Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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April 5, 2024

What is Your Writing Barrier?

by Jenny Hansen

We all have things that keep us from writing. It might be a lack of time, or analysis paralysis. It might be an inability to start or to finish. Perhaps it is a lack of knowledge -- of craft, or story structure, or even your own characters. Maybe, just maybe, it is the flat-out fear that you are [fill in the blank]. Not good enough, not talented, or -- heaven forbid -- a hack.

Creatives have very fertile imaginations and it is our special talent to create mental messages strong enough and scary enough to fell a rhino.

Let's leave that talent on the back doorstep for a moment, and talk about something else...

Perseverance Matters

One of my favorite allegories from Aesop is "The Tortoise and the Hare." Allegory is a story form with an underlying message, and boy does this one resonate with me. You have the bouncy boastful rabbit with all the running talent and speed in the world. Then you have the plodding methodical tortoise whose only talent is perseverance, and keeping the goal in mind. Mr. Tortoise has that Dory the fish mentality of "just keep swimming" that is an absolute gift.

Genius can't be rushed.

I think about books like Lord of the Rings (J.R.R. Tolkien) and Gone with the Wind (Margaret Mitchell) that took more than a decade to write, and wonder how society would be different if they'd given up.

It's hard to be patient while you get the story out. Sometimes writers rush to publication. Or we give up on our stories to early, before we've really given them a chance to grow up and be who they were intended to be.

One of my favorite quotes is about how much you can accomplish with simple act of perseverance:

"Most people overestimate what they can accomplish in a year, and underestimate what they can accomplish in five years."

~ Tony Robbins

Our books aren't comprised of a single writing session, they're the product of weeks and months and years of effort. If we just focus on our characters and getting them onto the page, we can create something from nothing in that time.

How profound is that??

How do we stay engaged over the long term?

Obviously, there are dozens of ways to master our goals, but here are the five things I think make the biggest impact over time.

1. Remember Your Dream  

It's easy to get lost in the weeds in this writing life. To forget why you want to tell stories, and who you want to tell them to. Some people set mantras around their house - their workspace, their bathroom mirrors, their refrigerator. A lot of us use quotes that resonate.

Any of you who have hung out here for a while know Laura Drake and her favorite quote from The Last Lecture.

“The brick walls are there for a reason. The brick walls are not there to keep us out. The brick walls are there to give us a chance to show how badly we want something. Because the brick walls are there to stop the people who don’t want it badly enough. They’re there to stop the other people.”

~ Randy Pausch

You don't have to be the best or the fastest writer out there if you simply stay engaged and persevere. Remember the dream that started you down this path, and keep it at the forefront of everything you do.

2. Stay Hungry

When I say "stay hungry," I'm not talking about cookies and chips. (Although both of those are the shizz.) Writing success is defined differently by each of us, but nobody gets there without a hunger to publish their stories.

Hunger makes grandiose statements like, “I will not stop. I will not give up. I will find a way.” 

Hunger is why you get up two hours early to write, or why you remain at your computer deep into the night.

Hunger drives you to the next level. It pushes you to visit blogs like this, go to classes, learn skills, and find resources. 

That hunger to see your book in print, or on a movie screen, keeps you reaching for more and refusing to settle for less.

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you. 

~ Maya Angelou

Stay hungry, my friends. Stay hungry.  

3. Acknowledge Your Fears

Whether it's fear of success, or failure, or something else entirely, a lot of writers have to overcome the barrier of their fears. Step one is to acknowledge them. Step two is to know that you are not alone. Step three is to read posts like these, so you have some tools to overcome those fears.

Having just finished a cancer journey, I've got a lot to say about fear...and how to do what you need to do anyway.

4. Get Your Butt in the Chair

I'll share a little secret with you -- this entire post was inspired from a comment Mary Tate Engels made on a January post by William Wu. Here is what she said:

I am the Queen of Writing Procrastination so this really speaks to me. Long ago I took an online class from Holly Lisle.

She coined the 4 thinking barriers:
SAFE never starts
PERFECT never finishes
VICTIM never acts
FEEL never thinks

‘I’m not ready’ encompasses all of those. They are all barriers and stories we tell ourselves. I’m practicing a different mindset.

"Butt in Chair, Hands on Keyboard" works!

