Hi friends! In my last post, we talked about how sometimes, as creatives, our passion for our work can mysteriously evaporate. But when we dig deeper, we can usually find a reason for our sudden lack of enthusiasm. Losing your passion for writing is only a symptom of a problem, and if you can figure out what the root problem is, then you can work toward a solution.
We discussed two possible reasons last time: exhaustion and real life issues. Today, we’re going to take a look at my other three reasons why writing might become a drudgery rather than a delight.
Reason #3: Lack of Self-Confidence
How It Affects Us
It seems to be the nature of writers to struggle with self-doubt. I hear it all the time on social media, in books on writing, in the thoughts rattling through my own brain… Do I have what it takes? Is my writing any good? Will everyone else realize I’m a fraud? This pitfall probably boils down to the fact writing is more of an art than a science. It’s not quantifiable, and worse, it’s entirely subjective. A book one person adores, another will despise.
And from what I can tell, this struggle with self-doubt doesn’t go away. Your first book gets published and readers love it…but what about the sequel? Maybe the entire series is a runaway bestseller. But will anyone like the next series? The pressure to create something better than the last thing you wrote will always be there, and, if we can’t keep it in check, can quickly sap the joy of creating.
Too much pressure leads to that tight, panicky, stressful, icky feeling in your chest. And how can you possibly write if you feel like puking in your trash can?
Even worse, what if your worst nightmares come true and nobody does buy your sequel? What if you get terrible reviews or trolls sending nasty e-mails? What if they’re proving what you suspected all along–you are, in fact, a terrible writer?
How easy it is for us to let anything and everything derail our confidence! And once confidence is gone, enthusiasm vanishes right along with it. Who wants to put all the time and effort into creating something nobody else cares about?
What to Do About It
Not gonna lie, this is tough. Negative reviews and negative thoughts hit us hard right in the core of who we are. If you love writing, if it inspires you and gives you life, hearing someone else’s criticism is going to hurt. Badly.
You have a couple of options. Yes, you can quit. You can decide they’re right, that writing is too much work without enough reward, and you could feel a lot better about yourself as an accountant or professional chef or whatever. Good luck with that.
Because reality is, if you’re a writer, you probably can’t quit. Something inside of you won’t let you. You’ll open up that laptop or notebook, stare at the blank page, and feel yucky inside because you want to write so badly, but you can’t get over all that criticism.
So now we’re on to the second option: keep writing anyway. Spend a bit of time evaluating what you’re doing and why. Why did you start writing in the first place? What do you love about it? What are your favorite parts of the things you’ve written, even if nobody else liked them?
It’s human nature to disagree on matters of opinion. Somebody out there will hate every book ever written. Don’t believe me? Look up reviews for bestsellers on Amazon.com. There are ALWAYS 1-star reviews.
What if all you have are 1-star reviews? Maybe it’s time to acknowledge you need to spend a little more effort honing your craft before you put your work out there. Study books on writing. Read widely in your genre to see what other writers are doing. Take a class or attend a conference.
The key is, DON’T GIVE UP. Self-doubt will lose some of its power when you recognize all of us struggle with it. Both the good and bad are part of sharing your writing with others. When you acknowledge, and even expect, bad reviews and negative thoughts, you’ll be better prepared to weather the storm. (Chocolate and binge-watching Netflix are okay too. 🙂 )
Reason #4: Pressure
How It Affects Us
We talked a bit above about the pressure to produce in terms of others’ opinions. But pressure can also come in the form of deadlines and goals, whether self-imposed or given by an editor/ publisher. Deadlines themselves aren’t the problem–they can provide a needed kick in the pants to get us moving–but they become a problem when they turn into a pressure cooker.
Some writers, in an effort to create faster, will set high daily word count goals (NaNoWriMo, anybody?). Some self-published authors, desperate to build a readership, will try to release multiple new books every year. Sometimes traditionally-published authors will over-commit and have to juggle deadlines for more than one book project at a time. Even a single deadline can become stressful if you procrastinate.
While I think we can manage under tight deadlines and long working hours in occasional spurts, it isn’t a healthy lifestyle. Too much stress causes plenty of documented physical problems, and it’s particularly bad for the creative process. When I feel overwhelmed and panicky about deadlines and pressure to produce, my brain freezes. Words won’t come. Instinct takes over and demands I withdraw to my flannel pajamas and a Hallmark movie.
