Why You Can’t Commit to a Writing Project (and How to Fix That)

Here’s what you’re doing wrong, and how to do it right. Better. Whatever.

Are you the aspiring writer who constantly says “I’m starting a new book!” sort of starts the new book, and then makes it a point to never speak of it again? Do you have commitment issues when it comes to writing projects but have no idea why you can’t get over them?

YOU LOVE WRITING! Why is it so hard to finish what you start?

Maybe you can’t stick with something because you aren’t putting the proper measures in place to make that happen.

Think of it like this: You’ve just decided you want to plant a garden in your backyard. You do everything you’ve read you’re supposed to do. You have the dirt, the seeds, and the tools. You’re excited, you’re ready to go. You even get as far as kneeling down to plant the seeds.

But it turns out the idea of planing a garden seemed a lot more fun than the actual work required to actually plant one. After planting a few seeds the way you’ve been told to, you just decide to sprinkle the rest of them randomly in the dirt, water the whole thing, and hope for the best.

Even worse, you only end up checking on your garden every once in a while. Your plants kind of start growing, but you don’t remember to water them most days. You don’t bother weeding. You just decide to let the sun and the rain do all the work while you go off and do other things.

While you’re busy with your other responsibilities — and all the fun things you end up doing instead of working on your garden — that small plot of land you had such high hopes for descends into chaos. The weeds take over, your plants suffocate, and the whole thing’s mostly dead.

You wanted so badly to have a garden. You hoped for it. You prepared for it. But one did not grow.

Now imagine what might have happened if you’d instead decided you wanted to have a row of roses along the front of your house by the end of the season.

Think of what might have happened if you’d planned it all out, day by day. When you were going to plant the seeds. What times you were going to water the soil. How often you were going to get rid of the weeds. Instead of just saying, “I’ll check on it and do it when it needs it,” you had in place exactly when you were going to do those things. You put that time into your schedule BEFORE you needed to start spending it.

How is this different from declaring you want to plant a garden and check on it occasionally? First, you’ve decided on a specific flower you want to grow. You are able to focus on one type of plant in one place and track how it is doing, instead of having to put down and care for an entire garden’s worth of plants. This is a goal that’s possible and one you can more easily achieve. And you know that if you don’ take care of your roses, they won’t bloom by your predetermined deadline (the end of the season).

You’d have chosen a goal — for everyone to be able to admire your roses — that was specific.

You would have been able to track your progress, meaning it was measurable.

It would have been an attainable ambition that was realistic for you specifically. And it would have been timely, because you’d have known you wanted to have those roses grown by a certain time of the year.

It’s very possible you are unable to commit to a writing project because you’re being too vague and lenient with your ambitions. Instead of growing roses, you want to plant a garden. Instead of writing a novel, you want to be a bestselling author. Instead of earning a percentage of your income from freelance work, you want to make money as a writer.

You aren’t giving yourself anything tangible to hold onto when you don’t set up the details. This can happen in one of two ways: You shoot short and don’t plan ahead, or you set a goal so big you don’t know how to achieve it.

Planting a garden implies that you’re going to get as far as planting the seeds — but then what? You haven’t committed anywhere to watering or weeding or checking in with your garden daily. You’ve committed only to planting something, and nothing more.

Becoming a best-selling author implies that you want to have a book on the market that’s so good everyone wants to read it. But that’s not something you can just sit down and do. There are a lot of steps that come before achieving that kind of status. First, you have to sit down and write several drafts of a book. Then you have to find someone who will sell it for you. Then it has to get published. Then you’ll likely have to repeat this process several times over until you’re well-known enough for preorders and first-week sales to even become a possibility.

Why do you sit down with a writing goal only to abandon it weeks later? Because you didn’t plan for this part. The boring part where it doesn’t seem like anything is growing, or the work is really hard and no one told you it was going to be hard and what’s the point?

There’s also the distraction factor. It’s not that you don’t want to work on your book or haven’t wanted to work on it for the past 40 days. It’s that you’ve chosen to fill your writing time with other things. You’ve convinced yourself you haven’t had the time, but that’s not actually true.

And the time factor — a failure to plan ahead. Assuming that just because you say you’re going to do something automatically means it’s going to happen. Saying and doing are two very different things.

Writing is a commitment. If you have a habit of starting projects and abandoning them, it’s not because you’re bad at writing or that your ideas aren’t good or that you’re not cut out to be a writer. It’s because you haven’t been taught how to take a dream and transform it into a SMART goal.

So here’s the lesson: Don’t just write down what you want to accomplish. Figure out how you want to get from where you are now to where you want to be. Don’t just buy all the right materials and tools, make everything look good, and expect the rest to happen overnight — or at all. Writing something takes work. It takes consistency. It takes a person who can say “no” to the things they’d rather be doing in favor of the things that actually pertain to their goals.

I don’t know what your roadblocks are. I don’t know exactly why you stopped at the planting stage or why you can’t seem to make the effort to go water your dying roses. And I suppose, technically, that’s none of my business.

I’m just here to tell it to you straight. There are no easy workarounds. Either you take this whole writing thing step by step or you don’t. It’s a goal of mine to launch a coaching perk on Patreon at some point (not a very specific or timely goal, I know — speaking of which, please become a patron for free — FREE FREE FREE — if you want updates on this and weekly accountability threads) that will allow you the chance to get to work one-on-one with me to help you write through your individual barriers. But for now, get watering. Get weeding. Write, no matter how many other things you’d rather be doing instead.

I’m not sure if this metaphor worked for you or not, but I really want to plant some roses right now. Too bad it’s like -20 degrees (F) outside. GAH.

Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.

Help Novelty Revisions become a more valuable resource for aspiring writers.  Join us on Patreon.

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