Why Your Writing Goals Aren’t Good Enough

You’re almost there. But not quite.

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A long time ago, I decided I was going to write a novel.

This was a big deal. I’d spent my whole life up to that point reading other people’s novels and dreaming of someday writing my own. Declaring that I was going to do “the impossible” and write a book from beginning to end was exhilarating — so much so that I actually sat down and did it.

There is only ever one true downside to achieving a goal you never thought you could achieve: What do you do when you’re done?

I set out to write a novel. I did it. And then, because I didn’t know what else to do, I did it again. And again. I kept deciding I was going to write books and then I kept doing it. Granted, I was fifteen and the books weren’t that great and most of them are just taking up space on my hard drive at this point. But still.

Eventually I got bored of setting out to accomplish and then accomplishing the same goal over and over, and for what felt like a very long time, I didn’t do much creative writing at all.

It took me a very long time to realize that it wasn’t my books or my writing or ME causing the problem. It was my writing goal. “Write a novel” is a common, simple, and highly attainable goal in the grand scheme of creative ambitions. It’s not a “bad” goal.

To be clear, setting writing goals — even small ones — is an accomplishment within itself. Establishing an endpoint means you’re at least considering putting in the time and effort necessary to reach it, and that’s a step further than many aspiring writers will ever take. You’re doing great.

But you could be doing even better. I almost learned this much too late.

For me, striving to write a novel was enough — but only in the beginning. At some point it no longer served as a challenge or gave me the sense of fulfillment or purpose it once had. I wasn’t able to recognize that at the time, so I just kept doing the same thing over and over thinking something would change.

The way I approach writing goals — especially creative writing goals — is much different now than it used to be. Right now, for example, I am still working on a novel. I’d like to finish writing it; edit it; rewrite at least half of it; edit it again’ try to get it published. Same old, same old.

But my goals run deeper than that now. Now, instead of just trying to finish writing a book, I’m also keeping that story’s greater purpose in mind. Why do I want people to read it? Why does sending it out into the world matter to me? My goal isn’t just to have a book published, but to have an opportunity to initiate conversations about that book’s subject matter. THAT is what is important to me.

Your purpose for publishing a story, if that’s your goal, might have to do with money or recognition. I wouldn’t personally recommend striving for those things exclusively, but it’s your life and your story and you can do whatever you want with it. As long as you’re doing something to break the kind of cycle I unintentionally found myself in, I think you’ll be just fine.

But when it comes to goal setting, how much is too much? Is there such a thing? What if you decide you want to be as rich and famous as J.K. Rowling but don’t ever get that far? Will all your efforts have been wasted?

It’s important to remember that a goal should always have a solid foundation of realism to remain sustainable. There is nothing wrong with dreaming of one day being able to fully support your family by writing romance novels. Dream big or don’t dream. But when you’re setting your writing goals, there need to be smaller, more accessible milestones to work toward. If there aren’t, you’re going to burn out trying to swim across an ocean, and that’s not good.

It might be best to set a seemingly unrealistic overarching goal — write a book series as successful as Harry Potter (I’m not saying you should try this, it’s just an example) — but work toward much more achievable, yet still healthfully challenging, goals along the way. Like writing a story you’ve been afraid to write, or sharing something you’ve written with a critique group. The only way to arrive at success is through small but steady steps.

Don’t keep setting the same goals over and over. Challenge yourself — but not so much that you’re constantly discouraged. Everyone needs small victories. Allow yourself the chance to have those, even if they’re very minor. They still count. But also give yourself opportunities to celebrate big wins. You’ll never be able to do that if you don’t dare to set some big goals, and some medium-sized ones too.

Setting writing goals isn’t easy. I’m working on a short guide to help you with that. In the meantime, if you feel like you’re struggling, focus your attention on just one thing at a time. Want to write an 80,000-word novel? Try writing 500 words today. Want to become a bestselling author? Try writing at least one chapter of your book. Start small. Work your way up. Be brave. Never quit.


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.

Why (Most) Writers Don’t Get Published On the First Try

There’s nothing wrong with you.

When it comes to rejection, I’ve come to believe a “no” is significantly better than a “nothing.”

