Tough Love for People Who Are Better at Talking About Writing Instead of Actually Writing

By Naseem Hrab


I just binge-watched three seasons of Revenge Body with Khloé Kardashian. If you’re not familiar with this incredible reality television show allow me to tell you about it: in each episode, two normies (they’re just like you and me!) get makeovers with the help of a whole team of personal trainers, nutritionists and stylists. Often participants are seeking revenge on an ex who cheated on them. Surprise twist: By the end of each episode, each person repeatedly recognizes that they wanted to change for themselves and not their ex! AHHH! I LOVE IT SO MUCH!

While I jammed in 18 episodes of the show into two days, I came to a realization: Writing is a lot like exercise. It’s good for you. You often think you’re too busy to do it. You want it to be over before it starts. And you have to do it for yourself—no one else cares.

But … you never regret doing it.

One of my favourite parts of Revenge Body is the personal trainers—they’re knowledgeable, supportive and, most of all, tough. I’m someone who exercises regularly. No one is more shocked about this fact than me. And the only reason I’ve made it to my boot camp class two to three times a week for the past five years is because of my trainer, Mace. He is an expert in tough love.

Unfortunately, there are no personal trainers for writing. There’s no one to sit next to you encouraging you to pump out three more paragraphs. No one to help you crush a second draft. And no one to push you to improve your writing. It’s all on you.


But fear not, dear writer! You can be your own personal trainer! Here are my hot tips:

1) List all the reasons you want to write.

People who don’t want to write don’t think about writing. And people who have no interest in writing don’t spend a moment of time thinking about all the reasons they don’t have time to write. If you think about writing a lot and find yourself writing little stories in your head — you want to write! Stop ignoring that little hum inside of you. Is writing important to you or not? Figure it out.

2) Stop talking yourself out of writing.

I get it, I get it! Between work and going to brunch and raising kids, this modern life is so busy! But these are all excuses … and maybe your excuses are more important to you than your writing. Maybe you’re not actually interested in writing. Return to Step #1.

3) Imagine your ultimate goal.

What’s your dream when it comes to your writing? What do you ultimately want to accomplish? Where do you see yourself in a year? In two years? Having written three picture book manuscripts you’re thrilled with? With a book deal from your favourite publisher? Be precise.

4) Make one meaningful change to work towards your big goal.

Just one. Don’t set out to wake up at 5am and write every morning if you’re not a morning person. You’d probably have to make at least ten changes to make that viable. But maybe you can make it a goal to write for fifteen minutes every night at 10pm. Be realistic. Don’t worry — you’ll implement more changes as your commitment gets stronger, so just start with one.

5) Make this single meaningful change your bright line.

A bright line is well-defined rule that you will not break under any circumstances. Don’t make fuzzy promises. Come up with a clear change and stick to it.

6) Don’t let your brain trick you.

The moment I sat down to write this column, my brain suddenly said, “Your laptop screen is filthy. Clean it now.” So, I stopped writing and cleaned it. My laptop screen has been filthy for three months. Why did it suddenly matter to me? Then my brain said, “You should wash your bed sheets.” And then my brain said, “Short ribs. Why are thinly-cut short ribs called Miami ribs, Google?” Sensing a pattern? My brain is equally skilled at leading me away my dreams and leading me towards them.

7) Make space for writing.

To make time for writing you will have to make sacrifices. But maybe you can cut clutter out of your life first. How are you spending your time? What are you doing that you don’t want to do anymore? Start cutting those things out before you make larger sacrifices like minimizing time with friends or family.

8) Learn to be uncomfortable.

Trying to do twenty push-ups is uncomfortable. Staring at an empty page is uncomfortable. Not hanging out with your friends or family as much as you’d like is uncomfortable. But guess what? Not achieving your dreams is also very, very uncomfortable. Life will never be absolutely comfortable, so choose your discomfort.

9) Don’t beat yourself up when everything crumbles.

You will fall back on old habits. You will go through days of not writing. Don’t beat yourself up. Be kind. Take pause. Move on. What changed? Maybe you need to remind yourself why you want to write. Refer to your list. Maybe you need to adjust your one meaningful change ever so slightly. Maybe 10pm is too late and you’re too sleepy to write, but 9pm is perfect. Remember the twelve times you did write for 15 minutes at 10pm, not the three times you didn’t. Use that to motivate yourself to move forward.

10) Don’t binge-watch three seasons Revenge Body with Khloé Kardashian. Write.

Now stop avoiding what you want. Go after it! You can dooooo it!

The views expressed by Open Book columnists are those held by the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Open Book.

Naseem Hrab is the author of the picture books Ira Crumb Makes a Pretty Good Friend and Ira Crumb Feels the Feelings, illustrated by Josh Holinaty. Her comedy writing has appeared on McSweeney's Internet Tendency and The Rumpus. Sometimes Naseem likes to get up on a stage and tell true stories. She loves improv and coffee ice cream.

She worked as a librarian for a time and currently works in children's publishing.