We’ve all been there. The friend at the dinner party. The coworker’s husband. The naive neighbor.
Oh, I’d write a book if I had the time.
I’ve been working on a story too.
I’ve got a great idea for a book. We could split the royalties.
As a novelist, journalist and freelance writer who has spent countless midnights rubbing bleary eyes, working weekends and car rides and plane trips for years to start a career, to support myself and to tell the stories, both fiction and non-fiction that I want to tell, these casually mentioned quips aren’t just tone-deaf, they’re insulting.
The worse of all, however, is that friend who just won’t finish their book.
Now, before you get offended, I’m probably not talking about you. It’s privileged and naive to expect everyone to work at the same speed or have the same resources. Trust me, I get it. We have to work and we have to care for our family members, move across state lines, start new jobs. That’s not what I’m talking about. I’m not talking about external factors that make it hard to focus or get five minutes alone.
I’m talking about self-sabotage.
Raise your hand if you have a friend who has been rewriting the same hundred pages of their story for five or ten years. Raise your hand if they’ve told you about each painstaking revision, change of tone or perspective shift. Raise your hand if you know their story better than they do at this point because layers of writing and rewriting have made it impossible to stay atop their own tale. Raise your hand if you’re starting to wonder if maybe they don’t actually want to finish their book at all, they just like the idea of working on a book and staying nowhere-near-done keeps them safe from rejection and the truth that maybe their book isn’t actually good enough.
Yes, you know who I’m talking about.
Everyone has their own process for writing a book. I’m an outliner, a plotter, a storyboarder. I let books marinate and I research and I plan for a while before I get started. I know people who do the exact opposite and also people who do some combination of the two. However it works for you is great, but do yourself a favor, do your story a favor and for goodness sake, do your friends a favor and stop editing.
Your first draft is going to be rough and the sooner in the process, you accept that uncomfortable reality, the more likely it is you’re actually going to finish your book. Because if you try to shine up every single inch of that story as you’re going, you’ll get two feet of sidewalk paved with gold and nothing else. As the great Nora Roberts said, “you can fix anything but a blank page.”
Some people will never understand. Your neighbor will still think you want their story idea. Your coworker’s wife will still keep telling you they’ll write a book if they have time. Those aren’t the people who can be helped by the rough draft. But when there are a hundred pages of book, when there are a plot and characters and Word Docs and notebooks, there is also hope. Turn off your inner editor, forget the shiny lights of a finished draft, and just write. Don’t edit. Don’t change. Don’t fix. Just write.
You’ll be amazed at how quickly the story gets finished then.