Today’s post is by regular contributor Susan DeFreitas (@manzanitafire), an award-winning author, editor, and book coach. She offers a first 50-page review on works in progress for novelists seeking direction on their next step toward publishing.
In part four of this series based on Sean D. Young’s bestselling Stick with It: A Scientifically Proven Process for Changing Your Life—for Good, we’re taking a look at the first E in SCIENCE, Young’s acronym for those strategies that lead to lasting change: Easy.
For many of the people who dream of someday publishing a book, actually sitting down to write one seems hard—and when things feel hard, we don’t want to do them. Who wants to take the path of most resistance?
Not me, and probably not you either.
In Chapter 5 of his book, Young shares the story of a man who’d inherited a franchise of convenience stores, at a time when 7-11 was gobbling up the industry. How could the family chain compete? The answer came to him after he returned from the Caribbean—inspired by “the simple life” he’d experienced there on vacation, he went on to simplify the family franchise as well: Rather than expanding the amount of merchandise they carried, he reduced it, offering just one high-quality brand of each item (their own).
That’s the story of Trader Joe’s, a franchise that’s gained a huge following in the thirty years since its founding—not because it offers it customers every option under the sun, but because it relieves them of the burden of choice.
In much the same way, one of the ways to make writing feel easier is to limit the number of choices you have to make when you sit down to do so, and to limit the number of options available to you in terms of doing anything else.
Here are some examples of how you might put these principles to work in establishing a regular writing practice:
1. Develop a Plan
“Pantsers” love to jump into a new project without a big-picture plan of where they’re headed—and if that process works for you, then by all means, stick with it. But if writing has begun to feel hard, consider that you might need a plan.
A plan might consist of a big-picture outline for your book or a detailed, chapter-by-chapter plan for it in revision. Either is a good way to escape the paralysis that can set in at times, for the simple reason that clear “marching orders” limit the number of choices you have to make when you sit down to write. Rather than second-guessing yourself, you can simply write forward.
2. Set It Up Beforehand
Just like packing your gym bag the night before can make it easier to hit the gym first thing in the morning, laying out your writing area the night before can make it seem inevitable that you’re going to crack open your laptop the next day and engage.
This might mean reviewing and laying out your notes for the next scene or section of your book, or dialing up your writing playlist on Spotify and having it ready to go. (Alternately, if you’re aiming for a writing session after lunch, you might open up your WIP and leave it open on your computer before you break; coming back and finding that document ready and waiting will make it easier to dive back in.)
3. Limit Your Choices
In my previous post in this series, I advised those looking to establish a regular writing practice to write first thing in the morning, before going online. Not only is this a solid strategy for making writing a priority in your life, it’s an excellent way to limit the number of choices—or distractions—available to you.
Some go so far as to put their phones in airplane mode while writing, in order to eliminate those pings and vibrations that can pose such a tempting out from the writing process—or even use a desktop app that disables internet access while they’re writing. (You’ll find a roundup of such apps and programs here.)
Writing will always feel tough on some days, but that’s part of the beauty of it—as writers, we’ll never reach a point where this art form has no new challenge left to offer, no new avenue by which to stretch our skills and capabilities.
But there are ways to make the practice itself feel more regular, routine—and yes, even easy.
Susan DeFreitas is the author of the novel Hot Season, which won a Gold IPPY Award, and the editor of Dispatches from Anarres: Tales in Tribute to Ursula K. Le Guin, a finalist for the Foreword INDIES. An independent editor and book coach, she specializes in helping writers from historically marginalized backgrounds, and those writing socially engaged fiction, break through into publishing. She offers a free masterclass, Fiction As a Force for Change, here.