7 Writing Challenges You Shouldn’t Waste Time Thinking About

Writing challenges - Woman in black jacket in front of brick wall with a book covering her face

Writing is a tough enough gig without you muddling it with your doubts and worries. But that doesn’t stop the occasional writing challenges from presenting themselves.

Some of these challenges could pose very real problems for your writing journey, but some others are harmful only if you spend too much time worrying about them.

Today, we explore the peskier side of things in hopes of dispelling any worries you may have for these unimportant problems. Ready? Let’s go!

1. You don’t have the papers

It’s easy to want to go on a certificate Pokemon run when it comes to writing. Gotta collect em all, am I right? If it’s not about degrees, then it’s about the various qualifications that validate who you are as a writer.

Writing is a funny thing, though. It’s not as qualification-dependent, like medicine for example. Yet people think they can simply plop words on paper and expect to sell.

You know what though? Don’t worry about getting that MFA, or spending your hard-earned money on a copywriting course, unless you really want to learn what’s on offer. In writing, you won’t necessarily be opening more doors by getting certified.

Besides, you’ll learn most of the craft by reading and writing. A lot. And if a high-school dropout from Malaysia can sell words for a living, then you can too.

2. You feel like your writing will never amount to anything

Here’s some good news. If you think your writing sucks, then writing’s the right vocation for you. After all, it’s this attitude that’ll nudge you towards constant improvement.

It’s just that most of us tend to sway too far towards the other side, and we end up hiding our work locked away in a chest somewhere.

Emily Dickinson was one such example. Who knew why she didn’t want to share her work? And what could’ve happened had she been more liberal in her queries?

That’s just one person. Who knows how many other people throughout history have done the same, only to remain undiscovered forever.

Writing is not linear, and just because you’ve put in your share of work doesn’t mean you’ll ever find recognition. In fact, when someone does pick up your stories, it’ll almost feel like a surprise. I know I did every time I got published.

We’ll never know if our work will resonate with others, but we definitely do know that not writing means a zero chance of publication.

So write despite your self-doubt. Because that’s the only way you’ll find out if you’re any good.

Writing challenges - Woman in jacket aiming finger guns at the camera, with Space Invaders game background

You won’t know until you take your shot. Photo: Andre Hunter

3. You haven’t been paid for your work

Let’s cut to the chase—the most reliable way to earn money from writing is by being on a company payroll.

Sure, I’ve had some pretty sweet freelance gigs, but I’ve been paid more throughout my full-time career as a journalist and copywriter than I have as a freelance writer, let alone selling unsolicited stories.

So if you’re looking to sell random stories you’ve written in your spare time, just know that you’d have better odds winning at Blackjack than by getting someone to pay you for your creative non-fiction.

But don’t let that fact discourage you from writing. Remember that feeling of surprise we talked about when someone picks up your story? Yeah, that only happens to authors who never give up.

In the meantime, don’t worry if you haven’t sold your work yet. It’s not an effective gauge of your work anyway.

4. You’re confused by famous authors’ advice

How many times have we heard that the road to hell is paved in adverbs? And how many glints of light on broken glass do you need to show before you graduate as a writer?

I’ve always been wary of writing advice, especially those by established authors, because what someone denounces could very well be the bread and butter of another.

Take Stephen King’s stance on adverbs, for example. To him, there’s nothing worse than adverbs, but JK Rowling didn’t have such preferences, and judging by her sales figures, I’d reckon that it wasn’t adverbs that were the deal breaker.

Also, as a Stephen King fan, I’ll have you know that he’s actually used adverbs multiple times in one page before, so it’s not to say that his distaste for them is set in stone.

This is the danger that we writers face when trying to better ourselves. We take certain authors’ advice too seriously and we end up stifling our own voice.

I say pick what works for you and dump the rest. And be accepting of other writers’ processes as well. Let them choose the passive voice, or tell instead of show. Or let writers like me use adverbs proudly.

