Write, Baby, Write

DEAR SEAN:

I want to write a book but I’m afraid of starting because, knowing me, I will fail, so I keep wondering whether anyone will care. Should I do it?

Eagerly awaiting your thoughts,
THIRTY-SIX-IN-MARYLAND

DEAR MARYLAND:

What I can tell you is that writing a book will turn you into a nut job. There is no way around it. All authors are nut jobs. And when you finish your book, you will be a lovable nut job too.

Here’s a day in the life of a writer. You wake up. You brush your teeth. You wander into your office. It’s tiny. It’s messy. There is a rubber chicken hanging from the mouth of a taxidermied alligator head that’s mounted on the wall. You fire up your laptop.

Mostly your writing consists of spinning in your office chair, staring at the ceiling, trying to think deep, author-like thoughts, such as, “Was it me who put the chicken in the alligator’s mouth, or my wife?” Or “What’s the capital of New Hampshire?”

Whatever you might be thinking about, you’re NOT thinking about your book because you’re stalling. Why? Because you’re stuck. You can’t think of anything to write, so you just—

Concord. That’s the capital of New Hampshire.

Lunch break!

Phew! What a busy morning you’ve had. So you strut out of your office, fix lunch, and hope that saturated fat will fuel some more creativity and insight. When you finish eating, you feel an overwhelming urge to get to work. So you stand, stretch, and lie down for a nap instead.

See what I mean? Total nut job.

And it’s even worse for writers during a pandemic. Right now creativity is hard to come by because the pandemic is killing creativity within every industry.

People are in slumps. Many work remotely, stuck at home, with spouses shouting from adjoining rooms, dogs barking, and screaming kids running around who are caught in the horrific throes of puberty.

These are hard times.

Still, one of your biggest obstacles as a writer in the 21st century will be negative feedback. This might not sound like a big deal, but for some writers it is THE BIGGEST DEAL.

Because negative feedback will obliterate your inspiration. According to one study done by John Gottman and Robert Levenson, which monitored the effects of criticism, researchers discovered that insults impact us much more than praise.

The study found that it takes roughly five compliments to counterbalance one insult.

Think about this. This means for every 10 people who say “you suck,” you need 50 people to feed you and call you pretty.

I have met MANY authors who quit writing after ugly feedback. I have almost quit dozens of times. It’s only natural. As a human you’re hardwired to feed on encouragement. Your brain is constantly trying to figure out whether you’re making progress or wasting time.

Sadly, we live in an age of negative remarks. It’s popular to be critical, and you will definitely encounter this venom when you write your book. If you don’t believe me, let’s have a look at a few actual book reviews I found online:

“Awful, awful! Do not recommend this book! It is horrible!!!”

That review was for John Steinbeck.

“…Really hard to read this crap, it’s so plebeian, I don’t know how anyone can enjoy this guy.”

That was for Hemingway.

“Never heard of this author before, don’t know why she keeps popping up on my feed? This book was stupid.”

That comment was intended for Jane Austen.

Yes! THE Jane Austen. One of history’s most famous novelists, whose work is translated into almost every language, whose books have continually been in print since 1811, inspiring literary anthologies, major motion pictures, and BBC male actors to spontaneously wear skintight riding pants.

So before you even start writing, I think it’s good to be aware of these pitfalls. But now that I’ve said all that, here’s what I actually think:

Just sit down and write your book.

I know that sounds painfully simple, but you’d be surprised how many people want to write a book but never do. So just “doing it” is 80 percent of the battle.

Have fun when you write. Don’t worry about how it turns out. Lose yourself in your sentences. Enjoy the tapping sound of the keyboard. Success is not not your reward. Your life is your reward. The book is merely evidence of your wonderful life.

During the worst of this pandemic, I was finishing my recent novel. The world was falling apart, I had friends who were dying, and my family was sick. And yet somehow I was supposed to summon the energy to write. I kept feeling like a major idiot every time I sat down to work. I felt like a real fool. I don’t know why.

But something happened to me midway through the first chapter. I became so enveloped in what I was doing that I couldn’t wait to revisit my novel each morning. I began caring about my characters like close friends. I realize this sounds bizarre, but I formed friendships with these imaginary people as if they were members of my life. Because in a way they were.

