Challenge,  On Writing

Invested In Not Writing

Amazing How Common This Is…

Basically put, writers, over time, develop a real and crippling investment in not writing. And, at the same time, often claim they want to write.

These writers cross the spectrum of types.

— Teachers who always wanted to write, teach writing, but now feel inside that they just flat don’t dare expose that they are still beginning writers at their core.

— Burnt out writers who have made writing so important (because they have had a few successes in the past) that they don’t dare write anything more. Failure is a very high platform that these writers in their minds don’t dare jump from.

— Beginning writers who talk a lot and talk a good game, but over time have become so afraid that their writing will not back up their talk, they feel that they don’t dare write. (I’ve had friends like this over the years. Sadly, they are long gone.)

— Writers (like I was for years in the 1970s) who buy into the myths of rewriting and perfection so much that after a time they don’t dare show their work because it’s not done yet, it needs one more draft, it needs one more reader, and so on. Kris talked about this writer in her Perfection book and blogs. Perfection is never attained and fear of having someone say that is crippling. (I was saved from this by Heinlein’s Rules.)

— Writers who think that they already know everything, that they don’t need to learn because it would destroy their perfect voice, flat don’t dare write much at all because for them, writing is too hard. And when writing gets hard, these type of writers back up and claim they are writing, but the book is taking years. And that magical book will never see the light of day because failure of not selling for these writers is much more damaging than the failure of not ever finishing.

— Writers who grew up afraid of what others would say. Not even writing under pen names can clear out this investment in the fear, so these writers flat don’t dare write. A single rejection, a single bad review, can turn their worlds upside down. So not writing is far, far safer.

In other words, personal history, choices, personalities, and so on often make a writer so invested in not writing, they don’t.

Can this investment in not writing be broken? For some, sure.

For most, sadly, no.

Path to Recovery for the Few…

Those that can break it must first realize what investment they have in not writing, not finishing, not putting work out into the public eye. That is the first key to getting back to writing. The writer must see clearly what is stopping them.

Second, writers in all the above categories must learn at a deep level that nothing is ever perfect. Any story, any novel, is only the best you can do at that moment. And that is good enough.

Third, a writer must, at their very core, in all of the above investments, realize that not one person cares about their writing. The writer is the only one who cares. That realization frees so many writers to just write. But so many writers want others to care, so this belief system at a deep level is difficult at best to attain. Impossible for most.

Fourth, writers must look at writing like they look at reading other writer’s works. They must go to story for the joy of reading, the fun of creation, the excitement of discovery.

It is the process that is important, not the finishing, not the publishing, but the writing process itself. If that is joyful, then everything else just falls into place given a little time.

So recovery is possible, but it takes work, courage, and the desire to make creating new worlds and characters fun.

But if you are not writing, or not writing as much as you want, or slowing down, or making writing a torture, figure out where you are invested in not writing.

You might be surprised at just spotting the investment will help you get on the right road again.


  • Harvey Stanbrough

    Excellent, Dean, and spot on.

    Dean Koontz, on Twitter, mentioned one of the myths recently:

    “I would rather dance barefoot on a bed of nails than outline a novel. I know some writers find outlining essential. To me, outlining feels artificial, as if I’m moving characters around like chess pieces. I’m a terrible chess player. Not so good at checkers, either.”

  • emmiD

    Unfortunately, I keep meeting these writers, every one of them.

    And—May I add one? The one that a friend keeps bumping into?

    Writers waiting for the perfect story idea because their writing is sooooo important.

    Then she will ask, “How did you get that idea? Where did it come from?”

    “How did you know what to write?”

    And I don’t have an answer to give her except “I got this character (or situation or title) and just started thinking and then scribbling and then the story just formed.”

    It’s as if she thinks writing needs a magic spell.

    And then she will say, “Oh, that’s a mystery or a fantasy.” As if the genres are lesser and contain no life lessons. While I grit my teeth and count to 10 so I can politely point out the themes in a mystery to disprove her comment.

    I am currently struggling with a book, but it’s distractions and disruptions that I keep kicking myself about, nothing more. I did 6,000 new words last week when I needed twice that. But the story IS coming along.

    My problem is that I get an idea for a short story, and by the time I finish the second scene, I’m at 2500 words. Yikes LOL.

    • dwsmith

      EmmiD, my suggestion is run away from that writer. And if that person is a friend, just stop talking about your writing. That friend’s job will soon become to hold you back, sadly. Try to keep the friendship detached from writing. That person is lost and honestly, has no hope. That belief that ideas are special is death. So extreme caution I’m sad to say. Don’t let her pathology take you down.

      And maybe I should do a post on that as well, huh? (grin)

      • emmiD

        Goo advice that I need to follow. Thank you. I didn’t even anticipate that road, but I do believe you’re a prophet.

        And please do write that post!

      • Kari Kilgore

        Oh yeah, a post on these sorts of “friends” and the warning signs and the very real damage they end up *wanting* to do if you move forward would make all kinds of sense. I had to get myself away from a few of these about six years ago to finally start writing. Funny how the longer I’m away from them, the more I’m getting done. 🙂

        I have a very hard time explaining this to people, but the truth is the less I care about what I’m writing while still doing my best, the faster, easier, and more fun the stories are. I suspect they’re better, too.

