Write is a Verb–An Interview with Author Bill O’Hanlon (Part 1)

Bill O’Hanlon has written or co-written 29 books, including a book for procrastinating writers called Write Is a Verb: Sit Down, Start Writing, No Excuses.

O’Hanlon is a Licensed Mental Health Professional, Certified Professional Counselor and a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist. He speaks regularly about writing and offers intensive seminars for people who want to write books and get them published.

JB: Bill, in your opinion, why do writers procrastinate?

BO: Writers procrastinate for several reasons typically, although there are probably some individual variations not included here.

  • Fear… of failure, of rejection, of success, of not getting published;
  • Being busy;
  • Inertia-not writing begets not writing like writing begets writing;
  • Avoidance; of uncomfortable feelings; of hard work.

JB: How does perfectionism play a part in writing procrastination?

BO: For some people, perfectionism plays a large or the whole part. Not for others.

I had a couple of friends I came across at a bar at the end of a conference at which I was speaking. When I walked up to them, they said, “Get out of here, O’Hanlon. We’re just discussing how come we can’t write our first book and you have written so many.”

I asked them what was in the way. They were both psychologists and told me it had been drilled into them in their graduate training that they must know everything about the area in which they were writing before they began writing. I laughed and said that I wouldn’t have written one book if I had that same standard.

I write my books after learning or knowing a lot about a subject, but not everything. And occasionally I get some things wrong. But readers almost always correct me and I get it right the next time I write about that subject.

JB: What are some steps writers can take to eliminate perfectionism?

BO: Start writing. Even if the conditions are not perfect. Even if you don’t yet know enough; even if you don’t feel like writing.

I’m a big believer that writing solves many problems for writers (not always; sometimes you begin writing the wrong thing or you begin before you are truly ready, but those problems are more rare than writers not ready when they do have the right project and they are truly ready).

JB: What are some steps procrastinators can take to start writing?

BO: I hate to sound like a broken record, but:

  • START WRITING
  • KEEP WRITING.
  • GET CRITIQUED BY GOOD, KIND, TOUGH EDITORS.
  • THEN RE-WRITE AND GET BETTER.

People who haven’t been published have this idea that published writers somehow have some special ingredient that magically gets writing done, but one of the main things that distinguishes the consistently published writer from the non-published writer is that the published writer writes and completes projects.

Non-published writers do many things other than writing: they dream about being a writer; they tell themselves it is too hard to get published or get an agent; they do lots of things besides writing.

So I repeat: START WRITING. Even if you only write one word per day, keep writing. Until you finish. Then edit and re-write. If that book doesn’t sell, write another one.

Like Malcolm Gladwell (Outliers) and Geoff Colvin (Talent is Overrated), expertise and success are often a matter of putting in hours practicing and getting better at whatever you do.

Come back to the Procrastinating Writers Blog tomorrow morning for part two of my interview with the inspiring Bill O’Hanlon.

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