by Scott Rhoades
When it comes to following a dream like writing, teachers and others tell you to think big, to reach higher than what you can easily.
I'm here today, on my soapbox, to tell you to ignore them.
I mean, really small.
When I start a project, I don't like to say I'm writing a book or a novel. I'll usually say I'm working on a project, or a story, or "that little thing I'm writing."
Why? Because writing a novel brings expectations of something big. It's easy for that little voice inside my head to say I have no business writing a book. A book is a Big Thing, both in size and scope and value. If I think smaller, I won't be buried by the weight of something as heavy as a novel.
Of course, I'm not really fooling myself. I know the ultimate goal is a big stack of pages. But I have to write them one at a time. So I'll work on a chapter, or even better, on a scene. My current WIP is a bunch of scenes right now. I haven't started to break it into chapters. Chapters belong in a book, and this project is nothing like a book yet.
A scene, or a "thing that needs to happen" is not very intimidating. It doesn't give that voice room to start telling me this is too big for me. It's just a bit of writing, that's all, something I've done hundreds, maybe thousands of times.
Some days, when writing isn't coming easy, instead of working on my book, I'll write a page, or even a paragraph. After I write one paragraph, it's easier to write the next one. One page leads to another.
But as soon as I tell myself I'm working on a book, it's likely I'll become paralyzed. I know so many people who say they are writing a book, or getting ready to write a book, but many never finish. For many of these failed writers, I think it's because they open all the doors in their head wide open and let that voice in. Pretty soon, they believe their own thoughts. Who are they to write a book? A book is a Big Deal. They're not good enough.
Many much more successful writers go through the same thing. That's why I like to read about writers, to see that even highly successful authors had to struggle through their projects, one sentence at a time. Douglas Adams used to get so paralyzed by writer's block that he wouldn't write. Up against the deadline, his editor would put him up in a hotel room with somebody in there with him to make him write. Writer's block is often no more than a bad case of nerves, analysis paralysis caused by the fear that a book is much too big a thing for somebody like us to write. That fear hits many writers over and over again during the process.
Take John Steinbeck. He knew a thing or two about finishing a story. If you've ever read his journals, though, you know that throughout the writing process, he was constantly under assault from that voice telling him that the book is no good and he had no business writing it. He should just quit. In an interview published in The Paris Review in 1975, he said:
"Abandon the idea that you are ever going to finish. Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day, it helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised."
That's good advice. We should listen to him.