The Non-Fiction Writer’s Voice

A few weeks ago I was talking to a young lady at my church. We got on the topic of dreams and goals, and she started telling me how she never really had any aspirations for herself when she was growing up. She never wanted or expected to BE anything. This, of course, led to a conversation about God-given dreams, and allowing ourselves to expand our dreams until they look like God’s dreams for us. Basically, it was a real-life discussion of one of the major themes in Dream Chasers. So before the conversation was over, I ran to my bookshelf and found a copy to give her.

A few days ago we had a second conversation and she said something that I simply wasn’t expecting. She said, “My favorite thing about reading your book is that I can hear your voice when I read it. It sounds just like you!”

Yup, her favorite thing about the book (so far … I hope) was that the writer’s voice was a familiar one. She could recognize my turn of phrase, my speech patterns, my personal style. And that got me thinking about an author’s voice, and how absolutely vital it is to find and cultivate a voice that stays true to who you are, especially when you write non-fiction.

You see even though we’re writing non-fiction, we still have a responsibility to be compelling. Whether we’re telling a story, making an argument, or explaining a process, we want our readers to remain engaged. Maybe someone will pick up your book because they’re interested in your topic, but if your voice doesn’t capture their imagination, they won’t read on to the end. And they certainly won’t pick up your next book. But if a reader likes the WAY you write, if they like the voice you use, they’ll pick up your next book even if they don’t care about the topic, just because they want to read what you’re writing.

How do I know this? Because I love reading non-fiction! But I don’t love specific categories or topics. I love individual authors. I’ll pick up a book if the title or the topic catches my interest, but I can normally tell within the first chapter whether I’ll be able to read through to the end (because I like the author’s voice) or if I’m going to be putting it down and never picking it up again.

In fact, it just happened to me a few months ago. I was delayed at an airport, browsing through the bookstore, and found a book on an aspect of the Revolutionary War that I thought just HAD to be gripping.  Nope. Not even close. There was nothing wrong with the book, but I was so put off by the writer’s narrative style that I closed the book after 12 pages. It’s on my bookshelf now, but I know I’ll probably never open it again.

On the other hand, there are authors who I enjoy so much that I’ll read anything they write, even when it’s not a topic I care about. Why? Because I’m confident that they can make me care about it. Their writing is so compelling, so entertaining, so engaging that I feel safe in their hands. Regardless of what they’re going to say, I know I’m going to enjoy how they say it.

THAT is the kind of writer we all want to be. But how do we get there. How do we get all our readers thinking (or at least subconsciously recognizing) that you sound like you?

Well, first its important to breathe a little life into your writing from time to time. Remember that nonfiction doesn’t mean dull and lifeless. If you read your work out loud and you sound like a professor reading out of a textbook, something’s wrong. You should sound like the professor that teaches the textbook material in a way that the students understand and enjoy!

Secondly, you should take the time to figure out what makes you unique as a writer. What are your strengths? Are you funny? Are you a good storyteller? Are you sarcastic? Are you persuasive? Can you paint images with your words? Can you present tons of details in a way that illuminates the bigger picture? Whatever those strengths are, embrace them! Use them! They’re what make you sound like YOU, and your readers will come to want and expect those things.

Thirdly, remember to remain consistent. Even if you switch between wildly different topics, structures, or genres, your readers should recognize that you’re the one writing it. Your writing will, of course, change and mature as you go. But if you’re staying true to your voice, it will show.

Forth, own it! Your writing is yours. It might not sound like anyone else’s, and that’s a good thing. You don’t want to be an imitation of your favorite authors. You want to be your readers’ new favorite author. That doesn’t mean you shouldn’t use the things you like about other people’s writing. But if you try to put on a voice that isn’t your own, it will just end up sounding fake and hollow in the end.

Fifth, let your voice flow over into your marketing. If you have a thriving blog, it’s probably because your readers like reading what you write. And trust me – it’s not because you’re always coming up with unique or fascinating topics. It’s because people enjoy you! The same is true for the books you write. So make sure that when you’re tweeting a fan, composing FB posts, or putting together your website that you are representing yourself the way your readers expect.

Sixth, remember that the more your writing voice actually sounds like you, the more naturally you will be able to transition into other writer-related things (blogging, for instance, giving interviews, or speaking at events). Your fans will be able to connect to you so much easier if the you they meet in person or see on TV (we wish, right?) sounds like the you they’ve come to know and love on paper.

