You’re Too Dumb To Be A Writer

ca597c827972533ef024671902fd2f6ae4b8f33b8db3003c4ed541c407dd970aYou’re Too Dumb To Be A Writer
(Or So You’ve Been Told)

“Imagination is intelligence with an erection.”

~ Victor Hugo

My mother once said to me: “You’re not smart enough to be a writer.”

When she saw the look on my face, she clarified. “I didn’t mean it like that. You’re a very intelligent boy. But there are plenty of people out there smarter than you.”

She believed, like many other people, that intelligence equates to good writing. She was wrong. Clearly, you need a modicum of brains: someone with an IQ of 50 will barely be able to tie up their shoelaces let alone construct a 500-page novel. But in a wider sense, you don’t need to be Einstein to write a classic — so if you can’t work out X or Y in an algebraic equation and don’t know about bio-nuclear science or marine biology, it’s okay.

Unless you’re a particularly ambitious novelist, the majority of you won’t be writing anything overly complex — smart and intricate, maybe, but not mind-boggling. If your work is to be accessible to the average person, you can’t write your book like it’s some kind of paradigm-shifting brain-twisting puzzle that no one will understand. Your book will need to connect to an audience. Your plot can be intelligent without being pretentious. 

Either way, if you can write, you can write. Brains don’t mean anything.

It’s a common fallacy: people assume published authors are geniuses. And I guess some of them are. But there are many idiots, too. So if you’re using your lack of education or your mediocre brain power as an excuse not to write, then stop it. Slap yourself.

If you can read these words and understand them? You’re smart enough.

“If we encounter a man of rare intellect, we should ask him what books he reads.”

~ Ralph Waldo Emerson

Stephen Fry is considered to be a genius. He’s written a number of published novels, but his intelligence doesn’t necessarily translate into an enjoyable reading experience. I suspect that his fame lead to his book deal rather than his writing skills. I’ve attempted a couple of his books and never been gripped by his work. Others might love his style — entertainment is pretty subjective after all — but I don’t see it.

The point is that he’s not internationally recognised as a novelist. His name isn’t synonymous with books. His career has a wide-range of functions, and he’s a man of many talents. However, in my opinion he’s a mid-level writer at best. His intellect amounts to nothing in the reading world. It’s certainly not a handicap, but it isn’t much of a boost either.

If a graph were to be taken of all the bestselling authors in the world, I suppose most of them would have above-average IQs. Most writers are readers and deep thinkers, which naturally adds to intellectual capabilities and aids in the processing functions of our brains. The more we tinker with novels, changing structures and sentence fragments, learning our craft to a sub-molecular level, the more our brains are working and growing. In that case, most writers may have a certain level of innate or developed intelligence.

But that doesn’t mean all writers are geniuses with IQs off the chart. Someone with Einstein’s brain has no better chance of writing a great novel as anyone else. A writer’s toolbox is filled with so many disparate elements: experience, insight, wisdom, information, sense of humour, darkness, lightness, morality — there’s a large spectrum to be tapped into. A humourless man with a genius IQ will be missing something. As would a hilarious man with the brain of a fish. It’s all about finding a good balance and a unique style. Why is your writing different? What makes you stand out? What’s so special about you?

That’s the important thing. Not your ability to solve mathematical equations, but the way you use your thoughts to infuse your work with tension, gravitas, and emotion.

You don’t need to be book smart or street smart or emotionally smart.

You need to be writer smart — and that entails observation.

“I am so clever that sometimes I don’t understand a single word of what I am saying.”

~ Oscar Wilde

novelist doesn’t need to know how to build a rocket. He does, however, need to know how to build (at least on the page) a realistic human being. He needs to know how to manipulate emotion in the readers; how to build tension in his scenes; how to raise the stakes of his plot; how to weave together multiple elements and plot lines towards a satisfying climax. All of this requires observation: of the outside world, of the people around him, and also of the books he reads (learn more about this here). He must keep aware of his surroundings, and remain open-minded to everything around him (or her).