A colour swatch of white, oranges and browns

Sometimes it’s about making choices that make sense to us. Photo: Clay Banks

5. You’re worried that your current novel sucks

This is a writing problem that you definitely shouldn’t concern yourself with. Yes, you don’t want to spend months on your manuscript only to realise it’s crap, and it makes sense to ditch the novel at the first sign of trouble, but are your really doing yourself a favour?

Because guess what? You’ll go through this exact phase once you write a few chapters for your new idea, and that’ll keep repeating itself as long as you keep jumping ship.

If you’re halfway through a novel and think that it’s not going to work, don’t give that thought any heed and just carry on. Because the only thing you’ll get out of abandoning your novel is being good at writing first chapters.

As Chuck Wendig says, “Finish your shit.”

I don’t think I’d be able to argue this point as succinctly as he did, so just check out Wendig’s article instead.

6. You hesitate to call yourself a writer

For me, the distinction between hobbyist- and professional-writers is very simple.

The former writes just to pass the time, whenever it’s convenient for them, much like how I approach drawing, for example. The latter takes active steps to reaching their writing goals every day.

It doesn’t matter if someone’s been paid for their words or if they’ve cemented their byline in a renowned publication. That’s because I know many people who write for their day job, yet aren’t pursuing their literary dreams.

If you actually work towards your writing goals, then you’re a writer. Don’t let labels define who you are, though.

If you’re still hesitant on calling yourself a writer, then earn your self-confidence by investing in yourself. Spend some time writing every day. Learn as much as you can about the craft. Join a Facebook group.

Whatever it is, don’t get caught up in whether or not you are a writer. Do what a writer does, and everything else will fall in place.

A statue of man holding finger up to his mouth in front of a pile of books

Whether or not you choose to call yourself a writer shouldn’t matter. The work does. Photo: Ernie A Stephens

7. You’re waiting for your overnight success

This may seem like a worthy aspiration, but it’s only going to be an obstacle to your progress. As long as you have your sights set on overnight success, you’ll never truly work towards your highest potential.

That’s because writing is a numbers game. It’s embedded into the industry. You’ve gotta put in your 10,000 hours, try to get your 1,000,000 sucky words out of the way. Query your stories. Reach 50,000 words in November, what have you.

Sure, some authors like Mark Manson, Andy Weir, and Paula Hawkins may seem like they’ve struck gold out of nowhere, but it took years—if not decades—before they became overnight successes.

So forget getting lucky. If all else fails, judge yourself by the seeds you sow and not the rewards you reap.

Challenges? More like blessings in disguise.

Despite all this, you’re bound to come up against real writing challenges sooner or later. Maybe you’ll receive your first scathing criticism, or you’ll bleed your savings dry before finishing your first novel.

But those obstacles only serve to make you better, and as long as you don’t fret over these frivolous problems, you’ll be pretty much set to take on any writing challenges that come your way.

Now go out there and make your writing dreams come true.


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103 thoughts on “7 Writing Challenges You Shouldn’t Waste Time Thinking About

  1. Someone commented “I really needed this today”; I feel like I could benefit from reading this EVERY day. Especially the one about taking authors’ advice. I’ve probably been spending more time reading about writing than actually writing lately, hoping for some magic piece of advice to click. I used to just have fun writing because I was ~discovering~, not trying so hard to emulate. Thanks for this post! Will be visiting again soon.

    • Oh wow, it’s well thought-out comments like yours that make my day, Heidi! You really added a bit of spark to my morning :)

      And yes, I’m guilty of trawling through books on the craft, just hoping to find that silver bullet, but as we know, it’s the writing that helps us. Thanks once more for your lovely words!

  2. Hi Stuart, this article is just timely. Thanks for the article. Now that the year is ending, it does get me down to think that I had been so behind in all that writing I had wanted to do. I see you have been posting so consistently and I have to catch up on reading them. . Keep writing !

    • Aw yis. I need to convince myself that I’m taking this writing thing seriously, and making sure I’m consistent is one such way I can do so. Great to see you again Lifan, and let’s get our ducks in a row so that we can hit 2022 running!

