Starting is Harder than Finishing

A few weeks ago, I shared a blog post and video titled Five Lesser Known Writing Problems, and number one on the list was ‘Being Between Projects.’

Here, I spoke specifically about how starting energy is different to finishing energy. A lot of readers connected to this idea, so I wanted to unpack it a little further. 

Starting a new writing endeavour, whether it be a long-term project such as a novel or a short-term project like an article or essay is always a little tricky. 

Recently, I’ve become acutely aware of this as I work on my dissertation in which five chapters (not including the introduction and conclusion) will present the past three years of research.  

Even though I know what my investigation is about, every time I set down to begin work on the next chapter, my mind scatters. 

It’s similar to when you have an idea for a fiction novel or short story. 

You’ve got the basic premise figured out, and maybe you’re loosely aware of the topic you want to explore. You know you want to write about grief or female friendships, but you’re not entirely sure what the theme is. That is, you don’t yet know what you’re really trying to say, or how you’re going to say it. 

And that’s why beginnings are so tricky. We may have everything we need to begin writing– an idea, a pen, and a slither of time–but launching headfirst into an open word doc. isn’t always the best strategy. 

Obviously, this is why people create outlines or storyboards or cover their office wall in barely legible sticky-notes, because they need a little direction. We need to pull our scattered thoughts and the overwhelming number of possibilities back into something manageable. 

Beginnings are exhausting because there are so many decisions that you have to make, but outlines and sticky-notes allow you to play with all of these possibilities before you commit to a single structure. 

That being said, outlines are not fixed. 

They can be treated as a tool that is used to help you get started as if they were a map you only need to refer to when first stepping onto the track, but then abandon once you feel confident you are on your way. 

Of course, you can always tweak the outline, or completely dismantle it, as you write, because we all know that knowledge and insight is gained through the act of doing. 

Something that I’ve noticed in writing this dissertation is that the beginning of every new chapter feels impossible. Even though I understand my topic, research, and ultimate conclusion, I have no idea how to form that mass of ideas and information into a neatly constructed, accessible, and convincing argument. 

I wind up spending a couple of days word vomiting on sticky-notes and various word documents, wondering what to include and what to leave out. Eventually, something clicks, or I get sick of chasing my own tail, and I set down and just start writing. 

I give myself full permission to be bad. While other writers prefer to be as efficient as possible, I am a big supporter of Anne Lamott’s ‘shitty first draft’ philosophy. I don’t mind if I have to cut or reshape the first thousand words of throat-clearing if it leads me into a groove and argument that I can actually use. 

I use the same approach with fiction writing too. Once I’ve figured out the basic premise and story arch, I let intuition lead the way. 

While thinking about what it is you want to say can make writing easier, it is the act of writing that forces you to clarify your message. 

Beginnings are hard because your message may be simple, but the exploration of your topic may not be.  

When we speak about the theme of the novel, we can usually whittle it down to a single sentence or statement. And yet, the purpose of a novel isn’t to give us a tidy Instagram quote but an experience. We need to live through the lesson that the conclusion arrives at.   

How you are going to explore the nuances of your argument, regardless of whether you’re writing an essay, novel, or dissertation, is yet another thing that you need to figure out. (And here, we cycle back to the idea of outlines and shitty first drafts). 

Strangely, we often forget how hard beginnings are. 

We forget how researching a new topic can make us feel like we’re stepping into a very important conversation with no context. 

We forget that beginnings are about gathering materials and storing them in the linen cupboard until we eventually find a use for them.  

More than once I’ve stood on the precipitous of a new chapter while looking longingly over my shoulder at the chapter I’ve just completed; I am convinced that the last section wasn’t nearly as hard as the one I’m now faced with. And that’s true because the finishing of the last chapter was easier than beginning the next. 

But that’s okay because I’ve got an outline and a permission slip to write a shitty first draft. These maps may not lead me all the way to the top, but they’re enough to get me started. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Fractured | Interview with Shayla Morgansen

This week’s video is a little different as I am interviewing my writing pal, Shayla Morgansen.

Shayla Morgansen is an editor, a lecturer in publishing studies and the author of YA urban fantasy series The Elm Stone Saga. A former teacher, she’s also completing a PhD in fanfiction studies and creative writing pedagogy.

