Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 26, 2023

How to Overcome Obstacles to Writing, Part 2

by Ellen Buikema

There are times when a writer is stuck, not because of a lack of content, but due to fear that their work isn’t good enough for anyone else to read.

Writing, in some ways, is an act of love. Our stories—our children. We craft and care for our stories and our characters—the wonderful as well as the hateful. Sharing your writing with the world is hard. It takes bravery. What if it’s not good enough? What if someone…hates my child?

Handling Rejection

Rejection is part of the writer’s career. At some point you have to get used to it. Don’t give up. Instead, use rejection to better your writing.

Whenever potential publishers or agents turn your story down, it isn’t personal. There’s always a reason. Perhaps:

  • Your Title or title/subtitle isn’t grabbing their attention.
  • The content isn’t what they are looking for right now.
  • They are receiving better writing, and yours needs more work.
  • An agent feels the work is good but doesn’t have anyone to pitch it to at the time.

It’s also possible that they not getting your vision. Many wonderful stories have initially been rejected. J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter was rejected many times. She pinned her first rejection letter to her kitchen wall to remind her of what she had in common with some of her favorite writers.

Here’s how to work around rejection:

Steps to take whenever receiving unhappy notifications.

  • Breathe and put on your rationality hat: Being distraught is to be expected. Allow that feeling to happen and then let it slide away after processing your emotions. Do not type angry and hit send. Sometimes typing what you really feel in a separate document that will never be sent can be therapeutic, just don’t send it.
  • Ask for suggestions for improvement: If after reading through your work as well as the publisher’s or agent’s guidelines you still aren’t sure why your work was not a good fit, ask for suggestions. You may hear crickets, but if you don’t ask, you’ll never know. You might get lucky and receive a response.

Everyone gathers rejection letters. Learn why your work wasn’t a good fit and keep moving forward.

Dealing with Anxiety While Writing

The story is too complicated

Sometimes it feels like a story is so full of twists, turns, characters, and subplots that you’ll never be able to work out the ending. Anxiety creeps in and you freeze.

Complicated books, especially series, take a lot of time to plot out.

Possible Solutions

Look at the story one piece at a time. Start small. Write a story idea with a limited word count, under 1000 words. Divide your story into three parts, beginning, middle, and end. You can expand the story from there.

Try writing prompts for practice and a change of pace. There are many online sites for these prompts. This one is promising.

I can’t get started

Writing a book is a big undertaking, and there’s more than one way to do it. You could spend years pondering all your options.

Possible Solution

Make a roadmap including:

  • What your book is about
  • Who are your readers
  • Problems solved
  • Benefits offered (for nonfiction books)
  • A basic outline. Even if you don’t usually outline your story, a few points on an outline will help with organization.

Don’t overthink it. These suggestions will get you started.

The story is taking too long to write

Are you a plotter or a pantser? It’s helpful to know what kind of writer you are.

Do you need structure to write your work and feel at sea unless you have step-by-step happenings before you get down to writing in earnest? Then you are a plotter.

If you write as inspiration hits you while figuring out What happens next? as you write, then you are a pantser. One who basically writes by-the-seat-of-one’s-pants.

Many writers are a combination of both.

Still stuck? Try NaNoWriMo

National Novel Writing Month (NaNoWriMo) is a non-profit organization that promotes creative writing. In its annual, international event participants attempt to write a 50,000-word manuscript during the month of November. Authors write "pep-talks" to cheers other writers on.

I didn’t think that I could do it, but I tried anyway and managed to write 50,000 words in a month. There’s a lot of encouragement for the participants, and you are only competing with yourself. I found this well worthwhile, and empowering.

Another possible solution

If your story has taken you in too many directions, it’s helpful to use story planners. This one is free for one story plan and there is a membership for more. There are many other options available online.

Here’s an article that lists the ten best story planning programs along with their pros and cons. Story Planner is #6 on this list.