I would much rather receive a copywritten template letting me know my submission would not be accepted than to sit around waiting for weeks only to receive no response whatsoever.

I was fourteen when I first submitted a personal essay for publication. While I could have — and probably should have — started with a smaller publication geared toward my age demographic, I, being the overachiever that I am, shot straight for one of the biggest publishers of nonfiction writing for teenagers at the time.

As you can probably guess, I never did hear back from them. I was never told whether my essay’s lack of publication was due to submission guidelines, the subject matter, submission volume, or just the simple fact that I was fourteen and the essay was probably not very good.

I was pretty bummed about this, of course. Who wouldn’t be? Every kid — every adult — dreams of having their work even considered by the publisher of books they’ve grown up reading.

But this was only the first of many instances I would learn that every rejection, no matter its form, was nothing but an opportunity to return to my work and figure out what I could do to increase my chances of success the second time around.

After several more attempts through various mediums, I did end up getting an essay published in a smaller and much more suitable publication two years later. It wasn’t published under my real name and I wouldn’t share it now for privacy reasons, but at the time, it still meant a lot to me.

I didn’t get published on the first try. But that was fine. Because I kept trying.

We’d all love to succeed on the first try. It would mean we’d only have to do the hardest part — writing the first draft — once. It would prove we somehow must know what we’re doing, if all it took was a single burst of effort to make all our dreams come true, just like that.

And sure, there are some lucky creatives who hit a home run their very first swing. I have nothing against them — they happened to step up to bat at the right time and swing with just the right amount of force to knock that particular pitch out of the park. Good for them!

But just because one writer got lucky doesn’t mean you’re necessarily going to achieve success that same way. In fact, you have a very low chance of, for example, even hearing back from a single agent the first time you send out a round of queries. That doesn’t mean there’s something wrong with you. It’s just the reality of the business.

Why don’t most people make it on their first try? Because we all have so much to learn from not succeeding the first time around. Imagine what would happen if we always got exactly what we wanted on our first attempt. We’d have no motivation to grow, no reason to try harder.

The more times we try something, generally, the better we get at it. Failure — if you want to call it that, though in this case it’s really not technically “failing” — is the best way to learn. When you’re told no, you ask why not. If you’re given an answer, you say, “Well, I’ll do better. I’ll show you. Just wait.” At least, I hope so.

Instant gratification? Not a thing in the real writing world. You’re going to do a lot of work for very little reward. Eventually, hopefully, it will all pay off. But not right away. You work, you fail, you keep working, you get closer to not failing, and repeat. Sometimes you stick the landing, more often times you don’t. But as long as you keep getting back up, all those missteps don’t matter.

Plus, “I kept trying until I made success happen” is a much better story than “I tried once and all my dreams came true” if we’re being honest.

Don’t worry about falling flat on your face the first time you take a dive into your dreams. It’s going to happen. Accept it. Embrace it. Get back up, and keep going. You won’t regret it.


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.

The Hardest Part About Writing Things That Scare Us

I DON’T WANNA DO IT! I DON’T WANNA!

Without realizing it, I think I decided at the beginning of 2019 that I was going to have my own “year of yes.” Which means I’ve done a lot of things in the past four months that have scared me, both creatively and otherwise without really considering not doing them as an option.

Writing-wise, this has meant I’ve dug deep into many stories I’ve avoided writing for a long time. Like many aspiring writers, I do worry about what other people think. It doesn’t usually affect my work, except when it comes to my creative projects outside of the work I get paid to do.

Sometimes, in my head, I’m still that fifteen year old writing books on her computer instead of doing math homework (sorry Mom). My parents might read this story! My teachers! My friends! I can’t make them as dark and twisty as I want to because people would look at me weird! Like, why is a fifteen year old writing about THAT? IS SHE OK? DID SOMETHING HAPPEN TO HER?

I am, in fact, a grown adult who can write about whatever she pleases thank you very much. But part of me is still afraid, or has been, even to write these things in spaces no one else would ever see them.

Why? Because fear is so easy to hold onto, and so difficult to let go of. We hold onto it sometimes for years without realizing we’ve forgotten to cast it aside.

It’s difficult to do until you do it. Write the things you fear you can’t, I mean.

