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So You Want To Write A Book: The #1 Enemy to Creativity

You want to write, but you aren’t writing. You say tomorrow will be different, but it’s the same story, different day. There’s a battle going on inside you, and the wrong side is winning. There’s a crucial mindset shift that every writer needs to make to end up on the right side of this battle.

Practically every writer has experienced this problem. 

As a book coach, I see this struggle every day.

As a writer, I battled this problem for years.

The desire to take my writing seriously started in my late thirties after I emerged from the fog of early motherhood. You know, when I wasn’t getting up every few hours to nurse a baby. I’d left the practice of law and yearned for a professional purpose, a creative outlet, something that was my own besides my identity and role as a mother and wife.

Now, I wasn’t one of those kids who had written her first novel when she was in second grade—I have never been drawn to write fiction. But I have always loved to write, and I thought I was a pretty good writer too. People told me that all the time. I was in love with the idea of writing a book. Of becoming an author. I dreamed of book signings. Appearances on daytime TV. Oprah when she still had a show. 

I was going to write a book someday and become an Author (with a capital A!).

I’d start and stop and start again. I’d take a continuing education class at a nearby college. Attend a workshop. Gather a few friends and start a small writing group.

But I never could seem to gain traction. To actually finish a project. To actually get the book written.

Maybe it was simply a matter of timing, that the timing wasn’t right.

Or maybe it was that I wasn’t aware of the #1 enemy to creativity, what Steven Pressfield calls “resistance” in his book The War of Art: Break Through Your Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles. And maybe it was that I didn’t know about the single mindset shift a writer can make to combat resistance.

Someone recommended this slim volume to me a few years ago when I was feeling unfocused and frustrated that I wasn’t making progress on my book.

And suddenly I understood that what I had experienced and was experiencing all those years of starting and stopping had a name: Resistance.

“There’s a secret that real writers know that wannabe writers don’t," writes Pressfield. “And the secret is this: It’s not the writing part that’s hard. What’s hard is sitting down to write. What keeps us from sitting down is Resistance.”

I’m willing to bet that there isn’t a writer in the world who hasn’t struggled with putting their butt in the chair.

Anne Lamott, bestselling author of more than 30 books, including the marvelous Bird by Bird, tweeted: “How to write: Stop not writing. Get and keep your butt in chair.” Stephen King says,  “Writing equals ass in chair.”

Simple, right? And resistance is what keeps us from doing this.

Resistance is invisible, internal, insidious, and universal.

Resistance presents itself in many different forms—as fear, distraction, self-doubt, and procrastination.

We all know what this looks like, right? We do it with big things and small things. I’ll start exercising tomorrow. Tomorrow, I will open the distraction blocker on my laptop and I won’t check email or Facebook or Twitter or Instagram when I’m supposed to be writing. Tomorrow I’ll stick to the block scheduling I’ve meticulously color-coded on my calendar. Tomorrow. I’ll start tomorrow. 

Pressfield reminds us that “there never was a moment, and never will be, when we are without the power to alter our destiny. This second, we can turn the tables on Resistance. This second, we can sit down and do our work.”

That pretty says it all, doesn’t it? So how do we put ourselves in the position to make that decision to sit down and do our work?

There’s a simple mindset shift that empowers you to combat resistance and get your work done. Pressfield calls it turning “pro.” Amateurs play for fun. Pros play for keeps.

I remember early on in my book coaching practice sitting down with a business mentor who asked me if my work was a hobby or a business.

What she was asking me is if I was taking this work seriously, If I was playing for keeps. If I was a pro. Or an amateur. She could have asked me the same question about my writing. Is it a “hobby” or a business?

To be clear, there’s nothing wrong with your writing being a “hobby.”  It just means you probably won’t get that book written. Being a pro isn’t about whether you earn money as a writer. Most writers have day jobs.  It’s about your mindset. It’s about being prepared to meet resistance EVERY SINGLE DAY and sitting down and doing the work anyway. 

The more I work with and am in community with others writers, the easier it is for me to distinguish the pros from the amateurs.  Amateurs write when they are “inspired.” Pros put their butts in the chair, inspiration or not.

Amateurs have fuzzy goals with no accountability: Pros have specific goals and build in accountability to ensure they meet those goals.

Amateurs think they can go it alone. Pros know that it takes a village to take a book from idea to completion.

The writers I coach are pros. They’ve made a commitment to their project—time, energy, and money. I’m in awe of what they produce, and they show me what’s possible. One of the writers I’m working with now is a single mom of two, and one of her children is severely disabled. She also has a full-time job working with special needs families. Since we started working together in August, she’s consistently shown up at the page to share her message of hope to parents of children with special needs. She’s going to get her book done and get her message out into the world. Christine is a pro.

As a writer, I’ve been on both sides of the fence: amateur and pro. For years, I did the amateur thing: I went to workshops, conferences, took classes. All good things, don’t get me wrong! But they tended to be one-off events. I’d leave without a concrete next steps plan. 

When I finally decided to turn pro, I started getting results. This fall I set a specific goal to pitch my memoir before I turned 60, and I have accomplished that goal! I have a complete, polished memoir manuscript and book proposal to pitch that manuscript, and this month I have sent out my first query letters.

This is what turning pro looks like for me:

  1. Block scheduling: I set time aside every week to write. Time when I won’t schedule meetings, check email or Facebook, or do client work. Time when I write. Period. The writing is important so I do it first. Before the rest of the day gets away from me.

  2. Specific, attainable goals. Not, “I am going to work on my memoir.” But,” I am going to revise Chapter 7.”

  3. Third, and most importantly for me, is accountability and ongoing support. If someone is not expecting my pages or draft at a time certain, it’s way too easy for resistance to win the battle. Maybe some writers can get their work done without the accountability, but it doesn’t work for me. Accountability can be hiring a book coach like me who provides support and feedback as well—or it can be finding a critique partner or a writers group or class where you need to regularly turn in work. But without accountability and deadlines, I start looking like an amateur again. I practice what I preach. If I want to get a book written, I hire a book coach. That’s how I’ve achieved my writing goals.

What works for you? I’d love to know.


Key Takeaways:

  • Resistance to putting your butt in the chair and writing is insidious and universal. All writers experience it.

  • You are not powerless against resistance. Show up prepared to meet it. Learn to recognize its face. 

  • Get real with yourself. Decide whether you really want to get that book written. If you do, take on the mindset of a pro.

  • Pros show up and write whether they feel inspired or not.

  • Pros know they can’t do it alone.

  • Pros build support and accountability into their writing life to accomplish their goals.

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