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Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

Are You Unwittingly Sabotaging Yourself by Talking About Your Writing?

From Bryan: This is a guest post by Ali Luke. Ali blogs about writing at Aliventures, and runs Writers’ Huddle, a teaching / community site for writers at all levels. She lives in the UK with her husband and baby daughter. You can find her on Twitter at @aliventures. Ali is the author of Publishing E-Books For Dummies in Wiley’s “For Dummies” series.

You’ve got a great idea for a novel, and you can hardly stop yourself telling your friends about it. The only problem is, the more you talk about your idea, the harder it seems to be to get started.

Or … you’re planning to start a blog, and you’ve been chatting to your partner about it for weeks. Whenever you sit down to draft a post, though, you find yourself staring at a blank screen. What’s going on?


Photo Cred: Creative commons by Lev

“Talking” here also covers Facebook, forums, Twitter, and other non-verbal forms of chatter!

Talking Can Scratch That Writing Itch

All writers want – need – to share their thoughts with the world. They invent imaginary people, or come up with great new ideas, or work out cool plot twists.

The problem is, if you spend too much time talking about your story or blog or other writing plans, you’re likely to find that your writing energy dissipates.

When you sit down to write, you might feel like you no longer need to. You’ve already explored and expressed those ideas.

Talking about writing can also make you feel like you’ve accomplished something. After all, if your friends all know you’re going to write the Great American Novel any day now, you may feel like a writer already – even if you’ve not set a single word down on paper.

Other People May Discourage You

Instead of talking about the details of your work-in-progress, you discuss your writing more broadly – in terms of your career and major goals.

One of your friends rolls their eyes. They think of writers as some special breed, and they don’t believe that you can call yourself a writer. (Ignore them; you are a writer!)

Another says, “But you’ll never make any money writing.”

A third friend adds, trying to be kind, “It’s a lovely dream. But it’s not very realistic, is it?”

At best, perhaps someone offers a wildly different alterative plan, telling you, “The real money is in romance novels,” or “Why don’t you write a children’s book?” – however far this is from your dreams.

Your friends and family usually don’t mean to make you feel down.

They might be worried that you’ll go for your dreams and fail, so they’re trying to protect you. Or they might have no idea why you’d want to be a writer. Occasionally, they might feel threatened by your ambition – especially if they’ve given up on creative ideas of their own.

Talking about writing isn’t always bad, though. Done right, it can be a great way to get inspired and motivated.

Here’s how:

Find Fellow Writers Who’ll Support and Encourage You

Other writers understand what it’s like – the good and the bad. Unlike non-writing friends, they’ll get it.

They’ll help you celebrate the successes that other friends might not understand, and they’ll encourage you to keep going when things are tough.

They know you don’t want to switch genres just because there might be more money in it.

They know that it’s not really about the money.

They know what you mean when you talk about a character “coming to life.”

They can encourage you to take a step outside your comfort zone.

Some writers find it’s helpful to get together and write at the same time, perhaps in a coffee shop, or one person’s house. (If you live in a major city, you may well find organized events for this – particularly during November for National Novel Writing Month.)

Get Friends to Keep You Accountable

Non-writing friends can still help – as can your blog readers, Twitter followers, fellow forum members, and other online acquaintances.

You might not want to share in-depth details about your fight against plot holes, or your struggles to keep your characters in line … but you could tell them your word count goal for the week ahead.

Being accountable (and having a deadline) is incredibly helpful. If all your Facebook friends know that you’re aiming to write 2,000 words before midnight on Sunday, you’ll be more motivated to keep on writing.

Talk Through a Problem with a Writing Buddy

Sometimes, you’re not stalled because of any lack of motivation. You’ve got the time and energy to write – but something’s not working.

Maybe you need a character to act in a certain way to meet the demands of the plot – but you can’t quite make their behavior fit.

Maybe you’re debating between several different directions for your story.

Maybe you need a back-story for your protagonist – but you don’t know what.

This is where a writing buddy can help. Ideally, this will be someone at a similar level of writing to you (if they’re a total newbie and you’ve had three novels published, or vice versa, it’s not going to work).

Talk through the problem. Explain where you’ve got to, and what’s not working.

Sometimes, simply talking it out can help you see a solution. Other times, your buddy might make suggestions that help. (Even if your response is “no, that would never work,” you might at least rule out a particular idea!)

One last thing, YOU are a writer. State it with confidence:

“I AM a writer!” – Tweet it.

Do you talk about your writing or any of your creative projects? Who do you talk to – and does it help? Let us know your experiences in the comments.

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  • Newslettering you again, Ali. Good good stuff.

    I’ve been fascinated with symbolic self-completion (the psych name for the concept that talking can scratch the itch) ever since Derek Sivers talked about it here;


    For anyone who wants to geek out on the psychology, Sivers links to the research by Peter Golliwitzer, who knows more about why we DON’T do things than most folks.

