Writing is complicated.
This powerful, transformative medium that exhilarates us, waking us up in the middle of the night, frequently boils down to an awful lot of hard work.
I often wonder how and why writing becomes difficult.
What changes from day to day?
Some days you crush your word count, banging out hundreds (or thousands) of words.
The next day, riding high on the momentum of the previous session, everything stops.
Your mind clouds over.
You can’t seem to connect your thoughts.
And you begin to doubt yourself, wondering if you’ll make progress again, wondering if your previous success was a fluke.
You begin to wonder if you just wrote two thousand words of garbage—garbage you’ll have to delete.
I watch my students struggle with this. They’ll kill an essay, earning praise and high marks. They’ll write a beautiful poem, revealing more than they’d ever anticipated. They’ll light up, and they’ll shut down.
The worst part?
The best writers are their own worst enemies.
They don’t trust themselves.
I tell them to ride the waves, to come back to the page, but these ups and downs take a toll:
- They lose confidence.
- They lose sleep.
- They lose time they can’t get back.
And I get it—all of it.
And I’m sure you get it, too.
Often, writing’s just a lot of hard work.
And that’s hard to square with your inner writer—that part of you that feels threatened or diminished when the words don’t flow.
So, I’d like to share some ideas with you—some truths that helped me stay the course.
When I lose my way after a bad day of writing, I come back to these truths, and they keep me anchored, sane, hopeful.
So, I’m sharing them with you today, hoping they help you love and accept your writer self.
Accept that You’re Walking Your Own Writing Path
Indulge me in a brief, musical side trip…
The second song on James Taylor’s award-winning album Hourglass speaks perfectly to this issue.
The narrator, upon hearing of an old friend’s passing, struggles with grief. Overcome, he walks outside to take in the view. At some point in his reverie, he chooses acceptance, honoring his old friend’s path, singing,
It’s enough to be on your way
It’s enough to cover ground
It’s enough to be moving on…
These words are strong medicine.
Accept that you’re walking the path, that your path is enough.
You’ve pulled the trigger. You’re writing and achieving. You’ve immersed yourself in the details.
The problem isn’t the path. It’s the view from above, reminding you that there’s no perfect route, no expressway taking writers from point A to B. There’s no magic formula transforming fledgling poets into bestselling novelists.
And that scares you.
You’d prefer a little certainty.
After college you get a degree. At the end of a work week, you get a paycheck.
You get this path, and you’re not sure where it leads.
But remember, your path is a discipline—nothing less, nothing more.
And that discipline is simple: return to the page.
Each day makes you stronger. Each experience gives you another angle, another edge. You get more for the page, more for yourself, more for your readers.
So, the next time you succumb to anxiety, wondering whether you’re good enough, whether you’ll become successful, whether you’ll ever get to the finish line of your current work in progress, stop.
Return to the path, and be kind to yourself, knowing that you’re doing the right thing—the only thing that matters.
Accept That Writers Always Have More to Learn
When I was ten, Mrs. Humphrey, my fourth-grade teacher, sent us home with a whopper of a homework challenge, saying, “come back on Monday with the correct answer, and I’ll give you the prize of a lifetime.”
I don’t recall the promised prize anymore (the prize of a lifetime). It could have been ten bucks, an extra half hour on the playground, a bag of Baby Ruth bars, a week without homework? Whatever it was, I was hooked.
“What’s the largest room in the world?”
I spent Saturday afternoon pouring through encyclopedias. I called friends to locate a copy of The Guinness Book of World Records. When Monday came, we took turns reciting our ideas–most of us duplicating our classmates’ answers.
When the last student spoke, Mrs. Humphrey shook her head, pausing to look down at the floor.
When she lifted her eyes, she said, “No, class, the largest room in the world is the room for improvement.”
I remember feeling betrayed, duped, like I’d wasted my weekend for nothing.
You’re likely feeling the same way, thinking, “of course, there’s more to learn.”
