How to Psych Yourself into Writing a Book

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After I wrote close to one hundred blog posts in 2015 about developing ideas, characters and plots, writing, editing, publishing, marketing and reading, I realised I had written enough to fill a book. And when I collated them all together, I realised it flowed nicely enough to seem like I’d done it on purpose. I’d written a book without even trying to write a book. That’s how Project December: A Book About Writing was born.

After I published Project December, I continued writing blog posts in the same vein but, of course, this time I knew I was heading towards writing a sequel. Why wouldn’t I? It had been so easy last time. I even wrote a blog post called, “How to write a book without even trying.”

The problem was that because I knew I was heading towards another book, it wasn’t going to be the same process. I wasn’t going to be able to write a book without even trying. Because I was trying to write a book.

I set a deadline for myself but as it approached, I knew for various reasons that I was never going to make it. Life, work and other pieces of writing were getting in the way.

Instead of giving up, I told myself that the deadline wasn’t important. I was the only person who knew it and I was the only person who would know it was going to pass by unmet. The important thing was that I eventually finished writing the book, regardless of whenever that time came.

So I just kept writing. I wrote when I had something to say. I wrote when I felt like it. I wrote when I had nothing else scheduled. And before I knew it, in less than two months, the first draft was finished. It only took one month more for the text to be finalised. How, I asked myself, did that happen? How, when I was so sure it would never happen in that time frame?

As I wrote in the introduction to Project January: A Sequel About Writing, the follow up to Project December, I’d psyched myself into writing a book. Normally, we psych ourselves out of doing things but by simply removing the deadline that had been putting so much pressure on me and making me doubt myself, I removed the psychological barrier that was holding me back. And although I wasn’t aware of it at the time, there was still a little voice in the back of my mind urging me on. My conscious said it couldn’t be done so my subconscious was determined to prove me wrong. (It’s complex being me but that’s another story.)

I think that you have to be a very specific type of person to be able to psych yourself into writing a book. The kind who won’t take no for an answer. The kind who doesn’t like to be wrong. The kind who does everything they can to make sure they’re more often than not right. The kind who still wants to have a go even when what they’re trying seems impossible. The kind who won’t listen to reason, even when the person they’re reasoning with is themselves.

After all, if you tell yourself it can’t be done (whatever “it” is) and a logical assessment of the facts supports that argument so you stop trying to do it, then that’s more like psyching yourself out of it. You have to be the kind of person who will respond to a little reverse psychology.

Step 1
Develop your idea and set a reasonable deadline. Six months is reasonable for a full-time writer and a year is reasonable for someone with other commitments. Then start writing.

Step 2
Tell yourself you’re not good enough. It might – at that moment – be true. The only way to fix it is to practise. So you might as well practise on your book. And the best way to practise is to just keep writing.

Step 3
Tell yourself you’ll never make your deadline. After a few months, you will probably genuinely feel this way. But keep writing anyway. Missing a deadline is not the end of the world. Giving up because you think you might miss your deadline will, however, probably be the end of your very short writing career.

Step 4
Tell yourself you don’t have enough writing time – it’s probably true because it’s the one thing that all writers never have enough of. But squeeze in a half hour of writing here and a half hour a writing there anyway. Even if you only write for a half an hour every day, even if you only write 250 words a session, that’s 1,750 words a week and 91,000 words a year, equivalent to a whole book.

Step 5
Just keep writing. (You might be noticing a theme…)

Yes, it turns out that it’s not that complicated. You just have to keep writing. Even when you doubt yourself. Even when you doubt your choices. Even when it feels like life is conspiring to prevent you from ever finishing. The secret formula to psyching yourself into writing a book is really just to write. A little bit of reverse psychology might help you but, in the end, it’s all about the hard work of actually sitting down and making the effort.

Unfortunately (or maybe it’s fortunate – it all depends on your perspective), writing is one of those things that there aren’t any shortcuts to achieving. Supposedly, someone somewhere is working on a software program so that robots can write all our content in the future (I saw this being crowdfunded on Indiegogo, although it didn’t seem to be doing too well for some reason) but we’re not anywhere close yet. And since none of those monkeys from the infinite monkey theory have yet given us the complete works of Shakespeare, let alone a decent novel, it will remain the domain of hardworking humans. Best of luck.

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