Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Six Reasons Why Your Novel Isn't Getting Written

Lots of people talk about wanting to write a book. But how many people actually do it? The truth is that you may consider yourself an author-in-waiting; may think of yourself as a writer; and may see yourself as a professional. But if you're not writing, you're still among those people who say it and don't do it.

So if so many people want to write books, why don't more people do it? I may know a thing or two about this. I have procrastinated, raged at myself, procrastinated, despised myself, procrastinated, wrote a sentence, and then procrastinated some more for years. This year I'm finally getting organized about writing my novel--and I really think this time it's different. Here's why for six years I didn't write a novel--and why you still may be stuck in that bookless rut.

You're too tired. Let's face it, we're all a little sleep deprived lately. If you're getting up early for work and going to bed late, you're not going to have enough mental clarity during the day to be open for inspiration. You're going to be run-down, headachey, grouchy, and have trouble concentrating. That's no condition to write a book in, or even a poem.

The easy solution, of course, is to get more sleep. Sometimes that's easier said than done. But in the meantime, you can use your sleep-deprived state to your advantage. Keep a dream journal and write down the striking images and scenarios you experience in your dreams. When you're woken up from a deep sleep, you're often jolted awake in the middle of a dream--which means that you may be able to recall your dreams vividly and with more accuracy than if you woke up on your own. So write those dreams down, and use them for inspiration.

You keep getting interrupted. Virginia Woolf once said that in order to produce creative work, a woman must have a room of her own. I believe that both men and women need a space of their own and some uninterrupted time to produce creatively. You need to be able to carve out that time and place in your life. Talk to family and tell them that between five and six (or whatever time works for you), you must not be interrupted. Turn off your cell and unplug the phone. Make sure everyone around you knows that you're serious about your writing time and respects your space.

You have too much on your plate. If you don't have time to write, you can't. It's that simple. But you'd be surprised at the stolen time you can find during the day. Take a notebook with you and write during your lunch break. Commute by train instead of driving, and write on the way to work and back. Keep a small notebook in your purse and write down ideas, lyrical lines, and striking images that occur to you while you're grocery shopping or sitting in a meeting. Take back that free time that occurs while you're out doing something else, and you'll be more productive than you think.

You don't have the technology. My good friend Minion didn't have a computer at home for a long time. She wrote during work, which is dangerous--you never know when your boss is peeking over your shoulder. But you don't need a computer to write. Go back to basics and fill a notebook with character descriptions and plot outlines. You may find that when you have it in hardcopy, it's more solid and real--and you're more inspired to stick with it.

You're scared. I get this a lot. I think my novel has to be perfect, and whatever I write invariably winds up being flawed and much less than I'd thought it would be. Don't let that stop you. Give yourself permission to write a crappy novel whenever you sit down to write. Say to yourself, "Self, what you will write here today might suck. That's fine. Just write it." Remember, writers are practical people who get things done the best they can. Perfectionists wind up being critics--not writers.

You're relying too much on inspiration. I did this for a long time as well. I had a great idea. I typed and typed and typed. I gave birth in a rush of creative ecstasy. But I never quite got the whole baby out. (That's a pretty gross metaphor. Sorry!) Anyway, the problem with inspiration is that when it abandons you, you often don't know what to do next. It's great while it lasts, but it's not dependable. To keep from being left high and dry, write a careful outline and stick to it.

Writing a novel isn't easy. But people do it. Some authors crank out a novel every few months. There is no reason why we all can't do that. Take a hard look at yourself--what's holding you back?


Kirsty said...

I've used all of those excuses. I've come to the conclusion that I simply can't write with my husband around - I'm going to have to get over it, though, as we now share a desk...

Minion said...

I completely understand! However, I've been taking advantage of my husband getting home later than I do and sneaking in some writing time while he's at work. I really like Maverick's word count per week suggestion. This seems to work best for me.