Here at the Kirkus Writers’ Center, we are always looking for ways to encourage writers and authors. It’s a lonely path sometimes, and it’s nice to know that you’re part of a community.
When we’re sitting down every week with ideas to help you on your journey, we see you: the good, the bad, and the procrastinatory. We see your triumphs, your glories, and those incredible moments that are so mind-blowing they don’t even seem real. We celebrate with you.
We also see your self-doubt, imposter syndrome, and self-sabotage. And gosh, we’d really like to help you avoid some of those behaviors that might keep you from finishing your book.
So without further ado, my fellow scriberinos, let us begin our list of tricks and tips to ensure you never, ever finish writing your book:
Start the book, then put it down and leave it forever.
Put together a plot, write a scene or two, and stop. Leave it on your desktop, and then find every excuse to not open the doc. Life is busy, we’re all tired, we’re not in the mood, and who cares anyway? What’s important is that you had an idea, and now you can tell everyone you started writing a book that you will never, ever look at again.
Sometimes a book just doesn’t work. Maybe it’s not the right time, or you’re just not feelin’ it. And that’s OK.
But there are a lot of you doing this. Maybe you just want the “working on a book” bragging rights. Or maybe you’ve somehow convinced yourself that you can’t do this. Which leads to . . .
Tell yourself you can’t do this and believe it.
All the greatest breakthroughs in art, science, math, and the universe have likely had someone at the center whispering to themselves, “I can’t do this. Someone will find out I can’t do this.” The reason those breakthroughs happened? They did it anyway. So if you really want to win at failing to write your book, remind yourself that it can’t be done, and then believe that terrible lie you just told yourself.
Use your writing time for other things.
When you’re staring at a blank page or you just can’t write yourself out of that plot hole to save your life, sometimes taking just a teeny little peek at TikTok videos or (gods help you) Twitter can nudge your brain out of its rut.
Unfortunately, it can also nudge your brain to stay put on social media. Or maybe it’s lunchtime or laundry needs to be done. Oh, and suddenly those scraggly weeds on your lawn have got to go, pronto. Before you know it, the day is gone.
“That’s OK,” you’ll tell yourself. “There’s always tomorrow. And tomorrow is another writing day.”
Every single author and writer I know has done this at some point. However, they eventually got back to work.
Want to avoid finishing your book? Find a long-term activity to waste your writing time, and you’ll be well on your way.
Vow that your book will be a bestseller . . .
Every writer has this daydream. We imagine finishing a book, and wowza, does that thing just sell. The royalties start pouring in, and all your naysaying friends and family suddenly want a ride on your sparkling new designer coattails while champagne corks pop everywhere. We all have secret hopes.
But if you really want to commit to ensuring your book fails before it’s finished, tell yourself that there’s no use writing this book if it can’t be a bestseller. Fill your head with the voices of anyone who will only value your writing career if you’re a massive moneymaking success. You’ll find the words don’t quite flow the same when you’re writing for your expectations and not for yourself or your readers.
. . . or that your book will be a critically acclaimed masterpiece.
If it’s not perfect, if it’s not genius, it’s not worth writing at all. This is fabulous advice when one has decided to not finish a work in progress. Set that bar so high that you can barely see it. Then critique and overanalyze every sentence you write from an award jury’s perspective.
We should note that there is actually a subset of writers and authors who genuinely feel this way about their books—that they are raw, inspired genius and that people who don’t agree just don’t get it. The number of authors with this attitude who have successful publishing careers is very, very low. Which is great, because these kinds of folks are just flat-out insufferable.
Listen to every single person who says, “Writing is a waste of time.”
When you embark on a writing career, the concern from loved ones can be extreme. Few families are thrilled to know their beloved child has chosen to write for a living. And so, in their own well-meaning way, they try to nudge you toward other professions and opportunities. When things are challenging, they are the first people to suggest you give up and try something else. And until you are successful, at least their version of it, you are a failure. But hey, no pressure! Listening to those critical voices and following their advice can be a useful tool for sabotaging your book.
Never accept anything less than perfection.
This one is slightly sneaky, because you can (and I am living proof) actually write a book or two with this darling flaw. Perfectionism comes in many, many beauteous forms and from many sources, but if you’re neurodiverse, you can bet your sweet brain stem that perfectionism helped you hide and disguise your brain’s weirdness.
So you might be able to write a book. But you will never, ever finish it. It will never be good enough, and it will never look like the book you envisioned in your brain. And because of that, it will lie unfinished on your computer until the end of time. You’ll be able to brag—“I wrote a book!”—but deep in your heart, you’ll know it’s a lie.
Forget the truth that there is a guaranteed way to finish every book you start.
Don’t believe me? It’s true. Barring death or severe illness, you can absolutely finish any book you start. Here’s the trick: you just do it. You show up every day (or at least consistently), sit your butt down, and hammer out those chapters.
Even if you hate it.
Even if it hurts.
Even if no one ever buys it, or worse, they don’t even care.
Even if it’s not great or even good.
Even if everyone you know thinks you’ve lost hold of reality.
Just. Write. The. Book.
Because once you do that, you’ve won.
Hannah Guy lives in Toronto and is a professional writer and copywriter who specializes in books, books, and more books. Follow her on Twitter at @hannorg.