starting before you are ready

When I tell people that I am an editor, one of the most frequent responses I hear is: “Oh, I have a book I have been working on for two / five / seven years. When I finish it up, I’ll totally send it to you!”

More often than not, this statement is followed by a diatribe about the state of the publishing industry or about how hard it is to write and work. Oh, I know. It is impossibly hard to write and work / write and have kids / write and breathe. And yes, some books–published books that do very well financially–really, really suck.

But that’s not why the book’s not done.

It’s not about the state of the publishing industry, or self-publishing, or work-life balance, or the fact that they can’t get the conflict quite right.

It’s about being terrified to actually start. And that’s okay.

Stephen Pressfield calls it resistance. Seth Godin calls it the lizard brain. It’s fight and flight; it’s rocking back and forth in a corner. It’s a million things from a million angles. What it boils down to is: you’re never going to feel ready to put your work out there. And it’s going to totally suck in a variety of new and unimaginable ways when you do.

But, if you want to BE an author and not just tell people that you’ve been writing a book, it’s all about the execution. The difference between the people who tell me they’ve been working for half a decade and the people who are published is not qualitative. It’s not that some of us feel the resistance and some of us don’t. If you do anything remotely creative or remotely exciting, you will feel the push back every single day.

The trick is finding ways to work through that feeling and execute anyway–even when it feels like you can’t. (I use Crazy Aaron’s Thinking Putty–it’s worth every penny.) I’ve worked with seventeen different authors over the past three months. Every one of them has been nervous. Every one of them has wanted to know if they’re any good, if they have what it takes, and whether the world is going to love what they write just as much as they do. There’s not a writer the world over, published or unpublished, who doesn’t worry about this stuff.

The secret here, though, is that “what it takes” is not an inherent ear for cadence or a magical story-telling pen. What it takes is hard work and a willingness to show up every day. (And maybe a good editor.) You can do it. They can do it.

We can do it.

Something that keeps me moving forward when it seems like it is too hard to keep pushing  is this quote from Marie Forleo:

Every successful person has decided to start before they were ready.

I hope this knowledge is as useful to you as it has been to me.

So, friends, let’s get this thing done together. And, once you’re finished, send your book my way.










  1. Great post! Especially since when are we ever really ready to do anything. Life has taught me that there is never a “good” time to work on a goal.

    • Thanks! I definitely agree. There’s never “a good time,” whether you’re talking about starting a new hobby, starting a book, or starting a family. You just have to bite the bullet and jump in!

  2. This is so true Brenda. The idea that I might not be good has plagued me through my entire writing process. And I know I am one of the people, maybe not in the last three months, but one of the people who asked you if I was terrible. I think I would have finished more than just this one manuscript if I would have gotten past that a little faster. Thanks for hanging in there with us newbies and knowing that it is a fear for us. Makes it easier to know that everyone feels that way.

    • I think that’s one of the biggest bummers about being a writer–these kinds of things would be a lot easier if it weren’t such a solitary profession! One thing that I really, really struggle with is the amount of would-be writers out there who want to write and are so afraid of being bad that they never produce anything. Or, alternately, the amount of people who have written something and are so afraid that it sucks that they never show it to anyone. If I can ease that self-doubt just a little bit, I will consider my job as an editor and a blogger well done!

  3. Perhaps you could settle a point of contention in my marriage. My wife and I have each harbored fantasies about publishing novels. However, we have vastly different approaches. She believes it is necessary to outline every scene in the book in advance. I tend to have a kernel of an idea and start writing to see where it takes me, developing the plot as I work toward a general resolution that I have in mind in the beginning.

    Of course, when my stories inevitably bog down and the enthusiasm wanes, my wife points out that if I had had a good outline, I would already know what comes next and would not be in the predicament. On the other hand, I could point out that she has plenty of synopses, but not even the barest beginnings of a narrative.

    I recently started a fiction writing course in which the professor stresses writing every day for thirty minutes to develop the discipline (to push Resistance back into his hidey-hole) and I’m already seeing dividends from this exercise as I am generating words even in portions of the story I have not pre-planned (where I generally stumbled before). I suspect if my wife were to begin such a discipline, she too would advance from the planning stage to the actual writing stage. Is one approach more fruitful, in your opinion, than the other? I suspect the answer is some sort of happy medium. I’d love to read your thoughts.

    • Karl, this is a great question. Thanks for giving me an opportunity to take a stab at it–I hope I clear up the issue and don’t cause further contention!

      First, I don’t think that one approach to writing a book is necessarily recommended over another. I think there are as many writing styles as there are people who write, and I have seen writers produce successful manuscripts in many different ways. Some people outline, some people don’t. Some people write a thousand words every day, some people don’t. Some people know what their book is about when they start, some people don’t. I think it’s completely fine for both you and your wife to have absolutely different approaches to writing, and I wouldn’t recommend one over the other.

      What I would say, though, is that each approach to writing has its own strengths and weaknesses. The key to churning out a successful manuscript, in my opinion, comes down to two things: (1) knowing your own habits and tendencies as a writer, and (2) being able to accommodate the weaknesses in your preferred writing style.

      So, for example, you get stuck sometimes when you don’t know what comes next. You’ve already found one solution to this problem with your writing practice. Sitting down every day helps you get the juices flowing. Great! Keep doing this. Another solution might be to let go of your attachment to writing your manuscript chronologically. If you don’t know what comes next, but you do know what comes later, write that instead and come back to the other part when you’ve figured it out. You could also decide to incorporate very rough outlining or storyboarding at some point. Maybe not.

      The strength of your writing style is that it gives you a low barrier to entry and a lot of space to play with your imagination. The weakness is that you get stuck, and you will probably have a pretty messy and chronologically confused first draft–which is totally fine as long as you spend some time revising.

      As far as your wife is concerned, I don’t want to assume I understand her situation and her particular roadblocks without hearing her side of it. However, I do have a couple of thoughts that might be useful for her. First, there are people who really struggle with maintaining a daily writing practice and do better writing in large, obsessive bouts, and then write little or nothing in the times in between, which is successful as long as they prioritize those periods of inspiration and utilize them to their fullest. So, while I think it would be a good idea to explore a daily writing practice as a solution for her particular struggles, it might not solve the problem, and that has to be okay.

      Second, I have noticed that a lot of the outline writers that I have worked with really struggle with their expectations of themselves as they begin writing. One of the advantages to extensive outlines is that people who write this way produce very clean and very organized first drafts. However, the barrier to entry is much higher because there are a lot more expectations already in place around the story and around the writing experience in general. It may be the case that your wife’s difficulty in producing a narrative has more to do with her own high expectations getting in the way than a lack of discipline or a lack of a writing “habit,” so to speak.

      It may also be that she just doesn’t know how to start the story and may have more luck starting in the middle of the outline and moving backwards in time. Sometimes starting at a different spot in the story can help create a narrative groove. Once she’s in the habit of producing content, the beginning might be easier to tackle.

      Regardless, I wish both of you the best of luck with your writing endeavors, and I hope my thoughts have been useful! Let me know if I can clear up any more writing debates! :)


  1. […] Have you always wanted to start writing, but you aren’t sure where to begin? Loving this advice for starting before you’re ready. […]

  2. […] “Stephen Pressfield calls it resistance. Seth Godin calls it the lizard brain. It’s fight and flight; it’s rocking back and forth in a corner. It’s a million things from a million angles. What it boils down to is: you’re never going to feel ready to put your work out there. And it’s going to totally suck in a variety of new and unimaginable ways when you do.” starting before you are ready – Eclectic Editor […]

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