Do you have a great book in you that has been unfinished for ages? Perhaps a novel, or a non-fiction book proposal? You know it's good, but somehow you can never make time for it. Or when you sit down to write, you just can't seem to get the words out.
You may even look at this unfinished book as a moral failing. If only somehow you could discipline yourself to work harder, and write more, then you could be the author you know you really are.
After a few years of dealing with people's fears and phobias as a therapist, I actually see a strong parallel between these issues and wannabe writers. And in the end, it all boils down to this belief that you aren't writing enough.
In fact, your problem has exactly the opposite cause: you are writing too much.
Let me explain. Suppose you are afraid of heights. So one day you suck up your courage and force yourself to go to the 40th floor of a building – because you view your problem as a lack of bravery. In reality, however, you are sensitizing yourself to something I want you to de-sensitize to. This is why over and over, I watch people finally get well once they stop being brave and start taking tiny baby steps. By staying in their comfort zone, and gradually expanding it in a way that lets them be fully present in the situation, they get over their fears.
The same thing is true about your writing. You sit down and think, "Ugh! I should work harder on this. So I am going to force myself to write another thousand words, even if it kills me! And it had better be good!" The end result? You start to associate writing with failure, and eventually your subconscious throws up a big red flag when you even think about doing more writing. It starts telling you, "You're not good enough. You never finish anything. And you're always getting stuck."
If this sounds like you, here is what I want you to do. Sit down tonight and write 200 words – about eight lousy sentences. Even if they are complete tripe. Then stop writing. You are done for the night.
If you can comfortably write eight sentences every night, you will accomplish two important things. First, do this for a year and you will complete a 60,000 word book. Second, and more important, you will be feeding your subconscious lots and lots of success. You are only supposed to write eight sentences, and by golly, you are doing it – so this gets chalked up in your memory banks as a win. Your subconscious loves success, by the way.
Best of all, keep doing it and eventually these eight sentences will seem like nothing, and you will write more. This is exactly the same mechanism by which people get over their fears. Clinically, the act of practicing is much more important than how much you practice, so taking small steps eventually leads to breakthroughs. In time, you start look at writing – or things you used to fear – with the warm glow of success and mastery, one easy step at a time.
Now, some of you are saying to yourselves, "Gosh – I can't even write eight sentences. Now what?" No problem. Just lower the bar to wherever you are comfortable, and start there. The goal is to have success every day, long enough for the thought of being a writer to start ringing your "success" chime. Then, trust me, things will expand from there.
I practice what I preach here. I've cranked out a published book, for myself or for ghostwriting clients, every year for close to 15 years now. And as much as I hate to admit this, I don't just write with passion, style, or heart. I write with a calculator. I set a wordcount goal for myself, on comes the word processor, and out come the words.
The same approach can completely change your success as a writer. This is why I am prescribing eight sentences, or the equivalent of talking to someone for a minute or so, every night. Stop straining, start winning, and watch what happens to your writing!