So to recap, find your voice – not someone else’s, but yours – and own it. Let your personality and your tone seep into every writing project you come across. it will help to define your brand and ultimately it will win over your readers!

So what do you guys think? How do you define a writer’s voice? Have you ever tried to define your own? How important do you think your voice is to your writing success? Leave me a comment and let me know!

Getting Started

When I finally finished and published my last book, Dream Chasers, at the end of 2014 the first thing that ran through my head is “What should I write next?” It wasn’t long before I’d found an idea that I liked – one that fit nicely as a companion piece to the one I’d just written, but could also stand alone as a useful tool/guide on its own. I decided I wanted to write a book on beginnings – on how to actually start moving forward with the things that God has asked you to do or laid on your heart.

So I did what I’ve found works well for me: I started writing down thoughts about how the book would be laid out. I built a structure that I thought would work for the book I was writing, picked my examples from the Bible, figured out what points I was making, etc. I was excited about the topic for about a week, and then suddenly all of the air went out from it. I lost my drive to write the thing.

Has that ever happened to you? Well it seems to be a running theme in my world. I get excited about a writing project, right up until I actually have to write it. Then suddenly it feels like the driest topic imaginable, and getting the first few hundred words on paper feels a lot like pulling teeth.

What do we as writers do when this happens? I think it depends. I certainly don’t believe there’s one correct answer. In this particular example, I ran off and started writing other things. I think at least part of my apathy came from the burnout of having just finished a similar book. I just didn’t have it in me to come up with a fresh take on such a similar subject. So to give myself a little bit of a break, I worked on completely unrelated projects in completely unrelated areas. I wrote skits and plays. I wrote guest articles for blogs. I wrote whatever I felt like writing as I felt like writing it … and I did that for six months.

Do you know what happened as a result? One day I woke up and thought “Hey, I should get back to that book I’ve been ignoring.” and when I went back to my notes to look at what I had, I no longer dreaded the idea of writing it. It wasn’t an easy transition. It took a while to get back in the flow. But now, less than a week later, I have my first chapter done, and I’m over the 5,000 word mark (which is the minimum word count I need to hit before I can claim that I’ve gotten started).

So what works for you? How do you get started when you have a huge project in front of you? Do you wait for inspiration? Do you just slog through until it sticks? Knowing how you get started is a great tool in your arsenal. It will make you that much more effective and efficient in the future!

Own Your Voice: Tips and Tricks

So in my last post, Own Your Voice: Here’s Why, I talked a little bit about how important it is for us as authors to acknowledge the value of our unique voices. We all have authors who inspire us, who make us want to be better writers. But there’s a huge difference between being influenced by someone else’s writing and attempting to copy it.

In fact, I believe that this is one of the biggest sources of frustration that new authors face. When you try to write “like” someone else, it can feel forced, inauthentic, canned, or shallow. If your writing doesn’t have the depth or the spark that you want, the solution may be as easy as letting your unique voice shine through.

So how do you go about “owning” your voice as a writer? Here’s a few tips that might help.

1. Know Yourself: It is impossible for you to write in a way that is authentically your own  unless you know a little bit about yourself – about the way you speak, think, and write. The specifics of what you’ll need to know vary depending on what kind of writing you do, so this type of self-analysis will be very different for each individual. But the fundamental question is the same: What are my natural tenancies and strengths in this area?

Remember that this is not about the kind of writer you want to be. This is about acknowledging the way that your mind naturally flows, the well-worn paths that your thoughts tend to take. For instance, I’m a non-fiction writer and my books tend to be either informative (teaching a lesson) or persuasive (making an argument). So in order to know myself better, I should ask – how do I explain things to people? How do I try to convince people that I’m right?

In my case, I tend to explain from the big to the small. I like to understand the big picture before I get into the minutia of the smaller details. I find it easier to understand them when I can place them into a larger whole. So when I’m teaching I tend to present things the way that works for me. I’ve also found that I like to tell illustrative stories and anecdotes in my explanations or arguments.

Knowing this about myself in advance has helped me tremendously when planning out new books. Instead of building a structure and then trying to fit my personality and preferences into it, I have learned to build my book around my natural tenancies. That, in turn, has made it easier for my voice to shine through.