When you do this — when you take a chance, step over that line, accept the risk, do the thing that terrifies you most of all — there is a good chance you’re not going to come out on the other side successful. And that, more than anything else, is what keeps people on the comfortable side of creation.

We don’t like the idea of failing.

But even more than that, we don’t like the idea of working very hard on something for an extended period of time only to fail.

We feel we have so many things filling our time — and/or are pressured to fill our time with so many things — that we don’t want to put effort into something that isn’t going to be worth our time.

Even worse, we don’t want to have to spend more time on something than we feel should be necessary, generally. Ideally, we’d love to sit down, crank out something in a few hours, and send it off without ever returning to it. It’s efficient. It’s easy. It takes effort — but not too much. It proves we did the work without us having to break much of a sweat.

Or it would. If that was anything close to how writing in the real world actually works.

Writing isn’t supposed to be easy. That’s why not everyone can do it successfully. It’s those who are willing to fail a thousand times in exchange for one victory that find the most success as writers. The more you’re able to laugh in the face of fear, the more chances you’ll have to kick failure down forty flights of stairs and watch it suffer.

Write what scares you. Because it’s only going to scare you more if you don’t do it.

Failure is always an option. But it’s only an option if you try. Otherwise, it’s just the default.


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.

For the Writer Who Doesn’t Like It When Plans Change

Planners must learn to adapt in all aspects of their craft.

The hardest thing a planner will need to learn in the beginning stages of writing is how to deal when things don’t go the way you wanted them to go.

This could mean a variety of different things, such as having your writing time interrupted or applying for a writing job you don’t end up getting.

But it happens on a much smaller scale, too. There are people who plan out their novels from opening scene to final line, for example, who stop writing halfway through because everything has gone off the rails and they can’t figure out how to get it all back on track.

I don’t think I’ve ever written a book that ended up going in the exact direction I originally planned on taking it, at least in some way or another. I once started writing an innocent action adventure novel featuring a likable side character that ended up revealing they were a serial killer. That was not what I planned. I do not like surprises, especially ones that involve murder.

But do you know what? That story ended up turning out okay. Because no matter how tempted you might be to stick with your plans and resist the urge to change them, there’s something surprisingly thrilling about saying “oh forget it” and letting your story do the telling.

It’s very freeing, to lose control. Which isn’t something you’d expect to feel the moment you realize your characters are the ones in charge and not you.

However, learning this lesson was probably the best thing that could have ever happened to me as a writer. As rigid and stubborn as I often am in most areas of my life, I become a completely different person when I put on my creative writing hat and step into the “zone.” I’ve learned not to try to control everything as a writer, because the reality is, you can’t. It’s not healthy for you and it’s only going to limit and hurt your stories.

I am a better writer because I learned to stifle my need to control everything.

It’s something many aspiring writers might benefit from, if they’re willing to make this change.

Planners must learn to adapt in all aspects of their creative crafts. Not just in the ever-shifting publishing world itself, but within their own realm of personal storytelling.

Don’t get me wrong — there’s nothing in the unwritten book of rules that says you can’t outline your entire book so you have some sort of direction for where you want things to go. But you also have to realize that your brain may come up with different — often better — ideas as you sink deeper and deeper into a project. This is a GOOD thing, and it’s good to accept that things are going to shift and you’re allowed to shift right along with them.

You’ll be much better off, in the long-term, if you loosen up and free yourself from your need for things to always go as planned. The best stories are the ones that surprise the people writing them. You can write a great story sticking to a basic “beginning middle end” outline while letting your spontaneous creativity fill in the gaps.

Outlines are helpful for motivation and for when you get stuck. But it’s OK not to follow them. It’s OK to decide you don’t want the story to turn out that way after all.

You can always change it back if you don’t like it, too. In many ways, you do have control — control, at least in the sense that you can decide to let that story go off the rails and not follow any sort of plan at all.

Well … good luck. You might need it. :)


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.

Every Story Begins With a Blank Page

Don’t fear it. Embrace it.

Every writer has their hangups. Usually it’s a part of the writing process they just can’t seem to get a good handle on no matter how hard they try.

For some people, for example, starting a book is the easy part. What they struggle with more than anything is actually following through and finishing that book.

