• 7 Common Writing Struggles and How to Overcome Them

    06.11.2018 • Category: Stories

    Common writing struggles, how to make time for writing
    I’ve recently been binge-listening to The Secret Library Podcast, hosted by writer and book coach Caroline Donahue; it’s so inspiring and encouraging, jam-packed with wisdom and practical advice for writers at any stage in the journey, from a really diverse range of people working in the book writing and publishing industry. So, I was over the moon when Caroline agreed to answer some of the questions members of my online writing club, The Writing Habit, have shared with me about the common struggles they’re facing in their writing lives right now. (If you want to go deeper into any topic, click on the links to listen to the podcast episode she’s referring to.)

    1. The Writing Habit: “What would you say is the number one biggest struggle you find your clients face with their writing projects, and do you have any quick advice as a starting point for working through it?”

    Caroline: “The number one fear seems to be the belief that they not properly qualified to write and will end up looking foolish or getting hurt by sharing their writing with the world. This fear comes up in many ways—writers’ block, desire to keep taking courses or getting an MFA in the (mistaken) belief that these will make publishing less scary, becoming too busy to write and claiming it doesn’t hurt anyone if their writing takes a back seat to the rest of their lives… So many roadblocks appear when we think we don’t deserve to be called writers, and that for some reason other people do. My best advice is that, unfortunately, there is no course, diploma, or stamp of approval that will make sharing your work feel easy. People who have MFAs and PhDs and have published numerous books are still every bit as fearful as those publishing for the first time. Being more qualified isn’t going to make you feel less scared. Deciding that feeling scared isn’t a reason to give up on something is what will help.
    There is no course, diploma, or stamp of approval that will make sharing your work feel easy.
    Everyone is scared when they share their work, either as a published book or in a writers group. Your fear is not the boss of you. Often the issue isn’t that we’re scared, it’s what we make being scared mean. All it means is that we’re doing something that has the potential to shift the status quo for us. This is a good thing. I have started substituting a feeling of dread when I think of publishing with the mantra ‘I must be onto something big here.’ We don’t get scared about going to the grocery store. We get scared about the foundation-shaking stuff. This is what writing is meant to do.”

    2. The Writing Habit: “How, in reality, do you get from ideas, characters, even scene ideas, to an actual book taking physical shape? I often feel I have so many ideas for books, but I don’t know how to take steps toward writing chapter or organising my thoughts in any real way.”

    Caroline: “Every writer has a different approach to this. Susan Orlean talked about wrestling with a giant topic and ending up with a reasonably sized book in recent episode 121. For fiction, I have a few people who talk about structure and digesting an idea into a book. The sad truth is everyone is different, from Paul McVeigh’s beautiful thoughts on how long it takes a story to come together, to Lisa Cron’s thoughts on writing from the character’s drive, to Diana Gaboldon’s entirely free-form approach. You have to start writing and figure out what kind of writer you are; it’s not something that can be learned in advance of writing the book. You learn how to do this by taking the leap and putting words on the page day after day.”
    You have to start writing and figure out what kind of writer you are; it’s not something that can be learned in advance of writing the book. You learn how to do this by taking the leap and putting words on the page day after day.

    3. The Writing Habit: “Can you tell us a bit about the process of publication? How should I go about getting in touch with publishers/what should I do once I’ve written something?”

    Caroline: “A couple of thoughts here. If you haven’t finished the book yet, please don’t torture yourself with any more thoughts about publication at this point. All of that energy should go into writing the best book possible. Once the book—or possibly to proposal if you are writing nonfiction—is finished, then you can think about where its publishing home should be.

    If you want to publish traditionally, it’s unlikely you would go straight to a publisher. The first step would be getting an agent. Terra Chalberg of Chalberg & Sussman discussed that process in episode #25. There is also a case for independent publishing as well, and the amazing Joanna Penn discusses how she makes a sustainable living from writing as an independent author in episode #84.”

    4. The Writing Habit: “The biggest struggle for me is to write beautiful and natural-sounding conversations. Do you have any advice for writing dialogue well?”

    Caroline: “Love this question! A tip from me: I try dictating dialogue-heavy scenes and then having them transcribed with Dragon Naturally speaking software. I find the dialogue comes much more naturally when I have to speak it out loud as I write. In addition, I spoke with Wesley Brown in episode #57, who compared the process of writing dialogue with jazz music. This conversation changed how I thought about dialogue completely.”