After months working on this book, I wrote the final chapter, closed my laptop, and cried for about 15 minutes until my wife found me with my head in my hands. I was weeping tears of joy and pure exhaustion.

My caring wife knelt before me and asked why I was crying, but I couldn’t explain. Maybe it’s something all writers go through.

That’s when she placed a hand on my shoulder, met my eyes with her own, and affectionately said: “You are such a freaking nut job.”

45 comments

  1. Gordon Hall - February 25, 2021 6:36 am

    When I first started writing for a local newspaper my trainer, an ancient Cockney journalist, gave me the best advice I ever had: “Don’t worry about not being able to start, Luv, just put down the facts you have and pretty soon, the article will write itself.” It works.

    Reply
  2. Amy - February 25, 2021 10:57 am

    Dear Sean – Count me one of the 50. I think you’re doing a great job. I read your posts every day and read your books. I refer to you and your work during daily conversation. You give me great insight. Don’t ever stop, please.

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  3. eliz - February 25, 2021 11:14 am

    I so love books. I wish I could write one. What a gift! I’m so in awe of authors.

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  4. John Steinbach - February 25, 2021 11:44 am

    What sound advice, Sean. Much more eloquent than Nike.

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  5. Barbara - February 25, 2021 11:54 am

    Thrilled to see Concord, NH made it on the map of your mind and your column! It takes a super hero to write such a compelling daily column, not to mention authoring books. You inspire, encourage, entertain and tap into emotions leaving us laughing and crying. Use your shield to repel negative critics. Love and gratitude from a fan in the Capitol city of New Hampshire.

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  6. Julie Patterson - February 25, 2021 11:55 am

    Count me as one of your 50, too! Reading your blog is part of my morning routine; Sean and Jamie are family members I haven’t met yet. Keep writing, Sean!

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  7. Leigh Amiot - February 25, 2021 12:21 pm

    Not only do I enjoy your writing, Sean, I look forward to the illustrations at the top of the blog. This pandemic has driven me to draw, watercolor in pencil is my thing, and although my 5 and 3-year-old granddaughters draw better than I do, I’m “just doing it”, too! Great advice!

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  8. Phil Jennings - February 25, 2021 12:34 pm

    I agree with your wife. But I might add “wonderfully creative” nutjob.
    Keep the good stuff flowing Sean.

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  9. joan moore - February 25, 2021 12:40 pm

    And so what does that make your devoted readers? Love it all!

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  10. Becky Kaufman - February 25, 2021 12:45 pm

    and I for one am so happy that you are “a freaking nut job.” Thank you.

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  11. Bette - February 25, 2021 12:47 pm

    I depend on you to start my day with a positive and grateful attitude. You always deliver. Then my best friend of 56 years (college roommates) and I discuss it. Thank God for the hope, humor and sometimes tears that you bring to our mornings. You are necessary-please keep it coming!

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  12. Judith Perye - February 25, 2021 12:47 pm

    Just so you know, I love your writing and your artwork.

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  13. Donna - February 25, 2021 12:51 pm

    So love your brain-you are such a gift to this planet-as is your hilarious and perceptive wife. Wish we could meet for cheese and chuckles. Thank you for writing-reading you is the next best thing.

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  14. Keloth Anne - February 25, 2021 1:09 pm

    So thankful you continue to write because each post and each book — brings such enjoyment. You’ll never know how you’ve helped me through this incredibly horrible eleven months. It’s amazing how you continue to share your thoughts with such compassion and love—and I’m always shocked that sometimes you’re met with criticism 😢 Thank you for sharing your wonderful talent and know what a joy YOU bring every morning ♥️🥰. You are loved and appreciated—
    Can’t wait to get your new book 🥰

    Reply
  15. Nell Thomas - February 25, 2021 1:15 pm

    I so enjoy Sean’s writings usually introduced by a one of a kind drawing. Keep them coming.

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  16. Mike - February 25, 2021 1:33 pm

    Thanks Sean,
    You are beautiful.