  • Kate Pavelle

    I could hug you right now, Dean. This post had me realize WHY I’ve been not finishing #7 in a series (“the characters did something unexpected and it messed up my initial concept of #8, says she, undecided where the whole plot arc will go.) Also, HOW have I been avoiding so assiduously: The great challenge of writing a story a week. Starting other story concepts, other series concepts. I even resorted to making book cover, and if you know me, you know that that’s been a huge stumbling block in the past.
    Figuring out how to make licensable swag using my own art.
    Wrote (and published) several between-the-books short stories for that same series.
    All constructive, except… my readers are getting really pissed.
    So hear yea, I’m going to finish that book already! It’s just a book. If it gets confusing, all I have to do is kill off a bunch of characters in the last one, right?

    • dwsmith

      Kate, the fun is that you can do anything you want because no one cares and it’s just fun and entertainment. The writers who really, really embrace that are often the most successful because not only do they not know where they are going (or care), their readers don’t know and love the ride. Sameness and predictability is deadly dull, remember. (grin)

      And dull in the entertainment field is death.

  • Philip

    The fear is real. I love that you actually offer the path to recovery. When I started writing at age 11, it was all play — fun and games, and I was never more productive. Now I think, why bother? It’s not going to be as good as the authors I love to read or, worse, it’s not going to “sell on Amazon” because it’s not a “hot niche.” Thank God we have a guy like you out here talking about real writing and mindsets.

    • Rose

      Whoa, man. Get out of my head! I think those same things since going indie. They’ve replaced what used to be fears about impressing agents or editors.

      It’s good to be reminded that it’s all just perfectionism and critical voice. Because really … What’s the big deal? The point is just to have fun (or at least that’s what I keep telling myself). It’s just a story, and we’re just having fun, not running from dinosaurs at Jurassic Park (on second thought, maybe that *would* be fun).

  • Cynthia Lee

    I didn’t write for twenty years because I was too chicken***t. I was scared of what everyone would say and convinced I would disappoint all the people who had told me for years that I was talented / should write a novel, etc. I was also an English major so I had that baggage as well.

    It took age, maturity and having a baby to make me realize that it wasn’t all about me and nobody really cares about my writing anyway. Writing and publishing makes me happy and when I’m happy I’m a better mother / friend/ wife and so on. Ironically enough, when I had scads of time to write, I didn’t. Now that I’m a wife, a mother and I have a full-time job, I find the time.

    That’s all it took, really. It sounds so simple but it took sooooo long.

    No matter. I’m having too much fun to care about time wasted.

    And Kris and Dean have been a big part of my journey.

    Thanks ever so much!

    • dwsmith

      Those of us who are going to do it find a way eventually. Well done! And I have my years I talk about losing as well, wondering where I would be without all those wasted years of fear and perfection and rewriting things to death. Ahh, well.

  • Cora

    Thanks for this Dean. A variety of your online workshops have helped me deal with my fear (which was nudged along by family commenting on my ‘little hobby’). This post looks entirely different now that I’ve gotten a grip, than it would have a year or more ago. It’s amazing how much fun you can have when you’re not afraid of everything.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, fear does kill fun. No doubt about that, except on roller coasters, when the fear is part of the thrill. I sort of like that thrill when I have written myself into a corner, no hope of finding a way out, yet I just keep typing, hold on tight, and my creative voice knows the way just fine. Fear is a thrill then and fun.

  • Kessie

    Knocked it out of the park with this one! Another hugely true blog post that I don’t dare post in my writer’s groups because people will lose their minds, arguing how none of those excuses apply to THEM. They have REAL PROBLEMS that have kept them from writing.

    • dwsmith

      Yup, there are a few “real problems” that keep writers from writing, like family sickness and real sickness and so on. But real problems are clear and often writers can work around them, even if only for 200 words a day. And yup, I would be caution on giving this to beginning writers. All it does is make them mad. (grin)

      • Carolyn

        One of the most amazing writerly feats I learned of in recent years is when one of my clients (I’m a fiction editor) kept working on her novel when hunkered down during a CATEGORY 4 HURRICANE! I would have considered that a “real problem” and used it as an excuse not to write.

  • Lorri Moulton


    Great advice as always! When I write, I remind myself…just tell the story. It doesn’t have to be perfect. It doesn’t have to be a best seller. It just has to be a story I would enjoy hearing or reading.

    When I get overwhelmed with life stuff, I go write a short fairytale. Anything can happen in a fairytale, and I know I’ll have fun!

  • R. K. Thorne

    I needed the reminder especially about perfection today. No matter how many times you say it, I always find I needed to hear it again, a different way. Thanks for this!

  • Rose T.

    Thank you Dean, for the great blog post. I especially appreciated when you said, “Any story, any novel, is only the best you can do at that moment. And that is good enough.” and “A writer must, at their very core, in all of the above investments, realize that not one person cares about their writing.” I spent a lot of time and energy endlessly rewriting one of my stories to get it perfect, which I regret. Regarding the second quote, I think it’s a hard pill to swallow for a lot of writers to realize other people don’t really care about their novel. I know it was for me. I had to realize that my stories are for me and other people aren’t obligated to care about them and in turn, I don’t have to care about their projects. If they like my stories, that’s great, but if they don’t, it’s no big deal. It doesn’t mean it’s not good, probably it’s just a matter of personal taste.

    I stopped writing for many years when a story I rewrote more than a dozen times, specifically just to please other people in my critique group, received bad reviews online. Reading “Heinlein’s Rules” inspired me to start writing again. It was a breath of fresh air. Thank you for writing it.

    • dwsmith

      Oh, ouch, Rose. But really glad you are back. Now keep the writing fun and you will be amazed at what you can accomplish.