2. Write What You Know. Or more accurately “Write What You Understand.” This is applicable regardless of what kind of writing you’re doing. If you can’t wrap your head around a concept or if you don’t “get” your characters enough to not only understand their motivations, but sympathize with them (at least a little bit) your writing won’t work – at least, it won’t work from the perspective of your voice.

Jane Austin is famous for saying that she would never write a scene between two men without a woman present. She knew that men spoke and related to one another differently when they were alone, and she didn’t trust herself to write those scenes with any authenticity. Now I’m not saying that’s a rule you have to live by. By all means, use your imagination to take your writing places you’ve never gone and to explore concepts you haven’t experienced. But don’t let that exploration take you so far that you lose what’s grounding you in reality. Make sure that whatever you’re working on starts from a place of personal truth – it’s the best way to keep your voice, your point of view, your flavor shining through.

3. Read Your Writing Out Loud. And as you do, ask yourself one question: “Does this sound like me?” Now I’m not saying that every character you ever write will have to speak exactly like you do. Of course you’re creating someone fictional, and so their speech and thought patterns will all be different. That being said, while your characters or exposition might not mirror your speech, you should always be able to recognize your own voice in the overall tone of the piece.

If, while reading out loud, you find yourself stumbling over phrases, getting lost in your own sentences, or struggling to find the flow of your writing – you’ve found a problem. The problem might be a matter of structure. Maybe you just need to polish a few things out. But you might also be struggling because the tone of what you’ve written no longer rings true to your authentic voice.

So if you find yourself stuck, unable to easily read your own writing out loud, ask yourself another question “How would I say this?” Don’t ask how you would write it differently. Force yourself to say it out loud. You might be surprised at what you come up with. At the very least, it will bring  you closer to your authentic voice.

4. Let Someone Else Read It. This is one of those tips that seems so pointless, but has actually worked wonders for me. Find someone who knows you well, someone you trust, and ask them to read your work. They don’t have to be a literary professional – this is one of those situations where your bookworm mom or best friend who majored in English will be completely fine. You don’t need them to edit or proofread what you’ve written. Their only job is to tell you if the writing sounds like you.

Now this can be a frustrating process – so make sure you’re prepared before you go in. The idea of what a book “sounds” like can be difficult to pin down, and the feedback you get may not always be  helpful. But if you’re hunting for the authenticity of your voice as a writer, these are the people you want to listen to. They’re the ones who will tell you if the words on your page sound the way you think they sound.

My mother did this for me after I’d finished my first draft of Dream Chasers. One afternoon she sat in my living room, skimming through the book and reading out loud the passages that were so formal, dry, and clinical that they sounded like someone else entirely. Mind you, they didn’t sound that way in my head. When I wrote them, they were filled with tone, nuance, and wit – I promise. But one glance from a perspective other than my own showed me what those words sounded like to other people’s ears. She was able to demonstrate very quickly and concisely just how far I’d wandered away from my authentic voice.

Own Your Voice: Here’s Why

Over the years my church has developed a series of topic-specific Bible Study courses that they call “Bible Institute.” I’ve been very privileged to have the opportunity to teach a few of those classes. There’s one particular course that’s always been my favorite, and it also happens to be the one that I get to teach most often.

At the end of 2014 my pastors asked me to teach it again – but this time I’m sharing that responsibility with my BFFFC (Best Friend Forever From Church … a different person than my BFF/SNOO). We’ve been taking turns, teaching alternating weeks, and helping each other out along the way. It’s been a lot of fun, and one of my favorite aspects of the experience has been getting to sit back and listen to her unique perspective. Hearing her teach the material has been exciting. It’s given me a fresh outlook, a shift in focus. Even though I know what she’s going to be teaching, hearing her explaining it has opened my eyes to things I’ve never noticed, connections I’d never made. I LEARN in her classes. It’s awesome.

But two weeks ago when we were discussing our schedule, she suddenly sighed and said (in the most self-defeated tone imaginable,) “Maybe you should just teach the class from now on. You’re such a better teacher than I am!”

Um … what?!

First of all this woman is a teacher by PROFESSION. She teaches for a living. And secondly, she’s GREAT at it! She makes her topics come alive in a personal and instantly-applicable way that I could never do. Her stories are funny and self deprecating. She has a wonderful flow between covering the source material and explaining it in her own words. She’s awesome, and I love listening to her teach. In fact, I’ve found myself on more than one occasion wishing that I had her perspective and her voice – wishing I could teach like her. It never occurred to me that she was sitting in my classes wishing she could teach like me!