Others struggle even to come up with an idea for a story, desperate to create something but unable to nail down exactly what they want to write about.

And many, as I have learned in engaging with other writers who read this blog, find starting to be the hardest part of creating. They have an idea. They know where their finish line is. But they open a new document and stare at that blank page, and boom. They’re stuck. They know they need to put their ideas into words, but for whatever reason, they just can’t do it.

In case you hadn’t already figured it out, this is why Novelty Revisions exists — to help writers get from point “I want to write something cool” to “I wrote a cool thing!”

Writing is hard. It never gets easier, because we all have at least one struggle we have to continuously work at overcoming. It doesn’t mean we’re weak. It simply means we’re human.

Have an idea? Great. But what are you going to do with that idea? Let it sit around without giving it the chance to develop and grow? I sincerely hope not.

It’s all about putting that idea into words. Not just about having a good idea or knowing where you want that idea to end up, but about actually sitting down in front of a blank page and filling it with words.

Why is this part of the process such a challenge for so many writers? It’s partially because we’re impatient. We are so excited to “have written” a story that we find ourselves disappointed when we realize the story won’t actually write itself. We want it already done. We almost forget that writing is an active verb, in the sense that in order to make it past tense, we have to put in effort in the present.

We’re also preoccupied with all the other things that fill our lives. We don’t like the idea that we could spend a week writing a story and then another month rewriting and revising it. We crave the one-and-done projects, which we want very desperately to believe exist in the creative world. (They don’t.) We want what we write to be flawless the first time around so we can put it aside and move on to other things. But we’re also aware that isn’t usually possible, and that makes a blank page look and feel extremely intimidating.

So what’s the solution here? You’re probably hoping there’s some magic ingredient you can add to your coffee before you sit down to write that will make this mental block disappear. I’m not one to condone any illegal substances, so the solution I have to offer is actually going to take some effort. Are you ready?

Train yourself to stop being afraid.

You’re stuck on this blank page because you want the hard part to be over with. You don’t want to face the possibility that you might fail, that all your work might end up being “all for nothing.” But the truth is, the only way to turn that blank page into a story is to take a deep breath, think about where you want to end up, and begin.

It’s hard. It’s always going to be hard. I am never, ever satisfied with the first lines of anything I write during a first draft, and I’ve been doing this for over a decade. I always want to do it over and over until it feels right. But it never will — not until you’ve given yourself more material to work with.

A blank page is, quite literally, only the beginning. You have to do the work. At the very least, you have to try.

Don’t fear the blank page. Face it. Embrace it. Treat it as a challenge — not one that’s going to crush you, but instead one that’s going to teach you and build you up and help you grow.

It’s not as scary as it looks. Not once you get in there and start writing.

Every writer starts here. You’ve only just begun.


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.

12 Important Reminders to Read When You’re Not Feeling ‘Good Enough’

It’s OK. You’re going to be OK.

1. There is no rush. This is not a race. It’s not about who “gets there” first.

2. You can learn a lot from those more experienced than you. Don’t get frustrated. Get curious.

3. You will learn something important from every mistake you make. So don’t be afraid of making them.

4. You don’t have to be “the best.” You only have to be “your” best.

5. In every rejection, there is something to be learned, and something you can do better next time.

6. Every writer starts at the bottom and has to work their way up.

7. Every writer also starts with an idea and has to work hard to turn it into a story.

8. All writers progress through their respective journeys in their own way at their own pace. Take your time.

9. Perfectionism doesn’t get a book written.

10. Comparing yourself to other writers is a waste of energy.

11. Working toward your writing goals technically only requires a minimal amount of effort one day at a time.

12. You. Got. This.


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.

The ‘Sitting Down and Doing It’ Part of Writing

I didn’t want to. But I did.

I’m going to be completely honest with you: The absolute last thing I want to do right now is write a blog post about writing. Especially a realistic yet slightly uplifting one aimed to inspire writers to open their works in progress and get to work pursuing their dreams.

But I’m going to do it anyway. Because that’s what a writing commitment looks like. Showing up. Doing the work. Testing your own limits, and getting better at all of the above each time you do it.

I think a lot of us are afraid to push ourselves too hard, especially when it comes to writing. We take the truths we are told and twist and mold them to fit our own narrative, and sometimes that’s not a good thing.

