Writing a book vs. re-inventing the wheel

Anyone who says they’re a writer or a journalist will – at some point in their career – be asked whether they’re ever going to write a book. The question might be inevitable, but the answer takes a little more than fate to explain.

(And, before you ask: yes, it’s on my bucket list too – albeit written in pencil at the moment.)

It goes without saying that a lot of writers and journalists dream of writing a really successful book one day that pays for a decent retirement and then continues to do so for a long time thereafter. A similar dream is shared by musicians that wish to write a timeless hit-single, or painters who want their own Mona Lisa hanging-up in a historical art gallery… but, in all cases, doing it well is very different from doing it at all.

So, then, it’s time to cue the rhetorical question: why not get on with it, and just do it?
My bin of “recycled book ideas” is teeming with potential (he brags), but I haven’t yet been able to root myself in one idea and follow it through to the end. Time (surprisingly enough) isn’t the issue; rather, it’s the start-to-finish commitment that has, up until now, always thrown me off track. The idea of finishing this book rather than another, and the doubt of whether this idea is going to be worth the effort or not, hang like black clouds over my confidence. These clouds gradually become heavier, and usually end in thundershowers, unfinished sentences, and half-written books.

But why is it so hard to write a book? Moreover, why is it so hard to get started, not to mention finish the damn thing?

The first to blame is our ego. There’s nothing worse than putting your heart into something you really love, only to have people shrug at it, indifferently, and politely change the subject. The thought alone sends our insecurity into overdrive, and blocks any productive thought.

Then, there’s uncertainty; that confidence-crippling “WHAT IF” that smoulders in your mind, branded by the hot, iron rod of overthinking. “What if your other idea would be better received by pubishers? What if no-one else likes your writing? What if you’re rushing? What if your idea isn’t original enough?” If you had as much to say as that little voice inside your head, you probably would have written your book by now.

However, insecurity and uncertainty aside, there’s still the (almost inevitable) “motivational pothole.” This is the part in the writing process where one loses interest, and thinks that maybe it isn’t worth it. Perhaps you take a break and lose momentum, or you reach a writer’s block and can’t overcome it… either way, the pothole becomes an ever-deepening crater that gradually becomes more and more difficult to get out of. It’s the cause for most of the half-written books or half-developed ideas in the world, and is the most critical point in any writing process. If you manage to see it through, and race over the hole in the road, you’ll be a lot closer to finishing your book, with far fewer obstacles that might stop you from doing so.

Would re-inventing the wheel be easier? Probably, but I’m a writer – and not an engineer – so it wouldn’t be as rewarding, and probably wouldn’t work very well either.

And so: just because these art forms are a “creative process” doesn’t mean they are easy to do, or without struggle. Difficulties arise, life happens, and we need to acknowledge that we hardly ever have the luxury to be creatives without any other obligations or responsibilities. As a result, we’re going to be holding our book (or whatever else we’re pursuing) in the one hand, while still holding the rest of our lives in the other – and some of us will be running on treadmills too (kudos if that’s you; you’re a trooper).

Whatever it is that you’re trying to finish – a book, a symphony, or a canvas – don’t stop at the first hurdle. Fall over a few, run around a couple more, and remember that it’s only difficult because you’re fighting against yourself – and nothing else.

Your biggest challenge is your own doubt. You aren’t re-inventing the wheel; you aren’t re-inventing anything at all. You’re creating something entirely new and, thus, you should feel comfortable to trust your creativity to carry you forward. Everything is, to some degree, subjective – even to you, so don’t be too harsh on yourself.

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