If you can do that — if you can soak in that knowledge — it doesn’t matter whether or not you can add two-plus-two, you’ll be fine. Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. 

If you complete a novel, you’re a fucking genius.

“The difference between stupidity and genius is that genius has its limits.” ~ Albert Einstein

Sometimes people think they can’t write because they were never good at English in school. They see this as a mountain they can’t climb. But that’s bullshit. It’s another excuse to not put any effort in.

I’ve always had a natural ability in English — my reading level as a child was the highest in the class, years ahead of my friends, and my spelling is impeccable. And yet I scraped by in my English GCSEs with a C, and that’s after my mother wrote all of my coursework. If I’d bothered to do it myself, I probably would have failed. 

Even now, with the millions of words I’ve written over the years, I still don’t know what a split-infinitive is, or a dangling participle. No matter how many times I read up about it, for some reason it never sticks. And yet, when I look at the page, I know where words go and where they shouldn’t. I see it like code: to everyone it might seem like gobbledegook, but I instinctively know where to place a comma or semi-colon or em-dash and it all flows properly. This wasn’t achieved overnight. It took years of practice and refinement. Not only did I pay attention to how everything was set out in the books I read, I also researched grammar in numerous guides, such as Writing With Style by John R. Trimble and The Elements of Style by William Strunk Jr. and E.B White. These helped immensely in the early days.

For a long time I worked on structuring my scenes properly. Then I toyed about with sentence construction. I’d end some sentences with semi-colons, some with colons, others with full stops, and I’d experiment with all the different grammatical techniques, using the books as a guide to help me find my own way. It took a lot of effort at the start — and looking back a lot of my work was grammatically destitute — but eventually, I was able to shape my writing naturally. My grammar skills improved. Like with anything, I learned the right thing to do and the wrong thing by just doing it.

So if you’re currently unable to differentiate between a comma and a colon, don’t worry. You have plenty of time to learn. And that’s from someone who’s been writing for over fifteen years and still barely knows what a noun is. I just know how to use them.

Pick up a guide and start practicing today. In months, you’ll master it.

Learn the rules and then you can break them (read more about this here).

“Intelligence is the ability to adapt to change.” ~ Stephen Hawking

Having said all that, being a grammar expert doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll write well. There are plenty of grammatical kings who can’t pen anything worth reading. They lack something: personality, passion, whatever. This is the same in any field: people who are proficient but don’t have the cutting edge. Freestyle footballers are a perfect example: they can do unimaginable things with a football — it seems attached to their feet. They loop it over their ankles, around their back, on their neck; they balance it when it seems impossible for the ball not to have hit the floor. And yet, you hardly ever see them playing for a big football team. They have the innate skills, but nothing else. There’s no point doing backflips with the ball on a pitch if you can’t do anything substantial.

Ronaldo, one of the greatest footballers on the planet, learned this the hard way. When he first arrived at Manchester United, he was a rough version of what we see now; he was full of trickery and youthful inexperience. Over time he moulded himself: he stepped past the technical stuff and added to his game — power, pace, vision — and now he’s one of the best to ever play. You need to do the same with your writing skills.

Learn grammar, then learn how to adapt it with your unique style. Add more to your writing repertoire. Grammar is the foundation for you to build your novel. You need walls, a roof, windows, a heater, an interior. You need it all.

This is just step one. But it’s the most important: without a foundation, everything else will crumble around it.

And once you have that foundation in place, you’ll be in a position to build whatever you want.

“There are some ideas so wrong

that only a very intelligent person could believe in them.”

~ George Orwell

So remember: don’t let anyone tell you you’re not smart enough to be a writer. You don’t need to be a genius; you don’t need to be super smart. You need to work hard. You need to learn the craft. You need to constantly add to what you know: grow, learn, soak in knowledge of writing, and one day it’ll become second nature and flow from your tap.

And that’s when it feels magical. When the words talk through your fingers.