    Reply
  17. MermaidGrammy - February 25, 2021 1:46 pm

    I don’t understand planking. I don’t understand laughing when someone falls down. Or stutters. I certainly do not understand criticizing your work. It must come from some curmudgeon who has no sense. Perhaps your words are two complicated. Your thoughts too deep. And of course – there are no pictures. Sean, you bring so much life, so much pleasure; even joy, to so many. It make me sad for those marble heads who are too simpleminded to “get” you. You are the first step of my morning devotion. Before the Upper Room and the Book of Common Prayer. Don’t stop. Ignore the Marbleheads. Keep us enlightened and cheer-filled

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  18. MermaidGrammy - February 25, 2021 1:49 pm

    It’s pRanking I don’t understand. PLanking sounds like something naughty

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  19. Julie - February 25, 2021 1:57 pm

    For a moment there, I thought the REAL John Steinbeck read your column, and commented. Pretty impressive!
    But no, this guy spelled the name wrong, or is someone else with a different spelling?!
    The reader is right about one thing, though. You gave sound advice, as you always do!

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  20. Jan - February 25, 2021 1:57 pm

    For a “freaking nut job”, you are one of the best ever! Please keep on doing what you are doing!

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  21. peggyhayesauthor - February 25, 2021 2:08 pm

    Love this! You have encouraged me to plow forth. Thank you!

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  22. Marcia MacLean - February 25, 2021 2:09 pm

    You always give me what I need. You are my favorite freaking nut job!

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  23. Margaret Cade - February 25, 2021 2:14 pm

    The first thing I do every morning is read your email column. I read your books. I admire your art. Sometimes I laugh. Other times I cry. Every time however, I receive a new perspective on life! I find that you love deeply, your eyes are open to the sadness found in life, but you always manage to see the beauty in this life we are given. If you are a nut job, then so am I. Have a blessed day!

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  24. Bobbie - February 25, 2021 2:42 pm

    Love it as always! Especially like what you said about your life is your reward, not your success! Such insight, I’ve written two children’s books, so guess I qualify for being a nut job! Thanks to you I know now why I’m a bit weird…it helps to know🤗. Love your humor, the closing line was the best! Thank you for the help you give to so many….most you’ll never know about. God gives us the people we need in our lives, even that freaking nut job by the name of Sean Dietrich!
    God bless you and Jamie. ❤️

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  25. Betty F. - February 25, 2021 2:52 pm

    Sweet and profound at the same time. If more of us had the courage to bare our souls like you do, instead of baring our teeth, maybe we could start turning around the terribly mean world we have created right now.

    Reply
  26. Betty F. - February 25, 2021 3:06 pm

    I keep forgetting to hit the title of the blog and wait for it to open to include your drawings- my phone only shows your handsome photo and your words, unless I take that extra step. I never would have known about the drawings unless my friend had clued me in. Don’t miss them, folks.

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    • Karen D - February 25, 2021 3:17 pm

      I did not know this!! Thanks for sharing!

      Reply
  27. Karen D - February 25, 2021 3:14 pm

    Thank you Thank you Thank you for this!!! I have wanted to write a book for FOREVER! and have journals full of partially started books. But then I just give up for whatever reason. I have PRINTED you post today. I am going to put it on the wall of my office as a reminder that I CAN DO THIS!! Hopefully one day you will see my book on a shelf or an online book store. Thanks Sean!

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  28. Helen De Prima - February 25, 2021 3:40 pm

    To Maryland: If you persevere all the way to The End, you’re already a success. Being afraid to try is your only failure. Even if no one besides yourself reads your book, you’re a success. If one other person enjoys what you’ve written, you’re doubly successful. And take my word: when the words seem to flow of their own will, taking you along for the ride, you’ll experience an unbelievable high. Don’t deny yourself that joy.

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  29. deborah self johnson - February 25, 2021 3:50 pm

    i know you love positive feedback and i wanted to give you some! i read your blog each day and also want to read your book. i love your writing…..and my friends and i often discuss your work. we all love you and hope you never stop writing.

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  30. Virginia - February 25, 2021 5:22 pm

    I didn’t think I would make it to the end of “Stars of Alabama” but am glad I persevered and experienced an alternative novel form that was really memorable! Thanks for your perseverance.

