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Why You Don’t Write and What You Can Do About It

To begin, tell me a little bit about yourself. How many of these have you experienced in your writing life during the past two years? I’ll include checkboxes so you can keep track.

Never finding the time to write
Making the time but not writing
Dreaming of writing but never getting started
Starting but never finishing
Starting but never finishing that one particular piece
Thinking you can do it without help
Thinking you’re beyond help
A love/hate relationship with your writing
Focusing on unhelpful criticism and ignoring positive feedback
Focusing on positive feedback and ignoring constructive criticism
Wanting to write deep but writing shallow
Writing for others instead of yourself
Writing for money but not treating it like a business
Reading about writing instead of writing
Seeking out feedback before you’re ready
Seeking out the wrong level of feedback
Ongoing health challenges like
    Unexplained fatigue (physical or mental)
    Mysterious illness (a neverending or recurring cold or flu)
    Injuries (constant little accidents)
    Addiction of any kind (substance, activities, self-destructive habits)

How many did you check? Type the number right here:

Is it more than zero?

If so, you’re facing Resistance.

I’ve written nearly 20 books and 200 songs in the past 11 years. I checked 17 boxes. SEVENTEEN.

I’m facing Resistance.

You’re facing Resistance.

Resistance? What’s That?

According to author Steven Pressfield in his seminal work The War of Art Resistance is the mental and emotional pushback we feel when we dare greatly by creating something. It is our unconscious mind protecting us from the “danger” of emotional vulnerability. It manifests in all the ways in that checklist above, and more.

Resistance is a bully. It will stand in your way and stop your progress. It will knock you down and hurt you, emotionally, even physically.

Resistance strikes nonfiction and fiction authors alike. (Memoirists, are you hearing me?) Writing a business book is still a creative endeavor and will expose you to the associated fears.

It will stop you from writing using the tools you checked off in that list above.

It’s Not Just You & I

“I was ashamed. I have spent a good many years since—too many, I think—being ashamed about what I write. I think I was forty before I realized that almost every writer of fiction and poetry who as ever published a line has been accused by someone of wasting his or her God-given talent.”

“. . . in my heart I stayed ashamed. I kept hearing Miss Hisler asking why I wanted to waste my talent, why I wanted to waste my time, why I wanted to write junk.”

Who was this loser?

Stephen King. Stephen 350 million books sold King.

This is a quote from his On Writing which, although not precisely instructional, is the most inspiring book I’ve read when it comes to staying the course as a writer.

This is the quote that gave me my writing life back. I’ll tell you that story someday.

Our innate desire to have our work respected can lead to problems if we put what others believe about our “God-given talent” ahead of what we want to write. It’s one of many ways Resistance twists natural feelings into quicksand.

What’s a Writer to Do?

You cannot defeat, once for all time, Resistance. It’s part of our mental and emotional makeup. We can, though, make it irrelevant. Note that I can’t say “ignore it” because you can’t ignore a bully. But if you defuse them, do things to take away their power, they are no longer a threat. Like the bully at school (or, frankly, in the office) they still show up every day. But we don’t have to keep giving them our lunch money.

Being a writer is hard. You don’t have to do this alone.

Too many writers are facing the emotional struggle to write without the support they need. After years of writing about it, I’ve created a forum to help writers and artists deal with writer’s Resistance.

It’s not going to be a collective moan-fest or even chat-fest. Instead, it’s a guided learning environment, a community of writers making a safe place for some “you’re not alone” emotional support. It will also cover practical and actionable tools and processes to get you writing and keep you writing.

Membership is $5 per month or only $25 for the whole year. Questions? Comments? Shout ’em out below and I’ll answer every one.


Some Really Bad Writing Advice

I wish I had a nickel for every time I’ve read this sentence:

Swimming lesson. Not.The best way to learn writing is to write.

It comes mostly from pantsers who don’t want to learn story structure, who think it’s a straightjacket for producing formulaic pablum and they want no part of it.

When my middle daughter graduated from high school she wanted to write songs. We got her a small keyboard and I offered to give her lessons.

“No, that’s okay. I know what I’m doing.”

She was echoing what I’ve heard dozens of songwriters say: “Learning music theory will destroy my spontaneous creativity.”

Really? So you’re saying that me and Mozart and Dylan and Donald Fagen are drudges? I’m not the genius those three are, but I write better songs because I learned music theory, not in spite of it. Listen to Donald Fagen talk about composing the Steely Dan song Peg:

Continue reading “Some Really Bad Writing Advice”


Giving You the Best Books Possible

library-of-lightNot long after finishing my first mystery (about 8 seconds, I think) I realized I could do better.