  3. Thank you for this. I feel more encourage to “always finish my shit”. After reading this, I’ve decided I’m never going to give up on what i started. Such an educative piece.

    • Aw yis. Knowing that another writer will finish his shit from now on just fills me with joy, because I need that motivation too, and knowing that you’ll be working hard makes me wanna work hard as well. Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment!

  4. I absolutely needed this after my emotional post last night. It’s uncanny that you addressed virtually all of my concerns about my own writing — especially calling myself a writer. I had a very difficult time with that until recently.

    I will be taking your advice to heart because several of these challenges cause my mental blocks and self doubt. 10,000 hours, here I come. Thank you!

    • Love it. It’s comments like yours that give me such a pep in my day.

      And yes, there’s no mental state we can magically enter to become better writers than we are, so I’m super glad that you’re going the 10,000-hour route (even though that number’s been debunked).

      Wishing you all the best and thank YOU for stopping by!

  5. these are brilliant points, but i would have to disagree with the fact that giving yourself a hard time as a writer (thinking it sucks) might help. granted, i do fall guilty to this example, but the right amount of confidence and realistic goals, in my opinion, would help a lot more :)

    • Oh yeah, definitely! Thinking your work sucks is something you shouldn’t waste your time on for sure (I assume this is #5?). Totally agree with that, and that’s where I was coming from too. Anyway, thanks so much for sharing your thoughts! I appreciate it!

  6. Man, thanks for this, especially points #2, 3 and 5! Writing shouldn’t be dependent on a feeling of success or skill. It should first and foremost be enjoyable.

  7. Pingback: 7 Writing Challenges You Shouldn’t Waste Time Thinking About – Talking words

  8. Pingback: 7 Writing Challenges You Shouldn’t Waste Time Thinking About – Tomorrow's 2060

  9. I wouldn’t say that bleeding your savings dry is frivolous because it does tend to get costly. I still haven’t recouped anything near what I’ve spent on editing, cover artists, etc., over the years. Other than that, good tips.

  10. So many great points Stuart—I was already feeling it at the first. I always wondered if I should have pursued my Master’s and whether it might have been better if I did. But then I realized that while it helps, it’s persistence that gets through to the next page. Thank you for another wonderful post.

    • Oh yeah, I’m never one to talk people out of education, but sometimes we give it so much more thought than we ought to. What matters is that we keep striving towards our goals, because I know a ton of educated people who seem to have given up on their lives. Thank you for your wonderful comment!

  11. I find all of your posts (including this one) to be really inspiring. I hope to write full time, in some capacity, someday. And your posts always give me a little extra motivation to pursue that goal. Thank for always writing quality posts and addressing the topics that you do. Hope you have a great weekend! 🤗

    • I truly believe that the reason I did so badly in school was to someday show people that we can in fact pursue what we really want despite our history.

      Thanks so much for your lovely comment, Matt. You’ve definitely made my day!

  12. This is a great topic and I really love the points you’ve added here. Overnight success is a very romantic and idealistic expectation that many writers seem to have (even here in the blogosphere) without which they don’t feel motivated to write and thus, end up quitting. Little do they realise how unrealistic this desire is.

    With regards to the point of hesitating to call yourself a writer, ah man, you literally wrote about me 🙈 I just have one self published book to my name and I don’t know if that’s sufficient to give me the title of a “writer.” To me, a writer is someone who writes professionally and is a master at their skill. But yes, that point COMPLETELY applies to me.

    This is a usually unexplored topic. Thanks for writing about it!

    • Am loving your comment, and it’s been a treat reading through this. You’re way more than qualified to call yourself a writer, but we’re creatives, and it’s super easy to doubt ourselves.

      And here’s to finding our overnight success the right way, by putting in the work first.

      Thanks so much for stopping by, Sam!

  13. As Stephen King says, Talent is common as salt, but willpower/determination is the rarer factor.

    You have to PUSH FORWARD with what you’re doing and BELIEVE IN YOURSELF, or nothing will get accomplished.

