Positive Writer

Writing through doubt and fear, and you can, too!

A Survivor’s Guide to Writing

I’ve been frozen with fear lately. My fingers and brain have felt paralyzed with my latest book….

page

It made no sense.

I’ve completed four 400-page novels before and had literary representation for two of them. Yet, I’m still unpublished. One agent retired before we got the chance to sell my book; the other, we parted ways. I’ve been paid to write more magazine articles than I can count.

I can produce. I’m a survivor.

Before I pursue publication for my novels, I want to publish a nonfiction book first.

The idea just won’t go away and I can’t find a book like it on any shelf. This started as a short eBook for my audience on the creative process — a Happy 2015 gift to start their New Year off right.

The words flowed from my fingers and was a joy to complete. It was very well received.

Now, I want to add more information and exercises to it to help writers achieve more success with their craft. There was only one small problem.

I couldn’t write. It was clunky and slow. I told myself it was just fear and tried to push through it, then realized my problem at last.

You might share these struggles, too…

There are a few sustainable skills you need for the long haul with writing.

Tools for Writers

I’m not sure why I didn’t recall these truths earlier. Sometimes, I think I suffer from amnesia, but writing is always new.

The process is always done the same — one word at a time, yet it’s different every time. That’s what makes it both fascinating and frustrating. These tips apply to both fiction and nonfiction, whether you’re a poet or a freelance journalist. Use them to achieve more and stress less.

  1. Learn to be Comfortable with Discomfort

Bleh, I hate discomfort. My first response is to avoid pain of any kind, emotional or physical.

Writing is like stepping into the great unknown, full of ambiguity and uneasiness. It’s scary. You fret about your characters or the plot for your novel, but don’t always know how to improve them.

Doubt hounds you with every sentence. You worry your writing isn’t good enough and if others will like it.

You must learn to coexist with these fears and unanswered questions…today, tomorrow and even next week. This uncertainty can last for months, if not years.

I have a friend who is a multi-published traditional novelist who jokes she never quite understands her books until she types The End. That’s when she returns to the beginning to start revising and to make sense of her story.

Learn to live with the questions on the page. It’s not easy, but it’s an absolute must in order to survive.

  1. Trust the Process

Writing is delicious and messy and hard and important.

All this discomfort can be torturous if you don’t understand this is part of writing. Rewriting, setbacks, mistakes and flat-out failures.

The answers will come to your work in time. Never as fast as you’d like and you might need the help of others — trusted writers, friends, family or paid industry professionals, who can view your work more objectively. You can’t always see your own story.

If you’ve been lucky enough to achieve some success, it’s a blessing and a curse. There’s the added pressure to create that magic again. You fear that before was just a fluke. Others will soon discover you’re a fake, a fraud, a phony.

You’re not. Each time you’re brave enough to step into the great unknown of writing and brave enough to stay there, you’ll eventually be rewarded with joy on the page for you and your readers.

Have faith.

  1. Reshift your focus

Stop agonizing over perfection. Quit chasing fame and fortune, or counting Amazon reviews before you’ve even completed the first draft.

Instead, focus offering value to others. This change of attitude made a huge difference for me and my book. I put a post-it by my laptop as a reminder every day, “How can I be most helpful to my reader?”

I try to act like I’m just meeting friends for coffee, then sharing with them all that I know on the subject. I’ve felt my body relax and enjoy myself more. It’s working because I’m producing more and the quality is much better.

Find the right word to to energize your head and heart to give your very best.

For nonfiction, ask yourself, how can I help, educate, inform (fill-in-the-blank) just one other reader?

For fiction, how can I entertain, enlighten, inspire (fill-in-the-blank) just one other reader? Write it down. Shift your focus away from your fears, to providing value to your readers.

I hope these survival skills are helpful and wish you all the best on your journey.

What do you think of this Survivor’s Guide? Do you have any other tips to share? Share in the comments.

This article was written by Positive Writer contributor Marcy McKay.

About Marcy McKay

Marcy McKay wanted to write stories ever since she read about Oompa Loompas in fourth grades. She's the Amazon best-selling author of Pennies from Burger Heaven. Join her on Facebook. Marcy is also a contributing author to The Audacity to be a Writer.

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins

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  • Chris Malkemes

    Marcy. thank you for your encouragement. I write a blog and have written two books (unpublished), but I think I have enough around here for at least two more books. It is scary to write – I call it letting people read your mind. Read. Your. Mind. How scary can that be? But, then I think I’m called to write so just write and write I do. (See now I’m looking at that last sentence: Is it grammatically correct? Am I blowing my own horn? Wait? Did I just say I was a writer?) Marcy. thought you would enjoy a little humor. Have a great day and, again, thank you for your encouragement. Chris~ http://www.chrismalkemes.com/whispered-words/god-and-his-word1

    • Read. Your. Mind. I LOVE that, Chris. I feel 100% the same, but I call mine “Writing Naked.” I often feel vulnerable and exposed with my words, whether it’s fiction or nonfiction.

