Publishing something that no one reads.
Publishing something that everyone hates.
Never being able to make a living as a writer.
Never achieving your writing goals. Never seeing your wildest dreams come true.
These are all, believe it or not, vastly common fears among writers and creators in general. But one worry in particular seems to stand out above the rest … and it just so happens to be the one that prevents more writers from reaching their full potential than any of the others.
Most if not all writers are terrified of the journey. When an aspiring writer first gets an idea for a story, their minds tend to jump straight to “the after.” Everything they hope will happen once they have already written the book in question (let’s use a book as an example here, though there are plenty of things you can write that aren’t books).
They immediately start imagining what their cover will look like. How it will feel to hold a finished, published book of their own in their hands for the first time. What it will be like to sign a copy for a stranger, or go on tour, or talk to rooms full of readers about their work.
Everyone imagines their life as a “professional writer” differently depending on their goals and specific area of the industry. But we’re all the same in many ways, one of those being that it’s so much easier to picture what things could be like once all the work is behind us and we have a book all our own.
But what about the work that has to come before the book cover design and the printed copies and the book signings? What about the hours of effort that fall between that first spark of a story idea and finally holding some version of that finished product in your hands?
That, fellow writers, is the part so many of us fear more than any other portion of this journey … the journey itself.
If you never start, you never have to worry about not finishing. Why is this “journey” so intimidating? Perhaps because it’s like standing at the very beginning of a path and looking out at how far it stretches outward in front of you. You know you have to start walking if you ever want to get to the end, but it just seems like such a long way. Longer than you ever pictured it.
Many people in this world are absolutely terrified of failure, which is just one of many reasons the thought of putting months — sometimes even years — into a single project is daunting enough to cause people to turn away from it no matter how much they know they’d much rather, at the very least, try.
Just the idea of starting something you might not finish can feel like the end of the world before you even start on the path to getting to where you want to go. We’re not afraid of starting because starting itself is hard. We’re afraid of starting because there’s a chance that nothing will come of it, that this “beginning” will never amount to any kind of meaningful ending.
And as storytellers, that’s just not good enough. It’s agonizing to think about being responsible for an unfinished story.
Your frustrations and fears are valid — it’s very important to keep this in mind as you consider tackling the things standing in your way of accomplishing your writing goals. Every writer is afraid of something. There’s nothing to be ashamed about. But if you do have your heart set on conquering your fear of “doing the work,” you have to actively decide how you’re going to write through it … and actually follow through.
Writers have to take their dreams, goals, and hopes one step at a time. You can’t write a novel in a day. Yet that’s what so many writers wish they could do. It’s not that they don’t WANT to put in the work, they’re just wary of how long it’s going to take and the amount of brain power it’s going to require. This is especially true if you, like many of your fellow writers, are considering writing a book in the hour or so (or maybe even less) you have free in your day packed full of a plethora of additional obligations.
The trick is to take your Very Scary Goal — writing the first (very rough) draft of a novel in 2020, for example — and make it less intimidating by breaking it into much smaller, much more easily digestible pieces. Sounds easy, right? That’s because it is! Once you get the hang of it, anyway.
On average, you might just want to assume that a first draft of your book will hover somewhere around 100,000 words. At this point, the exact word count parameters don’t matter — that’s something to worry about after you actually have at least one draft of a story to work with. For now, you should focus on finishing the story from beginning to end. And that’s going to take some planning. Nothing too complicated, I promise.
Let’s say your goal is to finish this 100,000(ish)-word draft by the end of the year. That’s A LOT of words. Seeing that number might tempt you to just not even try! But guess what? If you average 10,000 words every month, it would technically only take you about 10 months or so to hit that mark. And that comes out to just under 3,000 words per week. That’s less than 500 words a day!
You can write 500 words a day. Easy! Well, maybe not “easy” easy, but much easier than having to think about writing 100,000 words. Right? Right.
Don’t get stuck standing at the beginning of your path, staring out at the long road ahead, so scared of getting lost along the way that you never even bother to take your first step. Focus on taking one step, and then another, and then another. That’s all you have to do. It’s not a race, it’s not about what’s going to happen when you get there. It’s about getting there, step by step, a little bit closer every single day.
It’s not as scary as it might seem right now.
Take it a little bit at a time, and you’ll get to your destination. Don’t give up before you begin. Just go.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is an editor and writer, and a 12-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food, and Star Wars.