We hear “don’t write when you’re not into it” and we convince ourselves we can’t write because we’re too tired, too stressed, too overwhelmed, too “out of sync” (whatever that means).

We hear “don’t overwork yourself so much that you burn out” and we convince ourselves we shouldn’t write because what if it drains us? What if it leaves us unable to do the other things we have to do?

What if? Why bother? What’s the point?

I’m not going to go into detail about the things happening in my personal life right now because this isn’t a diary and none of these things are related to writing. But what I will tell you is that technically, I am fully capable of making a choice between letting life get in the way of my writing or write despite the hardships.

And clearly I’m choosing to #WriteAnyway, which has apparently become my hashtag for the year. I have too many goals, too much on my plate, to be able to afford to hide under my blankets and turn on Netflix every time things don’t go the way I wanted them to go.

At the beginning of the year, I made plenty of writing commitments. But one of them was to publish a blog post every day in 2019, as I’ve done every day since 2015 (or 2014?). I did the best I could, but I couldn’t quite schedule enough posts ahead of time to maintain the buffer I like to have in place on days like this. So it’s currently nighttime and I have to have a post ready to publish in less than 12 hours, which is, as you can imagine, not my favorite thing.

I’d love, just this once, to say, “Forget it. My readers will understand. I’m tired. I’m done.”

But what kind of example would that set? What right would I have to tell aspiring writers to write even when they didn’t feel like it, when I have to publicly admit to not writing because I didn’t feel like it? That would be more than silly. Irresponsible. Unacceptable.

I said yes to writing these posts. I am a credible source for writing advice not because I’m necessarily an “expert” but because I practice what I preach. When I make mistakes, I admit them. But I’m also here to show you why and how I avoid those mistakes.

Writing seems a lot harder than it actually is, at least in terms of the actual sitting down and doing it part.

I sat here for a long time thinking I wasn’t going to be able to write a blog post today. But look at that. I put my hands on my keyboard and started the thing and wrote until I finished it (or am in the process of doing so). I wrote anyway, because it matters to me. If writing is important enough to you, you will always find a way to make it happen no matter what.

Stop giving in to excuses … but also know your limits.

Don’t say “I’ll never.” Say, “Maybe I can’t today, but I will tomorrow.”

And don’t just say it, either. Mean it. Follow through with it.

A commitment is more than just your word. It’s actually siting down and doing something.

So even if you don’t want to write today, if you have the choice, #WriteAnyway. If it’s a choice, always choose to do it. I promise, you won’t regret it. You’ll be glad you took a deep breath and made the words happen. Well, I know I am, at least.


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.

When You Can’t Finish Writing Your Story Because You Don’t Want It to End

Endings are hard. They’ll always be hard.

It happened three times in a row over three consecutive years. I hit the 70,000-word mark, or roughly that. I was, all things considered, almost done with a whole book. And then I just … stopped.

I loved these books; adored these stories. One helped me through the grieving process after losing a close friend. Another found me out of the blue, I adopted it and made it my own, and fell in love with it. And the most recent one was the first time I ever allowed myself to tell “my” story through a fictional character, something that was challenging in the best way possible.

I didn’t just start them. I nearly told them all the way through, with some gaps here and there in each one, but that’s to be expected near the end of the first draft.

For whatever reason, I just couldn’t fill in those gaps. I just couldn’t bring myself to write until I could truly call them finished.

But why? Why, after working so hard and coming so close, did I just … quit?

You might actually already know the answer to this question if you’ve ever had similar problems finishing something you so excitedly began writing not all that long ago. Or maybe you don’t, and that’s why you clicked on this blog post — for an answer, or an explanation. Either way, all I can offer is a theory.

Put simply, we avoid completing writing projects for the same reason we put off watching the series finales of our favorite shows and stop reading just before we reach the last page.

We don’t like endings. We don’t like facing them. We don’t like the uncertainty that comes after them. And most of all, we don’t like putting things away or behind us. We want to hold onto the things that are important to us, the things that make us FEEL.

