Friday, March 15, 2013

Five Common Obstacles to Finishing and Publishing Your Book

Choosing vulnerability in your writing. Always being open to learning more.  Embracing the support of a writing community.  Being willing for writing to be a priority.  Knowing how to break a project into steps to keep from being overwhelmed.

Sounds like a magic formula?  It is.  But more, it's a toolbox of skills and choices that professional, published writers use to get a book project finished. 
They're not the same skills as writing great dialogue or crafting a strong plot.  But without them, there's little hope that your book will be published today.

Obstacles to these skills are below.  Read on.

First Obstacle:  Not Wanting to Be Vulnerable in Your Work (Letting Fear In Too Deeply
Trying something new takes us to the edges of our comfort zone.  Often, we slide into fear.  And away from authenticity and vulnerability, which is where the best art happens. 
David Bayles and Ted Orland's excellent little book, Art & Fear, shares this understanding:  "Fears about artmaking fall into two families:  fears about yourself, and fears about your reception by others.  In a general way, fears about yourself prevent you from doing your best work, while fears about your reception by others prevent you from doing your own work."    
Fear about ourselves as writers is sneaky.  It can fuel choices that boost the ego rather than serve our story.  We are not present in our own writing.  The reader can tell. 

Fear of others' judgment is equally disabling.  We shield our most private ideas, insights, feelings and our work comes out bland. 
Writers who let too much of other's opinions influence their work--not discriminating between what's right and true for the book and what's coming from fear of displeasing another--will avoid writing about certain touchy subjects, diluting their chapters until nothing substantial remains. 
Seth Godin says, "Vulnerable work changes everything."  How willing are we to go there? 
Antidote:  Being vulnerable.  If you want to explore this, check out Brene Brown's TED talk. 
The more vulnerability you bring to the page, the more joy potential it has for you and others.  And the more courage you gain for your next bout with fear. 
Each time you do this, you believe in yourself more.  You've fulfilled a basic human promise to be yourself, as best you can.  This builds your confidence that you are creatively trustworthy.
Second Obstacle:  Believing You Can't Learn Anything More  
Lack of vulnerability builds the ego, in a sleazy way.  We begin to believe we can't learn anything more--or, nobody can teach us anything more--about writing or our project.
We lose two essential creative senses:

1.  The sense of wonder
2.  Natural curiosity

It's the shadow side of a suspicious belief that we're somehow not good enough to write well or finish a big project like a book.
This obstacle appears in very sneaky ways.
Example:  A student of mine never graduated from high school.  She hid this shame by building a wall of ten-dollar words in her writing.  Nobody could really get at what she was saying:  the "words to impress" were in the way.  When she began letting go, revealing her own fears about being seen as uneducated, her natural writing voice came forward.  It was gorgeous.  Much more impressive than those big words.
Antidote:  Try something new each week--such as a freewrite.  Travel off the beaten track.  Stretch yourself with a writing class.  Ask for help.
Third Obstacle:  Being a Lone Ranger 
Writers work in isolation.  A normal part of working on a book--or other piece of writing--we must be alone with our thoughts, our words, the dream we're creating.   

But no humans can create completely in isolation.  We begin talking to ourselves (sometimes literally) and forget about the conversation we're having with the reader.
When isolation no longer feeds your project or you, your community becomes real nourishment.
Lone Rangers hesitate to build community.  It's easier to stay isolated and not risk (see obstacle #1).  But building a weekly or monthly connection is how published writers get inspiration, encouragement, and support.  Books are long journeys, for most of us.  We need occasional companions along the way.
Antidote:  Cultivate a writers' group, online or in person.  Find one through your local writing school or college.  Join writers' organizations.  Work with a writing coach or an editor.
Other writers will best understand the natural weirdness of the writing life, its ups and downs, its struggles and joys.   
Fourth Obstacle:  Poor Priorities 
We're all busy.  Most people I know have way too much to do each day.  You won't actually be able to complete a book unless writing fits into that day, until it takes a priority in your life. 
The facts are pretty simple:  You have choices.  You choose to watch the evening news or hang out with friends at Starbucks each Saturday morning.  You choose to read Facebook for twenty minutes before bed, just to stay in touch.  You choose to call friends or family.
You must choose writing too.  It won't just arrive and stay in your life on a regular basis unless it becomes important to you.
Professional, published writers make their writing time as important as a job--even if it's not paying like one at the moment.  They pledge time to writing.  Most write every day.
If you are waiting to write, you're a waiter, not a writer.
Antidote:  Find a time each day when you can spend 15 minutes on your writing.  First thing in the morning works for me.  Try it for a week.  Notice the resistance, internal and external, in your life as everything else shifts to make way for this new priority. 
Fifth Obstacle:  Living in the Future 
If you don't set goals, you may not manage your book project well.  You need to know how many words you need to write, how long you intend to take, and what you'd like the finished book to look like.
But if you live too much in the end result, you'll never begin.  Goals can look impossible if they're not broken down into steps.
When a beginning writer comes to one of my classes and asks questions about formatting the final book pages or how to get copyright--when she hasn't yet written a word--I know she's living in the future.   And it's quite unlikely her book will ever get done.
Set goals, envision your published book, celebrate where you'll be then.  But start here and now.  Begin with where you are, with the first blank page. 
Goals are the visioning stage of manifestation, but they do nothing for you without the action stage.  You must take action today, now, to manifest anything in the future.
The end of the journey can look huge and intimidating from the beginning steps we take toward it.  The only cure is to take that first step and then the next.
I love this quote from writer E.L. Doctorow:  "Writing is like driving a car at night.  You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way."  
Antidote:  Brainstorm a list of ten small steps that your headlights pick out on your horizon right now, ones that could lead toward your goal.  This week, take action on one of them. 

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