• Alissa Johnson
  • The Mindsets that Keep You From Starting (and Finishing) Your Book: Part I
The Mindsets that Keep You From Starting (and Finishing) Your Book: Part I
Contributor
Written by
Alissa Johnson
October 2014
Contributor
Written by
Alissa Johnson
October 2014

Perhaps this sounds familiar: You have an idea for a book, and writing it feels like your next step as a writer. But you think about it more than you write. You can’t get past the first few pages, or you’re sidetracked by questions (memoir or fiction? real names or aliases?). Maybe you can see how it ends, but you can't get it there. You might even have a full draft tucked away in a drawer—you haven't looked at it in a long time, but it's always on your mind.

You're not alone. As a writing coach, I frequently hear from writers about their books and their frustrating lack of progress.

“If only I had more discipline,” they tell me. “Then I would finish my book.”

They sound sad when they say it, and I can hear the lack of faith in their voices. Like they'll never find the discipline. I know the feeling. Discipline is hard to muster when you're in a place of doubt.

But I don't believe discipline is the problem. It's most likely a mindset—a way of looking at writing that's keeping them stuck and struggling. Again and again, I see three main mindsets trip up my clients (and me). And the solution is never forcing myself to the page. It's learning to see those mindsets and then create new ones.

Let's start with the most common mindset I run into: I don’t know.

I don’t know if my idea is any good. I don't know if I can make the leap from writing articles to books. I don’t know if I’m writing fiction or memoir. I don’t know if I can use real names. I don't know what happens next. I don’t know what my family will think. I don’t know… I don’t know… I don’t know.

The list can go on and on, and it’s paralyzing.

But what if you don’t need to know? Whatever questions you're facing about your book, what if you can discover answers as you write?

When you let go of the need to know, an amazing thing happens: you find the freedom to do whatever comes next. The antidote to the “I Don't Know” mindset is to remember that you can always figure things out. And you’ll do it by transforming your writing into an act of exploration.

Here's what I mean: If you're not sure why you're stuck on the first few pages, write about it and see what you learn. If you're not sure what happens next, write about what it could be. If you have an inkling of what comes next, try it. Release the need for it to be right and see how it goes. Worried about your family's reaction? Write about whether you need to address that now, or if you can figure out how to share your book when you actually have one written.

When you use your writing to find answers, you'll tap into a part of yourself that already knows what you think, feel, and believe. It doesn't need to run everything through a filter of what's okay or not okay, or be right on the first try. You'll learn to trust that inner wisdom, and over time, you'll find that you always have the tools to keep moving forward.

Try it now: put ten minutes on a timer and free write. If you can release the need to know, what kind of possibilities open up for your book?

Let us know what you discover below!

Join me next week for part II of " The Mindsets that Keep You From Starting (and Finishing) Your Book." We'll take a look at a sneaky little mindset that strikes just when your momentum is HOT!

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Comments
  • Alissa Johnson

    Thanks for all the wonderful comments! I'm so glad that the topic resonated with you. And sorry I haven't been on here sooner to reply! I've been visiting my parents which has come with a whole host of things I didn't see coming (one more way to practice releasing the need to know), and since comments were quiet at first I didn't stay on top of checking in. Lesson learned! If you're interested I also just added a new guide to my website at WritingStrides.com. You'll see a link to it on the home page--it's designed to help you break through writer's block and includes 12 writing prompts!  Otherwise, I just posted part II  and will be excited to hear what you have to say!

  • Lynn M. Andrews

    As a new member and taking those first tentative steps into developing a writing career, I really appreciated your post and look forward to the other installments. The phrase "I don't know" can encompass so many things - is it any good/what happens next/can I finish it/will there be an audience. I find comfort in knowing it is a common obstacle.

  • Venessa Marie Perry

    This is such a great and timely article. I've been stuck for the last couple of months trying to finish my novel and its because I don't know what comes next. I have the outline, I know the characters, but the writing doesnt come. So thank you for letting me know that its alright if I don't know.

  • Shakuntala Rajagopal

    You are so right. When we let the inner critic sit on our shoulder, we have a hard time expressing ourselves. Ban that voice, as well as you can, and give a free run to your mind and fingers. What your characters tell you, (and what they remember when you are writing a memoir,) will really amaze you.

    Waiting to hear more from you!

  • Rossandra White

    Great comments everyone. I'm inspired.

  • LuAnn Braley

    When I took an economics class my first go-round in college, the the first thing the professor did was draw a small circle on the whiteboard.  He said, "The inside of the circle is what you know.  The perimeter of the circle is what you realize you don't know."  Then he drew a huge circle next to it.  By the end of the semester, you will know a lot more.  But you will also understanding how much you don't know...that you didn't know about before.

    I don't think we're meant to know everything.  Working without a plan, a map, a recipe, whatever...can be frustrating ... and exciting at the same time.

    I love free-writing.  So it may not make sense.  So it may not win an award.  Whose first draft does?  I find that if I keep writing, even if it's crap, even if I know it's crap, even if I write about it being crap ... eventually something will spill out of the pen or off the keyboard that is pretty dang good.

  • Diana Y. Paul Writing

    When I'm procrastinating and the muse refuses to visit, I go online to writers' blogs or tutorials and listen to others talk about their "mindset" obstacles.  It always is invigorating and makes me realize I am not alone.  Experienced writers have the same doubts!  Another shot of adrenaline comes when you submit portions of your writing to literary journals and they comment and even accept some of your writing--truly a great feeling!

  • Rossandra White

    When I read the title to your article, I jumped on it. After writing two novels, half of a fourth, a memoir (published in April) and the beginnings of a fifth (a disastrous NaNoWriMo last year), I'm totally stumped. I'm so afraid I'm all tapped out. No more ideas in my head, my heart or my guts. Lack of discipline? I don't know about that. I'm a driven creature. I've been able to write a couple of short pieces on prompts, but that's it. So what I'm going to follow your advice and "put ten minutes on a timer and free write . . . release the need to know." Thanks.

  • Marlene Cullen

    Love this. Great post. Very helpful.

  • Valerie Deering

    Thank you.

  • Lois Barliant

    After writing a number of short stories that occurred to me with a beginning and end--sometimes with a "middle"--I started writing a disturbing image that didn't have any "next." To my surprise, when I asked myself what happened next, the words came. I decided to trust my mind? heart? soul? More than once, I really did not want that particular development in my narrative, but when I went with it, the plot "thickened" in a satisfactory way. The novel has been revised many times and I'm now happy with the ending. I hope to get it  published, but in the meantime, the process was, for all its angst, a marvelous climb.

  • Alissa Johnson

    Pat, I love that observation--that the answers you sought did not lie in what you knew, and that they could be found without struggle! So wise. Thanks for sharing.

  • Pat Roa-Perez

    So true. Our constant need “to know.”

    We don’t know how “not to know.”

    It took me a while to let go of the need of having to know, to be certain. And when I did, I discovered that 1) most of the answers to my questions, doubts and fears regarding my book were not found in what I knew, and 2) without any effort or struggle the answers emerged out of the unknown and often before the question was even asked.  

    It’s liberating, to say the least, relinquishing the desire to always “want to know.” It frees up the mind to be open, flexible and ready to shift gears at any given time.  

    Thanks for this article. I look forward to Part 2.