We go deep into Shayla’s process as she share what she loves and loathes about writing, her greatest strength (and weakness), her passion for subverting YA trends, and what it feels like to be wrapping up a SIX BOOK series. She also shares the BEST analogy I’ve ever heard about the drafting process.

Basically, it’s just two gals talking shop. Enjoy.

To find out more about Shayla and the Elm Stone Saga, follow the links below.

FB: www.facebook.com/shaylamorgansenauthor/
Tw: twitter.com/ShaylaWrites
In: www.instagram.com/shaylawritesmagic/
Web: www.shaylamorgansen.com

Claiming the Title of ‘Writer’

After re-reading Elle Luna’s essay and book, The Cross-Roads Between Should and Must, I started thinking about commitment. 

So much anxiety around writing stems from our inner-critic, and our response to this criticism often manifests as procrastination, perfectionism, overachieving, comparison, and victimhood. (To read more about these five responses, click here). 

We use these exhausting tactics as a way to either prove ourselves or avoid criticism. If you don’t write a book, then no one can judge you. If your partner sees you working on your book at night and during the weekend, then they’ll finally take you and your writing seriously.   

Here’s where the idea of commitment comes in. 

When we claim the title ‘writer’ and commit to the writing life, the pressure to prove ourselves and the fear of judgement weakens.

Why? Because nothing is as powerful as a mind made up. 

Deciding that you are going to be a writer is empowering. 

Will this last forever? Probably not. 

You will continue to have self-doubt even after you declare yourself a writer because being an artist and making time for your art is uncertain and there are no guarantees. 

However, when you commit to the writing life, it does remove the angst of: Should I be a writer? 

Do I have what it takes? 

I’m not sure what to do….

And when you eliminate this internal dialogue, you can get on with the work. 

And you no longer have to concern yourself with the opinions of others because you’ve already made the decision that you’re in this for the long haul.

When we commit to the title of writer, artist, or creative, the pressure to ‘be there’ now reduces. 

So many of us refuse the title of ‘author’ or ‘writer’ until we’ve [insert lofty achievement here]. The only problem is that we keep moving the goalposts. ‘I won’t be a real writer until I publish my first essay’ becomes ‘I won’t be a real writer until I publish my first book.’ 

I won’t be a real writer until …

  • I get an agent
  • Sign with a traditional publisher
  • Become a New York Times Best Seller
  • Get a movie deal
  • Get interviewed by Oprah
  • Become friends with Stephen King.

Maybe you think denying this title is a type of motivator. That the ‘right’ to claim the title of ‘writer’ or ‘author’ will drive you to the finish line. 

Oh, dear one, it takes a lot of work to write a book and if your motivation is this flimsy you may not make it.

When you claim that you are a writer, right now, you show that your creative practise is important to you. That you are committed to the writing life. 

When you say, ‘I’m a writer, it tells us a bit about who you are and what is important to you. It clarifies your values; it shows that writing is a fundamental part of who you are regardless of internal and external goings-on. 

Committing to writing doesn’t mean that you’ll quit your day job to write full time, it means that you are committed to honouring this aspect of yourself by making time for it, thirty minutes a day or 500 words at a time. (However you want to do it).

Most of us have to do other work as a way to pay the bills, whether it be a desk job or maintaining a portfolio career that includes teaching and freelancing, but if writing is the currency that will take you where you want to go, then you need to make time for it. 

Being committed to writing means that you stick with it, even when your pitches get rejected, your short stories go unpublished, and three people come to your book launch.

Being committed to writing means staying in the chair even when it isn’t going well and your imagination has become a shrivelled prune and reorganising the walk-in-robe suddenly sounds like a thrilling adventure. (It isn’t).

We commit to writing because it’s how we express ourselves, process information, explore complex problems and feel the satisfaction of achieving a challenging task. It’s also playful, fun, electric, emissive, stimulating, and it feels valuable. 

We commit to writing the same reason we commit to anything — because it’s important to us. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

UPDATE! My experience writing from ‘near’ home.

A few weeks ago I posted a blog and video that argued against the writerly defunct mode of writing from home.

Convinced by my own argument and the research that inspired the original post, I decided to give this ‘working from near home’ thing a crack.

Want to know how it went? Watch my impromptu update below!


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Writing with Purpose

Recently, I’ve been working on a mini-series that focusses on the writing routines of non-fiction authors. While researching the first two episodes of this series, I noticed one piece of advice continued to come up: writing is easier when you have something to say. 

