To hear some writers talk about writing their books, you’d think they were participating in a Spartan race.
“I write for seven hours a day. Every day of the year.”
Or, “10,000 words a day is my goal. I often exceed even that.”
Or, “Writer’s block? I don’t believe in it.”
And then there is the rest of us.
When you start writing your first book you feel excited and confident. You LOVE writing! You are MEANT to be an author! You’re going to DO THIS!
Sure, you’ve started (and never finished) eight other books, but you’re sure that this time it will be different.
So you start. Writing with a flourish, heartbeat hammering away in your ears and a little moisture on your palms spurs you on.
This is going to be a New York Times bestseller.
You pause mid-keystroke and wonder, is it too early to look into a security team for your house? Soon droves of fans will stalk your home, hoping for a glimpse of the famous author.
And then? The inevitable.
The story seems to just peter away. The excitement and zest you had now feels more like heartburn. You dread going back to the keyboard for another marathon session.
What happened? You burned out.
Your child gets sick, your dog ingests a package of socks and has to be rushed to the vet, your uncle dies and you have to use your writing time to make a casserole.
Many Reasons Not to Write...All The Same Issue
The reasons behind the failure of your never-finished book may vary, but the bones remain. You dream of being a real, published author. But somehow, time and time again, you fail.
“What is wrong with me?” you might be asking.
The answer? Nothing.
I used to struggle with this exact problem. I would alternately toil away for hours on end, usually in those exciting first chapters. But my interest and stamina dribbled away by the one-third mark.
Or I’d go back to re-read my stellar prose…only to feel my cheeks grow hot in embarrassment. “This is complete and utter crap!” that little critical voice would say.
“You think you can be an author? Ha! Think again. You stink.”
It wasn’t until I tried a technique I call the 15-minute writing method that I finally had success in finishing my first full-length novel.
In fact, I’ve used this same technique for most of my subsequent novels as well as my first nonfiction book, The 15-Minute Novelist: How to Write Your First Book in Just 15 Minutes a Day.
The 15-Minute Writing Method: How To FINALLY Write Your Book
The 15-Minute Novelist...written in just 15 minutes a day!
Here’s how it works in a nutshell: you write for 15 minutes a day.
While the book offers more tips and ideas to help you set up and maintain a writing practice, dealing with the issues that keep you from writing, etc., the key element is the actual writing — and doing nothing else during that 15 minutes.
No looking up the spelling of something or checking the thesaurus.
While the premise is simple the practice can be a lot more challenging. First, there are the uh-oh things that just come up in life.
Emergency vet visits, sick kids, an aging parent that suddenly needs a ride to an appointment, preparing the guest room for a friend who calls (surprise!) from the airport.
Even something as simple as oversleeping can get in the way of your writing plans.
The beauty of this method though is the simplicity.
It’s only 15 minutes.
Each day we have 1,440 minutes. You do the math (I’m bad at it).
After teaching many, many adult writing classes, counseling and coaching writers, and going to lots and lots of writing-related conferences, workshops, and events, I’ve found there are three major hurdles for writers who want to finally finish writing their books.
Hurdle #1: “I don’t have time to write.”
This is hands-down the most popular response I get when someone tells me they want to write a book and I ask what’s holding them back, “I just don’t have the time.”
But guess how many 15-minute chunks of time are in each 24-hour period? 96. All you need is one. If you’ve been writing for any length of time you probably already know when you’re the most creative.
Whatever time of day it is when ideas and scenes sizzle and pop and you lose track of time, that’s your new writing time. It can be morning, noon, or night. Heck, it can be in the middle of the night.
I’m so tired of people crowing about their miraculous morning routines. Yes, I have one and yes, I do find it easier to write earlier in the day.
But that doesn’t work for everyone. Do what works for you and your schedule.
Note: create a Plan B. No one is ever going to have a “perfect writing day”. If you’ve got a colicky baby and write best in the early morning…but find yourself sleeping on your keyboard, pull out the Plan B and keep going.
Plan B is simply this: write whenever, wherever you have 15 minutes free. This could be while waiting in the carpool line at your kid’s school, in the laundry room waiting for the wash to finish, or tucked into bed at night. The more times you successfully write for 15 minutes a day, the easier it will get.
Making changes is hard work.
Hurdle #2: “I don’t know anything about publishing. I have to figure that out first.”
Um, no, you don’t.
I get it. You’re a responsible human. You want to make sure you know what you’re getting into with this whole writing-a-book thing.
You’re trying to set yourself up for success or avoid failure, or whatever.
But none of that matters. Not until you’ve actually finished a book.
Most of the time writers fall into this trap because of one thing and one thing only: they’re avoiding writing the first draft.
Why? Because first drafts are ugly. Messy. Filled with holes like Swiss cheese. They make you feel itchy and hot when you read them. Or break out in hives at the thought of anyone else reading them.
All of this is okay and normal. Ignore it.
Your little critical voice is used to keeping you under control though. It likes that it can mutter a few disparaging words as you re-read what you’ve written and watch you hang your head in embarrassment.
It really likes it when you hit that delete button. And it’s positively gleeful when it convinces you to give up, erase the file, and go watch TV instead.
Here’s the thing: first drafts are supposed to be hideous. For 99 percent of writers, first drafts suck. Even ANNE LAMOTT says so. In her must-read book for writers, Bird By Bird, Lamott declares unequivocally that every writer needs to get past the *ahem* crappy first draft.
There are those (few) writers whose first draft is also their last — so clean and polished it squeaks — but we’re not talking about them.
For most of us, the first draft looks as frightening as a bear just out of hibernation. She’s got sleep gunk in her eyes, morning breath that could knock down an elephant, and fur that is alternately matted and sticking up. She’s not pretty and neither is a typical first draft.
Don’t let that stop you. And don’t believe the lie that you must have all your ducks in a row publishing-wise before you finish your book. Keep on writing that ugly draft, just 15 minutes each day.
Hurdle #3: “I’ll finish this first draft soon…I just need to go back and clean it up a little first.”
Ahhh, the writing rules: grammar and punctuation, spelling issues and plot development, character visualization, story arcs, and all the rest that experts tell us we need to know and follow before we ever set pen to paper.
Well. That’s a lot of bunk. Of course, grammar, spelling, and plot development are important. But you don’t have to worry about any of these when writing the first draft.
Think of it like the Mission Impossible movies. You are Ethan Hunt. You have one mission and one only: to complete your first draft.
Editing-in-progress is a bad idea in my opinion. Our creative, writing brains are very different than our more analytical, editing brains.
We need both, but using them in conjunction is sort of like trying to get a seal to balance a ball on its nose and ride a unicycle. Something bad is bound to happen.
Instead, commit to the 15-minute writing method. Just keep going. Keep plugging away, and putting down the words on paper or screen.
Don’t give in to fear.
Don’t listen to the critic.
They’ll be plenty of time to worry about the next steps after your manuscript is complete. And that might be a lot faster than you expect if you don’t allow yourself to get bogged down with these three hurdles.
*This blog post was first published on Medium.
In addition to helping first-time authors finish their first books with her writer coaching work, Joy also loves writing fiction (10 novels and counting), sipping hot beverages, and hiking with her family.