Monday, June 05, 2006

Chasing Dreams

"What would you attempt to do if you knew you could not fail?" - Dr. Robert Schuller

I can't count how many people who've never tried to do it before have said to me, "I've always wanted to write a book." I'm a huge believer in following your dreams. Heck, not just following them, chasing after them, grabbing them by the throat and wrestling them to the ground. :-) So when I hear this comment, my answer is always, "Then you should sit down and do it." What follows next is generally a litany of excuses that can be summed up in four words: "I don't have time."

This is where I'll nod and tell them that maybe someday they'll do it, but if they haven't found time yet, I doubt they will later. There's never going to be time to write. There's always something more pressing that needs to be done, something that will sap time and energy. And as long as writing is at the bottom of the list, no, they won't have time for it. IMO, though, there's a big difference between wanting to write "someday" and being a writer. A writer has to write. It drives them. The stories in their head won't allow them to push them off with "someday."

But there are also Stupid Writer Tricks (with apologies to David Letterman). I think I know every stupid writer trick there is because I pulled them on myself for years. They're such beautiful lies and so easy to believe.

Let me add a caveat here: Different writers work in different ways. What's a stupid writer trick for me, might be someone else's successful writing method. In your heart, you know which it is for you.
  • I'll write as soon as inspiration/the muse strikes me
Oh, yeah, I waited for inspiration for quite a long time. It's amazing how seldom it turned up and how little writing I actually had to do. What's funny, though, is once I committed myself to pursuing my dream how often the muse showed up after I was working for a while.

If I was having a bad day at the keyboard, instead of playing Minesweeper, I would tell myself, "You have to write for ten minutes. It doesn't have to be good and you can cut it all later, but you can't do anything but write. Besides, anyone can write for ten minutes." And so I'd write and maybe it was horrible stuff, but it was incredible how often that inspiration was there before those ten minutes were up. So I'd cut the junk and keep writing.

There were days, though, that the muse didn't arrive in those ten minutes. I'd allow myself five minutes to play Minesweeper and then I'd make myself write for another ten minutes. I can only remember one time that it took more than a couple of instances before I was off and running on my story.

So if you're one of the writers telling yourself you'll write when the muse arrives, I say chase after her and drag her to the keyboard yourself!
  • I'm writing, I just want to make my first chapter perfect before I move forward.
I'm a total perfectionist and this was such a fabulous way for me to never finish a book. I'd write and rewrite the first chapter until the life was sucked right out of it. Until I was so bored with it that the last thing I wanted to do was write more of this story. So then I'd start a new story and there'd be a new chapter one to fiddle with. I could tell myself I was writing, but I was accomplishing nothing.

How'd I overcome this stupid writer trick? I realized that as long as I pursued perfection--an unobtainable goal--I was never going to finish a book. I had to give myself permission to write sentences/paragraphs that were less than perfect and promise myself that everything could be fixed after the first draft was down. In the beginning, I regularly chanted: It can all be fixed on revision. And it can.
  • I have to research (Fill in the blank) before I can write the story.
There's a difference between having the base knowledge you need to start a book and researching so much, that you could give the experts in the field a run for their money. Yes, I've done this too. I went on backstage tour of Sea World and I was answering questions about sharks for our guide. I'm not lying.

Did I ever write the book that I was researching sharks for? Nope, but I do have an over-edited and lifeless first chapter.

My advice here is get the strong base knowledge you need to set up the story, then start writing. Honestly, you won't know which small details you'll need until they crop up in the book. When the first draft is done, or when you're done writing for the day, then you can research those smaller details.

Dreams are scary things. It's so much easier to fantasize about achieving them than it is to put in the work it takes to reach the goal. Fantasy allows us to believe that if we just had the time, we'd have what we always wanted, but actually pursuing the dream brings anxiety. What if I fail? What if I'm not good enough? What if....? This doesn't only apply to writing, but to anything we dream of doing.

This is where the quote at the top of this post comes in. My viewpoint on life is that when we're on our deathbeds, we won't regret the things we tried and failed at, we'll regret the things we wanted to try and never pursued for whatever reason. No, it's not easy, but how many worthwhile things are?

One more inspirational quote:
Fall down seven times, get up eight. - Japanese proverb

What stupid writer tricks have you pulled on yourself and how did you overcome them? Or maybe I should say, what stupid human tricks have you pulled and overcome? I think we all have them, the hard part is working around them.


Nancy Morse said...

