How Not To Write

There are a million and one things you could do instead of writing a book. Things that are easier, more fun, and will earn you more money. You’ve been doing some of them for years. Let’s take a look at the excuses we use and the lies we tell ourselves when we aren’t writing.

Fiction writers are terrific at making stuff up. Probably the best things we invent are excuses for not writing.

violin-old-new-670*Cue violin music*
“I’m afraid to write because it might not be good.”
“If only I had the time…”
“I have a couple ideas, but I’m just waiting for inspiration.”
Translation: Writing is hard and scary and I’m too chicken-shit to turn off the television and get at it.

Gather round children, and I will tell you a story…

When I was eight years old my third-grade teacher, after hearing me read a story I’d written about a pink cow, told me, “That was good. You should be a writer when you grow up.” And that was it. I wanted to write books from that day forward. But I didn’t do much writing. I was always looking for an easy way out. And I bought a fat hardbound copy of Writer’s Market and kept a journal and read all kinds of books about writing, plotting, and getting published. Some of the lazy ass ideas I had included taking the letters I’d written to my friends while I was working as a nanny in New York and turning them into an epistolary novel. You know, so I wouldn’t actually have to write. I even had the idea to write a memoir of my parent’s divorce because I thought it would get a lot of attention and I could go on the Johnny Carson show. That was when I was ten years old, folks.


So finally, on my twenty-fourth birthday, I realized that I was a full year older than F. Scott Fitzgerald had been when his first novel, This Side of Paradise, was published. I was way behind schedule. That night I sat down and started writing The Sleepless Nanny. I wrote it for an hour every night for ten months. With a toddler on my lap. Then I sent it off to Bantam Doubleday Dell. The acquisitions editor had some nice things to say about my writing, but she didn’t want to publish my book.

me and scooter
Me, age 24 with my writing assistant, Scotty. Guess who he’s named after?

I didn’t send it to any other publishers. I saved it on a floppy disk and put it away. And didn’t write fiction again for almost twenty years. In the meantime I made my living as a professional writer. The kind of writing that as a teenager I’d thought was beneath me: marketing copywriting, magazine writing, even the dreaded technical writing. I had ideas for novels, one of which was set in the middle ages and required me to purchase dozens of history books for “research.” (I didn’t even read the books, much less write the novel.) I kept reading books about writing and feeling momentarily inspired, but never enough to do more than make notes or think up character names.

For two decades I used all those excuses, which really boiled down to fear. Fear of hard work and fear of failure. The same shit that’s holding you back right now. The reason you’re reading this right now instead of writing your book is that you’re procrastinating. You’re looking to me for some loophole that will make the arduous and sometimes soul-crushing task of writing your book easier. And I’m totally taking advantage of that because I’ve been you. Three years ago I was you.

Here’s what changed.

Self-publishing happened. Specifically, the ability to nearly instantaneously publish a book simply by uploading a Word document to Kindle Direct Publishing. Within two days of reading an article about KDP I had 1) purchased a floppy disk to USB device 2) cobbled together a clean copy of The Sleepless Nanny from an ancient version of Word to the latest incarnation, and 3) uploaded my novel where anyone could purchase it and anyone with a Kindle or Kindle app could read it.

I was a goddamned published author. And you know what? It didn’t matter that I had a bullshit default cover or that I’d written it a lifetime ago or that I didn’t have the accreditation of Big Publishing. It felt great. And when people read it and liked it and gave it five-star reviews? Holy shit that was like Christmas and New Year’s and the first really good kiss all rolled into one.

Sleepless Nanny CoverWhen my husband handed me a copy of The Sleepless Nanny in paperback—a project he’d taken on in secret, for my birthday—with a real cover and an ISBN? I confess I broke down and cried. It was the dream I’d had since the age of eight and I held it right there in my hands.

There is nothing to prevent you from holding your own book in your hands, whether it’s digital or in paper form. There is not a damn thing to stop you. You just have to decide to make it happen and do a little bit every day until you get to the end.

It’s not easy. Sometimes it’s the worst thing ever. But the payoff will be the greatest feeling you’ll ever have.


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