Sometimes the things holding us back aren’t what we think they are. Take writer’s block: we blame our writing skills or the story itself.
But sometimes it’s the people around us that are the problem, or our lack of knowledge on the topic we’re writing about.
So what’s really holding you back? Is it what you think it is?
Let’s take a look at some of the most common — and underestimated — areas that can hold you back as a writer.
The wrong support network
This is an uncomfortable one. The sad truth is, a lot of us are surrounded by unsupportive people and we don’t even know it. This can be damaging to both our mental health, physical health, and of course, our writing skills.
Sometimes it’s people who tell you how to write a book when they’ve never even read one.
Other times it’s people who tell you writing is a waste of time, so why bother?
Or it could be people who offer well-meaning advice, but they want you to focus on building skills for your full-time job and not your long-term writing goals.
All of these things can be detrimental to your desire to write. They can also kill your love of writing.
You have two options:
- Learn to block out/ignore their comments
- Cut that person out of your life
The latter isn’t always possible, but it’s amazing how much headspace it can free up. I cut a toxic person out of my life last year and everyone around me noticed a difference to my stress levels almost immediately, despite how close I’d once been with that person.
If you’d prefer to ignore their comments — or that’s your only option because, say, you’re related to them — tell them that you appreciate their advice, then slyly change the subject. In the future, don’t bring up the topic of writing with them, no matter how excited you are about something — if you stop bringing it up, eventually they’ll stop asking about it.
Not treating your writing like a business
To have a successful career as any form of writer, creativity must come second to business. Treating your writing like a business helps you to focus your efforts and narrow down on what’s working.
If your writing is a passion project and not something you plan to make money from, you can skip this one, but if you want to make a living from your writing, the most important part isn’t your writing itself: it’s your business know-how. It’s your marketing skills. It’s your sales technique. Then it’s your writing. That’s how subpar books become bestsellers: they know how to find the right audience.
Overthinking creative ideas
I get it. It’s your baby. You want it to be perfect. But it never will be. Every book you write will be better than the last. If you spend forever obsessing over the same book, you won’t progress. You’ll stagnate.
Think of it like treading water compared to swimming. The more you swim, the farther you travel and the better your technique gets.
Eventually you’ve got to stop thinking and just. Start. Writing.
Focusing too much on the wrong things
This is a trap that fantasy and sci-fi writers are most likely to fall into: you spend so much time planning and world building that you have no energy to write.
Or, worse, you feel like you’ve already told the story so there’s nothing left to write. Then what do you do?
The first thing you can try is distance. If you’re still itching to come back to it, that’s a good sign! You can then go back to your notes to work out where to start. It doesn’t have to be the opening scene — nearly every one of my books I’ve started writing in the middle.
Your first draft doesn’t have to be written in chronological order. If you’ve already got an extensive plan to refer back to and you use a tool that helps you get organised like Scrivener or Novel Factory, it doesn’t matter what order you write your scenes in. After all, it’s called a first draft for a reason.
If you put it to the side and don’t want to go back to it, it may be time to move on to another project. It’s normal to outgrow writing projects and you shouldn’t feel like you have to go back to something.
Never finishing anything
You can’t know how a story fits together without committing to finishing one.
The more stories you finish, the more you learn.
If you spend all your time writing beginnings, you’ll have stellar openings and flat — or worse — subpar endings that don’t live up to reader expectations.
Writing skills are strengthened by how often you write and finish things. There’s no way around it.
If you’ve got several projects on the go at once, it will take you longer to finish each of them. It’s therefore more beneficial to focus on one project at a time before writing the next one. That way, you’ll have a clearer idea of the story as you go, making it more vivid for you and your reader.
Finishing one project at a time also ensures that you’ll learn from the process with each one.
I’ve published seven novels and novellas, and my plotting process is refined with every book I write. It’s an ongoing process.
It’s also worth keeping in mind that as you change, your writing process will likely change, too. What works for you on book one probably won’t still work by book four.
The key is to ensure that you have an emotional connection to what you’re writing, whether that’s through the characters or the story itself. The more emotionally connected to the material you are, the stronger you desire to finish it will be.
The most successful writers I’ve seen are never the ones with the Creative Writing degrees, they’re the ones with the business background. Why is that? Because they know that creativity is the least important part of your writing career. Follow your audience, not your creativity, and your prospects will improve dramatically.
Not only that, but don’t be too hard on yourself. The more you let your inner critic get you down, the longer it will take you to finish something and the longer it will take you to refine your craft. Commit to finishing something and you’ll be surprised at how much you learn.