Just try not to be like me: I’m over here still wondering what a verb is.

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How a Mars Bar Gave Me Discipline

How A Mars Bar Gave Me Discipline
(Kind Of)

“We are what we repeatedly do.

Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit.”

— Aristotle

At one point during my teen years, I became obsessed with self-discipline. I’d stand in a line for hours, with my legs aching, when I could easily sit down. I’d hang around in the freezing rain in spite of nearby shelter. I’d walk home for miles when I could just get on a bus and be back in minutes. I kept testing the limits of what I could withstand, both mentally and physically. I was training myself to be a strong-minded person. Up until then, I’d always been riddled with anxiety.

At the time, Mars was my favourite chocolate. I was addicted to it. Almost every day I’d buy a Mars and devour it in two or three bites. Sometimes I’d melt it in milk or mash it up into some ice cream. I couldn’t get enough of them. Then one day my mum mentioned diabetes, which shook me — at such a young age, diabetes seemed just as horrifying to me as cancer or AIDS or a broken spine. I realised I had to do something about it. So I bought a king-sized Mars, nibbled at the corner, and left it on the side.

The next day I nibbled the corner again, just the tiniest bite, and put it back in its spot. Day after day I repeated this action. This went on for weeks and eventually I nibbled the Mars down to a nub, then to nothing. I can’t remember the exact period, but it was at least a month, no more than two. For a teenager addicted to chocolate, it took a lot of self-discipline to withhold my urges. 

But I was determined to not let that fucking Mars get the best of me.

And weirdly enough, I don’t even like or buy them anymore.

You might be wondering how this is relevant to writing. 

I’ll tell you.

“If a man can control his mind he can find the way to Enlightenment,

and all wisdom and virtue will naturally come to him.” — Buddha

Self-discipline is one of the key components of a professional writer, and a lot of the time it’s the sole difference between the pro and the amateur — not talent (although that’s important too, if somewhat hard to measure), but discipline. Being a genius or naturally gifted with words means little if you rarely hone those skills. Travelling the world and being infused with life experience and different cultures is equally meaningless if you never empty your mind to the page.

Self-discipline is what sits you down and makes you type, even when you feel like shit. Even when the words are coming thick and slow and it seems like everything you write is trash. You need to treat writing like a full-time job. Dedicating only half an hour a week to your future is like building your dream house by laying one brick a year.

Plus writing requires so much more than completing just a single project (although, having said that, any completion of a project is to be celebrated). The true requirement is consistency. You must be consistently learning, growing, and experimenting with words. But most importantly, you must be writing. It doesn’t matter what: novels, blogs, stories, poems, whatever. That creative muscle in your brain should be worked — it should be the Arnold Schwarzenegger of writing brains; if your mind is turned into a human body, people should accuse you of taking steroids because it’s so fucking pumped up.

And all of that requires self-discipline . . . which can be taught.

You just need a little discipline to learn how to adapt to it. 

So you need discipline to learn discipline.

Some Catch 22 paradox type shit.

I’ll explain how. 

“A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.” — Lao Tzu

Take it one day at a time like a recovering drug addict. Every morning sit down at your desk (or stand at it, or lean on it — what do I care?) and load up your computer. That’s the first part. Even before you’ve told yourself you can’t write, or you won’t write, or you don’t want to write, you need to perch up in front of your laptop and flip it open.

Now load up a blank writing document. At first, if you don’t feel like doing anything else, that’s okay. Just sit there in front of it and stare at the blinking cursor. You can take the time to think of ideas, or meditate, or cry, or whistle, but make sure you don’t answer your phone or talk to people during this time. And keep doing that for a while. A week, a month, however long until you’re in the habit of going to your computer first thing, flipping it open and sitting down for a period of time in front of a blank writing document. 

What you’ll be doing is forming a mini-habit. Your brain will train itself to a mode of working. It’ll know that every morning (or every evening, if that’s easier — but try to make the time specific so it can anchor in your brain), you’ll sit down in front of your computer and open a writing document. Your next step after that will be to write something, but at first it doesn’t need to be anything important. 

