Don’t Decide What to Write About — Let Your Imagination Decide For You

Sometimes creativity can save your life. Sort of.

A few months ago, I accidentally started writing a novel.

Wait, wait, hold on. Did you read that right? How do you “accidentally” start writing a novel?

It’s simple, really. You sit down in front of whatever tool or device you use to write and despite the fact that you’re already working on a million different things you just start writing this journal entry from a character you’re mildly familiar with but never planned on using in an actual story.

And you plan on just writing your random thing for an hour or so and then shutting it down and probably never looking at it again.

Ha. You’re hilarious. You think you can forget about it but you CAN’T.

So the next day you go to work on a different book and you find yourself thinking about that random thing you started writing yesterday. And you wonder what would happen if you just … spent a little more time on it. Not much. Just another hour. That’s it. No big deal.

But one hour turns into two and you repeat the same thought process the next day and all of a sudden it’s July and you’re almost done with a 100,000-word novel that has broken you and somehow put you back together again and, well. Oops.

Even though I haven’t been working on this story long, it has been one of the most challenging yet rewarding experiences of my writing life. And it all started because I was having a hard time “deciding” what to write about, and just started writing the first thing that came to mind.

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When a Story Leaves You Feeling Emotionally Drained

Does this mean you can take a break?

My heart hurts.

I have a tendency to write a post or make a video about things like this as I am experiencing a thing and then proceed to forget it happened. So when it happens again I am always amazed at how easy it is to forget how emotionally draining writing a book can be.

Have you ever felt this way while writing a story — as if the emotions your characters are experiencing are actually yours? Maybe that’s, sort of, a good thing.

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You Aren’t Just a Storyteller — You Are a Story Collector

Stick with me. It all makes sense.

Where do stories come from?

There isn’t a writer out there who hasn’t been asked by a non-writer where their ideas come from. How do you answer such an abstract question? With an abstract answer, of course.

Storytelling is something all humans do. We do it through words, through pictures, through gestures and tastes and sounds. A story is much more than just a jumble of letters forming words and sentences on pages. It is an experience.

And in order to create a believable, immersive experience through storytelling, you first have to acquire a story. Exactly how you go about doing that really depends on who you are as a person.

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Is It Normal to Hate What You Write?

Does everyone feel this way or is it just you?

Have you ever stopped in the middle of working on an article or manuscript, backtracked a few sentences to reread what you’ve just written, and thought: “I hate this?”

Maybe not to such a hateful extreme. But it’s pretty safe to say all writers have experienced moments when they weren’t sure if what they were writing was “good enough.”

You might be wondering: Is it normal to feel this way? You may be pleased to learn that you are not the only weird writer out there. We are all strange beings with imaginative superpowers. (If everyone is weird, then is anyone even actually “weird” if “weird” is normal?) We all actively decide to make up our own stories and then, days later, question our choices and face the temptation to throw everything out and start again.

The best advice I’ve heard, and will pass on to you, is that it is absolutely normal and acceptable to not feel confident in what you’re writing as you’re actively writing it. What often happens is that when you finish what you’re working on, give it some room to breathe, and then return to it, you actually realize, “Oh. I may not like every word that’s here or how it reads but it’s not terrible. I don’t actually hate it after all.

However, if and when you do finish what you’re working on and go back to reread it later — and you still don’t feel good about it, to the point where you don’t even want to work with it anymore — that means something. It’s a sign you have written something you have little to no confidence in, and may not be worth pursuing further.

If it’s normal to dislike what you’re working on as you’re working on it, is there a reason? And is it possible to keep writing even when you don’t think it’s worth it? What happens if you finish something and you realize you don’t want to work on it anymore — are you a failure for giving up?

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12 Signs You’re ALMOST Done Writing Your Book (Finally)

You did it! You really did it! Well, almost!

1. You know how it’s going to end. You may have even written the ending already. (Linear writing? What’s that?)

2. It’s less of a slow crawl and more of a sprint. Except you’re actually going in the right direction now. You think.

3. You might actually be feeling sort of … confident??

4. You know your characters so well they almost feel like real people. And you’re about to say goodbye. Oh no …

5. There are parts of your book you actually don’t totally hate.

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Don’t Keep Abandoning and Running Back to the Same Story Over and Over

Sometimes you just have to let go.

In 2015, I started writing a book.

This was a little over a year after I had experienced a seemingly endless string of unfortunate circumstances. I made the decision — and I’m not too self-conscious to say it was a brave one at the time — to start writing a fictional book dealing with the feelings I had been associating with my life in recent years.

