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.
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.
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.
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.