It turns out we were each suffering from a certain degree of voice-envy. We both wished we sounded like someone else (each other, in this case.) But isn’t that silly? We were both able to benefit from and enjoy each others voices, and that’s a great thing. But it doesn’t mean that we should try (or even want) to change our own.

In thinking about this, I’ve realized what a common trap voice-envy actually is. As a reader and a writer, it’s one that I find myself struggling against all the time, and I think that it’s one that plagues too many writers and would-be writers in this world. After all, we all have favorite authors of our own, men and women whose words come alive to us on the page, people who inspire us to try our own hand at writing. And far too often we start our writing journeys by wishing above all else that we could write like ___________ (fill in the blank with as many other writers as you’d like).

But writing is an art form. It doesn’t matter whether you’re writing fiction, nonfiction, poetry, or something completely abstract and experimental. The words that you put on the page paint a picture. They tell a story. And the picture that you are painting is as much a product of your interpretation (your artistic voice) as the subject you’re conveying.

Could you imagine if Van Gogh had tried to paint like everyone else, or if Jane Austin had tried to write like a man? What would have happened if William Shakespeare or Earnest Hemingway had abandoned the originality of their voices in order to sound like someone else?

I’m not saying that we’re all destined to be the next Shakespeare. But what I am saying is this: the world doesn’t need another copycat. The world needs artists with original voices, people who are willing to write from their own perspective, to tell stories their own way. That doesn’t have to mean that we throw out all convention and toss the rules to the wind. We all want to write well. But if you’re serious about the endeavor of writing, then you need to be willing to own your voice.

By all means, read. Read as much as you can as often as you can. Glean what you can from the masters. Learn what good writing sounds like. Let other authors inspire and influence you. But don’t ever lose your voice. It’s what makes you special. Without it you will never produce anything that can teach or inspire others.

Write the Book – Tips and Tricks

In my last post (Write The Book – Here’s Why) I let you all in on two very specific secrets that everyone who’s ever written a book learned along the way. The first secret was that writing a book is hard – it’s much harder than you think, and certainly harder than it looks. Even the ways in which it’s hard won’t be what you’re expecting. It is a process that uncovers your greatest insecurities and exposes your biggest weaknesses. It’s not a “fun” thing to do.

But the second secret was that all of that difficulty, all of the struggle that comes with writing your first book is absolutely and totally WORTH it. Why? Because the process of writing a book is the most effective way to turn yourself into a writer. It will teach you what you cannot be taught in any other way. It will test you and refine you. It will make you better and force you to grow. And most importantly, it will make every single thing that you ever write in your future (books included) THAT MUCH easier, stronger, and more definitively YOU.

Believe me – I’m speaking from experience here. The process of writing my first book was insanely difficult – it took me three years and probably 15 drafts to finish it. It was a miserable experience. But it left me with an indescribable sense of fulfillment when I finished. What’s more – the lessons I learned writing my first book made the second one so easy that it almost felt like I’d managed to cheat somehow!

But how do you actually get through the process of writing that first book – especially since it IS so difficult? It’s a good question, one that I’ve been asking myself for the last week or so. I wanted to be able to give my friend (remember Kelly – the one who’s just started writing her first book?) some tips that would serve as more than just generalized encouragement. I wanted to tell her something that would actually help her find success. Here’s what I came up with.

1. Find a writing buddy – You’ll need the encouragement and help of someone who’s done this before (or someone who’s willing to do it with you). Friends and family are great at being supportive, but you’ll want to be in contact with at least one person who understands the specifics of what you’re dealing with every day.

2. Create a plan – One of the best things you can do for yourself is plan what you’re going to write before you write it. The level of detail you go into will depend on the type of person/writer you are. But don’t make the mistake of going into your first writing project with only a vague sense of what you’re going to do.

3. Write every day – (or 4 days a week, or whatever works for you) The point it – you have to make it mandatory. You’ll have good writing days and bad writing days. Some days you’ll write entire chapters, and others you’ll struggle through a few sentences. That’s all fine (and it should be expected). But you have to make writing a habit, or you’ll never get through it.

