When Good Advice Goes Out the Window: Down The Writing Rabbit Hole

She generally gave herself good advice (though she seldom followed it)

Chapter 1: Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland

I found myself down a writing rabbit hole the other week.  I was trying to finish work on a book of writing tips, culled from the best of Confident Writing.  I was two weeks beyond my self-imposed deadline (the end of October) and I was struggling to get it done.

As I felt myself falling further down the rabbit hole I realised with a wry smile that I was happily ignoring all my best advice.

I was, amongst other sins:

Procrastinating hopelessly: spinning away fruitless hours neither writing nor doing anything else useful

Stuck in a stuck state: rather than doing something to break state I was wallowing in a state of stuckness

Attached to my own words: compiling a ‘best of’ means letting go of things that are rather less than best.  Trouble was, once I’d put them in to the first cut I was loath to let them go. (‘Well they are quite good, it would be a shame to lose them altogether’ she wheedled.  Yes, like Alice, I talk to myself.  Don’t you?)

The last point did eventually give me the key though.  I rememberd something I’d written way back on the 5 things you can do with the words you didn’t use.  It included (quite good) advice to let them go, and store them for a different time to use them again.

I suddenly realised that the words I was attached to really didn’t belong in this book.  But I could do something else with them (put them into a free e-book, coming soon.)  This realisation meant I could cut them, quick.  The act of letting go, of cutting the words that needed to be cut, helped me to put my editor’s hat on and see the words from my readers’ point of view, rather than my own.

Working on the free material made me realise something else too.  I didn’t have any problems finding the time and the motivation to edit the e-book and get it ready to publish here.  I’d written two before.  I had the format set up. I knew what I was going to do with it.  I knew the audience (all of you: friends and supporters.)  If pepole didn’t rate it, no bother, I wasn’t asking them for money anyway.

Ouch.  I’d hit the nail on the head.

Working on a free e-book was easy.  It was like blogging.  I was safely in my comfort zone.  Finishing the book to publish, market and sell was an altogether different proposition.  Moving out of our comfort zones throws up all sorts of fears - which is why we start procrastinating, and prevaricating, and staying safely stuck.

Fortunately I do sometimes know how to take my own medicine.

Once I’d recognised the problem it was easier to work out what to do.

This is an experiment, I told myself.  The words are familiar but the format and the media is not.  You’re exposing yourself to a new set of readers.  That’s a good thing - but it throws up all those imagined voices that the inner critic loves to whisper in my ear.

Luckily for me I’d already worked out a way to beat the inner critic.  Focus on your purpose: it’ll trump your fears.

So that’s what I did.  I focused on my purpose: to share my ideas, to find new and better ways to help people write with confidence, to get to know a new set of readers.

The first draft is finished, and I’m now into a different, more practical stage.  Working out how best to get it published.

I don’t know what the final result will look like, or how it will read.

But I’ve already learned from the experiment - and that for me’s a result.

This piece is a contribution to this month’s Group Writing Project: The Results Of My Writing Experiment.

If you’d like to take part you can write and publish your piece any time up to the end of November. Entries could include:

  • Looking back on something you tried, and what you learned from it
  • Writing about something you want to experiment with and what you hope will come from it
  • Sharing the results of a writing experiment you tried - or are prompted to try by this project!

I’ll include a round up of entries early next month.  To make sure your piece is included link back to the original post and leave a comment there to make sure I don’t miss it.

Photo Credit: Down the Rabbit Hole by Valkyrieh116 on flickr

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20 Comments

  1. Joanna,

    Congratulations on finishing your first draft, and best of luck during the publishing stage.

    I’m certain that readers of will derive many hours of enjoyment from your book, whilst picking up some valuable ideas at the same time.

    From what I’ve read on this blog, your own writing seems to reflect a very clear structure, as well as a warm personality, so I am certain that your book will be full of wonderful and thoughtful ideas.

    I’m glad that you were able to learn from your own lessons in this case. Following one’s own sound advice can be a lot more difficult than giving the advice in the first place.

    Andrews last blog post..Guest post from Brad Shorr

  2. Lillie Ammann · · Reply

    Congratulations on taking your own good advice, Joanna, and on moving forward with your e-book.

    Lillie Ammanns last blog post..New Review for Dream or Destiny

  3. Brad Shorr · · Reply

    Joanna, Glad to hear you got unstuck. It’s always a little scary when you’re facing something new, a natural reaction. Thanks for arming us with a strategy for overcoming it. Best of luck with this and all your projects.

    Brad Shorrs last blog post..A Dream Comes True - the 100 Comment Post

  4. Robert Hruzek · · Reply

    It’s ironic that I’ve experienced all three of those same rabbit-holes this last week! I think it’s something endemic to all writers everywhere, Joanna.