      You are definitely a writer, dear Chris. I could feel your realness and authenticity just in the short amount you wrote. Chances are, there are indeed at least two more books inside you.

      Trust your intuition. Write. Serve your readers and it will take you far. Have a great day and thanks for making me smile.

  • John Chancellor

    A simple shift in attitude can often allow the words to flow. Instead of thinking, “I must write for 2 hours today.” shift to, “I get to write 2 hours today.” When we feel like we must do something, there is a natural resistance. When we shift that to “I get to” we free ourselves so we can.

    • I so agree with you, John. Our attitude is EVERYTHING, on and off the page. It’s why I love the name of this blog: Positive Writer!

      However, for me there are still days I’m excited I GET TO WRITE, but then the words simply do not flow. I think it’s important that writers understand that IS the process. Some days are good and some days aren’t. But, IF we stick with it, we’ll find more that’s work than what is not and be able to fix the rest.

      Thanks for your thoughts and good luck with your writing.

  • Catherine North

    I love this survivors’ guide, Marcy, and I think you have some really solid advice on how to push on through resistance and doubt. I’ve been writing a while too. I started off with three children’s books, and I’m now in the process of completing my third adult novel (all unpublished). This last book has been the hardest by far – it’s been a real struggle to get the first draft down, and it’s taken over a year, when I usually write the first draft quite quickly. I definitely need to have more faith in the process!

    I also like this quote from Junot Diaz:

    “You see, in my view a writer is a writer not because she writes well and easily, because she has amazing talent, because everything she does is golden. In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.”

    • Wow, Catherine. You have a lot of books under your belt. Congratulations. So many people talk about writing, or dream of writing, but they don’t do the work. Writers WRITE.

      I’m sorry this draft is not going well for you. I have a friend who has traditionally published 20+ books and she says the process is different with each one. Some are easy, some are hard, you just do the work.

      Stay with it, though. Keep going and you’ll find your rhythm.

      I’ve never heard that Junot Diaz quote and LOVED it. She believe that true writers are COMPELLED to write. I agree. I can’t not write (bad grammar, I know, but that’s how I hear it in my head).

  • To become a successful writer, you need to adapt to different working conditions and requirements. Survival is not only about using raw power, it’ also about using your brain. You need to use strategies and do different kinds of research.

    What most people don’t realize is writing is a very technical thing where many things can go wrong if you’re not attentive enough.

    • That’s terrific, Brian. You DO need strategies for writing, and you must modify and adapt. When Plan A isn’t going well, you move to Plan B or C.

      We definitely must be attentive to our writing. Not just to the words we’re putting (or not) on the page, but the process itself.

      You always have such great food-for-thought. Thanks!

  • Meg Burke

    Just as I finished reading your post, I came across this… http://www.nicholaswilton.com/2015/03/18/three-ideas-that-can-inspire-you/

    • Powerful, Meg. Thanks for sharing that post. I love his adage, “You already have everything you need.” It reminds of Natalie Goldberg’s Writing Down the Bones. She talks about how we shouldn’t be learning MORE rules. She says writing is a process of un-learning…trusting our instincts.

      And yes, we must lean into our fears. I think he said moving toward difficulty. Isn’t it interesting that my post, his post…all these suggestions apply to life, not just writing or painting?!

      Thanks you for stopping by!

  • Krithika Rangarajan

    WOOTWOOT WOOTWOOT WOOTWOOT

    Oh – I love ya!!!! Can I give you my cushiest hug and never let go!! #HUGSS

    One of my clients always laughs at my constant nagging: “Did you like this post?”, “Did you like this other post?”

    LOL – her response? Quit asking me this question! You are great. Don’t worry, I will let you know if and when I need you to change anything!

    (Of course, now I am afraid that she will offer some negative feedback 😛 lol)

    Lean into your fears and keep writing! Muaaah

    LOVE ya
    Kitto

    • Hey there, Kitto.

      You are so many levels of awesome. You really should listen to your client and trust your instincts more. You do have talent, or would have clients paying you to write for them!

      Here’s my numero uno suggestion for you: Worry less. Trust your writing more.

      Love ya back,
      Marcy

      • Krithika Rangarajan

        #HUGSSSS With mentors like you, my job has become much easier, although I spent the last 30 minutes bawling because of an ah-mazing article by an ah-mazing blogger. #ComparisonsKILL 😉

        LOVEE YOU

        • Ouch, Kitto. My heart hurts for you. You’re right, comparisons do kill, but if you’re paying attention, they also TEACH YOU.

