Skip to main content

3 Things I Stopped Doing That Got Me Writing Again

Every writer has a “go to” set of techniques, strategies, and schemes they use to motivate themselves to get their stories written; all the things they do every day to write their way to “THE END.” However, after 20 years of barely completing a sentence, much less a story, here are three things I STOPPED doing that got me serious about writing again:

(Never open your novel with a dream -- here's why.)


Column by J. Todd Scott, author of THE FAR EMPTY (June 7,
2016, G.P. Putnam's Sons). J. Todd has been a federal agent
with the DEA for more than twenty years, working cases
investigating international maritime smuggling, domestic
meth labs, and Mexican cartels. He has a law degree from
George Mason University and is a father of three. A Kentucky
native, he now resides in the Southwest, which provided the
backdrop for THE FAR EMPTY.

1. I stopped making excuses. Writing wasn’t easy for me, and for some reason I assumed “real writers” never struggled finding the right word, never fought the story or their anxieties. The minute writing got hard, the minute it became real work and I had to stare down my own will, or (in)ability, or self-doubt, I made any excuse I could to bail. But when I sat down and tackled NaNoWriMo in 2011, I forced myself to push through the doubt and fear, and just got the work done - beginning to end. I learned to embrace the process and the effort; even those head-banging days, where it’s easier to grab a beer and watch some TV or read the finished book of a better writer rather than wrestle another blank page. Some days are easier than others (and even the easy ones can be tough), but that’s because creating something from nothing—being creative—is damn hard work. It’s supposed to be. But do it enough, for enough hard days in a row, and you’ll finally start filling up those blank pages.

Image placeholder title

Hook agents, editors and readers immediately.
Check out Les Edgerton's guide, HOOKED, to
learn about how your fiction can pull readers in.

2. I stopped cheating. Although writing was never easy, I still told myself it was the most important thing to me. I wanted to believe it was my passion, my calling, but somehow at the end of each day, it often came in second (or third, or seventh) to everything else. I had kids, a demanding job, a long list of responsibilities and commitments…just like everyone else. But it was nice to imagine that if my life was just a little different, that I’d find the time and energy to pursue this thing I said I loved so much. Even though I couldn’t change my entire life (and in truth, I wouldn’t want to), I could elevate my writing , my craft, to the priority I wanted it to be. For me, that meant writing first thing in the morning before the day took over–no excuses, no complaints, and no distractions. It also meant writing every day. I have a very specific process that works for me that I wouldn’t necessarily suggest for anyone else, but you have to make that unyielding commitment to yourself, and then never cheat.

(Chapter 1 cliches and overused beginnings -- see them all here.)

3. I stopped caring. When I started writing again, I focused on, well, just writing: working on only those stories that I really liked or wanted to explore. I didn’t worry about publishing. While it’s often suggested you should write for your ideal reader, that imaginary “target audience” in your mind’s eye, my audience was just me. I was writing only for my benefit, and since I have pretty good instincts on what I like and what I don’t, I was satisfied with my work whether it was marketable or fashionable or whether I thought anyone would ever read a word of it. Even now, I can type “THE END” and put a completed book in a drawer and know I’ve told my story, and be 100% satisfied with that. That’s a risk I’m comfortable with—a willingness to fail at being a published author, while knowing I’m still a writer each and every day.


Check Out These Great Upcoming Writers' Conferences:

Screen Shot 2014-12-17 at 3.39.23 PM

Your new complete and updated instructional guide
to finding an agent is finally here: The 2015 book
GET A LITERARY AGENT shares advice from more 
than 110 literary agents who share advice on querying, 
craft, the submission process, researching agents, and
much more. Filled with all the advice you'll ever need to
find an agent, this resource makes a great partner book to
the agent database, Guide to Literary Agents.

Other writing/publishing articles & links for you:

writer's digest wd presents

WD Presents: 6 WDU Courses, an Upcoming Virtual Conference, and More!

This week, we’re excited to announce six new WDU courses, a romance writing virtual conference, and more!

Going From Me to We: Collaborating on the Writing of a Novel

Going From Me to We: Collaborating on the Writing of a Novel

Past experiences taught bestselling author Alan Russell to tread lightly when it came to collaborating on projects. Here, he discusses how the right person and the right story helped him go from a “me” to a “we.”

From Script

Short Film Goals, Writing the Cinematic Experience on the Page and Sundance Film Festival 2022 (From Script)

In this week’s round up brought to us by Script magazine, set your creative goals with a monthly guide to write and produce your short film, provided by Script contributor Rebecca Norris Resnick. Plus, an exclusive interview with Academy Award-winning screenwriter William Monahan, a Sundance Film Festival 2022 day one recap, and more!

Your Story Writing Prompts

94 Your Story Writing Prompts

Due to popular demand, we've assembled all the Your Story writing prompts on in one post. Click the link to find each prompt, the winners, and more.

How Inspiration and Research Shape a Novel

How Inspiration and Research Shape a Novel

Historical fiction relies on research to help a story’s authenticity—but it can also lead to developments in the story itself. Here, author Lora Davies discusses how inspiration and research helped shape her new novel, The Widow’s Last Secret.

Poetic Forms

Saraband: Poetic Forms

Poetic Form Fridays are made to share various poetic forms. This week, we look at the saraband, a septet (or seven-line) form based on a forbidden dance.

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

Karen Hamilton: On Cause and Effect

International bestselling author Karen Hamilton discusses the “then and now” format of her new domestic thriller, The Ex-Husband.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Plot Twist Story Prompts: The Ultimatum

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character give or face an ultimatum.

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

6 Things Every Writer Should Know About Sylvia Beach and Shakespeare and Company

Sylvia Beach was friend to many writers who wrote what we consider classics today. Here, author Kerri Maher shares six things everyone should know about her and Shakespeare and Company.