3 Things I Stopped Doing That Got Me Writing Again

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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.

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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.


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