          Your tears are trying to tell you they want to be an ah-mazing blogger, too (or novelist, or travel writer, etc.). It’s like a toddler literally throwing a temper tantrum on the floor. SEE, WHAT THIS OTHER PERSON HAS? I WANT IT, TOO. WAAAAAAAAHHHHH!

          Listen to your tears and honor yourself, Kitto. Good luck, sweet girl.

  • Marcy… “Learn to be comfortable with discomfort” is not only a writing tip. It’s the key to escaping the human condition. In other words, easier said than done. And yet we must, I agree. And even when we’re practiced at it, it’s terrible tough. So, life is tough, let’s not kid ourselves. Writing is tougher. What the heck have we got ourselves into? You do us all a favour by reminding us how tough it is. Not for wimps! Onward!

    • Beautifully said, PJ. It’s funny you describes these tips a part of the human condition because I often write these posts and think, “You know, this doesn’t just apply to writing. This is LIFE.”
      And you’re correct. Neither writing nor life are easy, but when we’re willing to take it all in — the good, the bad and the ugly…it’s so, so worth it.
      I enjoyed your thoughts. Thanks, PJ.

      • Marcy… regarding writing as LIFE… you might enjoy a little essay I’ve written on this subject. Google “story structure expedition: journey to the heart of a story.” From the things you’ve said in this post, makes me think you’ll enjoy it.

        • Wow, PJ. Congrats on the publication of your second book. It does look like an interesting read. Thanks…

  • This is a great list Marcy! #1 is tough to accept, but crucial. I hate discomfort too, but once I accepted it, I’m now able to hear the noise of doubt, and most times, ignore it. I’m no longer bamboozled by it, the power is diminished (though never entirely gone!).

    • BAMBOOZLED! You get the gold star of the day, Dana. Bamboozled is such a great word and so much of Fear does. I really like how you describe hearing “the noise of doubt.” That’s OUTSTANDING!
      You’ve definitely have learned Fear’s tricks. Thanks for sharing your insights with us. I appreciate it.

  • Nicole

    Great Post. Really enjoyed it. That is the the hardest part of writing and also the most mysterious. Having faith, trusting the process and sticking to your guns because it always seems to work out! Having a little Active Patience goes a long way.

    • Hi Nicole,
      I’m officially adding “Active Patience” to my vocabulary. That’s awesome. I really need that because patience is not listed on my virtues anywhere. Did you come up with that term on your own, or did you read it somewhere?
      Regardless, I love the term and appreciate you stopping by PW. Good luck on your writing journey.

  • “If you’ve been lucky enough to achieve some success, it’s a blessing and
    a curse. There’s the added pressure to create that magic again. You
    fear that before was just a fluke. Others will soon discover you’re a
    fake, a fraud, a phony. You’re not. Each time you’re brave enough to step into the great unknown of writing and brave enough to stay there, you’ll eventually be rewarded with joy on the page for you and your readers.Have faith.” So needed this right now. Thank you.

    • Glad I could help, Shari. I looked you up on Amazon – Lessons from the Stickers Patch. What a GREAT title! (I live in Amarillo, TX, so I’m not far from you).

      Congrats on your past success. Clearly, you can write and clearly, you know how to connect with readers. That’s a very special gift.

      The hesitation I hear in your comment is that you’re unsure that faith will deliver another piece of powerful work. My suggestion would be to stop focus on the end result (fame, fortune and Amazon rankings). Instead, focus on the readers who desperately need the encouragement only you can give. Peace~

  • rose

    hi there! its a great post. it cheered me up. well its funny because i always have that line for my self “my writings aren’t good enough”, “they will not like it” and then i’ll pity myself, i won’t let anyone read my articles or my scripts. then, i will not write. (such a bad attitude) but i can’t have that bucket of courage and confidence to write again. “I really want to write, (i’m fond of writing scripts for play) there’s a lot of ideas running in my mind but i can’t write them down (or i don’t want to write?) well, as you have said, “Writing is like stepping into the great unknown, full of ambiguity and uneasiness. It’s scary.” No one will never get out of a dark room if he will not struggle to see that light from the outside and have that faith that he can leave the room and be freed. Writing is worth for! (against fear, shame, and everything in between of these two) thanks Miss Marcy 🙂

    • Hi there, Rose,

      You’re in good company. EVERY writer worries his/her writing isn’t good enough…no one will like your work…then we pity ourselves.

      This is just a trick Fear uses to stop writing. There’s a reason all those stories are running through your head. You’re MEANT to write them down, then share with others. Good luck!

  • Hi Marcy, This article is an added value to everyone who through it. Keep up the good work.

    waiting for more articles
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