    • Belief is a big one for me. I’m still worried to pursue my writing goals sometimes because it all seems like I’m pursuing some sort of fantasy. Anyway, thanks for the little push!

  14. Confused by famous authors’ advice rings a bell. I’ve recently seen/read several authors/articles saying no writer loves to write. If you love to write, you are doing it badly. I find that discouraging: why do you want to kill my joy in writing? You’re stereotyping me as bad without even knowing me!? 😵‍💫 Why?!?!?

    • Hahaha. Yeah, that statement might apply to some (maybe to me), but to say that every writer should suffer is just a bit over the top. Thanks so much for your perspective. I enjoyed reading your comment!

  15. Thanks Stu! If this post was a pillow, I would grab it and hug it close to my chest!! Cos I really really need this every single day of my mostly (adverb?) pathetic writing life! Apprec always the privilege to drop by and soak in all the writing wisdom you so readily share!! Keep ’em coming ok? Grateful as always!!

    • And I’m constantly grateful for your comments and support. Don’t think I can reply anything that does justice to these thoughts of yours. Thanks so much for the kind words Kelvin!

  16. So true, in order to write well, you must read as much and as often as you can!
    That’s been a priority for me this year, whether I’ve been able to get to that priority is another story lol… I do love reading though but have been quite distracted lately!

    Okay, #6 is the most relatable!! #EveryWritersStruggle!! Thanks for sharing! You continue to inspire me to stay focused on my writing! :)

    • Lol yeah, it’s so easy to judge ourselves harshly as creatives, so we tend to discount all our efforts before even sharing them with people. Here’s to continuing the focus on our craft! And thanks for stopping by!

  17. I have to say, every post I’ve read of yours is always so interesting and thought provoking! Thank you for your blog posts! I needed to read this one today, thank you again!

  18. The advice one is particularly good advice 😉. So much of advice is given as though it’s a commandment for all of humanity and all time never to be broken, when in fact, it’s usually super-context specific and the advice/rules are meant to be broken under the “write” (sorry, couldn’t help myself!) circumstances.

  19. Every time you post, you tear away more excuses from me. Eventually you will leave me with absolutely nothing, absolutely no reason why I can’t stay sitting on my lazy ass and write something.

  20. Hahaha, I suffer from all the seven mishaps listed above. It feels like when I read the section of the newspaper with health advice–I often feel that I have all the illnesses listed.

    • Maybe you’re a literary hypochondriac, lol. But I keep visiting your blog and you put out good work. Plus, you probably have a snazzy vocabulary with all the word-focused posts you publish. Thanks so much for stopping by btw. Always great to have you here!

    • I feel exactly the same! But I’ve also been fortunate enough to have people tell me that they enjoyed the work I thought was crappy. So I’ve since stopped judging my own work before sharing.

      Btw, I wanted to visit your site, but the link that’s in your profile (hidalfnorwriterblog.com) seems not to work. Just a heads up in case you’d like to update your profile!

    • Oh yeah. I think it’s a blessing that writers should experience because then they’ll learn just how unreliable their own judgement can be sometimes. Thanks so much for stopping by!

  21. Excellent points, Stuart. So many think they are not writers because their books are not on the shelves yet but publishing isn’t every writer’s goal. Everyone’s writing should be respected and that includes bloggers!

    • For sure! I’ve heard to many people say they aren’t writers because they haven’t formally published, but they’re writing so much more than some of my writer friends, so I think the former group of people deserve the title ‘writer’ way more than those who take it for granted. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts, Alice!

  22. Pingback: 7 Writing Challenges You Shouldn’t Waste Time Thinking About — Your Friendly Malaysian Writer – Comflo Media Concept

  23. this is an awesome post. I remember having some of these challenges earlier on in this career. In fact, i was bothered about not being an English major, until i put the foot in front of the other, did i realize these are no excuses to stop writing. like you said, the papers dont matter, read, write and read to improve.

    • Oh yeah, I thought of getting a certification of sorts when I first wanted to make a career change too. Thankfully, I’ve learned a lot by simply putting one foot in front of the other, like you. Thanks so much for stopping by!

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