This may sound like it’s only relevant to non-fiction, but it’s just as important when writing fiction. 

When you first begin a writing project, you may know what it is you want to say (i.e writing from experience) or you might simply be interested in learning more about a topic. 

Often, for me, I have a loose idea of what I want to say, but it is in the act of writing and researching that the message solidifies, become more complex, or changes entirely. 

I wish I was the type of writer who could clarify their argument or idea simply by thinking about the story or essay, or by conducting research, but it is in the act of writing that I am forced to articulate the connections I’m making and it’s how I assess the strength of my argument or story. 

Is this efficient?

Not if you consider the volume of words that may wind up getting cut, but if writing is the process that helps me get to the conclusion, then maybe it is efficient. Maybe it helps me arrive at ‘The End’ sooner than I could have if I’d only thought about the story. (Obviously, if you only think about your book you’ll never finish it because you never started it!).

In the end, we all pay the same toll fee, just at different ends of the highway. Some writers spend years researching, brainstorming, and outlining before they begin writing. The result is that they produce a very good first draft. Other writers may spend the same number of years toggling between researching, thinking, writing, and editing, producing multiple drafts along the way. 

Is one better than the other? Nope. It’s just a matter of process.

So why does having something to say – no matter how you go about figuring that out – make writing easier?

#1 Because it can guide your structure. 

When you know what your ultimate conclusion is, you can walk backwards and figure out what steps (or chapters/scenes) would lead to this result.  

#2 It keeps you focussed. 

When you start wandering off the path, your message is the beacon that guides you back. It helps you stay clear on what to include and exclude. 

When working on non-fiction pieces, you can follow the basic structure of …

  1. Provide context (introduce the problem/event/scenario)
  2. Provide evidence and clarify your argument
  3. Arrive at a conclusion (and potentially give the reader an action step)

When writing fiction, you need to consider whether the overall story or the individual scenes work together to support the message or theme you are exploring. 

While it is easy to write a loose and spooling essay or story, it is much more difficult to figure out what it is you have to say. 

So, how do you have something to say?

By doing stuff. 

By living life. 

By having experiences, making mistakes, taking risks, reading books, talking to smart people, thinking deeply about big problems, and looking for connections. 

Having a writing practise will make you a better writer. You’ll learn how to start projects and most importantly how to finish them. You’ll get an understanding of sentence structure and language, of how to build an argument or craft a compelling story. It will help you figure out a process and routine that works for you. 

Writing can help you figure out your thoughts around a particular topic, but that spark of inspiration, that desperation to share an insight, story, or message will most likely come from living. 

When you know what it is you have to say, writing then becomes the container for saying it.  


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Ryan Holiday’s Writing Routine

If you missed last week’s post which was all about Gretchen Rubin’s writing routine, then you may not realise that I am doing a mini-series on the creative practises of non-fiction authors. This week, I’m focussing on Ryan Holiday

Ryan Holiday is an American author whose books focus on bringing stoic philosophy into the modern-day. He is also a PR strategist, bookstore owner (yes!), and he is the host of The Daily Stoic podcast. 

Ryan takes his writing seriously, and for that reason, he has chosen to set professional work hours. He doesn’t work hurriedly to meet a deadline or wait until inspiration strikes and he doesn’t write in his pyjamas while working in bed. 

Instead, he writes every day and he treats it like work. Ryan is clearest and less likely to be interrupted in the morning so that’s when he writes. 

In treating it like a job, Ryan gets up, has a shower, gets dressed and then goes to his office, which is outside of the home, as though he were going to a conventional workplace. Ryan used to work at his home office but decided to relocate to a space above his bookstore, moving all of his books and work desk to the new location where he can write his books and blogs and recorded his podcast. 

In fact, he doesn’t even have a desk in his home anymore. 

Once he arrives at his office, he begins work on whatever writing task he has assigned himself that day, working from eight or nine until eleven or twelve. 

Three hours and he’s done. 

He finds the idea of working in a café bizarre as he values being able to stand up, pace, move around and stare. He needs to spread out his research materials, turn the music up or head out for a walk. 

In terms of structure, Ryan’s books are broken up into small sections. For each section, he creates a new Google Doc, but eventually, he joins them all together into one Word Doc, switching from writing online to offline for editing and re-writing. 

During his research phase, his favourite tool is 4×6 notecards which are stored in photo boxes. He outlines and organizes the entire book using these cards which are filed according to different parts of the project, or which subsection the thought or information is relevant to. 

