Overcoming Obstacles as a Writer

Writers of all levels of experience face obstacles, all of which can suffice as excuses for stopping a work-in-progress all together; however, there’s no need for that as all obstacles can be overcome.    

The “Writers Block” Obstacle

Writers block transpires when you’re working on a piece…words and plot points as far as the eye can see, and then BAM. You hit a wall. Suddenly, you’re slogging through semantic mush and that horizon of storytelling potential is pitch black.

There are many reasons writers block happens to fiction and nonfiction writers. While there’s no known cure, experienced professional writers all advise to continue writing even when the going gets tough. You can help yourself by getting a little creative distance…revisit the outline and prewriting notes or take a walk, cook, garden, clean the house, fold the laundry, etc.

One reason many writers find themselves blocked is because they try too hard to get it all right in the first draft. While you want to have as clean of a first draft as possible, don’t stress. The perfecting part happens in revision and in editing.

The “Tyranny of Time” Obstacle

I don’t know of a single adult who isn’t strapped for time. A prospective new client called to talk about a project and could hear my small children screaming in the background. He said, “Are you sure you have time to do this?” Yes, I do, because I make writing and editing a priority above watching television, above my pitiful, thirsty garden, above Mt. Laundry, above house cleaning, above a full night of sleep, etc.

My point is we make time for what we care most about. If you care about writing, make time for it…even if it’s just half an hour a day, it’s better than no time.

The “Story Got Cold” Obstacle

Not finding time to work on a work-in-progress can easily snowball into the story turning into a cold case. It can be difficult to reignite your fire for a story when the pilot light goes out, so don’t let it. Make it a habit to continually contribute to your work-in-progress no matter what.

The “Distraction” Obstacle

Speaking of time, if all you have to give to writing is half an hour or so a day, don’t spend a minute of it perusing social media or deleting e-mails or whatever else you habitually do when you sit at the computer. Don’t even read this article if this is your writing time. There is no advice, no best-practices, no nothing that is on the Internet that’s going to make you a better writer or that’s going to help you execute that first draft other than sitting down and writing. Period.

The “Self-Doubt” Obstacle

Now, let’s look at an internal obstacle to your writing. Keep in mind that self-doubt can look like other obstacles such as tyranny of time or writer’s block, but the problem is actually more related to confidence or anxiety. While I cannot assure you that you’re the best writer in the world, I can say that if you have an idea and you’re excited about writing it, then you should write it. You’re the best person to write it because you came up with it, so do it.

Being a writer is a precarious combination of being confident to the point of being delusional with fantasies of glory and grandeur (looks at J.K. Rowling and thinks, “I could do that.”) while simultaneously thinking you are dumb as dirt and couldn’t write your way out of a paragraph. Try to keep that second impulse at bay.

The “Ran Out of Steam” Obstacle

If you’ve ever been writing and things started strong but find the writing is slowly grinding to a halt, it could be that you’re running out of steam. There are lots of reasons writers run out of steam. You’re overworked. Your story is starting to feel phoned-in. It could be that you’re entering a challenging point in the story (major milestones like the 1/4, 1/3, 1/2, etc. points are usually difficult), and you’re stuck in the middle. It could be that you need to reset your writing pace from grueling to moderate (unless it’s NaNoWriMo, writing isn’t a race).  

Strategies I Use for Overcoming These Obstacles

I’ve endured all of these obstacles at varying points. Here’s what I do to overcome them:

  • I don’t revisit or revise a work until it’s finished.
  • I plan with an outline, character sketches, background story, etc.
  • I put goals on my daily / weekly to-do list (ex: finish character sketch for (character); start character sketch for (next character))
  • I keep my phone away from me while working. I avoid checking e-mail or logging onto social media.
  • I remind myself of why I wanted to write the story in the first place. I focus on those moments that first excited me about the idea when I start to lose steam.
  • I use outlines and chapter checklists to know what takes place in a chapter, so I can keep track of the story; otherwise, it runs the risk of turning into a tangle of plot points.
  • When self-doubt rears its ugly head, I keep my eye on the prize: that finished manuscript.
  • I only work on one project of the time to avoid losing focus.
  • I don’t beat myself up when or if I miss a day of writing; I give myself kudos when I do write.
  • I think about the characters and the story all of the time to keep the story from going cold.

That said, what are some obstacles you encounter and what are some of your strategies for overcoming them?

No matter what the situation is, obstacles slow down your writing, but they don’t have to stop it. If you’re stuck in your manuscript, get someone to evaluate it to help you untangle the mess. If you want a review or additional pointers, contact me, Vonnie York, and I’ll get you and your manuscript back on track.