The Road to Writing Hell

“The road to writing hell is paved

with procrastination.”

I said this the other night to some writing buddies when we were talking about how hard it is to finish a manuscript.

Philip Roth had once said, “The road to hell is paved with works-in-progress,” and while this is true, I want to argue that it isn’t the WIPs that are the problem. It’s our fearful, resistant energy and attitude that are the problem.

Listen, it’s the third week of NaNoWriMo, and manymanymany writers are buckling down to reach their personal finish line. Maybe it’s the traditional 50K words in 30 days, or maybe it’s something else entirely.

Regardless—it’s a goal. How many will actually achieve it?

First off—I want to say that having multiple WIPs hanging around, waiting for you to do something with them, isn’t a bad thing UNLESS YOU ARE BOTHERED BY IT.

And if you are bothered by it, then make a decision, a firm decision about how you’re going to tackle them and turn them into something that brings you satisfaction, fulfillment, and joy.

But staring at your long list of unfinished works and feeling negative about it all is the worst thing you can do.

Procrastination is fear-based. When we procrastinate, it means we are either (1) uninterested in the task or (2) we are worried we aren’t up to the task.

If you’re procrastinating because you’re uninterested in the task, that’s because it’s bringing you no joy.

In terms of our writing, there’s fear lurking there. Fear that we aren’t good enough. Fear that our writing sucks. Fear that people will either laugh or yawn at your story idea. Fear that you’re on the wrong path.

If that’s what is happening—then surrender.

Put it away and start a new story. If you’re uninterested in writing in general, then you need to focus your attention on a new hobby or a different area of your life for awhile and let your creative self do some healing and processing. Setting your writing aside short-term is not the same as quitting—you’re taking a break so you can find a strong starting point and that is a healthy choice.

If you’re procrastinating because you aren’t up to the task then you need a love-punch. (I will dole out three for you.)

Love Punch 1: Stop complaining that you don’t have the time. If you have the time to read this post, you have the time to write a page in your WIP. If you have the time to play video games or watch Survivor, you have the time to write a chapter in your WIP.

Love Punch 2: Stop complaining that you don’t know what to write next. Work out a structure with strong narrative drive—kill off a character, destroy the evidence, set the house on fire, kidnap the witness—do something for your book that brings YOU back to life.

Love Punch 3: Stop complaining that your book sucks. Get a writing partner, hire a coach/editor—figure out what you need to do to get things on track again.

Stop resisting the tough stuff. Writing is hard. Making time to write is hard. Developing characters, constructing a solid foundation that won’t sag in the middle, tightening & revising—yes, all of that is hard.

But if it were easy—would you be this passionate about it? If it were easy, would you care this much about it?

Embrace how hard it is. That’s what makes your creative life so sweet, so worth every drop of fight.

12 thoughts on “The Road to Writing Hell”

  1. An inspiring post that rings true for many projects besides writing a novel. I’ve been complaining about doing some chores around the house, procrastinating. But you’re right… just do it already. Best of luck with your writing this month, I know you’re embracing it.

    • I have to laugh at your comment because I am a terrible procrastinator when it comes to house chores. But whenever I do take the time to deal with laundry, dusting, weeding the garden–I feel really good. But is it a better feeling than being able to write all day with no interruptions? Jury is still out on that. 🙂

    • I hear you, Erika. Right now, I’m feeling a bit vulnerable about “not being up to the task” because I’m dealing with NaNoWriMo, and pushing through a lot of distractions and fear to meet my month-end goal. I find that whenever I give myself a tough writing challenge to accomplish, the dreaded monsters appear on the trail . . .

  2. Thanks, Kate. I needed this right now. I’m heading to the Big Sur Writing Workshop at the beginning of December, and I have not made any headway on revising my novel. I’ve been focusing on picture books. But the call of the novel is getting stronger every day, and my critique group is expecting something from me in the middle of December, so I’ve got to get going. Thanks for the push!

    • The demand of a critique group is a mighty reason to get cracking on that novel! For me, I find being accountable to other people can oftentimes be more motivating than accountability to myself–so if that sounds like you too, then keep your critique group (and their expectations) front and center in your mind. 🙂

  3. As always, I enjoy your exposing talents. I wrote this about Writer’s Block – There is a need to break down this element of inertia in order to take control over its effects. For me, there are three distinct maladies wrapped up in this term that tend to muddle the resolution.
    Plot Impediment
    Character Hissy-fit
    Writer’s Malaise
    But you delve deeper into the personal impediment of procrastination and the primal fear that lies beneath that! One thing I tell those on the journey of improvement. Procrastination is just another indicator of potential growth. Don’t avoid it or hate it, use it to grown. When it strikes, acknowledge why, and then choose a better response to that part of life’s journey.

    • Yes! Bill, love that. It IS an indicator of potential growth–which is probably why fear crops up so readily. Not many of us like change, and going from “work-in-progress” to “finished manuscript” is one hell of a change.

  4. Love the enthusiasm in the post Kate. So weird I just wrote a similar paragraph in an article I’m currently drafting, where I say the same thing – if you’re writing a book that you’ve lost the passion for (which I was), tuck it away for another day. I wasted a year on a book I couldn’t feel the love for any longer last year. I took a year off book writing, but wrote stories, poetry, and 3 monthly columns I wrote for, as well as journaled many future ideas, and I suddenly became inspired to write another book one day while searching out a book on Amazon, when a certain book ad caught my eye. Boom, my new idea was born. We never know when inspiration will hit, but we must learn to know when it’s time to walk away and move on. Also, I’d like to add, I have 2 crates of journals of stories and ideas, and chapters of unpublished writing. These are wonderful things to look back at to extract some of that work to put into new works. Oh, sorry if I went on here, but you asked, lol. 🙂

    • Oh my word, Debbie, I love hearing that. Inspiration will strike anytime, anywhere. And usually when we least expect it. Which is why it’s always a good idea to remain open and aware! I’m a huge fan of journaling ideas (and I love hearing what’s going on with you!). Along those lines: I am doing my usual pre-holiday organization of my basement ( so I can actually get to my Christmas decorations), and I found some old stories I wrote–evidence that these were pieces I decided no longer needed to be kept in my study and have now been demoted to the basement. 😛 It’s funny how we move on from ideas that we once thought were so amazing, only to see them end up in a three-ring binder in a plastic container next to a case of discounted wine. 🙂

  5. Those are great tips. And I love “multiple WIPs hanging around, waiting for you to do something with them, isn’t a bad thing UNLESS YOU ARE BOTHERED BY IT” Isn’t that the truth? I’m coming around to that opinion.


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