Advice · On writing

Don’t tell me what you’re going to do

Don’t tell me what you’re going to do, just do it. Afterwards tell me what you did, and if there’s time tell me how you did it.

Over the years, most people who have told me that they are writing a book, or have “just started” a book, or are going to write a book have not finished the job. I do it myself with all sorts of projects and plans. Before posting anything on this Blog I talked to people about it, told a few friends what I was planning, asked if they’d take a look when it was ready and give feedback. That was in 2013. It took over two years before I even set it up. For me talking about something first makes it less likely to happen, and the more people I tell the longer it gets delayed.

I discussed this many years ago with an old school-friend, whose advice I value, and whose lifestyle has been rather alternative at times. (How alternative? Well, he spent many years living on an ashram in India, with a guru.) He’s back in the UK now so we speak more regularly than we used to. He was very helpful with the final draft of “1000 Memories”, a book that I only talked about when it was ready for readers (or beta readers to be more accurate). We agreed how talking about certain things makes them less likely to happen: in his words talking about it “takes the energy out of” a project.

I mention this because it’s happening now. Yesterday I talked to people about a draft that needs finishing, talked about its progress, set aside time to work on it, and then failed to make any progress. I’m writing this piece instead of getting on with it, but that’s what happens when you talk about things before they’re ready. I can’t tell you any more about it than that, otherwise I’ll never finish the bloody thing but when it’s done you’ll be able to read about it here. I should have learnt by now, but I constantly surprise myself.

As mentioned many times elsewhere on these pages there are at least two kinds of people in the world. (To use my standard catchphrase for this, because “there are two kinds of people in the world” doesn’t go far enough: “for every aspect of personality and behaviour there are at least two kinds of people in the world.”) I know people who get things moving by talking about them first, and then talking about their progress constantly (and, to my mind, in often mind-numbing detail, to just about anyone who’ll listen). The work gets done though, eventually, sometimes at great cost to those of us who had to listen to its progress. It’s how these people work. I think that they’re in a minority, maybe 10% of people. For every ten people who has told me that they’re writing a book only one book gets written.

So, what are you working on right now? No, don’t tell me. Wait until it’s finished, and I’ll try and do the same.

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