If it’ll free up your mind, you can write any nonsense on the screen. For instance, if you’re planning to go shopping later that day, talk about it. Today I’m going shopping, after that I’m going home, then I’m going to have a bath, then I’ll eat, I don’t know, I’m just writing words blah blah oranges. Don’t worry about grammar or spelling. All you’re doing for now is creating a habit.

Before long, your brain will be used to you sitting and writing, which is usually the hardest part for most people: actually parking in front of the screen and typing. To anchor that habit even deeper, whenever you sit at the computer and type, put on the same playlist of music. Overtime these songs will become writing triggers. Your brain will know you’re ready to work as soon as it hears the playlist begin its cycle. But don’t listen to the same songs when you’re NOT writing or you’ll corrupt the habit-forming process. 

If you set aside an hour a day to do all of this, you’ll soon cement a writing habit into your daily routine. And the greatest part is that it won’t cause you any strain — you’re under no pressure to produce anything of value.

But now comes the hard part . . .

“A disciplined mind leads to happiness; 

an undisciplined mind leads to suffering.” — Dalai Lama

You’re at the screen and expected to write something valid; not just stream-of-conscious bullshit, but a story or blog post. If that fills you with fear and dread, that’s okay. For some people, even the thought of attempting to write can cripple them. Partly it’s anxiety (fear of failure or low self-esteem), but the other reason is a lack of discipline. You’re not used to sitting down and writing a masterpiece. You haven’t done it before. What makes you think you can do it now?

Fuck that. Throw that all away. Take all that negative thinking, fold it into a box, and set it on fire. 

Then take a moment to think about what you intend to write. Some writers can go in cold and produce blockbusters; others need to have an outline or a plan. It’s up to you which process works better, but for now, take a second to think about what you want to write. Do you already know? Have you already got the idea for your novel? Then break it down. You don’t have to start writing before it’s ready. Break it down until you know what your first chapter is going to be. Now give yourself a small target: write one scene.

What can debilitate a lot of writers is the sheer size and breadth of a novel. Thinking about writing so many pages and keeping it all coherent and interesting is like asking someone to imagine themselves building a pyramid with a spoon. It can seem impossible. But by breaking it into smaller, more digestible pieces, you only have to concentrate on the one scene ahead — just a few pages, no more than ten. You can do that, right? Or not?

Then break it down even further. Set yourself the task of one page.

If that’s still terrifying, tell yourself you just want to write a paragraph today. Anyone can write four or five lines. They don’t need to be good lines — they just need to be.

Then the next day you can write another paragraph, and keep going like that.

Eventually, with the building of your habit, and with some extra self-discipline, you should get into a routine. That paragraph will grow into two, then four, then six, then five pages. Before long, you’ll be tapping away at the keys for hours a day.

And if you’re not, and you’re still slacking and finding ways not to write?

Then pull your head out of the mud and slap yourself awake. 

Writers write — wannabes talk. Are you a writer or a wannabe?

Make that decision now, and then proceed to your corner.

“Discipline is the bridge between goals and accomplishment.” — Jim Rohn

Writing is hard for everyone. It’s no easier for the professionals than it is for the amateurs. The only difference is the comfort of a cheque at the end of their work. But they’re crying and sweating and swearing at their keyboards just like the rest of us.

They’re also working hard, day after day, to continue their success.

So take note: get your self into gear and work that brain muscle.

You can do it. You just gotta trick your brain into believing it.

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7 Tools To Ease The Writing Process

7 Tools To Ease The Writing Process
(And To Stop You Banging Your Head Against A Wall)

1.) SimpleNote 

This is one of my favourite writing tools — if it can even be called that. It’s basically a notebook for your iPhone. I know plenty of people use EverNote (which is similar), but I prefer SimpleNote. The minimalist layout is clearer, and it’s easy to sort your ideas into groups so you don’t end up with hundreds of different notes. Also, it syncs across multiple platforms, including Scrivener, which is a massive bonus for me. I’ll talk about Scrivener in a minute, but being able to sync my ideas directly into a novel document saves time on copying and pasting. Plus it’s free. So what are you waiting for? Download it and get to work. 