And what does this have to do with learning to love and accept your writer self?
Stay with me (and Mrs. Humphrey) for a moment.
There’s more to learn means there will always be more to learn.
And that’s great news. If you think about it, it’s comforting. Everyone on planet earth has more to learn.
And more is better.
Where would we be without one more try, one more experiment, one more draft?
You can always find a fresh approach to improve your writing, a novel technique to spark creativity, a new strategy to improve your relationship with the process.You can always find a fresh approach to improve your writing, a novel technique to spark creativity, a new strategy to improve your relationship with the process. Click To Tweet
So, stop thinking you’re defective, that you’re behind the curve, that you’re doomed to failure.
You’re in good company, sitting in the largest room in the world, elbow to elbow with the world’s greatest thinkers, creators, and innovators. You’re sitting in the same room as your favorite authors.
And don’t kid yourself…
Most people never find this room. Instead, they dedicate their lives to avoiding it.
When you choose writing (or writing chooses you), you commit to this upward spiral. Every day of writing improves upon the day before.
So, stop trembling in the presence of “masters.” Stop worrying about measuring up. You’ll always have more to learn.
And so will they!
This brings us to the next point:
Accept That There’ll Always Be Writers with Greater Talent, Intelligence, & Success
Witnessing others succeed can be unsettling.
On one hand, you’re happy to know it’s possible. You’re happy to have goals that inspire you. On the other hand, someone else’s success can feel like a personal loss.
You think, “When will it happen to me?”
“Why hasn’t it happened to me?”
“What’s wrong with me?
And sometimes, you start to believe the worst–that you’re not talented enough, not intelligent enough.
Talent is overrated.
Ask Stephen King:
“Talent is cheaper than table salt. What separates the talented individual from the successful one is a lot of hard work.”
You can do hard work.
What you can’t do is compare yourself to others, to their level of success, to their level of talent or intelligence. Your comparisons will never be accurate or productive.
There’s only one you. Your experiences and perspective are unique.
So, don’t waste time comparing your brains, talent, and success to someone else.
You’re becoming you, not an imitation of someone else.
When you stop looking outside yourself for validation, you’re free to look within, to find insight and value in your own experiences.When you stop looking outside yourself for validation, you’re free to look within, to find insight and value in your own experiences. Click To Tweet
And isn’t that what it’s all about, expressing you–your persistent thoughts, your loves, your fears, your biggest questions?
Ironically, successful people are quick to admit there’s no sweeter time in life than when you’re struggling to make it.
This brings us to the next point:
Forgive Yourself for Struggling with Your Writing
Considering all the things you know and don’t know as a creative person, one thing is certain:
You know what struggle looks like:
- staring at a blank screen
- wrestling with self-doubt, self-criticism
- feeling overwhelmed at the amount of work ahead
Despite the reality of your struggles, you’re in good company:
Gustave Flaubert wrote, “I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.”
Kurt Vonnegut said, “When I write, I feel like an armless, legless, man with a crayon in his mouth.”
George Orwell said, “Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout with some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.”
Good company, indeed.
What’s the problem?
You think struggling shows weakness, that it makes you a fraud.
Struggle is part of the path, part of every creative path.
We struggle when we’re pushing boundaries, when we’re wrestling with unknowns, when we’re creating things that never existed before.
These are good things.
When you stop berating yourself, you’ll realize three important truths:
- You’re up to the challenge.
- You’re growing at an accelerated pace.
- You’re stronger for the experience.
So, forgive yourself for struggling, for falling short of your goals.
While you’re at it, forgive yourself for everything: for starting too young or too old, for sleeping through high school English classes, for having to raise a family while chasing your dream.
Take a moment to acknowledge your strengths.
Acknowledge just how far you’ve come.
Finally, acknowledge your courage for having the guts to persevere.
You’re becoming more of yourself with every hour, every day spent on the page.
What truths have you learned?
Share your thoughts in the comments below.