Writing about 85 percent of that book was actually a life-changing experience for me. It helped me process the things I had gone through and allowed me to abandon many of the grievances and grudges I had been holding onto for so long. It was kind of like therapy. No one ever tells you that having the freedom to kill off fictional characters counts as therapy, but it does. Right?

But what about the other 15 percent of the book? You might be wondering. Was that part extremely unhelpful and should never have been written?

Well, no. Because you see, I never wrote the final 15 percent. I never technically finished the book.

(The crowd gasps. In the distance, something explodes. Everyone panics and starts running in circles. There are fires everywhere. Sirens drown out all other noise.)

I’m pretty confident every writer has at least one unfinished project on their literal or figurative hard drive somewhere. It happens to all of us for different reasons.

What doesn’t happen to everyone — but what does happen to many, even if they don’t realize it — is what happened to me: I gave up on finishing the book. Then I came back and tried again. Again, I gave up. And again, I returned to finish the job.

This just kept going. It kept going for THREE. YEARS.

Finally, at the end of 2018, I took a deep breath, saved and closed out the document, and accepted that I was done. I was not going to return to it even one more time. It was not a book I was going to finish. Our relationship, though valuable and meaningful, was officially over.

Why did I finally, after years of trying to finish an un-finishable project, let go and move on? It’s simple, really. I did it not because I was ready, but because I had to.

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Why You Can’t Take a Break From Writing for Too Long (and How Long Your Breaks Should Be)

Breaks are necessary. But don’t walk away for too long.

As I’m writing this post, it has been almost four months since I have touched the novel I began writing in November 2018.

I worked on it fairly regularly from November through March. And then I just … stopped.

This happens sometimes. It’s common for a writer to face a particular point in a story where they get stuck and choose to walk away for a while to gather their thoughts. For me, this point used to fall around the 30,000-word mark. That’s not usually the case these days. Now, I almost always find myself stuck when I’m getting close to the end.

Which is, as you can imagine, extremely frustrating.

I’m facing a brand-new problem now, though. As I mentioned, it has been almost four months since I even opened that unfinished draft. (I have been working on other things in the meantime, but this specific project has fallen far down my priority list.) At this point, I’m almost fully convinced I will never return to finish it.

How did this happen? There are many reasons for both my extended hiatus and my doubts. But for the most part, I’ve simply spent too much time away from my story.

Taking a break from specific writing projects, or writing altogether, is essential. Our brains just can’t operate at maximum capacity all day every single day — sometimes we need to give them some time to rest.

But I’ve shared my story. If you take the “taking breaks is essential” philosophy to the extreme, you might end up unable to return to writing — or, at the very least, you’ll really struggle to get back into a steady workflow.

Why is that? Can it be prevented? And how long is “too long” to take a break, exactly?

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OK Fine, Don’t Write Every Day — But You Still Need a Goal

You need something to work toward.

To write every day or to not write every day — what’s the “right” thing to do?

I still see this question and debate floating around in writing circles all the time. It breaks my heart when genuinely curious people are told that writing every day determines how successful you will be. While it’s true that forming habits is important, there is no rule that says a habit has to be completed daily in order to make a difference in your life.

It’s true — you do not have to write every day to be a successful writer. But don’t take this advice to mean you should settle for writing whenever it’s convenient or whenever you “feel like it.” If you want to take your writing more seriously, you’re going to need a little bit more structure than this. Just a little.

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Why Is Writing So Time-Consuming?

Why does writing sometimes take … forever?

Have you ever wondered why sometimes it feels like writing takes … FOREVER?

Every once in a while I will look at my watch after writing 500 or a thousand words and expect maybe an hour to have gone by and it’s been TWO. Hello?? Can I have my extra hour back? Hello???

Why is writing, as fun and rewarding as it may be, such a time suck — and how can you better handle the challenge of fitting quality writing time into your day when you have so little time to spare?

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Should You Start a New Writing Project Right After Finishing An Old One?

Is one method better than another?

So you’ve finally done it! You’ve just finished the writing project you’ve been pouring your heart and soul (and tears) into for what feels like forever. YES! GO YOU!

Except … there’s one problem.

You kind of have this idea for another project. Something completely different than the thing you just finished working on.

Should you jump right into it? Or should you wait?

I know of many successful writers who do, but also many who don’t. There are pros and cons to both sides of this argument, besides the fact that every writer has their own preferences

You came here for a definite answer to a tough question. Unfortunately, the answer may not be as simple as you’re hoping it will be.

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