    Your practical recommendations for what to do about it make this newsletter-worthy.

    • Thanks for the newslettering, Joel! And also for putting a name to this idea.

      Actually, thinking about it, I’ve come across something similar in my pop psychology reading — apparently, visualising an outcome (e.g. your book on the shelves) is much less effective than visualising the process (e.g. sitting down at your keyboard and writing). I guess that’s another aspect of symbolic self-completion?

      • It’s been a couple years since I read the studies so I don’t remember whether Gollwitzer specifically addresses that aspect.

        But I know from experience that picturing myself *already done* isn’t as motivating as picturing myself *enjoying the process.*

  • Pirkko

    I am trying to get my first novel started so this post helped me. I’ve written 5 chapters but now I need to make a new start and use the ideas as backstory. Well, my problem is that I haven’t connected with a writing buddy at my level of writing. So thank you for reminding about it. I will have to do it.

    • Good luck getting going again, Pirkko — and I hope you find a new-novelist buddy. 🙂 When NaNoWriMo (National Novel Writing Month) starts next month, you’ll probably find a lot of new writers popping up — that could be a good place to turn.

  • When I was writing my first novel, I shared each chapter with a friend as I went along. For all of my other works, I wait until I’ve gone over the rough draft, fixing it up, before I share it with anyone.

    I do, however, tell people a little bit about what I’m working on. Usually other writers or some of my beta readers. I also put estimated publication dates on my site as a way to keep myself accountable and to make the deadlines feel more “real”.

    • The estimated publication dates sound like a really great way to keep yourself on track — I know that I (like a lot of writers) find it tough to stick to self-imposed deadlines as it’s always so tempting to extend them. May have to give this a try myself; thanks, Stacy!

  • Very good insights and practical suggestions!
    Talking about doing something versus actually doing it is something I did early on. I went to all the writing conferences and read all the writing books. Finally my sister said, “Why don’t you stop learning about writing and actually write?!” LOL So I did.
    Also, I like your advice about being careful who you share with. I found that to be true.
    Additionally, I like the idea of talking through things with a writer friend when you get stuck on a writing idea.
    Great writing and good advice.
    Keep up the good writing!

    • Thanks Sharon, really glad you liked the post! And aren’t sisters great at honest advice?! 🙂

  • Alice Kouzmenko

    I agree, great post! I think that I often think about this idea and I keep it mostly to myself, but I do tend to overthink it and come up with all the possible ways to write one part and I don’t actually start writing.


    • I think overthinking can be just as much of a problem as overtalking — I often have to tell myself that I’ll never find the one “perfect” way to write something and it’s better to have it written than not!

  • Allison

    Oh wow, did I need this.

    *finally able to figure this out*
    because I felt awesome today talking with another writer, and now i know why.

    • I was going to email you about this one since you were the one who prompted it — but you’re way ahead of me. 🙂 Really glad it was helpful!

  • I do share a bit about my writing, but am mostly pretty quiet about it. Sometimes I share major plot ideas for future books, but not the current project.

  • I think it really depends on who you’re talking to about your writing. If you have a group of writers who will be encouraging you, it will benefit you to talk about your writing plans. If you talk to those you know will be discouraging, you are setting yourself up for a negative ride. But then again, maybe you know that and don’t want to take that ride.

    I still find that the biggest voice is the one in my own head.

    • The encouragement is key — but as Joel mentions (below), however encouraging people are, there’s always the danger that talking about your writing will scratch that writing itch and make you less inclined to actually put words on paper!

  • This is something I only realised recently. I’d heard the theory before, namely around the subject of setting goals: If you talk about your goals to others, far from making you feel you should complete them, you give yourself (your brain) a message that it’s already happened. So, your brain doesn’t act to make you do anything to complete your goals. There then came a science bit which I don’t remember 🙂 .

    Recently, I realised how true this was of writing. Each plot that I’ve told friends about down the years has never made it passed an opening line.

    I’m trying a new approach: keeping the story to myself and keeping the spark alive by doing things like creating theme tunes for my characters. For a psychopath character I’ve got brewing, I discovered: “Wild is the wind” by Bowie. Perfect theme tune. And the lyrics helps mould the character too.

    • Tom, theme tunes sound a great idea. (Someday, I want to put together a playlist for my novel…)

      I can never remember the science bits either! But I can definitely recognise the truth of this. 🙂

  • One of the reasons writing is so appealing for me is because, unlike conversation, it can be edited before being expressed. In conversation I find I leave stuff out. Going through drafts in writing is helpful for me to fully consider my point, make it clear, and make it complete.

    • I’m definitely more coherent on the page! I always worry people who meet me in real life must think “how odd, she didn’t sound like a gibbering idiot on her blog…” 😉

  • Tracy Campbell

    Ali, great post. It’s like walking a tightrope, knowing what and who to share our writing goals with. 🙂