The SHOULD DO WOULD DO Book Dilemma.

I’ve noticed a pattern in my process over the last couple years. I like to call it the SHOULD DO WOULD DO book dilemma.

The SDWD dilemma occurs when I finish a project, and (after taking a few days to lose myself in vodka and cupcakes), turn to my ideas folder. Invariably, there are TWO (or more) projects waiting for my love and attention.

One project is the SHOULD DO. It makes sense. AND/OR I know how to write it. AND/OR I know there’s a book-shaped space for it in the market. AND/OR It’s in my comfort zone.

The other project is the WOULD DO. If there were no publishing industry, no expectation of sale, no concern for reception, nothing but me and my blank page, it’s the project I would write.

Now listen to me, lovelies.

ALWAYS CHOOSE THE WOULD DO BOOK.

Maybe it seems obvious now, but it’s not always. Whether you’re desperate to get INTO the industry or desperate to STAY in the industry, every time you come to the SHOULD DO WOULD DO moment, you will waver. You will look at the book deal announcements or at your bank account or at anything and everything around you and it will all seem like justification for picking the SHOULD DO book.

But here’s the thing (and I should say here’s the thing FOR ME because I can only speak for me, but this is my blog so we’re going to assume that you know that).

Here’s. The. Thing.

Even if your writer brain says to pick the SHOULD DO book (writer brains like to pay rent), your writer heart does not want you to. And your writer heart CAN BE A VINDICTIVE LITTLE BEAST.

If you go against it, it will betray you. It will block you and trip you and do everything it can to stand in the way of your writing the SHOULD DO book instead of the WOULD DO book. It will make the process feel like swimming upstream, and that will take the joy out of the journey because in writing THE JOURNEY IS THE JOY. God, it sounds trite but that moment when you totally lose yourself in the world and the words and you realize how powerful it feels to be a writer…that FEELING will be replaced by THINKING. Thoughts like I hope this sells. I hope this is right. I hope the book-shaped hole in the market doesn’t close before I finish etc etc etc.

And that is ruinous. Writing with those thoughts is ruinous, not always to the material, but to the process. To the joy.

Nothing in this industry is for sure, kids. NOTHING. You have to remember that. Writing the SHOULD DO book instead of the WOULD DO book means writing for the industry instead of for yourself and that’s dangerous and destructive and it can be done but it takes the joy out of the journey, which you can control, and gives it to the end game, which you can’t.

It is so tempting. I say that as someone at that very crossroads. Someone who would love to pay rent.

And someone who has been fighting with a near-blank page for two weeks, trying to figure out what’s wrong with me. Why my writer brain, which has given me the ideas, is now so resistant to seeing them realized. But it’s not my writer brain resisting. It’s my writer heart.

Because I picked the SHOULD DO path. I did it willingly. And now I’m changing course. I’m setting down the SHOULD DO and picking up the WOULD DO, and it is terrifying and maybe a bad idea (and that’s my writer brain begging, pleading) but the moment I opened THAT document, the WOULD DO one, I smiled. The moment I started typing, I lost myself. There was joy in the journey again.

I think it gets harder, as you travel down the publishing road, to pick the WOULD DO book. But I think it’s even more important that you do.

So whether you’re just getting started, or far along, this is my advice.

If you find yourself facing the SHOULD DO WOULD DO dilemma, always pick the WOULD DO book.

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29 thoughts on “The SHOULD DO WOULD DO Book Dilemma.

  1. dothutchison says:

    I think this is very closely related to the “always pick the book that scares you” maxim of writing, and it’s brilliant. Thank you.
    Cheers~
    Dot

    • veschwab says:

      Yes, definitely. I think the complicating factor is not the fear of failure, though, so much as the promise of success inherent in picking the SHOULD DO book. of course there IS no promise of success, ever, but our writer brains are cunning little things.

  2. Heather Ponzer says:

    Good advice! Who knows- the two may intersect by the time you finish.

    • veschwab says:

      Thanks, Heather. And I think that for me, they’re both projects I love, it’s just a matter of timing and motive. I would love to come back to the SHOULD DO project when it’s no longer a matter of should.