    5. The Writing Habit: “I’d love to hear about how writing on a personal blog has played into the development of a writer’s work. I am beginning a blog and would like to see how they used this platform as a way to develop their career or their writing in general. How did they gear it toward writing?”

    Caroline: “Joanna Penn, mentioned above, has used a blog very successfully to build her writing platform. She came back on the show to talk about writing nonfiction specifically. In addition, Susannah Conway started as a blogger and built her audience that way as well.

    As a general rule, I would say blogging has the most impact on nonfiction writing and platform building, but plenty of fiction authors do it as well. For her fiction, Joanna Penn (writing as JF Penn) has a separate blog with photos and stories about the research trips she takes for her thriller novels and people love it.

    If you want to blog, it can be incorporated. But, if you are dreading doing it, then I would stick to writing your book and stay with a platform you enjoy; I love podcasting as my way to share content, so I do that much more often than I blog. I write an article a few times a year that I feel is truly useful, and spend the rest of my writing time on books I’m working on.”

    6. The Writing Habit: “How do you make time for writing? I have small kids, and it’s always a huge struggle.”

    Caroline: “A few tips. Victor LaVale talks about how he created a writing routine when his first child was born. His wife is also a writer, and they worked out a system that may be useful.

    In addition, try not to make it about a polarity of neglecting your writing or neglecting your family. It doesn’t have to come down to that. Look at other things that can be handled differently. Can another member of the family make dinner a couple of days a week, even if it’s just frozen pizza? Can you hire a local teenager for a few hours one afternoon or evening a week to watch the kids? Do you have friends with little kids and you can all swap watching each others kids to free up a couple of evenings a month? Often the guilt moms feel about putting anything above their children makes them feel its not acceptable to take more time for writing. My friend Milda Harris is a total inspiration to me, with young twins and a thriving writing career. She’s another great episode to listen to about this issue.”

    7. The Writing Habit: “I have a fear of exposing myself too much, which is rooted in a fear of vulnerability, and a fear of failing or of others thinking my writing isn’t good. Do you have any advice?” 

    Caroline: “I think what I said about about the challenges people face when writing speaks to this one, but I will add that you have to shut out the rest of the world when you write. It doesn’t matter what others think. That isn’t to say that you don’t want to write something good and to keep getting better as you go, but no ones opinion of your writing determines whether or not you are a real writer.
    Work hard, work with an editor or two, but don’t let this fear of what the amorphous they might think stop you from trying. As Brené Brown said, if they aren’t putting themselves in the ring and putting their work out in the world, their opinion is of no concern to you. You decide whether or not it’s good and whether or not you get to keep writing. Choose in favour of growth for you.”
    You decide whether or not it’s good and whether or not you get to keep writing. Choose in favour of growth for you.
    To wrap up, I asked Caroline to share her top favourite episodes from The Secret Library Podcast, and the writing lessons they contain. Here’s her list:

    1. You can’t fix a blank page

    “In my conversation with V.E. Schwab (episode #38), she makes a very strong case for accepting that in your first draft, your idea and what it looks like on the page will be the farthest apart, and in revision you can get it closer to what you imagined. But, if you never write the first crappy draft, there’s no way to get closer and closer and reach your final book.”

    2. Great careers don’t need to start in the early 20s

    Kit De Waal (episode #96) didn’t start writing until her 40s and published for the first time in her 50s. Writing is her second career, and she has created a movement and a tremendous following in the UK, which is spreading to the US—very inspiring for any writer over 25 who feels like they’ve missed the boat.”

    3. Overnight success is a myth, and you wouldn’t want it anyway

    Jojo Moyes (episode #90) is the author of the international bestseller, Me Before You, which was later made into a film. Moyes wrote 3 novels that didn’t sell, and a total of 8 novels before she had a hit. Does she regret it? Not at all. The time spent writing  as a less famous author made her a better writer and prepared her for the pressure that a mega hit created.”

    * * *

    I hope you found this advice as helpful and inspiring as I did. You can find out more about Caroline at her website, and if you haven’t already signed up to my monthly newsletter and online community for busy people who want to make more time for their creative writing, you can join us, here—it’s free, and every month I share advice like this from other writers, along with a writing prompt and tools to help you develop the writing habit of your dreams. Happy writing, friends!

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