Indecision will sabotage your writing

March 15, 2016 | by Ken Walker

I know two people who are hoping to write books but have yet to make it out of the starting gate. Were I to play amateur psychologist, I would attribute the delays to over-thinking what they want to do.

I know because of the questions they have posed: Should I start with my experience or a general outline? Do I need an outline? What should I include in the story? Should I go into all the details of this amazing experience my father had or just summarize that part? Should I have all my brothers and sisters share their memories?

At some point, they will have to stop asking questions and start writing. Until then, their ideas will remain a dream that never quite makes it onto paper (or the screens of digital reading devices).

Delays have consequences

Such indecision can have serious consequences. Ten years ago, a friend started talking to me about helping him write his memoir. It included worldwide travels, service as an officer in an international ministry, and some fascinating experiences in World War II.

Our discussions showed me that even advanced age doesn’t necessarily remove self-doubts. He wondered he should include all the details of various experiences, whether to name names, and how far back he should go.

I kept trying to push him to set a time for an initial interview where we could cover the details of one segment of his life to get started. I never succeeded. By the time he got close to setting up a plan to start recollecting some details, his mind was too feeble to proceed. He died in his mid-90s, with all his memories buried alongside him.

Hindering completion

Whether it is a book, an article, or a poem, indecision will not only keep you from starting, it will also will hinder you from completing it.

I saw that when I helped a man write a book about his late wife and how God worked in both of their lives to dramatically improve their marriage. Just when I thought we had finished the final draft, he said, “I made some more changes.” I finally got him to quit revising so he could get his manuscript to the printer.

That is why you must determine in advance how many drafts you plan to go through, no matter what the length of your composition.  

The famous story about legendary novelist Ernest Hemingway is how he rewrote the ending to A Farewell to Arms 39 times. However, over the years, modern technology has drastically altered the definition of “rewrite.” I constantly revise material as I go, the kind of rewriting that never took place on the old Remington portable where I launched my freelance career.

So, while I might be a piker next to Hemingway, I believe in doing a rough draft, a thorough revision, and then a second revision. There will be a third when an editor reviews my work, but I can’t find time to rewrite anything 39 times. Chances are in today’s fast-paced society, neither can you.

Avoiding perfection

The hardest part of any article, story or book is starting. That’s why I always advise people to just get something down on paper, no matter how bad it sounds at first. I can’t count the number of times I’ve written something, looked back at it, said, “That stinks” and rewrote the lead—or even the first page or two.

Decide now it doesn’t have to be perfect the first time. After all, it won’t be at the end, either.


Topics: Leadership, Ministry, Teaching Resources, Vision



Ken Walker

An experienced freelance writer, co-author and book editor, Ken Walker edits blogs for several contributors to Church Central and has coached various bloggers for the site. A member of the Christian PEN (Proofreaders and Editors Network), he has co-authored, edited or contributed to more than 50 books. You can see samples of his work or ask about his services as a writing coach by going to http://www.KenWalkerWriter.com or by e-mailing kenwalker33@gmail.com.

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