Examples of novels that were a long time coming

If you are writing fantasy that requires in-depth worldbuilding, the story will take a goodly amount of time to complete. The research needed for historical fiction may also take more time than anticipated. (Beware of the rabbit holes you may fall down while researching. They are wonderfully distracting and get me every time.)

Consider J.R.R. Tolkien. It took him more than ten years to complete the main narrative of The Lord of the Rings. He wrote between teaching sessions, day-to-day responsibilities, and had to deal with the paper shortages due to the Second World War. Then, there were the many rewrites.

“One writes such a story [The Lord of the Rings] not out of the leaves of trees still to be observed, nor by means of botany and soil-science; but it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mold of the mind: out of all that has been seen or thought or read, that has long ago been forgotten, descending into the deeps. No doubt there is much personal selection, as with a gardener: what one throws on one's personal compost-heap; and my mold is evidently made largely of linguistic matter.”

Jean Auel’s historical fiction, The Clan of the Cave Bear, began as a short story. That story became a manuscript of nearly 500,000 words. Too long for the publishers. After several rewrites she found a publisher willing to work with her.

“The story led to research, the research fired my imagination, and the wealth of material made me decide to write a novel.”

Obstacles are everywhere, but you can do this! More suggestions can be found in Part 1.

Do you use story maps? What is your favorite one? How do you deal with anxiety when writing?

* * * * * *

About Ellen

Author, speaker, and former teacher, Ellen L. Buikema has written non-fiction for parents, and The Adventures of Charlie Chameleon chapter book series with stories encouraging the development of empathy—sprinkling humor wherever possible. Her Works In Progress are The Hobo Code, YA historical fiction and Crystal Memories, MG Magical Realism/ Sci-Fi.

Find her at https://ellenbuikema.com or on Amazon.

Image by Fabien - Pixabay Ambassador from Pixabay

8 comments on “How to Overcome Obstacles to Writing, Part 2”

    1. Hi Diana,
      Thank you! I'm glad the suggestions are useful. We are all in this together.

  1. Thank you for all the helpful suggestions and insights. It's the strangest thing, but nothing calms my anxiety more than— writing. Losing myself in a story, even while revising, fades my real life anxieties, despite the conflicts and tensions in the story. No matter how confused or indecisive my POV character, and no matter the trials she must face, it all calms me. On the surface, it's distraction, I suppose. It doesn't matter, I'll take it. How could I possibly complain about something that both soothes me and makes me more productive?

    1. Oh, Christina, you are so fortunate! I wish I were the same way and have writing be calming. What a fantastic distraction!

      Sometimes I draw for relaxation, but not as much as I used to. I've gone and gotten rusty.

  2. Anxiety while writing - and editing - are a big challenge for me, and one that I don't have an instant win answer to. Mostly, I just keep moving ahead slowly. Writing is a drive for me, so not-writing is the only thing harder than the writing! I've done story mapping, but I don't think there's a specific system I can point to. My editor taught me some techniques and I've come to just sort of sketch the shape the story takes in my mind. Sometimes it is the form of a timeline with rising and falling tension or dramatic character arcs on it.

    1. Hi Lisa!
      The shape a story takes sound interesting. I thought about some of mine, but I'm seeing spiders. LOL
      Do you have another technique you can share?

  3. I just try to rework it, replot, figure out why it's not working, and then I can usually get back on the right path.

  4. Awesome post, Ellen, with wonderful solutions. I'm a very slow writer of a first draft, not because I don't know what will happen in a scene (I'm the consummate plotter), but because I feel the need to edit as I go. You'd think final edits would be a breeze, wouldn't you? Nope. Months later I'm still editing. My first fantasy romance published in January took me nine months to write and another year or so to edit. Book 2 is shaping up to be the same. Gotta speed this process up. My editor is waiting. Love the Tolkien quote--".. it grows like a seed in the dark out of the leaf-mold of the mind..." He has something there.

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