Not long after finishing my second mystery, I knew it. Not just that I could do better than my first, but that I could do better than the one I’d just finished.

You may already see the pattern.

I have strong perfectionist tendencies I’ve spent half my life working to control. The pursuit of perfection is pointless, a burning of energy without value.

The pursuit of excellence is a different matter.

Continue reading “Giving You the Best Books Possible”


Following Every Rabbit Down a Hole: The Endless Search for All the Marketing

I started reading an article about how Amazon search really works and why authors need to know this.

I had to look up “lemmatisation” and shortly thereafter my eyes glazed over and I gave up.

this is not that

Maybe I’m a lazy slacker. Maybe I just want to write and then hope books sell themselves.

Maybe there’s only so much one person can do.

Continue reading “Following Every Rabbit Down a Hole: The Endless Search for All the Marketing”


Learn to Love Marketing, or Give Your Books Away (or Both)

left, right, or middle?Almost every author I talk to wishes someone else would sell their books for them. The few exceptions are those who, by nature or training, enjoy marketing their books. They’ve learned enough to have a plan and to execute it consistently, persistently.

Even my wife‘s clients, who pay her large sums for social media marketing for their books, engage fully in the process. Those who don’t quickly become frustrated because she isn’t selling their books well enough, not realizing that’s not how it works (despite having that clearly explained at the outset.)

Here’s the good news: if you hate marketing and you don’t want to sell your books, you don’t have to spend another second on marketing.

Continue reading “Learn to Love Marketing, or Give Your Books Away (or Both)”


Standing Next to Smart People

standing next to the smartest person in the roomI used to try to be the smartest person in the room.

What that means is I made sure that others knew how smart I was, and if someone knew something I didn’t, it was intimidating so I avoided them.

These days I like to go stand next to the smartest person in the room. And learn from them.

Continue reading “Standing Next to Smart People”


How Could Learning More Lead to Knowing Less?

I really miss the show Lie to Me. Chap named Cal Lightman (played brilliantly by Tim Ross) is a lie expert. He reads what are called microexpressions in the human face, and can determine whether or not a person is telling the truth. (Based on real science, pioneered by Paul Ekman, the reality is not quite as TV crime show, but is never the less fascinating.)

In the first episode he hires a TSA inspector named Ria Torres. An abusive childhood has taught her to read facial expressions. She is what Lightman calls a natural.

Although the occasional scene where Ria catches something Lightman misses is injected for humorous effect, the dynamic of their relationship is very much mentor and apprentice. Even as a natural, it is assumed that she will expand her knowledge, understanding, abilities through training and experience.

Music Theory Destroys Creativity?

Continue reading “How Could Learning More Lead to Knowing Less?”


Can’t Hurry Love. Or Marketing.

like a caravan climbing a mountainSince I started the focused marketing of A Long, Hard Look, giving away copies in exchange for reviews and to get attention on Goodreads, the total results (over a the past 5 weeks) have been underwhelming. A handful (that means 5, at most) of sales, a few of which were to people I know. A few reviews, mostly from people who read my blog or newsletter.

Like I said, underwhelming. (Not that I don’t appreciate that folks who know me buy, read, and review, but that isn’t a result of all this marketing, it’s a result of our personal relationship.)

There are a million sales tactics, and hundreds of people out there pitching their “sell a million copies” process. If only I could find the magic potion, the secret formula.

Thing is, I already have it, and it’s no secret, nor is it magic.

Continue reading “Can’t Hurry Love. Or Marketing.”


Publishing Yourself is (One Part of) the Correct Choice (Guest Post by Ed Teja)

In last Friday’s newsletter I stated pretty emphatically that self-publishing was, both artistically and commercially, the right choice. Long-time reader and valued curmudgeon Ed Teja took a different view. He made good points, which he’s allowing me to share here. Please, tell him what you think because we’d both like to know how this resonates with y’all. And Ed, thanks for nudging me to reconsider this topic.)

Ed Teja
Ed Teja
When Joel presented a case for self-publishing über alle it struck a chord in me, yet simultaneously resonated with my automatic “ain’t necessarily so” response. The problem I have with the idea is that it suggests a fish-or-cut-bait approach, presenting a false dichotomy (as writers we get to use words like that. Enjoy). between self-publishing and everything else. The truth is, it’s worth considering a mix of strategies.