4. Make yourself accountable – Again, how this happens will vary depending on who you are. Are you the type who won’t be able to sleep if you haven’t met your daily writing goal? Or do you need the pressure of external deadlines (like someone asking to see pages every week) to keep yourself on track? Figure that out – and then set up a system that works for you.

5. First write, then refine – If you’re busy freaking out over your chapter length before you’ve written your first 500 words, you’ll never get anywhere. You have to start by writing. Until you’ve written something down, there’s no way to assess its strengths and weaknesses. Don’t paralyze yourself with fears and worries before you get the words out. Just write.

6. Don’t give up – You’ll have plenty of opportunities. You’ll have days when you want to throw it all away. Don’t let those days get to you. Just keep moving forward. Eventually, you’ll reach the end of this journey, and when you do, you’ll have something to show for it all. You’ll have a book, and a wealth of experience and knowledge that you wouldn’t trade for the world. You’ll have that secret little smile that creeps on your face when someone tells you how they’ve always wanted to write a book – and you’ll have plenty of words of encouragement and sage advice to give them – because you’ll know exactly what they’re facing, and  you’ll still be able to assure them that it’s well worth the effort.

 

Stretch Yourself

A few months ago I was spending time with one of my very best friends, when she suddenly announced that “we” were going to get in shape together, and among her many plans for diet and exercise was one little nugget that made me cringe. “That’s it!” she said with enthusiasm, “We’re going to do 50 crunches a day every day from now on!”

I have to admit I laughed. I told her there was no way on God’s green earth that I was capable of 50 crunches. “That’s no problem!” she said, “You can work up to it! Come on, Paula – we can do this!”

I groaned a little inside, but since I’ve never been good at saying no to my friends, I finally agreed to do the crunches – and I did. I didn’t do them every day – it was 3 times a week, and it took me a week or two to build  up to 50, but eventually I got there.  And once I did, I have to admit I was kind of proud of myself.

And then one night I woke up in excruciating pain. Every muscle in my abdomen was cramping at the same time, and I couldn’t relax them enough to uncurl myself out of the fetal position. The problem, of course, was that I  had spent so much time focusing on working those muscles, but I’d never bothered to take the time to stretch them.  For a while I got away with it. They even got stronger. But eventually it all caught up with me, and the result was a night of serious pain and very little sleep as I tried to undo the damage, release the tension, and relax the muscles.

Now that’s a relatively simple anecdote – but it illustrates an important and relevant point.

You see, the crunches were a good thing. They took work and effort, and I took them seriously. They made me stronger and I found a moderate level of success in doing them. But that only took me so far before it all backfired. Because all of that effort and work was pointed in only one direction, the muscles in my body eventually rebelled. There was only so much work they could handle before they “broke” under the tension.

They needed to stretch. They needed to be pulled in unfamiliar directions, forced to move in a new way. Without that key component, all of the time and effort I’d put into working those muscles proved pointless. I hit a brick wall (or more, it hit me – in the stomach – at three in the morning).

I think that this is a truth that we can apply to our lives on a much broader level. Have you been working hard in an area of  your life and just not seeing the results that you want? Have you ever found a moderate degree of success, and wondered how you could ever manage to achieve more? I want to let you in on a little secret that’s not much of a secret – you probably need to stretch. Your life will never really be able to grow and expand until you are willing to push yourself beyond  your limits and move in a new direction.

How often have you talked yourself out of doing something new just because it wasn’t familiar? How often have you decided that it was better to stay where you were comfortable than to venture into the unknown? We do it all the time, and I think it’s because we’d rather remain firmly planted in what we know than try something that might fail; and – GET THIS – we do it even when what we know isn’t working all that well either!

The problems with this kind of thinking is that it always sets us up to fail.

Remember that the familiar things in life can only get you so far. If whatever you’re doing right now isn’t producing the results that you want in your life at the level that you want, then it’s probably time for you to venture out into some new territory. It’s time to try something different.

This isn’t to say that you need to toss aside the things that are working for you. But you can’t allow yourself to get boxed in by the familiar either. By all means, do what works – but make a point to go out and do something new at the same time!

Even the Bible encourages us to go out and to try new things:

As you do not know what is the way of the wind, or  how the bones grow in the womb of her who is with child, so you do not know the works of God who makes everything. In the morning sow your seed, And in the evening do not withhold your hand; For you do not know which will prosper, Either this or that, Or whether both alike will be good (Ecclesiastes 11:5-6 NKJV).

