Top Five Ways Writers Sabotage Themselves
Writers are interesting beasts. As Robert A, Heinlein said: “Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.” It is the nature of our art to be solitary for a goodly chunk of each day. We sit in our living rooms, in coffee shops, or in a local park with our eyes glued to a notebook or a keyboard. We snap when someone interrupts our train of thought at the exact moment we were about to remember that perfect word. We forget to eat when the words are flowing like melted butter off a stack of pancakes.
Writing is a solitary pursuit. Because of this, when we fail to reach our goals, we have no one to blame but ourselves. Here are five common ways that writers sabotage themselves, and what to do about it.
1- Looking too far ahead.
It’s so easy to do. We tell stories non-stop and we sometimes tell ourselves stories as well. Picture this: you’re in the middle of writing your first book. You daydream about getting the call from an agent that wants to represent your book. You see yourself in a local bookstore having a party on the day your book hits the shelves. You imagine selling the movie rights and mentally decide what actors will star in your story.
Then you send your story baby out into the world and no one is interested in it.
“I’ll never write again! What’s the point if no one will read it!”
Don’t Panic. We all go through this. Even published writers have some projects that no one is interested in. If you are an unpublished author, it’s even harder to get anyone’s attention. Carrie wasn’t the first book Stephen King wrote, and he had exactly two tons of rejections before anyone picked it up.
What to do Instead: It’s fine to daydream about that ultimate success, but don’t let that be your main goal. Let the writing be the main goal. Writing a book is never wasted time. With each project you finish, your writing gets tighter and your voice becomes more clear. Trunk that book that didn’t get attention and start the next project.
2- Waiting for Inspiration to Strike
When the ideas and words are flowing so fast your fingers on the keyboard can hardly keep up; that’s one of the most awesome feelings in the world. It’s addictive, that feeling. You love it so much, that when you aren’t inspired, the writing feels awkward and fake. You’ve been working on your novel for years. You see other writers that complete several projects a year, and you don’t understand how they do it. Are they more inspired than you? Do they have a team of sneaky ghost writers?
Don’t Panic. All writers enjoy that inspirational high, but it’s important to realize that giving it too much attention is holding you back.
What to do Instead: A writer that waits on inspiration to strike is a writer that is not using their time effectively. Theatre has an expression, “Butts in Seats,” that means producing a great play isn’t going to get you anywhere unless you get people’s butts in the audience to see it. I’m going to steal that for writers and tell you to get your butt in the seat and write some words. Try to do it as often as you can, as much as your life and day-job allows. Sure, you might not write as much as usual that day, but every word you write adds up. Say you want to write a 100,000 word novel. If you wrote 550 words a day, every day, for six months, that 100k novel would be complete. In addition to that, if you set yourself a goal to reach 500 words on a day you aren’t feeling it, you will often write more than that. The act of putting your butt in the seat and writing builds momentum as you go along. Don’t worry if it goes slowly and awkwardly. The purpose of a first draft is to get words on paper. You can pretty it up in rewrites.
3- Fear of Failure
You are working on the best novel you have written to date. When you re-read it, it’s so good that you can hardly believe you have written this story. Then you get bogged down in the middle and can’t seem to work on it at all. Maybe it sucks. Just because you love it, doesn’t mean it’s any good. What if everyone hates it?
Don’t Panic. All writers, no matter how experienced, have times when they look at the words they have created and see only suckage. This is normal. It does not mean the work is not good.
What to do Instead: You are in your rough draft stage. Focus on that. It’s not supposed to be its shiny best yet. That’s a job for re-writes. Focus on the work, not the end game. Remind yourself that it’s normal to have these “My writing sucks!” moments, and power through.
4- Fear of Criticism
You are writing your first book. You’ve completed a passage that you believe is the bees knees and you can’t wait for others to read it. You post it to a writer’s forum online, and wait expectantly for the accolades to roll in. Then the constructive criticism begins as they pull it apart.
“Oh my God! They hate me! They think I’m stupid!”
Don’t Panic. Don’t take it personally. The vast majority of people giving you help are trying to do one thing and one thing only. They are trying to help you improve your writing. All writers, no matter how experienced and awesome, have editors to give them advice and make their work shine even more brightly.
What to do Instead: Put the comments away until your initial reaction has calmed down. Remind yourself that critics are trying to help, and it’s not personal. It’s about the writing, not about you. Writer’s say you have to develop a thick skin, and this is what they are talking about. You must be able to look at criticism of your work with a professional attitude, not with your emotions. Now, once you have calmed down, look at those suggestions. Decide which ones have merit, and which ones do not. Try changing the passage to reflect the advice you decided was useful. Look at the new version of your words. Is it shinier? Is it even more awesome now that you’ve done a re-write on it? Consider the specific lessons you learned, and apply them to the rest of your writing. This is how we learn and grow into more polished writers. You can’t fix the issues if you don’t know what they are.
5- Fear of Letting Go
You are getting closer and closer to the end of your novel, and you find that the words are getting slower and slower. You don’t understand why. You know exactly what happens at the end and you’ve pictured it a thousand times in your head. Why can’t you finish the book?
Don’t Panic: It’s common to get stalled close to the end. Focus on why you are stalled. We pour our souls into our books. We become attached to our characters. It can be hard when that relationship comes to an end. We don’t always want to say goodbye.
What to do Instead: For me, it’s difficult to finish a book until I have the idea for the next project. It’s much easier to say goodbye to your cast when you have a new cast waiting in the wings. Figure out what project you want to write next, and get a little excited about it. Remind yourself that you can’t start the new project before you finish the one you are in the middle of. Sometimes looking forward to the next story gives you what you need to finish the one you are in the middle of and say goodbye.
It’s time to vote! I submitted my book, Descending, to Kindle Scout. Descending has to get votes to be noticed by the Kindle editors. The final decision is up to the editors, a lot of votes don’t get you published, but you won’t get published without a lot of votes.
What to do: If you have an Amazon account and you want to help, go to this link https://kindlescout.amazon.com/p/1GSTCATCKN5TS and vote for Descending. Each Amazon account holder gets 3 votes for books they’d like to see published.
What’s in it for you: If Descending is chosen for publication, every person who votes for it gets a FREE advance copy of the e-book, and an opportunity to review, if you wish, before anyone else.
How you can help: Vote, if you can. Share this post with friends if you are willing. Vote now! Get a free e-book!