I’ve been talking about my current work in progress, a novel, since I began writing it in November 2018. But the truth is, I’ve technically only been working on it for about three or four months. I looked today, and apparently I haven’t touched it since March. It’s almost June. That’s not good.
I’m just like many other aspiring writers wandering around trying to make sense of their craft. I’ve spent a lot of time talking about how “cool” my book is and how I “can’t wait” to work on it. There’s nothing wrong with being excited about or proud of your work — absolutely not.
The problem arises when you spend all your time talking about what you’re working on, possibly giving the impression you’re actively working on it, when in reality you’ve barely even started. Or haven’t started at all. Or you did start, but it’s been a while since you opened it up.
Why do we do this? I don’t believe most of us do it on purpose — try to convince other people they’re “real” working writers even when they aren’t. More than not being fully truthful with other people, it’s probably more a matter of lying to ourselves, even if we don’t fully realize or accept we’re doing that, either.
There are many reasons we wholeheartedly enjoy talking about what we’re working on. For the most part, it makes us feel like we’re actually doing it, or makes us believe that by talking about it, we will be much more motivated to go home and actually do the work as a result.
Unfortunately, we don’t always go home and actually do the work. We say we’re going to. We beg ourselves to do it. But so often we can’t, or don’t, or delay the action again and again until it’s hard to fathom we ever believed we would follow through on our promise at all.
If you’ve followed this blog for a while — or have so much as stumbled on even one post in the archives — you know, at least somewhat, why writers don’t always follow through on their commitments to create. These possibilities range from fear to self-doubt to barriers as simple as “Netflix is more fun.”
All of us have at least one barrier that blocks our creative expression again and again, no matter what we do to try knocking it down. For me, it’s brain clutter. Sometimes I’m so overwhelmed with a constant rush of thoughts, ideas, and stories that I feel like I’m drowning. I can’t pick “just one thing” to work on. So I don’t work on anything. I say I’m going to, but I don’t.
Regardless of the creative barriers specific to you personally, talking about what you’re “going” to do isn’t actually as beneficial as it might seem. You might think you’re injecting yourself with an extra dose of motivation by telling a friend all the things you’re going to write tonight, but what you’re actually doing is setting your own expectations so high that avoiding disappointment becomes practically inevitable.
New rule: If you’re going to talk about getting writing done … actually make a plan for how that’s going to happen and stick to it. It may not be as difficult as you think.
I “write about writing” on this blog a lot. Almost every day, most months. That would be a problem if I never actually did any writing of my own. I’m not sure I could comfortably or confidently talk about what it’s like to be a writer if I didn’t actually write in real life. But I’m sure there are people out there who do just that. I want to give everyone the benefit of the doubt here, but realistically, it’s much easier to say you’re a writer than it is to BE a writer.
That’s why I make sure to write more often than I talk about doing it. And when I’m failing at the whole writing thing, I make it a point to admit it. Maybe only in a tweet, but I always call myself out on it. Not being able to write is, after all, part of the typical life of a writer. Just because I help other people get their writing done doesn’t mean I’m immune to the common roadblocks that often stand in creativity’s way.
Let’s make it a point, together, to be more honest about how we’re doing, and how things are going. So many of us still feel ashamed to admit we haven’t been able to touch our book or blog for months, and therefore we don’t talk about it. Let’s talk about it. The more we normalize the fact that writing is hard and most of us can’t and shouldn’t have to do it alone, the more struggling writers will feel they can come forward and ask for help.
Instead of talking about the work we should be doing or want to do, maybe we should talk about when and how we’re going to do it. Maybe we should ask: “Hey, I’m really having trouble sitting down to get my words out. How do you deal with that when it happens to you?”
And then, maybe, we should go home and try — really try, as hard as we can, to Make Words Happen.
If actively writing were as easy as talking about writing, this blog wouldn’t exist. Writing isn’t easy because it’s not supposed to be. Without challenges, you would never grow as a writer. You would never learn how to erase your own creative barriers and write the stories you’ve always said you’re going to write.
Embrace the challenge. Talk about it, sure. But don’t forget to write about it, too.
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.