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Get A New Story: What's Your Story About Not Writing?

The title of this column is "Get A New Story" for a reason.


When I work with writers on rebooting their writing habits, it doesn't take long for me to pick out their "story" about why they're not writing. As a writing coach, it's endlessly fascinating to hear the variations on the theme.

Some stories are so tricky, it's hard to see through them. Others are fairly transparent. Often it's one they've been telling for a while, so it has the feel of a well-worn track to it.

What's your writing story?

Here are some of the common stories I hear:

"I don't have time to write."

This is a variation on "I'm too busy to write." Or, "I need to have big blocks of time to write."

Everyone has time to write for 5 to 15 minutes a day. And most of us have more time available than that if we're willing to get serious about making it happen. The real reason we don't have time is that on some level we're either avoiding it or not giving our writing due priority in our lives.

If you're called to be a writer, you simply must move your work forward on a regular basis. I don't care if it's five days per week or seven, but make it regular and make sure you're not trying to shoehorn writing into your schedule in and around other things. In fact, if you're having trouble finding time to write, do it first and fit your other commitments around it.

"I have too many other commitments."

Along these same lines, If you're one of those folks who is always over-committed or having trouble keeping up, it's time to take a good long look at how you're establishing and fulfilling your priorities.

This story also often sounds like, "My family/boss/kids/parents need me." Or, "My day job takes up too much time." Or simply, "I'm too exhausted at the end of the day."

This is why, particularly for busy people, I recommend writing first thing in the morning. I don't care whether you're a morning person or not, I'm not either and I'm doing it -- and it's changed my life.

As Jeanne [or "one of my sister writers" if you don't want to use names!] and I talked about recently, putting your writing first is like putting your oxygen mask on first in an emergency so you can better help the people around you.

Put your writing first and fill your own well so you have something to truly give to the people around you. Fitting your soul's calling in around the edges of your life, on the other hand, is a recipe for despair.

You may also want to consider cutting out some extras, like all those things you're volunteering for and those online games you're playing. Yeah, I know they need you and I know the games are fun, but if you're writing isn't getting done, it ain't working.

Remember, the antidote to exhaustion is not rest, it is wholeheartedness.

"I'm waiting for inspiration."

This story also shows up as, "I don't have any new ideas."

If you haven't read my article about waiting for inspiration, you might want to check it out now. I'm a firm believer in showing up and writing regularly, muse or not. Those flashes of inspiration are more likely to come when you're showing up and doing the work, as Elizabeth Gilbert and many other can attest to.

Instead of waiting to be inspired, look at what you're doing to fill your creative well. Are you feeding yourself, your body, and your mind well? What are you reading, watching, listening to, and thinking about? How are you taking care of your physical well-being? Do you have a regular habit of brainstorming new concepts?

If it feels like the well has run dry, it has. And it's time to fill it back up with regular writing, self-care, and creative inputs (remember Artist Dates?).

When you do your part, the inspiration will come.

"I'm never in the right mood to write."

If you're a more sensitive, introverted writerly type (one of my favorite types to work with), you'll be more likely to experience your mood shifting frequently, since you're more affected by others, the world, and the energies around you in addition to your own personal experiences.

But don't let "not being in the mood" stop you from writing.

Many of my Writer's Circle members report finding that their level of productivity has nothing to do whatsoever with their mood, and that in fact they are at times MORE productive on the days that are harder emotionally. We also typically find that doing the writing anyway, even when in a "bad" mood, will shift the mood by the end of it.

And sure, there are good days and bad days, high points and low points in any practice.

But the practice is what makes you a pro.

"I have to __________ before I can start writing."

That blank can be filled in by any number of excuses. It usually looks like, "take another class, figure out my plot, finish my outline, make more money, solve my marital problems, or deal with this crisis" first.

