the chapter, I need to be on the computer. I also discovered that it helps for me to talk out the plot and characters with someone else. What I learned: If the way I'm doing it isn't working, then I need to changing what I'm doing. Thanks for the article. It clarified some things for me.

    1. Oh Judy, I've thought that myself - how many years would we have saved if there was a book that would give you tests to see what type of writer you were! Instead, we have to find out by fumbling around.

      Maybe someone should try to write a book like that - it would be a blockbuster!

  5. Good insights. I think I've at least thought more than a few of those excuses... and now I can add "must blog" to the list! Oh well, but I agree the answer is ignoring the fear and writing through the obstacle. Thanks for the reminder.

  6. I have to wash my hair, the grandbaby wants to play, American Idol is on tonight...the list goes on. I make myself get my butt in the chair and put my fingers on the keyboard. It works for me!

  7. Randy's words? Yes! That's also one of my fave quotes. It's been the header for my yearly goals list for the past 2 years. It's so, so inspiring. Procrastinating? I've sometimes felt that I worked better when I juggled 3 jobs AND wrote - because I sincerely didn't have time to procrastinate.

    Rearranging my life so I could focus on writing wasn't the magic fairyland of awesome output I'd been expecting. And so I became the Procrastination Queen.

    I have learned though, that forcing yourself to form good habits works. Gotta enforce some tough self-love. They say it takes only 21 consecutive repetitions to form a habit - so if you can force yourself for 21 days theoretically, you'll have a good writing habit formed. Theoretically...
    But honestly? I think the best way is just write and write. I find that once I get to a point in the story there's no way I can back out, so it kind of solves its own problem.

    But, she says, thinking with the speed of a tortoise, it's getting to that point that's the problem, right? Hmmn - why do I feel like I just shot myself in the foot with this post? LOL.

  8. Hi Laura. Really great article, enjoyed reading it. Write, write, write, don't make excuses and never give up...!

    Try your hardest and spend some serious time editing when you've finished the first draft.

    All the best


  9. One of the better posts I've read on the subject! The best advice I ever heard was, "I am not your mother, but if you ask me how to write a book, I'll tell you to put your butt in the chair... and start writing."

    Without that I wouldn't have finished my novel. Now I just gotta get over, "Stop tweaking- move on. It will never be perfect."

    1. Michael,
      I have the opposite issue with edits - I'm in such a hurry to submit, I don't want to do any! My crit group has to slap me around to get me to calm down about it. I know, I'm weird!
      Thanks for the comment,

  10. When I first began writing, I happened upon Jean Kerr's Please Don't Eat the Daisies. (The book, not the nauseating movie that I hope got her big bucks in rights.) In it, Jean (who had six kids!) talked about how, in order to stop herself from procrastinating, she often retreated to her car to write. Instead, she'd find herself cleaning out the car, organizing the glove compartment, reading the car manual, etc. I knew then that I wasn't alone in my fear of writing! These days I try quite a few tricks I've read about to work through it, but still have a tendency to procrastinate. Like I'm doing at this moment.

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