(Did she nail it, or what? If you sit in front of your manuscript with your hands on your keyboard -- or however you do your writing -- great, glorious, story-making things will happen!)

5. Bring Back Playtime

I follow a delightful writer and teacher named Jill Badonsky, "who lives life like creativity is her oxygen." She's playful and funny and wise. She says Creative Play is the key to keeping your muse in good condition. Because, "Procrastination, resistance, overwhelm, fear, and perfectionism will be confused and leave the vicinity."
Brava, Jill...Brava!

Final Thoughts

I could write about this topic for hours, but then y'all would stop reading...because you have stories to write. Just to sum up:

  1. Remember Your Dream
  2. Stay Hungry
  3. Acknowledge Your Fears
  4. Get Your Butt in the Chair
  5. Bring Back Playtime!

That's the list I'm putting on my bathroom mirror. What is going on yours? What are the barriers you're working to overcome? If you feel comfortable, share some of your journey in the comments!

* * * * * *

About Jenny

By day, Jenny Hansen provides brand storytelling, LinkedIn coaching, and copywriting for accountants and financial services firms. By night, she writes humor, memoir, women’s fiction, and short stories. After 20+ years as a corporate trainer, she’s delighted to sit down while she works.

Find Jenny here at Writers In the Storm, or online on Facebook or Instagram.

All article photos from Depositphotos.

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13 comments on “What is Your Writing Barrier?”

  1. I think one of my fears is worrying that no one will care what I have to say. That this story (or the idea for it) that is so vibrant to me on my screen will only feel that way to me. That the stories I want to tell don't really matter, either because they're not interesting enough or someone else has done it so much better or some other reason.

    Lately a big part of me has started wondering if I should give it all up. But then I read the draft of my latest WIP and go back to the notes of this zany idea I have, and another part of me thinks, "If I don't tell this story this way, who will?"

    I'm currently going back and forth between these two sides of myself. But posts like these help a lot in encouraging me to maybe stick it out another day.

    1. Ekta, here's what I think: YOU were put on this earth "to tell that specific story in that specific way. Because, indeed "If YOU don't tell this story,this way, who will?"

      That is the honest truth!

  2. For me, it is the realization that sometimes you need to step away from a manuscript for a while and check back later.

    I thought to myself, you gotta finish this and get it over with. That's the clue to stop and rethink what I'm doing. Rushing a story is not the way to go.

    The story will be ready when the Muse and I are.

    1. Play time is where the magic lives!I think most writers, for whatever reason, have brains that want to play Mine actually NEEDS to play if I want to stay engaged with a story.

  3. Thanks everyone for being patient with me! I got stuck in the Denver airport last night where my family and I attempted (and failed) at sleep. I'm lagging a bit behind today!

  4. I quote the same writers in this: Tolkien, Mitchell - I hope I have what it takes to be like them - on the SPA side. I have been writing my mainstream trilogy (as I'm sure you remember) since 2000, and have the first two volumes, Pride's Children: PURGATORY and NETHERWORLD, published, and I'm working on the final one, LIMBO.

    The barrier I deal with daily is ME/CFS, which is, for a modern reference, basically like Long Covid, which I've had for 34 years - and they're finally starting to throw medical research money at because we have this huge influx of post-viral illness world wide. It is a very real, non-fixable barrier: I go at the slow pace I can, and this is my legacy project now.

    I've PRODUCED, at the cost of all I have left. But it's, as a writer friend says, as slow as continental drift (we used to say glacially slow, and then climate change removed THAT metaphor).

    The ridiculous part is that I have all the rest of those things in your list under reasonable control - or I'd be even slower!

    When the brain is on for a while, I block the internet and write. When it's not on, there is literally nothing I can do except take another rest period and hope.

    I spend the time in the chair. I have an active and useful Fear Journal (and use it). I am HUNGRY. I have learned my craft, and I even have some little marketing (learning there, too) - and it's all NOT ENOUGH if I don't have an active brain that day.

    It's always something. But I'm stubborn, and will get there. And I'm slowly also building the store of really good reviews.

    Maybe it will all come together. If it doesn't, won't be for lack of trying.

    1. I love your perseverance so much, Alicia. Seriously, when I get the "I don't wanna's," I always think of you. 🙂 I am so rooting for you to get all the way through your series.

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