Why It’s Tough to Be A Writer
Common Struggles and How to Overcome Them
Is writing as a profession or a hobby any more challenging than any other profession or hobby? Every profession has it’s downsides. Every hobby has it’s learning curve. Still, many of us — writers and non-writers — hold a belief that there is a certain mystique to writing that few can approach, challenge and become one of the chosen. I call bullsh*t on that myth and have some insight on where it came from. Perhaps this knowledge is the first step in overcoming the dragon.
Fear of the Blank Page
I think the fear of a blank page starts in grade school. As children, we are given an assignment to write about something we may have no knowledge or interest in and no idea where to start. We are left staring at a blank piece of notebook paper, hoping for a miracle, and fearing writing anything on that vast expanse of white because it might not be right.
Promoting fear of the blank page doesn’t end in grade school. In a wonderful article about writing productivity, columnist Drew Magary explains how in his college writing course they were actually taught to be afraid of the blank page. He acknowledges, “Too many writers have been taught to be afraid of writing and have had their voices suppressed as a result. You don’t have to be one of those writers.” He is absolutely right.
There is nothing to fear that practice can’t overcome. A blank page is not precious. In fact, it is a virtually unlimited resource. You can scribble on it, write a sentence, or three, and if you don’t like it, delete or erase it and start over.
There’s an idea that we have to start at the beginning of whatever it is we wish to write. Beginnings are tough. They set the tone. They have to capture the reader’s attention. They have to start at the right place in the story — not too late nor too soon. Here’s a trick — don’t start at the beginning. Start wherever you want. If you have an idea, a sentence, any thought at all, start there. You can figure out where it fits later. You just need to get the words flowing.
Putting words on the page promotes confidence and gets your mind working. It gives your brain permission to go where it wishes. Just write anything. Get ink on the page so it’s not blank anymore. A page with words on it is not nearly as intimidating as a blank page.
Writing is a Solitary Pursuit
Many professions and hobbies require or at least are easily done with other people. Writing is something you need to do on your own. It’s just you, your computer, and if you’re lucky, some characters in your head talking to you or ideas whispering words of inspiration. Eventually, there may be editors, collaborators and beta readers, but for that first draft, it’s all you. This can be a frightening prospect.
For some, that solitary feeling is akin to being out on a liferaft in the middle of the ocean. You don’t know where you are, where you’re going or how to get there. As a writer, there is often no one to talk with, to bounce ideas off of, or to tell you you’re doing the right thing. Like an explorer, you must forge ahead hoping to discover something unique and valuable. Only after you find it do you get to ask others what they think of your treasure.
That’s often how it feels and to some extent, that is reality. However, these days it is easier than ever to find people who can support you in your writing. There are online writing groups, forums, and workshops. There are also in-person writer’s groups and Meetups. Talking with other writers about your struggles and successes can make you feel less alone and a part of a larger community.
Another option is having an accountability buddy for your writing goals. A buddy can be found through entrepreneurial groups, courses, and workshops. You could also rely on a friend or relative, but it needs to be someone you will be honest with, accountable to, and who will call you on your cr*p when you aren’t doing what you say you will do. Your buddy doesn’t need to be a writer, just someone you can talk with about your writing goals and who you will be accountable to for meeting those goals. It’s useful when that person also needs an accountability buddy for whatever goals they have, but it’s not absolutely necessary.
All the Good Ideas Have Been Taken
There is no such thing as a new idea. It is impossible. We simply take a lot of old ideas and put them into a sort of mental kaleidoscope. We give them a turn and they make new and curious combinations. We keep on turning and making new combinations indefinitely; but they are the same old pieces of colored glass that have been in use through all the ages.
- Mark Twain, a Biography
As writers, we are also often voracious readers. Sometimes it feels like all the good ideas, and many not-so-good ideas, have already been taken. There can be a fear of not having anything unique to say, or accidentally repeating what has already been said.
Tom Kuegler, Medium writer and travel blogger, has some solid advice about coming up with original ideas: To get to these rare beasts, I think you need to detox yourself from the ideas that others spit at you in books, articles, and social media.
I’m not sure I agree with his basic premise that we should read less, but I appreciate the notion that we often absorb too much and take those ideas too seriously. Published stories, novels, and social media posts are no more valid than your own ideas, but sometimes we get so inundated by particular concepts that they seem like Truth that must be echoed in order to be accepted. That’s simply not true.
You have your own unique voice, way of seeing the world, and method of expressing your ideas. Let go of what you think people expect you to write about and tell a love story or murder mystery in your own unique way. Let people discover who you are through your ideas and don’t worry that it’s been done before. Love has been done before too, but we all want it in our lives. It’s how well it works that really matters.
Yes, it can be tough to be a writer. As in all professions and hobbies, there are pitfalls and struggles but there are also tips and tricks to navigate the rough parts. You are not alone. Seek out the wisdom of those who have gone before. Most importantly, keep writing. The only way to learn is by doing. Even when you are afraid, lonely and questioning your abilities — just write.
What do you think? What struggles do you have as a writer? What fears do you face? What challenges are unique to writing? (To comment, highlight a sentence, click on the word balloon, and type away!)