Obstacles are a familiar piece of the hero’s journey. They take on infinite forms, appearing in stories on every continent and in every culture since the dawn of time.
Like our intrepid heroes, as writers we also occasionally find obstacles standing in the way of our goals. Take courage, brave writer; these obstacles are not insurmountable! Other writers have faced the same challenges and overcome them, as can you! Let’s discuss the most common.
Since the very first story was told, storytellers have had to overcome fear. Our brains try very hard to protect us from harm, and fear is one way our brains alert us to danger. We naturally avoid things that hurt us, and to an extent, that’s a good thing! In this case, your brain is trying to protect you from the hurt of disappointment, failure, and other uncomfortable feelings. That’s natural. Unfortunately, when it comes to our writing, it’s not helpful. We need to stretch ourselves, take chances, and push past our limits in order to learn and grow as writers.
If you don’t take chances, you won’t experience failure. So your brain tries to convince you to give up. One way it does this is by telling you things that aren’t really true, which might sound like:
- “No one will want to read what I write.”
- “You’ll never make any money with this. Why bother?”
- “I can’t be a good writer because I make too many mistakes.”
- “You’re just not good enough to be a writer.”
This kind of negativity, fed by fear, can pop up in many situations. Some examples include letting someone read your work, joining a writing group, submitting a story for publication, or even just writing.
Pay attention to the way you speak to yourself. When fear starts feeding you these negative ideas, you can fight back by challenging them. Teach your brain a new way of thinking by repeating truths like these:
- “No one else has my unique experiences, perspective, and skills.”
- “I write because I enjoy it. I don’t need any other reason.”
- “All writers make mistakes. That’s what editors are for.”
- “I am learning and improving all the time.”
You might find it helpful to make a list of the lies you struggle with, paired with a truth to counter each one. Whenever you find yourself sinking into a cloud of negativity, refer to your list and repeat your truths to yourself until the lies fade.
Fake it ‘til you make it
Just as faking a smile can actually improve our mood, faking confidence can make us more confident over time. Practice confidence by acting as if you’ve already done what you set out to do, as if the opinions of others mean nothing to you.
Start by taking small risks. Sing. Wear exuberant colors and patterns. Try a daring new haircut. When you do, notice how others respond. Most people either won’t notice or won’t care enough to judge you for it. Some will disapprove, but others will applaud your courage and cheer you on!
Another surprisingly effective technique is this: practice confident body language. Stand tall, with your head high and your shoulders set. Walk like you own the place. Try posing like Wonder Woman!
One of the most insidious ways fear can hamper you is by causing you to undermine your own efforts. Time for some brutal honesty. Ask yourself: Wherever you are on your writing journey, with the resources you have right now, are you doing the very best you can?
Maybe you are. Maybe it’s all you can do to sneak in those ten precious minutes of writing here and there. That’s okay – it doesn’t make you less of a writer. Most of us, though, have room for improvement.
We may be holding ourselves back, and we may not even realize we’re doing it. It’s easy to tell yourself you’re just “being practical” when the reality is that fear has your dreams clutched in its icy talons. Could this be you? Consider a few ways you might be sabotaging yourself.
Are you telling yourself that you aren’t any good?
Brace yourself: this might be true. Maybe you aren’t a good writer – yet. No writer has ever simply popped into existence as a master of the craft! Writing well is a skill, and even the most talented writer must learn and practice continually.
So learn! Read craft books – you can borrow them from your library, or buy them to keep on hand. Thriftbooks sells hundreds of writing books at reasonable prices, and the lessons you can learn from them are invaluable. Listen to podcasts, like this one. Visit Writer’s Digest and spend ten minutes reading something. Take classes. Find a mentor. Most importantly, write as much and as regularly as you can! Turn off your inner editor and don’t stop to critique what you’ve written. You practiced! Your skills are improving with every word you write! Be proud of yourself for that.
Are you telling yourself that no one will like what you write?
Regardless of the quality of your work, someone out there will not like it. That’s an inescapable truth for artists of all kinds. You’ll get rejections. You’ll get bad reviews. You will have to develop some tough skin and keep going anyway. Why?
Because someone, somewhere, will like it. They will read what you’ve written and they will love what you have created. They’ll be your first fan – but if you give up, if you stop writing or hide your art, they will never find you. You must keep writing, keep improving, keep sharing your work with the world, for them.
If you don’t believe me, find your favorite book on Amazon or Goodreads and read a few of the one-star reviews. They can be truly awful, but they don’t stop the author from writing more. Now read some of the five-star reviews. Imagine how incredible it will feel to get your first review like that, and keep going.
Are you telling yourself that you don’t have time?
The truth is, we all have the same amount of time to work with. If you really want to, you can find some time to work towards your dreams. That idea is the essence of 10 Minute Novelists. If you need help in this area, check out How to Write a Novel in 10 Minutes a Day by our founder, Katharine Grubb.
Are you telling yourself that you don’t have what you need?
You’re on a computer or smartphone with internet access, aren’t you? Then you have what you need! Write in Google Docs. Download some word processing software. Check out some of the apps that make it easy to write on your smartphone. You can even dictate your story with apps like Otter. Or go to your nearest dollar store and pick out a notebook and a pen. You have so many options!
Are you telling yourself that you will never be able to write like your favorite author?
You’re right. You can’t write like your favorite author, or anyone else, because you are you. You have a distinct point of view, a unique voice, a perspective that no one else can ever have. Don’t compare yourself to others. The world needs you, and your writing matters.
Are you telling yourself that you’re too old to try anything new?
Nope. Full stop – no. This simply isn’t true. If you still need convincing, go read this article from The Atlantic. Or take a look at the Guinness world record for the oldest female author to publish her first book.
Are you telling yourself that the learning curve is too much?
Granted, there is a lot to learn about writing, as well as all of the steps on the path to publication. There’s always some new technique or expert or program demanding your attention, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Remember that you don’t need to learn everything today. Choose the easiest or most interesting thing – just one! – and start there. Do what you can and learn to let go of the rest.
Are you telling yourself that you don’t have anything worthwhile to say?
For this topic, I’m going to quote Katharine Grubb directly.
“Deep sigh. Then a hug. Then another sigh. I totally get this. Sometimes the desires that we have to write are lonely. They don’t exactly have ideas to play with. Personally, I’ve found that ideas, for some reason, inspire other ideas. The act of creating sometimes can spawn new inspiration and then you have something to say, something you didn’t know was in you.”Katharine Grubb
In the wise words of Pablo Picasso, “Inspiration exists, but it has to find you working.” So work. Create. Set a timer for ten minutes and don’t let your pencil stop moving. Practice describing things, like the smell of your town’s old library, the gentle warmth of a good friend, or the rich taste of your morning coffee.
You aren’t limited to writing, either. Create in whatever way you choose. Sculpt something out of clay. Bake your favorite treat. Doodle on your napkin. Recreate the Mona Lisa in crayon. Any form of creative expression can evoke even more creativity!
What else are you saying to yourself that could be keeping you down?
What can you say to yourself instead? Your answer just might change everything.
Overcoming the obstacle
It’s important to note that conquering your fears does not mean that they’ll disappear, or that you’ll never feel that fear again. You will. So will I. Our brains will continue trying to protect us as best it can and our fears will sneak back in when we least expect them.
What it does mean is that your fear will not stop you. You will face your fears and knock them down. You will keep going even when it terrifies you, and you will reach your dreams anyway because fear is not your master.
Go forth and write.