  3. Jessica says:

    I agree. For the past two and a half months I’ve been blocked because my subconscious wants to work on a novel I pantsed and try and edit it into something publishable. No matter what else I try to work on, in the back of my mind is this little nagging voice telling me to work on my finished novel. Honestly, I’m miserable everyone I try to write anything else. So, I’ve decided to work on it. I definitely think it’s one of those SHOULD DO books. 🙂 Love the post.

    • veschwab says:

      In this post, SHOULD DOs are actually the ones you feel external pressure to work on, and WOULD DOs are the ones you’d work on if there were no readers, no industry, etc. But it sounds like you have a bit of both on your hands with this project, because you love it AND it is potentially publishable. Stay strong, and carry on!

  4. Jess Keating says:

    I give you the highest of fives for this post! Excellent advice, and you’ve hit the nail on the wee writer’s head as far as how we waver between our shoulds and woulds. Love it! Thanks for posting!

    • veschwab says:

      Yay, the highest of fives!! And it’s HARD. The siren song of the Shoulds is often as powerful as the muse song of the Woulds!

  5. James Harden says:

    You. Are. Wise. Like a Mr Miaygi practicing crane style on a beach on california. If done right, no can defense.

  6. Akoss says:

    Thanks for this priceless advice. ❤

  7. Thank you for posting this. I am a newbie at the writing thing and this just gives me hope that I’m doing the right thing in what I’ve chosen to write about.

    • veschwab says:

      Yes!! Just listen to your writer heart as much as your writer brain (we can’t deny the brain ENTIRELY) and you’ll stay on course 😉

  8. Deserae McG says:

    So I’m assuming we’re working on the WOULD DO book? And by we I mean you, and by you I really did mean you. Go V! Taking the road less traveled has always done wonders for me so I suppose in the world that is writing, why should that be any different? I’m very proud of you for taking the leap of faith. This totally brightened my day and I thought I must share it with my part of the world just in case someone needed it, too.

    Lots of love, V! And lots of luck as you take a chance on that WOULD DO beatie.

    • veschwab says:

      You assume correct. Or rather, I am about to embark, giving myself permission to play. And really, writing is a context, but the Should Do Would Do dilemma shows up all over life 🙂

  9. Oh, Victoria, this post resonated SO MUCH with me! Good for you for figuring out what was blocking you and having the courage to change course. I’m also at that crossroads, working on a “would do” book and holding my breath the whole (long!) time as I write it, not knowing what the industry will think of it…but it’s the only way to go. *HUGS*

    • veschwab says:

      I’m SO glad, Stephanie. And it’s a scary, scary thing, but I’m so proud of you for working on the WOULD DO book.

  10. I LOVE this post! You’re right; there are always two projects to choose from. I’ve chosen the Would Do a couple of times now. I’m having trouble with the rent thing, but my writer heart is happy.

  11. lexcade says:

    You have such a knack for posting THE thing at THE time I need it. I just started my own Would Do book, and it’s HARD and I’m so glad I’m trying. Thanks for this!

  12. Meg (Jen's friend) says:

    Wow, I really needed this post! This is wise advice for not only writing, but almost any career field. So often we choose the “stable” or “safe” path when our heart is just dying to take that chance! Made me feel so validated reading this today. Thanks for posting 🙂

    • veschwab says:

      I’m so glad it spoke to you!! And yes, it’s very hard NOT to choose the path of apparent stability, especially in an industry with so little.

  13. Beth DiIorio says:

    I greatly enjoyed reading your post and couldn’t agree with you more! Your thoughts can be applied to so much in life and you did it in a fantastically well articulated way. I’m now a follower. Keep up the inspiring thoughts 🙂
    Beth

  14. […] Write out all your options. The decision seems clearer to me, already. Failing that, this Should Do Would Do Book Dilemma post from Victoria Schwab might help. Share this: Filed under Writing ← Craft: Pretty up […]

  15. […] need to be given. I’d highly recommend hopping over to Victoria’s website and reading the full article. (I’d also recommend getting your hands on her debut novel The Near Witch because it’s […]

  16. […] blog about, too. (Check out Victoria Schwab’s awesome take on the same subject here – https://veschwab.wordpress.com/2012/03/09/the-should-do-would-do-book-dilemma/). Writing for fun, versus writing to get published. Are the two mutually exclusive? No. Can they be […]

  17. […] Write out all your options. The decision seems clearer to me, already. Failing that, this Should Do Would Do Book Dilemma post from Victoria Schwab might […]

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