Sometimes that’s a book someone else wrote or a TV show someone else created. Sometimes it’s a story we started writing ourselves. Maybe it’s not the best story ever written, maybe it’s not the most original idea or we’re not completely proud of all its parts. But it’s something we made, and if we could, we would make that thing last as long as possible — maybe even forever.

Finishing those books would mean having to say goodbye to the characters I had fallen in love with. It would mean the end to the stories that I had spent so many years of my life completely immersed in.

And of course, it would mean that I’d probably have to edit and/or rewrite the things, and you can’t blame me for dreading that part of the process!

Here’s the truth: All good things must, someday, come to an end. You might not like it. You might try to run from this reality for as long as you can. But at some point, you have to take a deep breath and let it happen. Watch that last episode. Read that last page.

Write the end of your story. Fill in all the gaps. Call it finished — at least, for now.

It’s quite possible I won’t finish these projects. For one in particular, it’s just too late to go back. But there does come a point at which you do have to let go of a story — whether that means formally ending it and calling your first draft finished or setting it aside and accepting defeat.

Neither of these decisions is “right” or “wrong.” It is, when it comes down to it, nothing more than a choice. You are in a position that allows for complete control in this regard. You can choose to leave what you started unfinished, and you have every right to do so for your own reasons.

Or you can choose to do one of the hardest things you’ve ever done as a writer, and finish what you started.

By the end of May, I’m committing to finishing one of the three projects I almost gave up on. I am so close. I am terrified to call it finished, but I know it’s a decision I will not regret.

What about you?


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.

It All Begins With a Word

Starting is easier than you think.

Have you ever thought about how cool it is that one second you are staring at a blank page, and the next you are filling that page with words?

I have. It was thinking about this that prompted me to start writing this blog post.

It sometimes seems, as you’re staring at that blank space in front of you, as if that’s not possible. Creating something out of nothing? How does that work?

It’s pretty simple, actually. All you have to do is take a deep breath and begin.

Just start with one word. It’s not nearly as difficult as you might think.

Before you know it, one word will become two, and two words four, and the words will continue to multiply until at some point you lift your hands from the keyboard and realize you’ve written a story all by yourself. You took an idea that just appeared in your head and you made a whole story out of it. YOU. YOU DID THAT.

When you feel stuck, blocked, sad, alone, unsure, unmotivated, uninspired, sometimes all it takes is placing one single word on one blank page. Because once you do that, the page is no longer blank. You have started writing something, and clearing that hurdle is a feat many aspiring writers never even come close to accomplishing.

Some see a blank page and freeze. They don’t know what to do with it. They don’t know how to transform it into a story. They don’t believe they are capable, don’t believe they have the power to make it happen.

But you do. You can.

So. What’s your one word? Write it down. Then write another after that. Form a sentence, a paragraph, construct a page. Don’t think about writing a whole chapter and especially not a whole book. Focus on the small things. Focus on that one word, and conquer that battle, and I promise you, things will not seem quite as impossible from there.

Writing doesn’t necessarily get easier as you go along. But that barrier to starting does become easier to knock down once you learn how.

Starting is hard because you’re thinking too much about how hard it is to start.

Stop thinking. Start writing.

Well, to be fair, you do have to put some thought into what you’re writing eventually or you’re just going to end up with a jumbled arrangement of words that don’t make sense in any context. But one word doesn’t have context. It doesn’t need it. It’s just a word. And it can be proof that you Did It. You Started Writing a Thing.

Sit down in front of your blank space, whatever that may be, and write the first word that comes to mind. Chances are the first sentence in whatever you’re about to write won’t start with that word. But your only goal here is to build a story off of that word. It’s kind of like a game, except by this point, you’re probably already frustrated and seriously considering giving up. (Don’t!)

Here. Let me demonstrate.

The first word that came to me when I told you to write the first word that came to you was boats.

I know nothing about boats, I’ve only been on a few boats in my life, but I think boats are pretty cool, so I’ll run with it. I’ll start writing a story about boats.

The next paragraph will come straight out of my head, no overthinking allowed, and will serve as the beginning to a story I may or may not continue writing at some point in the future:

When I rode the ferry to the island on May 14, it was like falling in love for the first time. Thrilling. Wondrous. Unforgettable. I’ve ridden on boats and fallen in and out of love plenty of times since then, and it’s not quite as magical as it used to be. Kind of like when you’re a kid and everything is cool and exciting. Once you grow up, you realize the ferry is just another form of public transportation. Nothing special. No magic to see here. But before I was forced to grow up, it was May 14, and the ferry took me to a place I had been dreaming about visiting my whole short life.