2.) Scrivener

One of Scrivener’s best features is the ability to keep all of your work in one place. With Word, you tend to end up with about fifty different saved files during a project. One marked RESEARCH, another saying SECOND DRAFT, a third called CHARACTERS, and the list goes on. When writing, you might have ten different tabs open at once and be constantly flipping between pages (usually copy and pasting), which can be exhausting.

In Scrivener, you open a single document and all of your drafts, ideas, character studies — everything you could possibly want — is all in that single document along the side tab. You can click and choose whichever you want to work on. You can also split the screen to work on both, or drag and drop items from one document into another, all without leaving the original screen. Not only that, but the file auto-saves every two seconds to help prevent any lost work, and is generally more stable than Word documents. In the time I’ve used it, it’s yet to crash once. 

It’s especially helpful during the editing stage. Having all of your pieces organised into segments along the side makes it so simple to chop and change. Shifting one scene before or after another to see how it works is no longer a chore. You don’t have to save two separate files and copy and compare. You simply drag and drop, compile the file into a PDF to see how the changes look, and then you can switch it all back if it’s wrong.

For the most part, Scrivener is easy to use, although it does take a small period of adjustment. If you’ve been using Word your whole life, Scrivener will seem like a foreign language at first. Your initial reaction may even be to ditch it and go back to Word. But once you get past the first hurdle, you’ll realise it’s actually a complex system that’s been written for simpletons. Even a brain-dead mouse could understand the functions if he spent five minutes trying.

In essence, Scrivener takes the often time-consuming side of background research, idea compilation, and rewrites, etc., out of your current creation, and helps you to concentrate on your most important task: writing a bestselling novel that will make you a millionaire.

And that’s just the tip of the nib.

If you want to see more, check out the videos on their website.

If you’re serious about writing, this is a purchase you’ll never regret.

3.) Word

Even though I just spent the last five hundred words or so bashing this and praising its predecessor, Word is still necessary for every writer to own, and deserves some recognition. Although Scrivener is more intuitive, Word continues to serve its purpose. 

For a start, most agents, magazines and publishers require work (when sent electronically) to be in Word format. Almost everyone has Word installed on their computer: when you send your stories to friends, families, and editors, they’ll want to read it in Word. If you don’t send them your work in that format, you may find some problems.

Not only that, but Word has track changes which works great for editing. You can highlight lines, add in side notes and comments (it points out all the changes with marks and colours), and it’s easy to function. Editing your own work on Scrivener is simple — editing other people’s work, however, is better suited to Word. Track changes allows your clients/friends to see what you’ve tinkered with and quickly decide whether or not to integrate your suggestions.

So for these two reasons — editing and convenience — keep Word installed. In short: Scrivener makes your work easier to write, Word makes it easier to disseminate.

4.) StayFocusd (Internet Blocking App) 

If you’re anything like most writers, both the professional and the moonlighters, the internet will be a major source of procrastination. It’s only a click away, and when you’re feeling the crush of a deadline, or the pain of a scene that just won’t come out the way it sounds in your head, it can be an easy distraction. You tell yourself you’ll just check your notifications on Facebook, or your emails, or read a couple tweets — within minutes you’re sucked in and then it’s three hours later and you haven’t done any work. Somehow you’re on a webpage about the mating rituals of baboons and hamsters. You’ve wasted half of your writing day already.

StayFocusd is in place to stop that from happening. Or at least try to.

The way it works is by blocking websites of your choosing between certain hours. For instance, if you plan to work between 9 and 5 every day, you can set it up to automatically block Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, and any other websites that hog your life when you should be working. Once you’ve inputted a time for it to click in, you can’t undo or change the time until it’s up for that day — that way you can’t cheat the system every five minutes when you feel like searching the web. You are able to pre-schedule breaks, though — say between 1 and 2 for your lunch hour. And you’re able to change your daily and weekly times (and websites) every evening.