    But you make a good point about gettin’ out of the comfort zone. That’s something I’d like to do more of. Maybe it’s time to get started on that book I keep tellin’ myself about…

    Robert Hruzeks last blog post..The Generosity of Others

  5. Andrew, thank you so much for that feedback. Can I borrow you to write the blurb for the back of the book?!

    Lillie, thank you. I bet you’ve rescued your clients from many of these rabbit holes over the years!

    Brad, thank you once again for your support. Knowing that you are all there makes all of these things so much easier.

    Robert, indeed, when I read your guest post I was struck by the similarity of our message…

  6. Karen Swim · · Reply

    Joanna, congratulations on the book! I look forward to purchasing and promoting it! This month of experiments has been enlightening for me. With each bold step you’ve taken I find myself inspired to do the same. Thank you for your transparency and sharing your own writing struggles. It helps to know that the teacher sometimes becomes her own student. :-) I know the book and the e-book will both be great. Glad I climbed out the rabbit hole for a visit. :-)

    Karen Swims last blog post..Waiting for the Train

  7. Karen, thank you, and for the encouragement to get this book up and out there :-)

  8. Good for you, Joanna! (And, what, procrastinating is a BAD thing? Huh. Why did nobody ever tell me??)

    -Debs last blog post..Pondering

  9. Thanks -Deb. Funny, I know your question was in jest, but it has got me wondering… is procrastination really such a bad thing, or are there other processes at work in the background? I tend to find when I’m ready to do something whether it’s writing or making a big life change - it happens at the right time, and couldn’t have happened before. What do you think?

  10. WoW, it sounds great to me here, Joanna. Would you mind to send me a copy of ebook for review, after you’ve published it? :)

    I’m sure it will be another incredible ebook…

    wilsons last blog post..Basic Weight Loss Tips

  11. Wilson, thank you - the e-book comes out on Friday. When the book itself comes out I’ll make sure you get a copy. You deserve it from such loyal and supportive commenting!

  12. Joanna, I feel that you might live in my head periodically - your post reads like the voice in my head! LOL.

    Love your thoughts and your wisdom … all so true, and very appropriate for stuff going on in Life as well as writing.

    Thank You!

    Michelles last blog post..Spreading JOY through ‘Pay it Forward’ cards and a New Look Site!

  13. Barbara Swafford · · Reply

    Hi Joanna and Congratulations! - Stepping out of our comfort zone can be scary. Like you, I often finds just the thought of it throws me into the procrastination mode.

    Barbara Swaffords last blog post..NBOTW - An Explorer Of Life

  14. Michelle, it’s funny when that happens - I often have the same feeling as I dot about the blogosphere.

    Barbara - thank you. Comfort zones are the strangest things - we feel so stuck at the edges of them, then so good (temporarily at least!) when we get through them to whatever’s on the other side.

  15. Robyn McMaster · · Reply

    Joanna, in essence we’re doing the first [free] to benefit others and the second for ourselves and others, too [publishing book]. The latter might be a more creative drawing card, because in the end, it has much more significance.

    Hmmm… In thinking about words you save. I’m very interested in that concept. Do you have a notebook in which you write these ideas and grow them? What’s your process? Why can’t you use the words in both mediums with creative adjustment to match the different environments?

    Robyn McMasters last blog post..Driving Under Influence of Cells

  16. Robyn McMaster · · Reply

    By the way, I’m looking forward to your e-book.

    Robyn McMasters last blog post..Driving Under Influence of Cells

  17. Robyn, you’re right, the second will ultimately have more significance. Perhaps that is also why I was/am a little afraid of it.

    In terms of the words I don’t use I have ideas on scraps of paper and fully worked up bits of writing on a computer. Knowing that the words didn’t fit was - hard to put my fingers on, but an instinct, an honesty, a sense of recognition that they just weren’t in the right place. It was too much for that container, or not quite right for the audience or purpose.

    I’ll reflect further on this - there’s probably a post in it!

    Thanks for your good wishes and support, as always.

  18. For me the fear has to do with the expectations of others. People are generally happy with a free resource that gives them good information. However, plunking money down on a book, the reader has higher expectations. It’s my own issue you described so well. No wonder so many writers work for next to nothing (I’m not referring to you, but those of us with much less experience). Sometimes it’s easier to believe you are worth a lesser amount than to have the confidence to up your price.

    Gratz on finishing your draft!!

    bs last blog post..Spouses Just Don’t Understand

  19. b, you’re right - or maybe, what we imagine to be the expectations of others.

    I guess after a while we have to let go of that fear of what others will think and trust our own instinct. That doesn’t mean not thinking about your reader, it doesn’t mean you don’t edit with a sharp knife in hand… but it does mean, somehow, trusting in the value of our own words.

    Thanks for the encouragement.

  20. [...] shared what happens when good advice goes out the window, and finding my way out of the writing rabbit hole. This is an experiment, I told myself.  The words are familiar but the format and the media is [...]

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