First drafts are first drafts and that’s all I have to say about that. But now I can’t stop thinking about the critically cynical character that has walked into my life and I kind of want him or her to keep talking? Moving on. (Or am I?)

See? That wasn’t so hard. I am exhausted and sick and anxious, but I just thought up a word and pulled the beginning of a story out of my brain. If I can do it, you can do it. Let’s see you give it a try in those comments.


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.

Why Successful Writers Don’t Spend All Their Time Behind a Screen

Writing is about more than actually writing.

I was 15 years old. I was sitting in the library, writing in a notebook, while the rest of my classmates were outside working on a project for our creative writing class.

Why was I inside, by myself, writing instead of working on a project? Because it was a creative writing class, not a “go outside and do things with other people” class! I wanted to write, and so that’s what I was determined to do.

My creative writing teacher wasn’t having any of my silent rebellion, of course. He tracked me down, took away my notebook, and told me to go outside.

Rude!

When I asked him what was wrong with sitting alone with a notebook in the library by myself, he gave me a look and then said in an uncharacteristically serious tone, “If you want to be a writer, you have to go out into the world and experience real life.”

That was over 10 years ago, and I still think about it almost every day. Because it completely changed the way I looked at writing, and what it meant to be a writer.

Writers write. It is literally the only prerequisite for being able to call yourself a writer. In this profession — or hobby, or whatever you prefer to call it — you are going to be spending a lot of time behind a screen telling stories basically to yourself. That’s not going to change, and you shouldn’t sacrifice valuable writing time ALL the time for other things.

But you do need to take breaks, venture out into the world, and give your brain the space and the stimulation it needs to draw more ideas in.

My sophomore year of high school, I didn’t get out much. I had no interest in doing so. I wanted to sit alone in my room and write books. I thought that was all it was going to take to make my dreams come true.

Fast forward to this past weekend 12 years later. I’m in Chicago walking around a giant convention center all based around a weird space opera some guy named George Lucas wrote in the 1970s. I sit in on a panel and hear Jon Favreau say he wrote four episodes of a TV series before even proposing it to higher-ups because he couldn’t stop the story — he was so in love with it he just HAD to write it — and I’m thinking, “I want to love my stories so much that I keep writing them even if no one ever buys them, because maybe someone will someday.”

And even though I could go on and on about Star Wars Celebration for 50 blog posts at this point, I bring it up to show you that meeting people, and listening to real discussions, and HAVING real discussions, and being away from your work for an extended period of time while having those experiences makes all the difference.

Writing gets better when you have real-world experiences to draw from. Not the ones you see secondhand that other people are telling you about or acting out on a screen, but real firsthand sights and sounds and events you will never forget. THOSE are the experiences that truly matter.

Now, I’m not saying you have to go to a 5-day nerd party with 80,000 other people to have the kind of experiences that are good for harnessing creative energy. In fact, most people probably won’t ever do that. That’s fine. For you personally, “real-world experience” can pretty much mean anything, even if you don’t stray far from home.

Sometimes, just walking out your front door and breathing in the outside air is all it takes. Or even just sitting by the window without going outside and just letting your mind wander. Anything that takes you away from your screen, away from your work, and allows your mind to focus on … well, nothing!

Most of us aren’t fortunate enough to have someone always looking out for us, someone who will track us down, drag us away from our creative comfort zones, and force us to go outside and live in the real world. It’s something we have to train ourselves to do on our own. We have to diverge from our normal routines and the preferences that keep us comfortable and experience new things. It’s like studying new material we can later come back and write about.

I don’t remember what that project was or what we did when we were outside that day. But I do know that every time I step away from my writing and come back having spent time in reality, I am so much more motivated and inspired to create than when I’ve been sitting in the same chair day after day doing the same old things.

You never know what you’re going to find out there. Just take a deep breath, save the writing for later, lift up your head, and open your eyes. See it all. Feel it all. Live.


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.