Isn’t that such an encouraging word? This verse is telling us that we can’t know what God plans to use in order to bless our lives, we can’t always see which of our options will produce the best results. That’s why we always need to be willing to try a little of everything. We have to be willing to stretch ourselves a little bit!

 

9 Excuses That You Need to Stop Using Right Now!

Do you know what’s frustrating? Talking to people about their dreams. The closer I get to publishing Dream Chasers (the Kindle edition is available for pre-order NOW, if you’re interested), the more time I’m spending digging into people’s lives and asking them about the things that they want to accomplish or achieve.

It’s weird, because that shouldn’t be the type of conversation that leaves me frustrated. If we’re talking about someone’s passions, someone’s goals, someone’s dreams I should leave the conversation feeling inspired, right? But I don’t – at least, not very often. Why not? Because when you ask people about their dreams, the first things they want to tell you are all the reasons that their dreams aren’t happening.

I, for one, am tired of that kind of talk. I’m tired of the way we give ourselves permission to stay stagnant. Because at the end of the day, most of those reasons that we have for not chasing after our dreams are just excuses. They may sound good, they may seem legitimate, we may even believe them … but 95% of the time, they’re nothing more than thinly veiled excuses that give us permission to do nothing.

But if we’re serious about achieving a goal (whether it’s writing a book or buying a house) then the excuses have to stop. They have no place in a dream-chaser’s mindset. They can’t help us – they can only hurt and delay us. So here is a list of 9 excuses that I hear all the time – excuses that you should STOP using right now, if you ever want to make your dream become reality:

1. “I don’t have the time.” This is the biggest and most common excuse I hear. In fact, you can probably relate to it yourself. But I’m going to let you into a little secret – NO ONE has the time. Our lives and our schedules are so jam packed that most of us struggle to find enough time to sleep at night. You’ll never “have” the time to do anything until you are willing to “make” the time. And that’s about deciding that your dream is a priority in your life, and sacrificing other (even important) things in order to make it happen. I have a friend who started a side business years ago, something that she did to make extra money on nights and weekends. Her goal was to eventually shift it from her “side business” to her “actual job.” But she didn’t have the time to really invest in making it grow the way she wanted to, and so she found herself in a rut for years. Do you know what she finally did to get herself out? She cut back her hours at her regular job, and committed to working on her business a few days a week instead. It was a very real sacrifice. It cost her something.  But it was her dream, and she MADE the time to see it succeed.

2. “I don’t have the money.” Again, this comes down to a matter of priorities. I understand that you may be in tight financial circumstances, and you may not have the freedom to complete your dream at this moment. But don’t let that be an excuse. Instead, use it as a prompt to push and prepare yourself. If you don’t have the money you need right now, sit down and build some extra savings into your budget. Be willing to sacrifice your daily coffee or that new handbag, if that’s what it takes. If you need to fix your credit, put a plan together to do that, and start working on it today. If you don’t, you’ll find yourself in exactly the same financial situation tomorrow, next year, and ten years from now. In other words, if money is a problem – start fixing it, but don’t let it be an excuse! And in the meantime, find something that you can do to pursue your dream that doesn’t require a financial investment. Work on that. But for heaven’s sake, do SOMETHING!

3. “I’m not inspired.” There is no greater nonsense in this world than the idea that creativity can only come as a result of inspiration. In fact, I have found that one of the best ways to stretch your creative muscle is to use it in the service of productivity. I think it was Plato who said “Necessity is the mother of invention,” and he was right! I have another friend (two friends? Really? I know … don’t be jealous!) who is an incredible artist. She works full time as an art teacher, she has three kids, and her schedule is crazy busy. But one day someone asked her if she’d be interested in showing her art at a hip new gallery in Brooklyn, and she instantly said yes, even though she had NOTHING to show. She spent the next few weeks trying to come up with a theme for her work – only to find herself completely devoid of inspiration. But eventually she ran out of time – she HAD to start, or she wouldn’t be ready in time. But as soon as she committed to putting paint on canvas every day, the ideas suddenly began to flow. Her need to produce inspired her creativity. So if you’re lacking inspiration, start getting productive. Even if you start off producing garbage, it will eventually lead you to the inspiration you’re looking for.