Let me say one thing clearly upfront: You will likely, probably, almost certainly, make more money publishing your own work than by working with any publisher. I’ll even suggest that doing things yourself, you stand a better chance of publishing the book you want, not one someone else thinks it should be.

Now give me a bit of room to swing my arms while I explain why, even if making money is the goal, excluding other options is an over-simplification. Continue reading “Publishing Yourself is (One Part of) the Correct Choice (Guest Post by Ed Teja)”


What Are You Reading?

a little night reading
[photo by Zsuzsanna Kilian]
Writers are readers. We get our ideas for stories, characters, complications and solutions from reading. We pick up new words and new ways to use old words. We absorb cadence, rhythm, pulse.

Any mystery-lover who reads A Long, Hard Look will see the influence of, not just Chandler, but Christie, Francis, Stout, and Asimov; perhaps even a twist of Richard Halliburton. The homage to Chandler is intentional, and Phil Brennan owes as much to Archie Goodwin as to Philip Marlowe.

There’s a cooking competition show called Chopped Continue reading “What Are You Reading?”


Acting on 1 Idea (Guest Post by Chris Taylor)

Chris Taylor gave me the nudge I needed to start acting on all the books I read. Here’s some background on what he does, and why.
I’m including the feature-length version of Chris’ bio because it’s so cool.

By the time he was 22 years old, Chris was leading a sales team of 120 independent contractors. His team consistently ranked in the top three productivity offices of roughly one-thousand North American teams. He attributes his team’s consistently high performance to a relentless focus on leader and culture development.

Chris left Direct Sales in 2006 to pursue his passion of leadership and team culture development on a larger scale, and founded Actionable Books in 2008. ActionableBooks.com – a company dedicated to using business books as a platform for leader and team growth – earned Chris 2009’s Entrepreneurial Spirit Award, a shortlisting for PROFIT’s Fuel Awards (2011) and has been the topic of articles in the Globe & Mail, Toronto Star and Toronto Business Times, as well as an audio interview for Profit Magazine’s BusinessCast.

In 2010, Chris launched “Actionable Interviews” a video interview series with best selling business book authors and leading thinkers in the business space. To date he’s conducted 42 interviews for the series, with highlights including Seth Godin, Dan Pink, Susan Cain and Sir Ken Robinson. It’s through these conversations that Chris developed The Salaried Entrepreneur™; an innovative team development methodology that’s being used internationally by companies large and small.

Chris currently lives in Spain with his wife, Amy.


Year-Long Workshop: Get Your Book Out of the Someday Box in 2014

was this place new when you started your novel?What if I could lead you by the hand and promise that in 2014 you’d finally finish that novel?

What’s more, what if I gave you greatly increased chances that it would be good?

Is that worth paying for?

Details to come.


Self-Publishing Jump Start and Long Game

Writing to make a profit in 2013 requires either wild blind luck or choosing to write over-the-line sexual encounters. For this brief moment in history, books are a commodity: far more supply than demand.

Stick with it for 5 years, and the opportunists will have faded away or been pruned by market response.

For now, write because you have something to say. Word toward making a profit 5 years from now.

If you understand that self-publishing is a business which is connected to but not the same as the art of writing, you’re light-years ahead of many other authors.

photo http://www.sxc.hu/photo/873643 by K Rayker http://www.sxc.hu/profile/krayker
Continue reading “Self-Publishing Jump Start and Long Game”


Discovering Book Design: One Small Step

I asked the talented Dave Bricker for recommendations on book design, especially interior layout. He recommended Richard Hendel’s On Book Design.

And for the first time in a very long time, I’m completely sucked into a new discipline.

It’s a hygiene sort of art; when you’re done, it should be invisible. Most readers know nothing about book design. Most people I’ve talked to, voracious readers, never thought about what goes into the layout of the interior of a book until I mentioned it.

The exploration has just begun. I’ll be taking it slow, not wanting to derail the rewrite of anodyne. Besides, these books are semi-rare and not cheap.

I’ll keep you posted.


Planning My Days Around Willpower

Dan Pink shared 4 lessons from Manage Your Day-to-Day in his newsletter. Number 1 has been on my radar since a recent chat with Mark McGuinness (who wrote one section of the book.)

“The single most important change you can make in your working habits is to switch to creative work first, reactive work second. This means blocking off a large chunk of time every day for creative work on your own priorities, with the phone and e-mail off.”

I posted the graphic a couple days ago. Here’s the detail:
Continue reading “Planning My Days Around Willpower”