Discovering That You Have Nothing to Say

Writing makes thinking visible. The process of writing reveals gaps in logic, mistaken assumptions, unanswered questions, holes in evidence, and every other species of confusion.

At times it reveals something on a grander scale: You really don’t have a book inside you right now.

I have seen this happen to people. And, it has happened to me.

It is not pleasant.

Sure, you have pages and words—maybe thousands of words.

But one morning you sit with a sobering cup of coffee and read all those words. And there comes a sudden discovery, a moment of sickening clarity.

My manuscript really doesn’t say anything.

Maybe it’s page after page of restating the obvious—attempts to say what’s been already been said much better by other people.

Perhaps the anecdotes fall flat. The examples are thin and don’t ring true. The text meanders from topic to topic with no logic or flow.

Or, you find page after page of abstraction and no actionable instructions. There’s nothing that would actually lead people to move their mouth, arms, or legs differently after reading your book.

Sometimes the wisest option is to completely rethink the project, to start over—or simply let the whole thing go.

This can hurt. A lot.

At such times, it’s important to choose your language carefully.

You could describe your discovery as a disaster.

Or, you could describe it as enlightenment.

You thought you knew something and had something to share—something that would light a fire in other people. And now you know that you don’t.

This is a sacred moment.

When you realize that you do not know, you are free to learn. You have reached a place that Shunryu Suzuki called ”beginner’s mind.”

And how wonderful you got there now—before you invest more time, money, and energy in the project.

Before trying to squeeze more drops from a dry intellectual sponge.

Before trying to publish and promote the book you thought you had.

Before the book gets slammed by reviewers and rejected by readers.

Remember that it’s just a manuscript. It’s not you. Word count is not the same as self-worth.

You can work with someone like me to fix the manuscript. Or you can put the project on the back burner and let it simmer for a while.

When you clear your mind and become willing to start over, you might find that something real enters to fill the void.

Writing can be as stern—and as enlightening—as a Zen master.


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