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  31. MAM - February 25, 2021 5:26 pm

    You are so “write.” Just do it! I write reporting-type articles every day. But I must admit I’m just a wee bit envious of how effortlessly your blog posts seem to flow. Thank you for sharing your talents with the rest of us! I’m definitely among your 50!

    Reply
  32. Linda Moon - February 25, 2021 5:36 pm

    LIFE without creative nut jobs is like a day without sunshine and oxygen. I’ll be sending 2,345,595 compliments to you. Imagine they’re all here in this comment just for you. There….feel better now? Are you wasting your time? NO. Keep writing, Author. “You’re pretty”. That was compliment #1. Now go do the math, and wait for some more!

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  33. Barbara L Shields - February 25, 2021 6:17 pm

    I love pecans most of all, but you come in a close second. Just finished the Stars of Alabama book. Had to put it down because I felt so bad for those kids whose mother died. I don’t like to cry, raised that way, kind of sad , really, but, aftere a few days I went back to it, as I knew I would. Vern and Cooter and Helen got me back on track. So glad I found it, Sean. Looking to read more. And, make some pecan-topped cinnamon rolls in honor of you and your sweet wife.

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    • Maryann Root - February 26, 2021 9:43 pm

      That was the saddest, and most hopeful book I ever read. Talk about emotions!!! You’re awesome to have finished it. I got sad, walked away, then came back.

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  34. Penelope Clifton - February 25, 2021 6:28 pm

    Dear Maryland, It took me 20 years to write my book. Well, not Actually 20, more like 6 or 8 years spread over 20. But I do like to tell people it took me 20 years! That included researching how to self publish, which is a whole ’nother thing in itself. So, go for it! Doesn’t matter how long it takes or how many people read it. Or how many people like it. For me, I just wanted to see if I could ‘write a book’, and I worked in a really, really fun and interesting field, so I had my setting. It’s reasonably good, too, because readers ask when the next book is coming out. (Oh, please, please don’t make me write another book.) Jk, it will be much easier the second time around. So, GO FOR IT! From a fellow Maryland writer.

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  35. elizabethroosje - February 25, 2021 9:04 pm

    Hi Sean!~ sorry for not commenting much this week – busy week – but as always I LOVE your writing and your posts, including this one. I have dreams of writing. But for now just managing a book review is an accomplishment (and blogging in general, been at it 17 years!) anyway, I LOVED your circle book A LOT. Also…your book out March 2nd… well…. I ordered it from bookshop website and somehow it already CAME. Yep. I have it right here on my desk, it’s beautiful and I’ve already started it and LOVE it. Don’t know how I got it early but super happy to have it! And I can see how you loved those characters and that you wrote it during this year makes it even more special. Good job Sean and keep writing! and my love to Jamie! We are still praying for you 2 + Mother Mary and are rooting for you guys!

    Reply
  36. cekey44 - February 25, 2021 10:41 pm

    I love your writing. Based on what you have written you are blessed with a wonderful wife.

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  37. Christina - February 26, 2021 6:39 am

    Thanks for being faithful at this nut job every day

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  38. Sandra Burnett - February 26, 2021 2:56 pm

    And you hadn’t even submitted it yet! And how do you know where and how to submit it to a publisher?!

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  39. Bob Brenner - February 26, 2021 4:08 pm

    A “Nut Job”? But one hellava writer! I apologize to all my Sunday School teachers. Excuse my language, I’m a nut job just not a writer! once again Sean you have started my day with a smile.

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  40. Susan Kennedy - February 26, 2021 6:57 pm

    But you’re such a “pretty” nut job!😉😘

    Reply
  41. Maryann Root - February 26, 2021 9:40 pm

    You are Pretty! Come over to my house & I will feed you…we love you!!

    Reply
  42. johnallenberry - February 27, 2021 7:07 am

    Wise, wise, words! I may have to share these with my Creative Writing class!

    Reply
  43. Sue Cronkite - March 2, 2021 10:02 pm

    You nailed it! Happens every time! I’ve got two books under my belt and starting in on a third.

    Reply

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