Why Is Writing So Hard For Me?
It's not uncommon to feel like you're struggling to put your thoughts down on paper. Writing is hard. Even acclaimed authors that have published dozens of books struggle.
"If writing is easy, you're doing it wrong," writes Bryan Hutchinson, the founder of PositiveWriter.com.
Why is that? What makes writing so difficult? In this post, we'll explore why writing may be challenging for you and offer strategies for overcoming those obstacles.
Let's get started!
Writing is a Demanding Task
Writing is a complex process that requires you to express your ideas clearly and concisely. Organising your thoughts in a cohesive, logical manner while looking for the right words to convey them effectively is difficult.
You have to focus for extended periods. That takes a lot of energy. Many struggle to fit their writing around the other responsibilities in their life, such as their job, taking care of their children and spending time with their loved ones.
There are no easy answers. However, to succeed as a writer, you must find a way to fit writing into your life somewhere. Some people wake up early and write before starting their day. Others stay up late to make progress on their writing projects.
It's not as easy as cutting your TV time and writing instead. Writing is significantly more demanding than watching a movie at night. Trying to write on top of everything else in your life is unsustainable and will burn you out.
You have to make real compromises.
You're Doing Too Much
Writing is a lot like running. Seasoned runners can run ten miles every day without much trouble. Now, imagine trying to do that with no prior training. That'd be terrible. And doing it every day? No chance.
The physical limits of our bodies are much more apparent, but our minds have limitations too. When you haven't been writing regularly, scheduling thousands of words to write every day isn't realistic.
To prevent burning out, start small and work your way up. Increase your daily word count only when you can comfortably hit your current one.
When starting from scratch, consider not setting a goal at all. Get comfortable with your new writing routine before putting too much pressure on yourself.
Alternatively, set a time goal. Instead of aiming to write the same number of words every day, focus on writing for a set period — like 30 minutes or an hour.
If you use Writing Analytics, you can set time goals for your projects. The app will track your progress automatically.
Lack of Motivation and Accountability
Before you achieve any success, writing is an entirely self-motivated endeavour. No boss is assigning work to you and setting deadlines. You don't have a publishing contract that stipulates when you have to deliver your manuscript. Thousands of readers aren't eagerly awaiting to read your work. You're on your own.
The initial excitement of embarking on your writing journey will only take you so far. Motivation will run out. It happens to everybody.
You may find a plot hole and don't know how to fix it. It may not be clear where to take the story next.
Why is writing a book so hard? It's too easy to quit when nobody's watching. Unfortunately, many aspiring writers abandon their manuscripts before they can finish them. To ensure you keep going: make it difficult to quit.
Learn more about some of the tools and strategies writers use to stay motivated and accountable.
Temporal discounting refers to our tendency to value rewards received in the present more than those that will come in the future. You are more likely to choose a smaller reward that is available immediately over a larger reward that will be available in the future.
If you write 250 words every day, you will finish a book every year. That adds up to 20 or 30 books throughout your career. Most people would consider that a great achievement.
With a bit of practice, writing 250 words would take you no more than 30 minutes per day. So, why don't more people do it?
Even though this makes perfect sense, our brains aren't wired to grasp just how powerful a small amount of effort over a sustained period can be. Remind yourself of the importance of showing up and doing the work regularly.
Skipping a writing session may not have any immediate downside. It doesn't matter until you skip enough days to scupper your chances of succeeding as a writer.
Streaks are a simple and effective tool to build and maintain momentum as a writer. Learn how to use writing streaks to be more productive.
Lack of Research
Sometimes you're stuck simply because you don't have enough knowledge of the subject matter. Whether you're writing an essay or a short story, what makes it onto the page is often only a fraction of your understanding of the topic.
Are you missing something? Perhaps you might need to do more research or world-building? This work may never make it onto the page, but it will give you the necessary context to write.
Ernest Hemingway called this the iceberg theory. The words on the page are merely the tip of the iceberg of the work that the author had to do. What remains unsaid is still a part of the final work. Without it, your story will lack depth, and you will struggle to complete it.
Don't spend too much time researching before you start writing — that can become another form of procrastination. To maintain momentum, skip parts of the draft. At the end, you can do more research and fill in the blanks.
Lack of Experience
Writing is both an art and a craft. Many techniques that writers use can be studied and learned through practice. These will become a part of your toolset and help you be more efficient.
This includes technical abilities like proper usage and more nuanced skills like structuring an argument well. How to set up and resolve a scene? How to build tension in your story? How to execute a plot twist without the reader calling your bluff?
Literature abounds with authors that became true masters of the craft. When you read, take time to understand how did the author do it? What makes their story work so well?
However, you cannot stop there. The only way to master these techniques is to practice them yourself. It's a typical chicken and egg problem. You won't improve until you've written enough, but writing can be incredibly daunting when you feel like you have no idea what you're doing.
When starting out, you'll have to accept that your work won't be as good as you might like. Don't compare yourself to the world's best writers with decades of experience and support from major publishers. It's not a fair comparison.
Remember that you don't have to publish any of your first stories. But you have to write them.
Lack of Focus
The Internet revolutionised publishing, but it also gave us endless distractions.
Finding the mental space to write is challenging when your phone is flooded with push notifications. When any movie ever made is just a few clicks away. Platforms like Facebook and Google employ the world's most talented engineers to design algorithms to keep you hooked.
Writing requires deep work. To get anywhere, you must create an environment where this type of focus is possible.
Put your phone on airplane mode; unplug the wifi from the wall. Go to a coffee shop where you don't know anyone. Find a way to unplug and focus on the work that matters.
These may seem insignificant, but they are easily the difference between good and terrible writing. Over months and years, small distractions can become the difference between a successful and failed writing career.
Fear of Failure
When your story is just an idea, it seems flawless. As you write it down, you will inevitably find something wrong with it. It's part of the process.
You may resist writing your story because you're afraid of discovering that perhaps it isn't as good as you thought it would be.
Procrastinating allows you to stay in the grey area where your story could work, only if you had the time to write it. It keeps the dream alive while it brings you closer and closer to failure.
Before you know it, years will have passed, and you're still working on the same story. The irony is that the fear of failure often becomes why you fail.
Keep writing even if you don't think the story is going anywhere. Keep finishing stories. You have to get those terrible stories out of your system so you can write the good ones.
Fear of Being Judged
Putting your thoughts down on paper exposes you to the possibility of criticism. Once your work is out there, you have no control over it. You don't know what people will think of your stories and, by extension, of you.
The fear of judgement isn't always conscious. It often manifests as extreme, crippling perfectionism. Some writers will be stuck rewriting the same section again and again, never making progress because of the fear of being judged.
In reality, this is just your ego lying to yourself. Finish a few stories and you'll discover that even getting someone to read them will be a challenge. Obscurity is a much bigger issue for new writers than criticism.
Remember that you're your own worst critic. You may feel that people will judge you harshly, but it's too difficult to predict how your readers will react. Even well-established authors sometimes miss the mark. And these failed books go through a complex editorial process at a major publisher.
As the creator, you're biased. The only way to learn how readers will react to your work is to finish it and put it out there.
Is writing worth it?
There has never been more opportunity to tell your story and have your voice heard. You can self-publish or share your writing with millions of readers online. You don't need to have influential friends. You don't need an agent or publisher. You don't need anyone's permission. You have access to the same tools that the best writers of our time use to connect with readers and have your ideas spread.
Writing takes dedication and a lot of hard work. But if you persevere, the words you write on your laptop or phone can quite literally change the world. Is that worth it?