Each of his books is made up of thousands of notecards which are based upon the books he’s read, interviews he has conducted, or his reflections, conclusions, or observations. 

Each card is done by hand unless the passage is especially lengthy. 

He knows that all of this research is actually starting to become something when he exports the documents from Google to Microsoft. 

Interesting, he uses music as a way to block outside noise and relax his mind. He will often pick one embarrassing song he’d never admit to listening to, and play that on repeat. There are few albums he’s been able to do this with that have the same effect as a single song to support him into getting into a state of flow. However, he considers some songs sacred. For example, he’d never use Alice in Chain’s Nutshell for this practice. (I LOVE that song!). He’ll stick with this one song until, for whatever reason, it stops working for him. 

His two pre-writing rituals include avoiding email and writing in his journal before switching over to professional writing. 

He says that he aims to figure out what he wants to say before he starts writing, rather than figuring his writing out on the page. A good day will see him write 2000 words, but because he aims to write clean content straight out the gate, it is often less than this. 

When he sits down to write, he begins by asking himself: how should this start? What is my argument? Where am I taking this? If this approach doesn’t work, he’ll start in the middle and work outwards. 

When editing, he takes a cycling approach, where he’ll write the first third, edited it, write the middle, then edit both sections together, and then write the final third.

 In this way, Ryan says, the beginning is constantly improving and by the time he gets to the end, he knows the first two thirds so well that the last comes together more easily and with less editing. 

Despite his rigorous approach, Ryan also knows when to call it quits. 

That may occur after only an hour, but he feels that it must have been a productive hour if that is how he feels exhausted. He aims to leave enough on the page that he has a beginning point the following day, stating that it’s vital to ensure you are creating as much momentum as possible for yourself, even if it’s only an illusion. In this way, he hopes to make writing as easy as possible. 

For Ryan, he says research is totally separate from writing. He may spend several months or years gathering material for a new project before he starts writing. Admittedly, he does conduct some research while writing as inconsistencies, gaps, or insufficiencies become apparent through writing. 

One of his favourite hacks is to read content that is totally different from what he is writing about as a way to forge new and unexpected connections. 

Interestingly, Ryan says that writing is easier than coming up with something to say and figuring out how best to present an argument, but he would never describe writing itself as easy. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Gretchen Rubin’s Writing Routine

Previously, I did a series that covered the writing rules of several famous authors including Octavia Butler, Natalie Goldberg, Kurt Vonnegut, and Steven King. 

I enjoyed creating this series because like all writers, I love to see how others approach writing, what types of routines they’ve crafted for themselves, and what habits or tools make getting to the blank page as easy and efficient as possible. 

The best part? Learning about the routines of others can give us ideas for our own routines.

This time I’m taking a slightly different angle by focussing strictly on the routines of non-fiction authors and this week I’m unpacking the writing routine of Gretchen Rubin. 

Gretchen Rubin is a New York based writer who explores human nature to understand how we can make our lives better. Her best-selling books include The Happiness Project, Happier at Home, Better than Before, The Four Tendencies (her personality framework as it relates to expectations [I am an Upholder]) and Outer Order, Inner Calm. 

The New York Times describes her as the queen of self-help memoir, but Gretchen prefers to think of herself as a moral essayist. 

She posts a weekly podcast with her sister called Happier with Gretchen Rubin, and is a devourer of books, sending out a regular ‘what I read this month’ newsletter to her subscribers (which often includes more than ten books!). 

Gretchen’s routine varies depending on which stage she’s in. She posts a new blog on her website almost every day and the bank of material is not that far ahead, so she is constantly working on new content for the site. When she’s working on a book, she aims to have three hours a day of original work, Monday-Friday. 

Though she has a home office, her preferred place to work is the New York Society Library, a small public library located one block away from her apartment. 

Research plays a major role in her work, and part of that includes being well-read. Gretchen reads widely: novels, memoirs, philosophy, and essays, as well as scientific and traditional journal articles. Part of her research occurs through conversation and observation, finding insight in the minutia of everyday life. 

She takes copious notes and is always trying to process information and look for connections. She carries a notebook and will often email herself notes or random thoughts. She also keeps a huge document that is sorted by subject. By copying out this content, she believes it helps cement the ideas in her brain, and she is also a big lover of profound or well-crafted quotes. 

