Many potential authors remain potential authors not because they don’t have ideas or can’t write, but because they’re paralyzed by potential; they never write a personal brand building book because they are so trapped by what they could write that they never get started and finish their book.

When you’re trapped by potential, you never move beyond the the idea stage; each time you start to write, your attention wanders as new ideas appear.

Progress grinds to a standstill as ideas build upon ideas; soon, you find yourself dreaming about follow-up books, rather than completing your first book!

I discovered “paralyzed by potential” in Patrick Snow’s Creating Your Own Destiny: How to Get Exactly What You Want Out of Life and Work – a book that combines equal parts inspiration and practical, hard-headed advice.

Creating Your Own Destiny is also an excellent example of a life-changing, personal-brand-building book that transformed the author’s life from a “nobody” looking for a job to an internationally-respected  “somebody” as a top-shelf inspirational keynote speaker, coach, and consultant in the post 9/11 world.

Originally self-published, Patrick Snow sold over 150,000 copies of Creating Your Own Destiny before signing a 2-book contract from John Wiley for a trade version.

Are you paralyzed by potential?

Here are some of the symptoms that might indicate you are paralyzed by potential:

  • Continued lack of progress on your book. You may be paralyzed by potential if months go by without concrete progress in terms of 1) finalizing your book’s table of contents, 2) preparing a book proposal, and 3) completing the two sample chapters literary agents and trade book publishers are going to want to see before considering your project. It’s a definite red flag if years have gone by since you first thought about writing a brand-building book.
  • Exhilaration when thinking about new ideas. There’s nothing wrong with excitement, unless the excitement of new ideas gets in the way of taking concrete action to move your book project forward. Agents, publishers, and readers don’t buy potential; they only invest in your project when they see concrete, tangible, examples of what you can do and what you have done.

A lack of progress on your book, coupled with the intense excitement that occurs when brainstorming new book and content new ideas with friends, is frequently accompanied by frustration over the quality of what you have written.

Frustrated by perfection

The search for perfection is the Number One Obstacle that prevents authors from finishing their books. If you find yourself constantly frustrated by the quality of what you’ve written, you’re probably suffering from both the paralysis of potential and the paralysis of perfection.

It’s all too easy for creative, quality-driven individuals to forget that the contents of the books they purchase, and turn to for inspiration, often bears little resemblance to the initial drafts that the authors submitted to the publisher.

All authors need editing. To compare your first drafts with published books is setting yourself up for failure. The books you enjoy reading have likely been edited and re-edited several times.

Using “freewriting” to get over the paralysis of potential

Several books have recently appeared that offer new insights into overcoming the paralysis of potential and its partner, the paralysis of perfection.

One of the best was Scott Belsky’s Making Ideas Happen: Overcoming the Obstacles Between Vision & Reality, discussed in an my earlier Personal Branding Blog post.

Another book that offers a pragmatic approach to overcoming the paralysis of potential is Mark Levy’s Accidental Genius: Using Writing to Generate Your Best Ideas, Insight, and Content.

Mark devotes Part l of Accidental Genius to The Six Secrets to Freewriting. The starting point to understanding freewriting Mark’s statement that our minds hold a vast invisible inventory of thoughts and expertise that, if we could reach them, could create ideas and solve problems. As Mark wrote:

Freewriting teaches you to how to get at what’s inside your head, so you can convert the raw material of your thoughts into something usable, even extraordinary.

Mark continues, “Freewriting…pushes the brain to think longer, deeper, and more unconventionally than it normally would. By giving yourself a handful of liberating freewriting rules to follow, you back your mind into a corner where it can’t help but come up with new thoughts. You could call freewriting a form of forced creativity.”

Here are Mark’s 6 secrets to freewriting:

  • Secret #1: Try Easy. Instead of trying to write perfect prose, calm your expectations and just get some “decent words and ideas down on the page.”
  • Secret #2: Write Fast and Continuously. Fast, continuous writing calms the brain and overcomes the natural temptation to self-edit while you’re writing.
  • Secret#3: Write Against a Limit. Give yourself a time limit; use a timer, and keep writing until the timer goes off.
  • Secret #4: Write the Way You Think. Focus on the ideas, and write the same way you talk around the kitchen table with your family.
  • Secret #5: Go with the Thought. Free associate new ideas and develop them, following them wherever they lead.
  • Secret # 6: Redirect Your Attention.Ask yourself questions about what you’ve just written, and answer them in your own words.

You’re not alone

Don’t panic if you feel you’re paralyzed by potential. If you’re not making the progress you feel you should, remember that it’s a normal part of writing. Indeed, the better a thinker and a writer you are (or want to be), and the more you care, the more likely the paralysis of potential will interfere with your progress.

In many cases, successful writing is not a matter of creativity or grammar; it’s the result of recognizing and taking purposeful action to get over obstacles like the paralysis of potential. The 3 books mentioned above can make a big difference in your ability to write and publish a brand-building book, as can book coaches and interacting with other brand-building authors who are addressing the same challenges you are.


Roger C. Parker shares ideas for planning, writing, promoting, & profiting from brand building books in his daily writing tips blog. His latest book, #BOOK TITLE Tweet: 140 Bite-Sized Ideas for Compelling Article, Book, & Event Titles, offers step-by-step ideas and examples plus easy-to-use tips.