Also, you have the choice of a nuclear option which blocks all websites, or you can pick certain websites (ones you may use for research purposes) to remain available to you. When you try to access the wrong sites, the screen flashes up with the message SHOULDN’T YOU BE WORKING? and a link to donate $10 to their PayPal account to unlock the page. This isn’t the only way to view what you want, though. If you’re really desperate to check a webpage that’s been blocked, you can view it by using Incognito Mode on Google Chrome. The app doesn’t block it through that. But that doesn’t make it any less useful: when you go through Incognito, you’ll have to type in your email address and password. That might not sound like a lot, but psychologically it makes a difference. It’s no longer just clicking on your Facebook account. You’re now actively cutting corners to find a loophole into your social networks. For most people, the shame alone will send them back to their work. For others, the extra hassle isn’t worth it. That urge to check their notifications soon fades.

The only drawback is that StayFocusd is a Google Chrome add-on. I’m sure there are plenty of similar apps or sites you can use for Safari and Internet Explorer, but I don’t know about them. If you don’t use Chrome, now might be the time to switch over.

Failing that, just do a little research on internet-blocking productivity sites.

You’re bound to find something that will suit your writing needs.

5.) The Tomato Timer 

If you’re a Mac owner, you can find this on the app store. It works on the infamous pomodoro technique. If you’ve never heard of it before, it basically runs on the principles of work and reward. You’re given a set amount of time to do some work (on the app you can adjust this time to whatever you like: ten minutes, thirty minutes, etc.) and once your time is up, you’re given a set break (again, this can be manually adjusted). During the break you can do whatever you want, but the moment it’s up, you need to get straight back to work.

The clock substitutes as a boss in a sense. But it also allows you to feel like your writing time is more structured and less hectic. You see half an hour on the clock, you know that’s all you need to do before you can take a break, which means the writing doesn’t seem so daunting. Anyone can hack half an hour (or twenty minutes, or whatever you’ve picked). Then you have your short break, relax, and go straight back to the assignment.

This is a great tool for those who talk themselves out of writing because they DON’T HAVE ENOUGH TIME or because they’re worried they’ll spend hours at the keyboard.

Set your time, do the work, then get back on with your life.

Simple as that. Simple as a ticking tomato.

6.) Focus Music

Focus Music is a website that offers up a selection of music that has been “proven” to enhance productivity and levels of focus. You can choose between multiple options — from cinematic to operatic to classical — and within each genre, there are a variety of different pieces of music. All are specially picked to be non-intrusive. That way, while you’re at the computer typing away, the music gently soothes and coaxes you in the background without you being aware of it. It’s both relaxing and invigorating.

There’s a paid version in which you can choose a playlist of songs and repeat or change their order and record how long each music session lasts. But if you don’t have money for that, the free version has more than enough options to satisfy the casual user. Some songs may not be to your liking, or may feel obtrusive, but you’ll find a decent balance after a while of testing. I tend to switch between cinematic (for my action-based scenes) and classical (for my emotional scenes). You’ll soon find out what works for you.

For the skeptical among you, numerous studies have shown there’s a direct correlation between music and work when attempting to form a long-lasting habit. If every time you sit at your laptop and begin typing, you’re playing Mozart, your brain will associate that music with writing. It will merge as part of a work pattern. Then, next time you play similar music, you will be psychologically primed to engage in that work.

If you find it hard to connect with any of the music on this site, you can always make your own playlist on iTunes. Just make sure you keep the music low and don’t let it distract you. The more you play it while working, the more you’ll solidify the habit-forming neural pathways you’ve created — thus turning writing into a habit not a chore.

Try it out and see what works for you.