One of her favourite things about herself is that she often becomes obsessed with a subject, conducting countless hours of research to learn more about it, sometimes for years. 

While reading, Gretchen is actively looking for content that is worth noting. If it’s a library book, she’ll mark it with a sticky note, and if she owns the book, she’ll underline important passages. 

Once she’s finished reading the book, then she goes back and copies out all of the notes. 

If it’s an especially profound quote, she will also copy it and paste it into a large file specifically designated to quotes. 

When taking or copying notes, she’s not concerned with organisation. That occurs later, once she begins outlining the book. Instead, she tags each section with a relevant key work so that she can use the search function to locate it later. 

For Gretchen, the real struggle comes once it’s time to start structuring the book. She says that the structure of a book often seems obvious once she lands on the right one, but that it doesn’t seem obvious when first beginning. 

As she says, ‘Structure is so, so, so important – and the structure must serve the meaning.’ For this reason, she can’t always figure out the structure until she’s determined what it is she really wants to say with a book. 

That being said, one of the best things about her note-taking system is that she never begins a book with a blank page, as she already has hundreds of pages to guide her thinking. 

For Gretchen, the most important thing about writing is having something to say. Once you have something to say, the writing comes much more easily, but you still have to actually write it. As she says, Many people have ideas or the intention to write, but what matters, in the end, is what is on the page.

Should Writers Work From Home?

When the pandemic yet, many workers were forced out of their office spaces and told to work from home. 

During this time, I heard many authors say in interviews and online that for them, nothing had really changed because they worked from home anyway. Rolling from the bed to the desk was nothing new to them. Several jokingly said they’d spent their entire working career preparing for this very moment. 

For some, the only thing that really changed was that they were no longer the only person home. Though this is not an insignificant fact, to a degree, maybe it is true that writers who work from home were the best prepared and the least affected during lockdowns. 

In a recent piece for the New Yorker, Cal Newport noted that historically, writing is one of the few cognitively demanding tasks that could be performed outside of a professional office or workspace. 

There is a reason why Penguin Random House doesn’t offer a workstation when you sign a publishing deal, nor does IngramSpark when you use them as a distributor for your self-published venture. 

Writers decide for themselves where they are happiest to work and for many novelists and freelance writers, that happens to be at home. 

Obviously, this decision is partly informed by financial factors. You don’t need an office or formal workspace to write, so why spend the money on renting a co-working space when, hypothetically, you can work anywhere as long as you have a laptop or a notepad and pen?

The second is convenience. It is just too easy to wake up, go about your morning routine, and then disappear into your home office. 

No commute. Pants optional. 

You don’t have to buy a coffee every hour as payment for occupying a table in a café and you don’t have to pack up your laptop and notes every time you need to go to the bathroom if you’re working at a public library. 

And yet, despite the financial benefits and convenience of writing at home, some authors have gone to great lengths to get out of the house. 

Prior to the pandemic, Joanna Penn would take the entire morning to write at a local café. While Non-fiction author, Gretchen Rubin, has an office space in her home, she chooses to write her books at a small local library, and Ray Bradbury wrote on a typewriter in the basement of UCLA’s library. 

Maya Angelou used to rent out hotel rooms, arriving at 6:30 in the morning with nothing but a bible, yellow legal pad, and a bottle of sherry. 

TS Elliott, Franz Kafka, Gertrude Stein, and F Scott Fitzgerald all wrote while sitting in coffee shops and cafes. 

Beloved Zen devote and writing guru Natalie Goldberg appears to write everywhere from cafes to workshops to friend’s houses to park benches and even while out walking! 

So why did all of these writers choose to work outside of the home, despite the benefits of pyjamas and free coffee and tea? 

The reason why there were so many ‘how to work from home’ articles published during 2020 is because working from home is not always the most supportive environment. 

Why? Because we associate this space with family time, nourishment, celebration, and rest. Four words we probably wouldn’t use to describe work. 

Beyond this, however, is the simple fact that houses are filled with distraction. 

Every short trip to the bathroom or kettle risks derailing productivity. 

Seeing a laundry basket full of dirty clothes, a dishwasher in need of emptying, wilting pot plants, or dusty shelves sends a signal to your easily distracted brain: you should do that, it will only take a minute. But as Newport argues, the visual cues ‘destabilizes the subtle neuronal dance required to think clearly.’  

