On December 26th, I made some New Years Resolutions, publically, here at Fantasy Author’s Handbook. Then I came back on January 9 to report on my progress, bemoaning my lack of progress getting back to my own writing. Now I’m more than a month past that, and still falling behind my rosy predictions of how much writing I was going to get accomplished. But this post is not going to be a whining session—I promise. Instead, maybe I can serve as an example of when we need to make tough decisions about our own writing in order to see that that decision wasn’t actually as tough as it seemed.

First of all, this is how I described the state of my writing productivity back on January 9:


What the hell!

Most days—no writing at all.

Not acceptable!

Now, six weeks later?


Better, though!

Most days—at least some writing.

Could be lots better.

That’s progress, right?

Okay, so then also on January 9 I determined to take my own advice from my post from August 15 of last year, my cap to a long series of posts examining Henry Miller’s advice to authors, starting with:


1. Work on one novel at a time until finished, while also writing the occasional poem, short story, article, and weekly blog post.

Then I said:

I know exactly what that novel is—the novel I’ve been ruminating over for, literally, years now. I’ve filled a full notebook with worldbuilding and character notes. I’ve already written a few scattered scenes, and the whole thing is at least semi-formed in my head. I know what the theme is. I know who the hero is, and who the villain is, and what they want, what they’re willing to spend to get it. I have just enough outline to get me started. There’s no reason not to dive in and write the damn thing.

And six weeks later? No actual work on that novel at all. I’ve worked on other stuff—poetry, short stories, etc., but six weeks after this full-throated declaration, no work on the “work in progress.”

Guess what?

That means it’s not a work in progress!

It’s still a good idea for a book, I am still reasonably clear on where it starts, where it’s going, etc., so then why no writing?

Maybe, I finally considered, I’m just not that into it.

At least, not right now.

That was when the lightbulb went off. I ended that same list of “commandments” with:

10. Write the book you care the most about—the story that speaks to you, that won’t let you sleep at night, that won’t go away.

And you know what? This “work in progress” wasn’t it.

Another book was, though—the one I figured I’d get to eventually, after I finished the other one I wasn’t writing.

This realization may very well save my whole year. I’ll start working on that other book instead.

I just wish I’d thought of that sooner.

So if, like me, you’re stuck in the “in progress” part and not engaged in the “work,” consider this:

It’s not you, it’s the book.


—Philip Athans


About Philip Athans

Philip Athans is the New York Times best-selling author of Annihilation and a dozen other books including The Guide to Writing Fantasy and Science Fiction, and Writing Monsters. His blog, Fantasy Author’s Handbook, ( is updated every Tuesday, and you can follow him on Twitter @PhilAthans.
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  1. JM Williams says:

    You get to the book when the time is right. It’s hard to write without inspiration, no matter how well you have the story plotted.

  2. Pingback: Writing Links 2/26/18 – Where Genres Collide

  3. Marina Costa says:

    In the same situation, it might be me. My incapacity to slice my time as in to focus on everything I want done. The book is advanced. I have only 6-7 chapters left. And I know what I want to write there, just not exactly how. And then I find easier to focus on all the other smaller things that I know how to do and I can do quicker…

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