You love to write. So do I. When you engage in an activity you love, it shouldn’t be a struggle. Have you ever thought that? I know I have, especially when I’m in the middle of a story and I’m stuck. I look at my outline and I don’t want to write what is on the outline because the story is not coming together like I thought it would. The plot has moved in a different direction or the conflict feels trite. I want to pound my forehead on my desk and ask, why is this such a struggle?
I wish I knew. End of Blog.
No, wait, I do know, I just don’t like the answer and you might not either.
Writing is a struggle for the same reason that raising kids is a struggle, and losing weight is a struggle, and living a happy, healthy life is a struggle.
All struggle makes us grow into better human beings. Don’t you hate that? I know, I know I do too. But it’s true. The difficulties and the challenges make us better even though we don’t want to go through them.
And that writing struggle, will make you a better writer. I know this is true because I’ve witnessed writers who had potential and hit that writing wall, and they worked for a little while, but when things got too hard they gave up.
But I know many, many published authors who also found themselves struggling to get the story right. And they cried and they cursed, and they pushed through until the story came together. This is why they are published authors today. They finished the story, and they grew as writers.
Kristin Hannah, author of 25+ bestselling books, spoke at a writer’s organization I belonged to years ago about a tough time she had with one of her books. She had been transitioning to larger, deeper concept books and really struggled to get the story right. Her editor kept pushing her to make changes and eventually flew to her house to help her get the story finished. She struggled and it was painful. When she told her story to our organization of writers, it was painful to listen because we’ve all been there.
Not all of us are lucky enough to have an editor sit beside us and force us to get past those hard parts, so we have to be our own tough editor.
When you give up and stop struggling, you stop growing, your writing does not improve, and you stagnate as a writer. If Kristin Hannah hadn’t learned to make changes to her writing and to become a new kind of writer, she might not have written all the wonderful books that followed.
The struggle means that you know the piece you’re writing could be better. And that’s fabulous! It happens at each stage of our writing. At the beginning we struggle, then writing gets easier, then we realize we could do better, and we struggle again. If you didn’t realize your weakness, you wouldn’t be struggling which means you wouldn’t be improving.
Even though you might be nodding your head in agreement, you are probably still thinking that struggling is no fun, and you’d like it if writing, as well as other parts of your life were less of a struggle. I get it, so how can your struggle a little less? Here are a few suggestions.
Where Are You Struggling?
The first thing you want to do is to identify where you are struggling. In writing we all struggle with different parts of the process. Some people have a difficult time with plotting and knowing what will happen with their story. Others struggle with making dialogue sound believable. You might struggle with procrastination or finding time to write. Identify what you’re struggling with and then get help. Read books on plotting, characterization, dialogue. Learn how to improve that part of your writing and strengthen your skills.
Think of Kristin Hannah’s editor. What would she push you to improve? What books would she recommend? Read books on craft, but also read books in your genre and see how others are handling the issues you’re struggling with. Over time, you’ll find that you struggle less with that and you will have grown as a writer.
Preparation Helps You Struggle Less
Preparation might look like creating an outline so that you are guided through your novel with a road map. Thinking through the story ahead of time makes it easier to see the full picture and understand the significant story question that every author should know about their story.
Preparation might also look like removing obstacles. Writing when you won’t be interrupted by children or work obligations. Having a quiet place to work. Turning the phone and internet off. Preparing to focus on the story allows your mind to switch everything else off and get your work done. Your mind won’t be cluttered with other things and can think through plot issues, etc.
Preparation also means keeping up with your skills and the craft. Reading often about how to improve your writing. You are more prepared to write smoothly when you’re clear on what good, effective writing looks like.
All writers can get stuck or struggle with know how to proceed with a story if they don’t know enough about a topic. Prepare by doing research ahead of time. If your character is an airline pilot, read everything about being a pilot because having that information available will allow you to write intelligently about the character. You’ll know what possible issues the character might have that influence her life at home, with friends, her health, etc. Researching a head of time prepares you to write better and have more interesting ideas.
Giving Up Means You Are Choosing Not to Get Better
Most importantly, don’t give up. Accept that struggle means you’re getting better. It means you’re good enough to realize that something is wrong with your writing. Trust yourself that you can fix it. Tell yourself that if you put in the time and effort, you will get through the difficult part and you will have a great piece of writing.
Sometimes as writers we have to be good at giving ourselves a pep-talk. Instead of beating my head against my desk, I draw in a few deep breaths and I focus even more on the problem. I go back a few chapters and see where the problem started or what is missing. I tell myself that it’s my story and that only I know how to make it better.
I had an editor tell me once that she was disappointed with what I had turned in, that after so many years, she expected me to have evolved into writing stronger stories. That was not easy to hear and at first, I didn’t receive this well. Unlike Kristin Hannah’s editor, she didn’t sit by my side and hold my hand. She mailed me a manuscript covered in red ink and sticky notes on what she wanted me to fix, and a litter with about 20 points of major revision.
I could have given up on that story, and said it was beyond help — according to the this editor.
But, first, the book was under contract, I couldn’t give up. And second, it’s not in my nature to give up, so I sat down with the story and started again from the beginning.
The book became Evenings at the Argentine Club, a book that became much more than what I had originally envisioned and that earned great reviews. When I look back though, it’s still not one of my favorite books because when I think about it, I think of struggle and pain.
But going through that pain, helped me to move forward and write Say You’ll Be Mine, a book that didn’t have the same type of issues with handling subplots and consistency that I had previously.
Giving up means you’re refusing to grow, and you don’t want to do that as an author — or as a person.
Give Yourself Some Space
Have you ever tried super hard to think of something like that one item you needed to buy at the grocery store, but no matter how hard you think, you can’t remember? Then as you’re driving home, singing along with a song on the radio, you remember! Darn it, I needed XXX. It was the main reason you were going to the story and you can’t believe you forgot.
Well, this happens with writing as well. Sometimes that more we think and struggle to think of the solution to our plot problem or how the story should end, the more blocked we become.
So, giving yourself some space from your story can help. This is not giving up, it’s allowing your mind to relax and returning to the story with a fresh perspective. You might go for a walk, go to sleep, take the weekend off from writing, and try again later.
You can and probably still think about the issue in a relaxed way. Tell yourself as you’re going to sleep that maybe you’ll dream about the right way to end the story, for example. Or as you’re walking, briefly and in a non-stressed-out way, wonder about the issue. Or don’t think about it at all. Read something different. Robert Olen Butler has an interesting book, From Where You Dream about relaxing the intellectual part of our brain and writing more from our emotions.
That space sometimes opens up your mind.
Ultimately, remind yourself that this is still a fun process. It’s a struggle, but like a puzzle, you’ll figure it out eventually. Enjoy the work of creation. And compared to other struggles in life, if the final result is not perfect, you can always try again and make it better.
Have a story to tell? Want to learn how to record personal experiences before they’re lost or write a novel? Let started by downloading for free Julia Amante’s “Free Your Story” framework.