4. “I’ve already tried and failed.” This is one of those “reasons” that seem so legitimate, because it’s grounded in a painful truth. Maybe you have tried and failed, and I know that it sucks. But the best thing you can do in the face of failure is to learn from your mistakes, get up, and try again.  There’s a simple secret to overcoming failure – all you have to do is refuse to give up. As long as you’re still trying, as long as you’re willing to brush yourself off and take another shot, your failure doesn’t have to be permanent. It can be a stepping stone on your personal climb towards success. The only thing you have to do is keep moving forward. The world is full of success stories that start with struggles, false starts, and failures. So if you’ve tried and failed, don’t let that be the end of your tale. Be willing to get back out there, to try again, and don’t give up until you find your success!

5. “I don’t know how.” Here’s another one of those “big secrets” that I feel compelled to share with you – you’re not alone. Everyone who has ever tried to accomplish anything worthwhile had to start somewhere. When they started, they had no experience, no expertise, and maybe no idea what to do next. Ignorance is not a reason to give up, it’s an opportunity to learn. If you know nothing about the field you want to enter or the career you want to start, begin by doing your research. There are so many resources available on line for people who want to learn. Take advantage of them! When I started writing my first book I didn’t have the slightest clue how an author got published. So for the first year I spent almost as much time reading and educating myself about the publishing industry as I did writing that book. It was a huge learning curve, but it wasn’t impossible. All it took was time and dedication, and eventually I found myself with the knowledge to make educated and informed decisions about my publishing options. You can do the same thing – and you can start right now!

6. “I don’t have the right connections.” I understand how important connections can be – knowing the right people has a wonderful way of opening doors that you might struggle to open by yourself. Having good connections with mentors, teachers, industry insiders, and potential peers is certainly an advantage. But it’s silly to use your lack of connections as a reason to give up! First of all, if you’re that serious about connecting with other people, you can do it right now. We live in an age of digital community that makes it possible to listen to, learn from, and actually befriend all sorts of people whom you might never otherwise meet. Go ahead and start using your social media for it’s intended purpose – not to sell or self promote, but to socialize! Reach out and get to know people. But keep in mind that before you meet your ideal mentor or your new industry-leading bff, you should already be putting in the work to hone your skills and move towards your dream. No connections, no inside track is going to replace hard work and dedication in your ultimate climb to success!

7. “It’s too late.” Listen, unless your dream is to become a prima-ballerina or a professional athlete, I just don’t believe you. It’s not too late to go back to school, to start your business, to switch careers, or to write your book … no matter what you think. It’s not too late to get serious about your art or to hone your craft. It’s not too late to do anything, not if it’s important to you! I don’t care if you’ve damaged your chances, made bad decisions, put yourself in debt, or waited “too long.” You can still make a fresh start towards your dream today. All you have to do is decide to do it! So stop letting the time that’s already passed by stop you from using the time you have now. Don’t let your yesterday define your idea of what is possible tomorrow!

8. “This isn’t a good time” UGH. Ok, honesty moment – I hate when people talk to me about how they’re putting their dreams off until a “better” time. Who was it who gave us the idea that we would reach an ideal moment in which all distractions would disappear and our dreams would suddenly fit perfectly into the schedule of our lives? Who is it that convinced us that tomorrow will be so much better suited to our plans than today? How are we still falling for this nonsense? There is no ideal time, no perfect moment in your life for starting something new and important. The more time you spend waiting for that elusive tomorrow, the more time you’ll waste doing nothing at all. Let today be the day that you take your first step, even if it seems like the worst time to be starting anything. Don’t wait until tomorrow – trust me, it never comes.

9. “I can’t.”  Stop it. Just stop. Do you know what I want to say to people who tell me they can’t do something? I want to say “Of course you can’t. You’re so convinced that it’s impossible that you won’t even lift a finger to try. How can you ever expect to succeed if you’ve already decided that you’re doomed to fail?” Seriously though, this phrase, and the mentality it promotes, is the easiest way to ensure that you’ll never get anywhere or do anything. Don’t fall for it any longer. Stop saying “Can’t.” It’s a dirty word for every productive, successful, achievement-oriented person out there. And the sooner you take it out of your vocabulary altogether, the better!

So there we have it – my list of the 9 worst excuses you can use to put off the dreams you want to realize. What do you think? Do any of these sound familiar? Did I miss a few? Leave a comment below and let me know.