We’re all familiar with some of the problems that writers’ struggle with: writer’s block, procrastination, perfectionism, and crappy royalties…
But in this week’s blog I want to discuss five common, but less discussed problems, that many writers’ experience.
#1 Between projects
It takes a long time to write a book, often years.
We have moments of really loving what we’re doing and moment where we cannot wait for this thing to be over.
We pour so much of ourselves into the creative process, and following publication, we don our extrovert hats and go out into the world to promote the heck out of it.
But once we return home, we realise that even though we couldn’t possibly read our book one more time, we kind of miss working on a project.
If you’re lucky, you may already have another manuscript on the go, but even then, starting a project is very different to being in the middle of, or finishing, a novel.
During the later stages of writing, you still feel self-doubt, but you know the work and you’re reasonably confident in your ability to pull it off.
Beginnings are wide open with possibility; they are the great unknown.
You could take your manuscript in a variety of different directions and it’s very exploratory which in one way is fun and in another way totally overwhelming because there are so many things that you could do that you don’t know what to do.
It’s decision overload.
But as a work nears its completion, the parameters around the story narrow because you’ve already made all those big important decisions about plot, character, setting, structure, theme and so on.
You’re not creating a work from scratch, you’re just improving the story that you already have.
When a major project wraps up it’s a cause for celebrations, but once the confetti settles and it’s just you and the giant unknown of ‘what’s next?’ it can be surprising and uncomfortable to discover that you don’t know what the answer is.
#2 Repeating yourself
This problem piggy-backs off problem number one.
Once we finally get an idea for a new project or we feel brave enough to pursue one of the many ideas in our creative volt, it can be a huge relief to have writing back in our lives again.
But you may reach a point in your draft where you start to have this niggly feeling of, hmmmm this seem familiar.
With great dismay, you discover that your new manuscript is eerily similar to the last one.
The characters sound the same, the plotline is overly similar, and you’ve chosen a near identical setting.
You start to wonder if you’re a one hit wonder, that maybe you only had one story to tell, and that if you pursue this new project, you’ll become one of those writers who build a career off publishing the same book.
You worry that you’ll never release a “second album” and that your creativity was a lot more limited than you thought.
The thing is, we spend so long working on a book that the structure and format of that project become embedded in our brain. It’s a loop that we’ve create through multiple drafts, edits, and countless hours spent thinking about the narrative.
Little wonder that when we sit down to write a new book, we end up playing the same track.
Fortunately, awareness is the first step to recovery. Once you realise that you’re repeating yourself, you can then take active steps to construct new characters, chose an alternative setting, and dismantle the structure.
Writing is largely about problem solving and every writer begins again with the start of every new project.
We’re drawn to writing in part because of the challenge that it presents and realising that your new manuscript is a cover of the last is just one more opportunity for you to develop your writing skills.
#3 Someone already wrote it
Many writers have experienced this problem which is basically a backhanded compliment.
In one way, it’s physical proof that you were right. This is a great idea; a publisher would be interested in this and there is a market for this type of story. The slap is that now it has been done. A publisher has already accepted this story and this could have been your success if you hadn’t spent so much time procrastinating.
Your inner optimist will attempt to reassure you by saying that there’s no such thing as an original story and that every book is drawing upon all of the many books, myths, and fables that came before it—nothing is wholly original.
And your inner-pessimist will want to shove a muffin down their Polly-Anna throat.
#4 Writing what you don’t know
Write what you know has become a cliché piece of writing advice for good reason. First, it’s easy to write what you know. You can do it with authority, confidence, and include details and insights that don’t exist on Google.
But there comes a time when you must also write what you don’t know because our lives and experiences are limited and part of creative writing is using our imagination to step into different worlds, careers, and experiences.
But writing what you don’t know is hard. It takes a lot of research (see: rabbit holes) and it’s scary because you don’t know what you don’t know and the last thing you want to do is make a giant mistake that will cause insiders to laugh at you or worse, you offend them.
We worry that if we write what we know our work will lack diversity and if we write what we don’t know we will be accused of appropriation.
Ultimately, what this comes down to is checking in with your ethics (why are you write about this?), doing a bunch of research, and reaching out to sensitivity readers or professionals in the industry.
What happens after that is between you and your editor.
#5 Writing isn’t instantly rewarding
The weird thing about writing is that it kind of feels like you’re doing nothing.
Like I mentioned in point one, it takes a long time to write a novel. We chip away at our book baby for years before it’s released.
Rarely do you feel a sense of completion when working on a book. For the most part, it’s just this on-going project that you tinker with for a couple hours a day (if you’re lucky and super disciplined).
Finishing a scene doesn’t really bring any sense of completion because that means you’re just starting a new scene tomorrow. Sending your manuscript off to an editor brings only a brief reprieve until you receive the line edits.
The book isn’t done until you’re holding a printed copy on pub day.
For this reason, when you’re working on a book, on the day to day, it can feel as though you aren’t really making any progress. Even when you’re working on a second or third draft or you’re deep into editing, our progress is often small. Two thousand words written (with 60,000 to go) or three pages edited (with 300 to go).
Accepting that this is simply the nature of the beast goes a long way to making this fact more palatable. But tracking hours spent or words added (depending on what stage you are at) can help remind you that you are indeed making progress (even if it feels like you’re only taking micro-steps).
There you have it. That’s my take on five underrated writer problems. Now I’d love to hear from you, what’s a writing problem you encounter that no one talks about? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it.
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