44. Committing vs. Wanting to Write

A few weeks ago, I taught a class on "How to Commit to Writing a Novel" and a concept that blew a lot of the student’s minds was committing vs. wanting. Many of them had never considered the difference before, and by the end of the class realized that they weren’t committing to writing in the way they thought they were.


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This is common for many writers.

We tell ourselves that we’re committed to writing a novel, but actually, we’re just spending time wanting to write a novel.

I thought I would spend more time explaining the difference between committing vs wanting because it was really just briefly touched on in Episode 22, How to Commit to Writing.

Let’s talk about commitment and what it even means.

Google describes it as, “the state or quality of being dedicated to a cause, activity, etc.” or “an engagement or obligation that restricts freedom of action.”

Commitment is spending time and energy on something. It is also a decision to keep doing it.

But commitment also defined as an obligation that restricts freedom of action. That is certainly the way our brain sees commitment. Because if we are spending time and energy towards this one cause, like writing a novel, it means less we have less time and energy to give to something else. This is why our brains see commitment as a risk (more on that later).

If you want to write a novel and you have never been able to do it, even though you’ve wanted it for a long time, it is because you have never committed.

If you want to write a novel, you need to go from wanting to write a novel to being committed to writing a novel.

This truly the difference between those who have written a novel and those who have not. The difference is not that the other person is a better writer, the difference is not that they are just wired differently - we are all human - the difference is that they committed. That is it.

Now let’s talk about wanting.

Many of you reading this are going to be in this place of wanting, and that is okay. I was here for years – actually, more like a decade.

For me, it was wanting to write a screenplay. Or a novel, I would have taken a novel too. I wanted that physical script or published novel to prove that I could write. I wanted to want to write.

Even though I wanted that screenplay and that novel–like I desperately wanted it, it was all I could think about–I was not committed to writing it.

What’s so funny (and kind of painful) about my story, is that I really thought I was committed.

Unfortunately, I didn’t have a coach at the time who could have shed some light on the truth, because the truth was I was not writing. I was not willing to do whatever it took to write.

That is the question that commitment poses, are you willing to keep taking action no matter what? Are you willing to keep writing that story until it’s finished, no matter what?

When I think of myself 10 years ago, the truth was that I wanted to be a writer, but I wasn’t willing to have it be hard work. I didn’t want to experience the discomfort of writing. But I didn’t know that’s what was going on with me.

At this point in time, Tiana had published her second novel. When she did that, I told myself that I would do that too. That I would work hard to write and finish a script or book. For a few weeks, I'd be really motivated to write.

And then it would get hard. I’d hit a part in the story that I didn’t know how to write, or work would get busy, life would get busy, and I’d get more and more uncomfortable until I just gave up and stopped writing.

I was not willing to keep taking action. I would take action until a certain point, and then when it got uncomfortable, I’d give up. Because I wasn’t truly committed.
I wanted the published book or the award winning screenplay, but only if it wasn’t too hard.
As the days went by and I realized I hadn’t done any writing, I’d feel like garbage because I still wanted those things.

A lot of you writers listening are in the same place. You’re desperate to write a book, but you’re not actually committing to the action of writing.

Wanting, even though it can leave us feeling terrible, is a very safe place to be. There is no action involved, it’s completely passive, and you can want as much as you want, snuggled up in bed, protected from the world. You get to avoid spending energy writing, you get to avoid any negative feedback or criticism, you get to avoid putting yourself out there, putting your story out into the world, with your name it for all to see.

Wanting requires nothing of you, there is no risk to wanting.

Commitment requires risk. Because commitment requires action.

While you are risking all the things I just mentioned - criticism, putting yourself out there, etc – there is also the primal risk of spending energy.

Let’s remember, our brains are wired to conserve energy. A 2018 study at the University of British Columbia proved that the brain is attracted to inactivity.

In their results they mentioned:

“Conserving energy has been essential for humans' survival, as it allowed us to be more efficient in searching for food and shelter, competing for sexual partners, and avoiding predators.”

So we are actually programmed to conserve energy. The act of writing a book expends a massive amount of energy. Yes, you are sitting down, but you are expending large amounts of mental energy. Every time a neuron fires in your brain it’s spending energy.

Despite the fact you’re sitting down and not running from a lion, your brain sees writing as a risk. It thinks you will have less energy to run from the non-existent lion.

Flash forward a few years, I knew enough to know that wanting to write a book was not working for me anymore. At this point, I felt pretty crappy. It had been 10 years of this process of wanting to write, trying it, and then failing.

Luckily, I discovered coaching.

I committed to figuring how I could feel good about myself, even though I didn’t have a published novel.

I committed 100% to coaching and I did learn how to feel good about myself without having the external thing.

Funny enough, giving up the belief that I needed to have a published novel to feel good about myself was what allowed me to write again.

I wrote 8 different writing pieces in two years. I went on to write multiple scripts that were shortlisted for awards and got an agent to represent them.