I’m reading Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson’s book Rework, which has lots of potentially pernicious advice in it but also has this bit, which is good: “What you do is what matters, not what you think or say or plan.” This is equally true of writing, but a lot of would-be writers seem to like the idea of writing more than the actual writing itself.
I often offer this challenge to people who say they want to or wish they could write a novel:
1) Turn off your Internet access and cell phone.
2) Write chapter one over three days (or so; the actual timeframe doesn’t matter, as long as it’s short).
3) Send me the result. I’ll read it and send it back to you.
So far, I think one person I’ve offered that challenge has taken me up on it, and I never got chapter two. I interpret this as meaning that most people who say they want to write a novel (or write anything else, or learn the guitar, or get laid more, or lose weight, or start cooking, or any number of other skilled endeavors) don’t actually want to, because if they did, they would start today. If you shoot for, say, 500 words a day, you’ll have a pile of around 80,000 in six months, leaving some room for missed days, editing, and so forth.
If you shoot for 1,000 words a day, you’ll have it in three months.
This, however, is only the start, which I didn’t realize when I was nearer to the start than I am now. But if you’re not putting in the seat time, writing, you’re not going to do anything and all your intentions aren’t going to matter. Fried and Hansson are pointing this out in the context of business, where it’s equally valid, and there are probably an equal number of people saying, “I should start a business” and “I should write.” Most of them are probably better off not acting on their impulses. But if they do, why not start?