And yes, sometimes life does get in the way. But I'll tell you a secret, if you're writing first in the day, and making a regular habit of it even if it's just for a few minutes every day, you'll still have time to solve and tackle the truly important other stuff too. I've managed to write through major personal stresses and come out the other side with my writing habit unscathed. It's worth it.

Oh, and yes, you do have to figure out your plot and finish your outline. But count those as writing -- you're putting pen to page or fingers to keyboard after all. Many people unknowingly undermine their work habits by only narrowly defining "writing" as creating New Words.

I recommend a different approach to my writers: Count it all -- brainstorming, outlining, writing, editing, polishing. It's all part of the process of getting it done.

"No one is interested in my work."

This is a variation on "no one values what I want to write" along with "the market doesn't appreciate my work" and "other writers are doing so much better than I am."

Remember, comparison is the surest path to despair. Instead of comparing yourself to other writers and their accomplishments, think about what you want to achieve and what your talents and strengths are as a writer.

I do recommend paying attention to the marketability of your work, but remember that there are many, many markets. Finding your niche and your brand is an important part of finding your voice and place in the marketplace.

Sticking with writing requires a solid amount of resolve, faith, and determination, often in the face of sheer disappointment and frustration. Don't let yourself give up if all the signs aren't pointing to "Yes" right away.

As Jeanne says, it takes 10 years to break into this market. [I couldn't find the link to that article?]

Focus on your writing practice, what you want to say with your writing, and do the work.

"I don't have the right working environment."

Or "I don't have a good space to write in." Or "I can't afford a laptop." (I tried that one for a long time, along with MANY of these others, by the way!) Or even, "My family won't leave me alone to write."

If you don't have a good space to work in, make one. At the end of the day, you don't need much more than paper and pen to write. You can also get creative about making a self-contained environment with a pair of ear buds (like Joss Whedon does in this article) to block out the noise or activity around you.

And while you're at it, set strong boundaries with the people around you and make your writing time and space sacred. You deserve it.

"I'm too lazy."

Um, yeah, no. I'm not buying it.

You're not lazy, you're procrastinating. And you're procrastinating because you're scared. Buck up, and get to work. See more on the fear, below.

"I'm feeling called to work on this other project."

If I had a dollar for every time I heard this from a writer (or entrepreneur or coach), I'd be a rich woman. Sometimes it even sounds like "I have to go with the flow of where I'm drawn to" or even takes on a spiritual flavor, like "I have to follow where spirit calls me."

This story is the cause for so many unfinished projects. Because usually it's not the deepest truth. It most commonly happens when we get stuck or think we're losing interest in our project.

If you find yourself deciding it's time to jump from one project to another one, I say, take a good long look at what's really coming up for you around your current project.

If you're feeling bored with it, chances are you are just scared to tackle it in more depth.

So take a deep long breath and dig back in.

What I hear under all these stories:

As is more evident in these latter examples, as a writing coach, what I hear under all these stories is "I'm scared." (Often combined with varying amounts of time- and self-management issues.)

And why shouldn't you be?

One thing we know is true is that when you have a big dream, the greater the likelihood it will trigger fear, anxiety, and self-doubt. In fact, Robert Maurer, author of One Small Step Can Change Your Life: The Kaizen Way, says, "The more we care about something, the more we dream, the more fear shows up.”

Or as Steven Pressfield puts it in The War of Art, "The more important a call or action is to our soul's evolution, the more Resistance we will feel toward pursuing it."

If you pay attention, you'll notice that these stories start to come up when you've lost heart and started questioning your path. Or you've been out of the habit of writing for a while. Or you've received a difficult critique. Or you're having a bad day, or you've hit the no-man's land of the middle of your script.

Here's what you need to do.

See these stories as familiar visitors. Don't run from them but don't listen overly to them either. Notice that you might even be a little tired of telling that same-old, same-old story.

Say, "Ah, I see you. You are showing me my fear, thank you. Now I know courage is called for."

Then stop telling the story, sit down, and do the writing.

Then you'll have a new story to tell.

"I'm writing."

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