RSS Feed

When it Comes to ReWriting That Novel, Are You Too Busy To Start?

August 9, 2015 by Diane

hand opening red curtain on white.

It starts innocently enough.

“Oh goodie, a new book about writing,” you say. “I’ll add it to the stack of books that I have no time to read.”

And then…

“Lookie! Another blog to distract me from my own work. I’ll subscribe!”


“Oh joy! Another novel to analyze, so I can become a better novelist.”

Until someday, some voice inside your head pipes up:

“Hold on, buster. When are you going to rewrite that novel? All of this reading is taking time away from your work. GET BACK IN THE SADDLE!”

“But I’m too busy!” you whine.

“Doing WHAT?”

Good question.

Gooooood question.

If you’re like me, you have no idea what’s keeping you occupied, but one thing is certain: you’re so busy doing it.

Here’s how busy looks:

You decide to just spend five minutes on Twitter. You set the timer. You start reading your Twitter feed. Five minutes later the timer is beeping and you’re reaching over to turn it off and you’re NOT EVEN AWARE. You’re entrenched in Twitterdom, and at some point you look up and say, “Hey, didn’t the alarm go off?”

That’s twenty minutes of unconscious time.

You tell yourself, “I’ll just check my emails.”

Thirty minutes later, you’re still checking.

“I’ll just check what’s on TV.”

One hour.

“I’ll just go through my inbox. Rearrange the stuff in there, write up a new To-Do list.”

Thirty minutes.

“I’ll just…”

Just. Just. Just.

There’s no justice in this mindless activity. You lose every time. You lose the opportunity to rewrite a chapter. Lose the connection to your muse. Lose the creative juice, the thread you were following, the through-action of that novel. You lose.

Being busy is the easy option, says Tony Crabbe, author of Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much.

Easy? What’s so easy about feeling overwhelmed?

According to Crabbe, it’s a method of avoidance, of feeling productive even though we’re procrastinating from doing a hard task. And it’s addictive, a dopamine rush every time we check our smartphones.

You’re overwhelmed by all the books teetering on the shelf. You’re overwhelmed by all the emails lined up in your inbox. You’re overwhelmed because you’re turning your focus away from what you long to do, and now your eyes are spinning from all the distractions.

“Hold on,” you say. “I really am busy. I’ve got meals to cook, and laundry to wash, and clients to meet, and kids to shuttle, and property to show and…”

Okay, okay. You’re busy. Got it. But isn’t it interesting that you have time to do all that, and no time to do the one thing, the ONE THING, that only you can do?

If you croaked tomorrow, someone else would, and could, cook the meals and wash the laundry and meet the clients and shuttle the kids and sell the house that Jack built.

But no one else could write your novel. No one.

So what’s the cure for all this busyness?

First: admit what you’re doing. Out loud. To people you know. “I could be rewriting my novel, but I’m reading this blog post instead.” (Oops, bad example.) “I’m loafing. I’m avoiding.”

Second: own it. Don’t blame your parents, your spouse, your kids, your job, or the executives of ABC programming. You’re the one who’s choosing to engage in behavior that’s not conducive to novel-writing (or cake decorating, or picture-taking, or whatever it is that you’re so actively avoiding). But be kind to yourself. Recognize and accept what you’re doing, and laugh.

Third: feel your way along; even if it’s on hands and knees in the dark. You can’t get to the finish line by gazing at the moon. And you can’t remain stuck if you start moving.

Fourth: Make your art your priority. Says Bernard Roth, author of The Achievement Habit: It won’t get done by checking your email. I’ll add: it won’t get done by hopping on social media sites, or sleeping in, or watching Bachelor in Paradise. Stop telling yourself, “I’ll just check my blog statistics.” Instead, say, “I’ll just rewrite one chapter of my novel.”

Fifth: Stop the busyness. You’ll be surprised at how time opens up when you’re not filling it with mindless activities.

Sixth: GET BACK IN THE SADDLE. Build that writing habit up again and you’ll lose your taste for all that other stuff. And just what was it you were doing, anyway?

Takeaways this week:

Not that I want to add to that teetering stack, but here are two books I recommend:

Busy: How to Thrive in a World of Too Much by Tony Crabbe.

The Achievement Habit: Stop Wishing, Start Doing, and Take Command of Your Life by Bernard Roth.

Check out these tips on how to get back in the writing saddle.

And if you want to know how long it will take you to read that teetering stack, here’s a nifty calculator, courtesy of Read it Forward.


  1. Bun Karyudo says:

    Yep, a lot of those little time wasting activities seem very familiar to me. Another one is making cups of tea, which seems to take up an ordinate amount of my day.

  2. Charli Mills says:

    What gets me every time is that false sense of productivity. When I was in college, I took a course on how to be a better student. I learned to work my A’s off. In the to-do lists of life, you can set your priorities: write XX pages (A), answer email for X minutes (B), read blogs X minutes (C). Then you work your A’s off by doing those first…but after the watering, gardening and second cup of tea! Thanks, this is a great post!

  3. Rosanne Bane says:

    I haven’t seen specific research on the topic, but based on the experience of my writing friends, writing students and coaching clients, and my own experience with the phenomena of course, distractions are probably THE Number 1 cause of writing resistance. Great specific examples and suggestions — thanks.

  4. M.W. Thomas says:

    I was going to be working on some short fiction now, but I found this really cool blog to leave a comment on.

  5. Joan says:

    As always, great advice! Each night I lay in bed (not sleeping) and thinking of how I’m finally going to finish a project or start my Christmas cards or….but then comes morning and my list of “chores” that need to be done that day and another day goes by that I don’t work on what I really want to do! Ugh!!!

    • Diane says:

      Ah-ha! So, here’s the deal: first thing every morning, you work on that project. That’s your sacred time. Thirty minutes. Lay out the supplies the night before if that helps. Chores will wait. They NEVER go away.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *