How Gluttony Can Derail Your Book: the 7 Deadly Sins of Writing
Gluttonous writing makes miserable reading…
It was a little like something from a horror movie: in the silence among the stacks, where I’d made my nest, I saw the lights start to click off.
But there weren’t monsters coming to get me; it was just the deadline for my degree dissertation hurtling towards me faster than the speed of writing.
I was in my favourite corner of the library, in a fort made from books of Egyptian grammar, archaeology, and out-of-date translations of ancient stelae, frantically researching the role of women in ancient Egypt and panicking about my imminent deadline.
My topic was “did the priestesses — the God’s Wives of Amun — of ancient Egypt hold any real political or fiscal power?” Not an easy question to answer, and there wasn’t a lot of official opinion to be found.
Which is partly why I wanted to write about it.
Only, I was paralysed. I didn’t feel like I knew enough. And I understood the importance of many, many citations in a dissertation, so I was greedily gobbling down every scrap of information I could find on the subject.
Trouble was, I was long past the time of researching. I’d entered the time of writing, and hadn’t noticed.
And now I was being hoofed out of the library because they were closing — but I hadn’t met my daily writing goal.
Heart pounding, palms clammy, and with a high-pitched buzzing in my ears, I stuffed everything into my bag and jittered off to catch the late train home. I could scribble more notes on the train.
I’d fallen prey to one of the 7 Deadly Writing Sins: gluttony. And, to my dismay, I’d trip over this particular one again and again after I graduated, too.
You’ll find a lot of these deadly sins are actually manifestations of procrastination. This sin is one of them.
You might be wondering how I’ve managed to turn “gluttony” into a deadly book-writing sin. That’s a good question. Let me explain.
There are three ways in which gluttony can scupper your Big Book Writing Adventure.
1. Too much research
This is a fear thing as well as a procrastination thing. It started with my dissertation and continues today.
I still do it all the time. I think, ‘Oh I need to know a little more about this particular topic’ or ‘There’s a gap in my knowledge and I need to fill it’–and often those things are true.
But then I over-research.
There comes a time when you know enough and that time is usually in your past. Trust in yourself and your expertise and allow yourself to stop researching and start writing.
Schedule your book writing: the bulk of your research happens in the preparation and planning phase. You might need to do a little extra research here and there, but try not to research and write at the same time.
Gather your material, make your notes, save your articles–then you can refer to them when you need to–and you won’t disappear down a wormhole of fascinating but unrelated information.
2. A little less conversation, a little more action
(Sorry about that ear-worm.)
We all know someone who talks a big game but never seems to do anything about it. We’ve all probably been that person, too, at some time. I know I have.
I’ve known people who are “going to” write a book or climb a mountain or run a marathon or quit their job or learn a language.
They never do.
They’re gluttonous talkers, which has the sad effect of fooling their brains into believing they’ve actually done something useful. This is why visualisation is only good up to a point.
It’s great to visualise yourself being successful at something or winning because it helps you believe you can do it. But too much of it, and your brain will start to believe it’s already won and you don’t need to do any more work. It sits back with a smug grin on its face and… nothing happens.
I found that when I stopped talking about the things I wanted to do, I started actually doing them.
I don’t mean stop talking to everyone; tell your mentors or your best friends or your accountability buddies… but stop rabbiting on about it to everyone all the time. If you’re gonna write a book, announce it to a couple of people, then zip it and start writing.
3. Too much bloat
When I eat too much — usually spaghetti — I get bloated. When I get overexcited and lose the core message of my book and try to put everything from my brain onto the page, my book gets bloated.
Be careful this doesn’t happen to you. Every single word you put in the final version of your book should relate to your core message and Big Idea. It should entertain, inform, or persuade (or all three).
Don’t make the mistake of thinking you have to cram everything you know into this one book; you can always write other books (hurrah!) Be brutal when you’re editing: cut out anything tangential and keep your writing tight.
Trying to stuff everything into one book is gluttonous: it’s for you, not for your reader. Your reader wants to know everything about your book’s core message; no more, no less.
Keep it Lean
Have confidence in yourself and your ability. Do the research you need, and be honest about when to stop and write.
Quietly decide to write your book — and then sit down and do it. You don’t need to keep talking about it.
And when you do write, keep your writing tight and lean. You’ll have loads of good ideas that don’t directly relate to this book: store them somewhere safe, ready for another book or an article or a podcast. Don’t try to stuff them into this book. It’ll bloat.
Not sure how to start writing? Want to build a healthy writing habit?
Start with my free 29-Day Writing Challenge. Join us here.
Want more deadly writing sins? Check these out: