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Tuesday, May 5, 2015

When NOT to Write!

May 21, 2007 by · Leave a Comment 

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By Sophfronia Scott, “The Book Sistah”

I spent the past few weeks interviewing applicants for my Book Sistah Inner Circle Workshop and, not surprisingly, we spent quite a bit of time talking about why the books they wanted to write weren’t being written. Some of these writers were quick to chide themselves for lack of discipline, poor planning or a simple lack of resolve–all viable possibilities why they haven’t been writing.

But in a few instances I could see that the writers wouldn’t have been able to write no matter how hard they tried. I explained they could stop beating themselves up–and maybe postpone their writing attempts–and do other things instead. Here’s a list of the issues they’re struggling with and a few ideas to help you get back to writing right away. Sometimes there’s nothing you can do. Hopefully this will put you at ease with the realization that only time will make this job easier for you.

You Don’t Have Enough Information

I learned this one back in my days of writing for “Time” magazine. I remember working on articles about Somalia, and then another one about the Mormon church, and being in agony in front of the blank computer screen because I didn’t know where to begin. I thought it was because I didn’t have anything interesting or clever enough to get me into the beginning of the story. Then came the realization: I didn’t have anything to say at all because I didn’t know enough about what I was writing about! I hadn’t done my research. My answer: hit the library.

Here’s fair warning: use this tactic with caution. We all know it’s very easy to stray from our desks to pick up a book and get caught up with reading a zillion other things under the guise of research. Or a writer can research forever without getting his book done. Yes, do your research, but know that it’s gotta stop sometime! The best way to do that is to have a question or series of questions in your mind when you begin. Stop reading and researching when you have the answers.

You Don’t Know What It All Means

Yes, a series of amazing things have happened to you. You quit your job, moved to China, bought and sold an apple orchard and computer chip company and then talked your way into meeting the Queen of England. Wow! Okay, so what’s the big picture about? What did you learn and what can you teach others from your experience? Some writers think the experience speaks for itself and if you’re telling it as a great story at the table of a dinner party, it probably does. But in a book it has to do more. We go to books for more than an interesting story. People go to books for inspiration, for help, for a journey. On a certain level the writer who is stuck must know this because that’s why they’re not writing–they’re really not sure what to say about the amazing experience. Time and reflection are what’s needed here.

You’re Still Living It

Same goes for this one. One day I was reading yet another story about a woman’s experience with pregnancy and/or childrearing and realized I haven’t written a word about my pregnancy with my son or the experience of raising him. It seems I’ve written everything under the sun but that. I think it’s because I’m just being present with what’s happening in this part of my life and I’m not ready to step back and look at it in a way that would allow me to write about it. My doctor recently related the same feelings about writing about his work. He’s busy doing the work right now–no time to write about it. And that’s okay. If he were to try to write something now he’d probably spend more time beating himself up about it than he would writing. When the time is right, you’ll know it. You’ll sit down and you won’t be able to stop!

You Don’t Know Your Story

This one is for fiction writers…you have a great idea for a novel. I’ve heard about many great ideas, but then the next thing the writer tells me is that he or she is stuck or unable to get started. When I start asking further questions about the “great idea”, such as “What’s the message you want to send with this story?” or “What is this journey your character is taking all about? What’s he or she (and the reader in turn) going to learn about it?” or “What kind of stuff happens or do you want to have happen in the middle and end of the book?”, the writer can’t answer. She hasn’t put enough thought into the book and its structure to know what to write. Will this keep you from never getting stuck? No, but it will be easier to get unstuck because you’ll know what you’re shooting for, what’s supposed to happen. The point is to not bog yourself down with trying to fill pages and pages until you’ve done the work of figuring out what you will fill them with.

Get Help From an Experienced Ear

Can’t tell which of the above is your situation? Enlist the help of an editor, writing coach or anyone else with an ear that can hear what your project may be missing. You’ll save a lot of time–and heartache–and your book will get written before you know it. Good luck!

© 2007 Sophfronia Scott

Author and Writing Coach Sophfronia Scott is “The Book Sistah” TM. Get her FREE REPORT, “The 5 Big Mistakes Most Writers Make When Trying to Get Published” and her FREE online writing and book publishing tips at

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