7.) Wunderlist 

Finally, Wunderlist is another Mac/iPhone app, but again, if you don’t own any Apple products, I assume there are equivalent apps that you can find for your operating system. In any case, Wunderlist (which my computer just tried to change to Wanderlust) is a simple way to keep on top of your hectic schedule. For all the writers who can’t find enough time in their day to write, read, edit, clean the dog, or wash the dishes, this simplistic productivity app can help you to organise your time better by listing your activities for the day and shifting them around on the basis of their importance.

Structure is a key component of many professional writers’ success. They’re disciplined and they know when to work, when to take a break, and when to take a shower (in rivers of whiskey and vodka, usually), and this app helps to regulate that schedule for the lazy.

Which is most of us. We’re lazy, sluggish procrastinators.

And if you don’t like Wunderlist, try writing out a list every morning in a notepad and grouping them in three different columns: MOST IMPORTANT, KIND OF IMPORTANT, LEAST IMPORTANT, and work your way through it, scratching out something every time you’ve completed it.

You’ll be surprised how much a list can make a difference to your discipline.

* * * * * * * * * * 

Anyway, that’s it for now, but if you know of any other useful writing tools, please leave a link to them below. I’m always searching for new techniques and tricks to enhance my productivity. These are just some of the things that work for me. Your list might be very different, and that’s cool. We all have our own way of suppressing the angry, procrastinating monkey on our backs.

So let me know some of yours. I’d love to hear about them.

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Being Rubbish Is Okay

Being Rubbish Is Okay
(In The Long Run) 

“It is perfectly okay to write garbage—as long as you edit brilliantly.”

— C. J. Cherryh

Too many aspiring authors act overly precious with their work. In one sense that’s good: perfectionism and professionalism are closely linked. In another way, though, they’re hindering their growth by using perfectionism as an excuse not to push themselves. They don’t take chances, they don’t let themselves write something terrible or experiment with different styles. They’re so concerned with perfectionism, they’re handicapping their writing before it’s even begun.

For these types of individuals, it takes them an inordinate time to produce a first draft of anything. A short story takes a month or longer to complete; a novel takes years. And that’s only in the beginning stages. When they finally do put something down on the page, they’ll waste even more time writing and rewriting the same thing to death, and won’t ever send it off until it seems perfect. The problem is it never seems perfect — there’s always something they can change: a word, a phrase, the structure of a sentence. If you keep looking for issues with something, you’ll find them. Sometimes you need to accept your manuscript’s possible limitations (especially if you’re being overly pedantic) and let it go.

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You need to stop sitting down at your laptop with the expectation that your next novel will become a smash hit and make you millions. By approaching a project with an end goal that’s too big and/or unrealistic, you may just inhibit your creativity. You’ll begin to question whether it really is good enough, or funny enough, or smart enough. You’ll overthink things and lose the passion and creativity that you need in order to write something amazing in the first place. It’s essentially a form of self-sabotage: you tell yourself your novel won’t ever be as exciting as the ideas in your head, which means you spend hours worrying over each sentence or paragraph. In the end you barely write anything — a page here, a chapter there — and it remains unfinished. 

It’s important to set yourself goals, but they should be realistic and attainable. Telling yourself the book you’re writing will be a multimillion pound bestseller is great for your ego, but does little to release your stress. All it does is pile more pressure on your shoulders and gives the no-writing-devil a reason to prod you with his pitchfork. What might make things easier is if you break these goals down into smaller segments. Start big: I’m going to finish a novel by the end of the year. Then break it down into sections: I’m going to finish a chapter by the end of the month. And even smaller: I’m going to write thirty pages by the end of the week. And again: I’m going to write four pages a day. And keep going like that. Think small but write big. Don’t worry about the quality of your work for now, just try to reach your end goal. Once you’ve done that, you’ve succeeded. If it’s a terrible book, that’s okay. You can then edit it and restructure it after; you can turn that pile of shit into a triple-decker chocolate cake. At least you’ve done the hard part.

Because actually finishing a novel is the main thing you need to ensure.

Everything else is just decoration and word choices.

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