For all those who say they want to write a book but don't have the time, then I say that, sadly, they're not writers, or writing simply isn't that important to them. Unless they're writing other things like freelance articles, or whatever, but then I have to wonder, where do they find the time for that? Once you've actually started writing the book, that's where tricks can come into play. But one person's trick doesn't necessarily work for someone else. The only trick I use for myself is to end my day's writing (whether it's a single paragraph, a page or an entire chapter) by stopping just short of how I want to end it. This way, I have someplace to pick up when I start writing the next day instead of staring at a blank screen. Of course, the only other trick is to put your butt in the chair, turn on the computer and start writing.

Colleen Thompson said...

This is fantastic, Patti. I'm going to post a link to this on my chapter loop.

I do the "anyone can write for ten minutes" trick to get myself going. When my head is buzzing with a lot of negative self-talk, I also make a list of the "Top Ten Reasons I'd Can't Possibly Write This Book." Usually, they're so stupid once they're on paper, I can't help but laugh at them. Then I go and write.

I also go back and read/edit the prior day's work to get into the flow. But some days, resistance wins and all I manage to do is waste time flitting from distraction to distraction.

Patti O'Shea said...


My wake up call on the writing came when I saw a psychic and asked her about my "career." I guess she didn't see anything because she asked me if I'd written that day. I said no. She asked if I wrote yesterday. I said no. She asked if I'd written in the last week. I said no.

Her reply was I wasn't a writer because writers write. It was a little harsh, but it was exactly the message I needed to receive.


Patti O'Shea said...

Thanks, Colleen, I'm glad you think this is an interesting post!

There's a book titled Feel the Fear and Do It Anyway. I've never read it, but the title is absolutely one of the most perfect mottos to adopt. Whenever I feel overwhelmed or panicky, I try to remember this. It also helps me to focus on the story and the characters because that's what it's all about.


Nancy Herkness said...

Patti, I did that first chapter rewrite thing too. Then I went to a workshop on "Book in a Week" which changed my writing life.

No, I've never written a book in a week, or even close to a week; my mind boggles at the very concept. However, one of the basic tenets of BIAW is that you absolutely cannot revise anything until you get to the end of the book.

That's how I write now. If there's something really egregious that needs changing I jot myself a note on a yellow sticky sheet and stick it to the page (or pages) but no revising is allowed until I type those final words.

Amazingly enough, I finish alot more books now. BG

Candice Gilmer said...

Let's see, stupid people tricks:

1. Um too much blogging. (self explanatory)
2. Letting the outside world distract me. This includes family and work. I have no office, just a laptop to write on. Sometimes, for "privacy" (I really have none, not with a child and husband in a small 987 sq ft trailer) I go in my bedroom to reduce the distractions.
3. Showing my writing while in WIP mode. I swear, that's more detrimental to my work than anything else. If I show off some of my work, it's an instant "block" on it. Don't know why that is. Then I have to deal with the "What happened to the book about such-n-such?"

Patti O'Shea said...


I've never done BIAW, but I've been tempted a few times to try it. I can't move forward, however, if I have a huge problem that needs to be fixed. The way I write is so dependent on what happened before that scene that if I changed something big in chapter 6, it could affect the next 20 chapters. So while I don't nitpick, I do fix big stuff before I move forward. :-)


Patti O'Shea said...


Blogging is a good one! My problem used to be visiting too many blogs. I took care of that by using Bloglines. Now I only have to click once to know if any of the blogs I read have new posts. It saves time. :-)

Distractions is another one. Although I can create my own. I know if I'm cleaning the bathroom (my least favorite chore) instead of writing that I am in heavy avoidance mode.

Interesting that you can't write a story once you've shown it to someone. You know the answer to this one--don't show anyone anything until you at least have the first draft done.


Allison Brennan said...

I procrastinate something awful. Blogging, email, updating my web page, whatever.

But I love to write, so what am I doing to myself? LOL.

I do get lost in research, though. I love reading crime books and forensics. Sometimes I need to just look up one point and I end up spending hours reading about something completely irrelevent to the book I'm working on (but you never know when you'll need the information!) LOL.

Nancy Herkness said...

Allison, I hear you on getting sidetracked in the research. I too get so fascinated by some tangent I've discovered that I lose track of what I was looking up in the first place. However, I figure no research is ever wasted because it will probably show up in a book someday. And sometimes it just gets me thinking about new angles on the current book.

So maybe we could call it useful procrastination, as opposed to the spider solitaire sort of procrastination.

Allison Brennan said...

Useful procrastination . . . I like that :)

LaraRios said...

Patti, I love your opening quote. I have it on a paper weight in my office. I think it says a lot. Most people that have "always wanted to do (. . .) " fill in the blank, and don't do it, fail to try because they fear failure. Writing is risky, and you're bound to fail -- most of us do repeatedly.

What moves us is that we fear not writing more than we fear failure.
And that's what separates writers from non-writers, in my opinion.