What to Do About It
It’s human nature to need breaks. In fact, in the creation story, after God creates the world (through words, by speaking it into existence), He takes the seventh day off to rest. If the Creator of the universe gets a day off, why do we feel like we need to work constantly? When the stress becomes overwhelming, you might need a break.
On the other hand, it can be nearly impossible to relax when you’re stressed out over a deadline. Maybe, instead, you need to change up your priorities for a couple of days. Give yourself permission to feed the family pizza and eat off paper plates, or use a vacation day from work, or hire a babysitter and head to a coffee shop for a few hours. Sometimes one really solid work session will be enough to cut back that tight-chest, clenched hands, stressed feeling.
If you’re looking at constant pressure, maybe it’s time to re-evaluate your game plan. Maybe publishing more than one title a year isn’t practical for you. Maybe you need to talk to your editor and see about extending some of your deadlines. Maybe you just need to back off on your own word count goal and factor in some rest time.
The important point is, don’t try to make a writing career work under constant pressure. Nobody can handle it for the long haul. You got into this writing gig because it was fun, right? (I sure hope it wasn’t to get fabulously rich, but if you figure out how, feel free to share!) Be brave enough to admit when something isn’t working and take the necessary steps to make changes. Change can be hard, and might mean giving up some of your goals temporarily, but in the long run, your career will thank you.
Reason #5: Writer’s Block
How It Affects Us
Did I save the best for last? Often when I don’t feel like writing, the problem boils down to a case of writer’s block. Plenty of blog posts exist on this one topic alone, so I won’t spend too long on it, but in a nutshell, when you don’t know what to write, it’s pretty hard to feel motivated to try. And the longer the block persists, the harder it is to get going again. Writer’s block might even develop into its own form of fear.
I have no idea what happens next. Whatever I write is going to wreck this story. Nobody will read it. This is a waste of time.
Who can write when they’re afraid of failing?
What to Do About It
Again, googling “writer’s block” will turn up plenty of ideas, but I’ll share a few here that have helped me. I had a pretty vicious case of writer’s block a few years ago. It was summer, we were in the middle of a monstrous home-remodeling project, and I was desperately trying to figure out how to fix my broken draft of what would become KINGDOM OF STARS AND DUST. Since my house was a disaster zone, I’d take the kids to the playground, bring a notebook and pen, and sit on a bench. And stare at the blank page. I must’ve done that for weeks, jotting down random ideas (usually plot bunnies for other stories).
Finally, I read some ideas for ways to tackle writer’s block. One of them was to have a back-and-forth dialogue with your story and write it out on a piece of paper. Question on the left-hand side, answer on the right. It wasn’t like I came up with brilliant new questions. They were all things I’d been wrestling with already. But somehow forcing myself to write an answer, no matter how bad it was, unlocked my creativity.
The other thing I did–go ahead, you can laugh–was write a letter from my left brain (the analytical editor) to my right brain (the creative muse). Basically I promised to stop criticizing my story so much and give my right brain space and freedom to work.
I rewrote the entire (too long) 120,000-word story that fall.
Often, writer’s block happens when we’re at a loss for how to fix something broken in our work. We know there’s a problem, we know the story isn’t working, but we don’t know what to do about it. Or, it could be the story was going great, and now it’s derailed like a train off the track, and we have no idea what happened.
The good news is, your subconscious mind is already working on the problem. The answer exists, and your brain CAN and WILL come up with it…eventually. There are a few things you can do to expedite the process, though. One would be to talk to a critique partner, a writing coach, or a developmental editor. Other ideas include journaling from a character’s POV, making a Pinterest story board, using creative brainstorming techniques (like my back-and-forth dialogue), or backtracking to where the story first started to derail and trying to figure out what scene or event threw things off.
If nothing else works, sometimes giving your subconscious mind some space to keep working can help. Catch up on some of that laundry, tackle an organizing project, or dive into a different creative pursuit, like drawing.
Ultimately, this is your work and your writing career. If a story isn’t working, it’s okay to set it aside and start something else. Maybe, after you’ve learned more about the craft, you’ll be able to come back to it and do the idea justice.
Whew, that was a long post. Thanks for sticking with me! Have you faced any of these writing killjoys? What did you do to overcome them? Feel free to leave a comment!
Image credit: Pixabay.com, CC0 license.