You've been thinking about writing a book. You know a book could generate money, enhance publicity, attract clients, propel your business or career to a higher level, perhaps land you on the speaking circuit.
But thinking is not doing. You need to put your fears and reasons for procrastination to rest if you want to jumpstart that book project. Below are the top ten excuses people give me for not writing; each is followed by my reaction, as an author and writing coach at WriteDirections.com. If you argue yourself out of writing, then this list is for you.
1. If the book doesn't sell, I will have wasted my time
That's why smart nonfiction writers sell their books before they write them. This way, you can have part of your advance (money paid to you up front by the publisher) in your bank account before you've invested six to nine months of your time writing the manuscript. Not only does a proposal help you arouse publishers' interests, it tells them why your book should exist, why you should be the one to write it, how it will reach its target audience, and why it will be successful. Even the completed manuscript can't do all that!
2. I don't know any literary agents
That's okay—you probably didn't know any attorneys and accountants before you needed one either. The best place to start shopping for an agent is not New York City, but rather your local bookstore. Simply go to the shelves where you think your book will appear when it's finished. Most happy authors thank their agents, so search for names in the Acknowledgments sections of the competitive books you find. When you're done, you'll have a list of credible agents who've already proven that they sold a book in your field recently. Your next step will be to review their backgrounds at one of the many Web sites or books about literary agents.
3. I don't have enough talent
Thanks to participation in the creative development of other writers, I can say with confidence that writing a nonfiction book is more about conviction than it is talent. If you have the seed of an idea for a book, chances are talent is already folded into the seed. Your next step is not to find a different seed, but rather to tend to the one you've got. A seed needs sun, water and fertilizer to grow. Your book needs diligence, organization, and research. You might also have to weed through first and second drafts before you're finished. If you still feel uncomfortable with your level of talent, then take a writing class. The point is that you don't have to change the seed (with more talent) to make it grow, but you do have to do something with it (start writing, get organized, work with a writing instructor).
4. My ideas seem great until I put them on paper
You may have to create several drafts before you can produce a quality book. Thinking you have to be perfect when you write means that you are editing and then writing, and that is the wrong sequence when writing a book. First you write, then you edit. This applies to book proposals, as well as to books. The vision of writers taking a few deep breaths, pushing up their sleeves, and banging out fully formed and perfect passages as fast as a court reporter is best left to television. I know a lot of well-known writers, and none of them are confident and excited about what they are writing all the time. So for now, just start writing. You can spit, polish and shine the piece later.
5. All I have is an idea. I don't know where to go from here
You may have progressed further with your book than you think. The steps in any creative process are generally summarized as germination, incubation, assimilation, and completion. Scientifically, incubation means to "maintain at optimum environmental condition for development." Creatively, this could mean that your mind is still developing and caring for your idea before releasing it to that part of your mind that prompts you to take action. To leave incubation, you have to take action. If writing sentences seems daunting, then start with a sequential, step-by-step left brain activity such as outlining your material or sequencing chapters.
6. When I sit down to write, nothing comes out
Of course not! That's why you have to nurture your thoughts so that you have them ready to go when you sit down to type. My most creative times are not when I'm in the act of hitting keys on a keyboard. Instead, they're when I'm driving, falling asleep, walking, brushing my teeth, etc., because that's my thinking time. That's why I advise my writers to invest in small tablets and pencils, and to place them everywhere: glove compartment of car, beside the toilet, near the bedside, etc. And be sure to take them along when you go walking, hiking, mowing the lawn, etc.
7. I don't have a business to promote, so why should I write a book? You shouldn't, if you don't want to. But if you feel like you're being nudged or pushed from within to write, then you better honor the assignment. The assignment? Yes, that's right; from a larger source. That something or someone acting inside you that is pushing you to write is what—or who—I call God. I've come to learn that most people who have a yearning to write believe in a power larger than themselves. You may call it the Great Spirit, the Almighty, the universal life source, a higher power, or simply a source of energy. Your desire to write is a talent. It's a gift given to you for the benefit of the world. Therefore, you must write because it's one of your life's assignments. To deny it is to deny part of what you are. And the negative results of denying yourself will surface whether or not you believe in a source greater than yourself.
8. There are too many books on the market like mine already
Whether there's two or 200 other books in your field, all you need is an original contribution to make your book carry its own weight. Sure, being a celebrity or having thousands of contacts help. But you can make an original contribution to a routine topic in many ways: discuss your own experiences or your work with clients, present new theories you've developed, share stories that have never been told before, quote experts, offer original examples and exercises.
9. Writing a book is such a huge project. I feel overwhelmed
I'm convinced it's for that same reason that it takes nine months to develop a baby. Imagine having a baby placed in your lap the moment you decided you wanted one! Who would be ready for that? Instead, conception is followed by nine months of growth, preparation and development—both yours and the baby's! During those nine months, we break down the birthing process into manageable pieces. We shop for maternity clothes, equip a nursery, make lists of names, look for day cares and babysitters, read countless books on childcare, baby-proof our house, even buy cigars. So too must we break down and organize the many tasks of writing a book.
10. I don't have time to write a book
As a busy professional and parent myself, this is the excuse for which I never have a good comeback. I've learned that unless a writer learns to make or find the time, the book will never get done. We all have responsibilities, demands, pleasures, family, etc., and your life would actually suffer more if you gave up devotion to them in sake of your writing. But I also know that if you have the desire to write, you will not be able to rest until you do. Denying that desire generally proves disadvantageous to most people because it makes them feel as though they have failed. My best advice is to integrate writing into your life as you actually live it. That's the beauty of selling a book before you write it; once sold, it becomes a must-do task and moves higher on your agenda. Plus, the advance money you earn from the sale lets you justify spending time on the book.
If you've got another excuse for not writing your book, I'd love to hear it. But remember, time spent writing out your excuse is time you could have devoted to writing your book!
© 2001 Debra Koontz Traverso
Debra Koontz Traverso, M.A., is a creative and commercial writer, public speaker and consultant, having published several books and hundreds of articles. She also serves as a guest instructor at Harvard University and as adjunct faculty at her local community college. She can be reached at [email protected]