And yet, it's been three years since my last book. (I wasn't sure I could handle a novel straight out of the gate and so I started with a collection of short stories). I have pages in my bullet journal filled with story ideas, and I even started writing a romance novel. I'm 171 pages in, and I'm about 1/3 of the way through the story (I'm thrilled, because I never considered myself the "long-form" type). I know the novel I'm going to write, I know how to write it, and yet I haven't written it. The question I had to ask myself was: Why not?
Between my own justifications of why I haven't finished a novel yet, and the reasons I often hear from other people, I put together this list. Nearly every one of these reasons we give is at least in some respect an excuse. But, while we may have our justifications for not writing the book, I imagine our real reason is strikingly similar.
There are, of course, two answers to this. The short answer is: As long as it takes. Some books are perfect at 50,000 words and some need at least 100,000. Your story dictates the length.
The long answer also is: As long as it takes. And this is the hard part. It's hard to get yourself in the frame of mind to stretch a story to a desired and appropriate length. How do you know if it's just right or if it needs to be longer? Practice. Reading and study of authors who have published and published well. But not only that. In some cases it's a guessing game. I've read plenty of books that have ended too quickly and I've read plenty that went far past their adequate ending.
But it's not fair to ourselves, and to our stories, to simply use "it's too long" as justification to never begin the process of writing a novel. Yes, 100,000 words is a lot of words. But is 1,000 words too many? Likely not -- it's about two single-spaced pages. Could you write 1,000 words in one sitting? Probably. Could you do it over and over again, approximately 100 times? More or less. Start small -- at whatever number seems comfortable to you -- and build from yesterday's accomplishment until you're finished.
Of course, you don't need to sit down and pound out the whole ordeal in one sitting. That would be insane (looking at you, Kerouac) and no one expects that out of any author. Not even James Patterson or Nicholas Sparks. But can you spare 30 minutes a day? Probably. Set 30 minutes each day to sit and write. It doesn't matter if it's perfect (Spoiler: It's not going to be perfect) but it will be on the page. Worry about the perfection in the editing stage.
People who make things priorities schedule them. They make sure they have the time. You don't want to miss a doctor's appointment or a meeting with a new client, so you write it down and block out the time. Do the same with your book. Set the time and keep it. Make the commitment to yourself and follow through.
But, also as Patchett argues, the issue isn't whether or not everyone has a story in them. It's not the story, but the ability to get the story out. When you use "I don't have a story to tell" as a reason to write, you're missing the key element. You may very well have a story to tell, you just don't know how best to tell it.
The reason I get hung up on actually following through with my goals is that I like having something to work toward. I always want to be moving forward, and having a carrot dangling in front of me helps push me through the muck of everyday life into the life I want. But let's say I sit down and knock out 1,000 words a day for the next 100 days? And then I spend a few months editing, formatting, and publishing this book and putting it out into the world. What happens then? Let's say I do 100 push ups a day until you can see where my shoulder meets my bicep, what happens then? My issue isn't that I don't have a goal, it's that I don't know what I would do if I didn't have a goal to work toward. I'd be in limbo, and that is what scares me.
I don't consider myself particularly extraordinary, and so I suspect there are other people who are like me in these insecurities. It's easy to have a dream. We're in award show season -- you can't flip the channel without hearing someone talking about the importance of having a dream while holding their golden statuette. Dreams are easy, because they're out there. They're something you can talk about working toward without actually achieving. But goals are hard. Goals can be accomplished, and when you reach that particular summit you have to look around and figure out what to do next. There's immense freedom in this, but with this freedom comes the potential for free fall, and it's terrifying.
So where do we go from here? I'm not about to say "well, goal are hard. The end" because 1) This is an awful way to go through life and 2) It helps exactly no one. But getting past the fear of limbo and actually accomplishing the goals you set for yourself is a very personal journey. For some of us, it's as simple as recognizing the fear, sitting down, and knocking it out. For others, it takes a little more personal development work. But regardless of what your journey may be, I'd encourage you to be.