Some people love to work from home because it means that they can complete these domestic chores in-between work tasks, but according to Newport and other academics concerned with the link between cognitive process and productivity, home may not be the most supportive space for cultivating good work. 

Maybe it doesn’t sound like that big of a deal. Does it really matter if you get up to put a load of laundry on during a scheduled break? Well, no, but that’s not what we’re talking about here. 

Instead, consider how your home is a minefield of potential distraction and even if you don’t engage in that distraction, your mind is momentarily pulled towards this urgent but unimportant domestic task and away from whatever it was you were working on. 

It takes a lot of discipline and energy to write and we don’t want to waste those finite resources on overcoming potential distractions (see: laundry, dishes, vacuuming, mowing). 

And I haven’t even begun to talk about how other people are also a form of distraction. 

Working from home is often presented as a perk and it is one of the few benefits that writers – well known or not – share. And yet, there are many writers who forego this privilege in the name of productivity. 

Perhaps the solution then is, as Newport said, to work from near home. 

For those on a shoestring budget, that may look like working from public libraries, but you’d be surprised at how creative you can get with this. I’ve spoken with writers who’ve written books in the empty spaces above bookshops, who’ve contacted their local library and requested a private space work, or who have made an arrangement with their local university. 

A lot of magic can happen when you ask and the worst is that they will say ‘no’. (And I’m pretty sure you can handle that). 

If you can afford it, then renting a desk in a co-working space or hiring a room that you can turn into a writing retreat may be a great option for you.  

Now, is this an unnecessary and privileged expense? 

You bet ya. 

But this type of grand gesture is what can elevate you from amateur to professional, or so Steven Pressfield would say. This kind of investment is a signal to yourself that writing is important to you, that you are worth backing, and that you are taking this writing practice seriously. And you never know, the cost of working in such a space could be covered by your increase in productivity. 

As with all writing advice, you need to decide what works best for you, but I do think this is an aspect of our writing routine that deserves some serious experimentation. 

Now I’d love to hear from you. Do you write from home? Do you find this space supportive or distractive? If you write at home, please share what types of locations work well for you, cafes, libraries, co-working spaces, and do you think this makes writing easier? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it because I’d love to know. 


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Five Lesser Known Writer Problems

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.  

Starting energy is different to finishing energy.  

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.   


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.

Writing After a Break

I haven’t done any creative writing for two months.

Why? Because other things became the priority: teaching, coaching, writing my exegesis, helping family, and taking on some extra hospo work. [NB: an exegesis is like a mini-thesis and forms part of my overall dissertation].

I record my habits every day in a tracker because collecting data keeps me honest, but I was shocked to discover that eight weeks had passed since I’d worked on the manuscript.

Now, admittedly, you can’t do everything all the time.

While I was working on the novel, I made the conscious decision to put academic research aside until I was ninety percent happy with the revision.

Once I reached that point, I then put the novel aside so that I could focus on putting my exegesis together.

We’re all capable of focussing on more than one thing at a time, but I couldn’t see how — realistically — I could continue to write every day, plus work on my exegesis, and take care of my responsibilities as a sessional academic and writing coach.

If you’re a frequent watcher of this channel, or a member of my email list, you already know that my regular Thursday uploads have been irregular lately.

I definitely don’t work on everything every day because cognitive task switching drains energy and fractures focus, and I have to work around time constraints and interruptions (just like everyone else!).

I hate studying writing while not writing.

I hate teaching writing while not writing.

I hate sharing writing advice while not writing.

At first, I tried to justify this brief abandoning of the manuscript, and writing in general, by saying that the project had shifted into a different season, and while that is correct, the project is not complete and I wasn’t going to finish the latest round of edits unless I made writing a priority again.

With everything on my plate right now, I know I can’t dedicate whole days to writing, and even if I could, such approaches usually lead to creative burn out.

So, instead, I’m taking my own advice and carving out a little time each morning to work on the manuscript.

The stage I’m at right now is applying the structural feedback I’ve received from my mentors for acts one and two, as well as conducting a general line edit to correct typos and sentence structure.

This stuff is not earth shatteringly difficult, but as the last two months have shown, this edit will not get done unless I actively make time for it.

I considered using writing as a reward; something I could do after I’d completed working on my exegesis or teaching materials, but knowing how draining these tasks can be, I chose to start my day with writing. That way, I’m coming to the page as my freshest, bestest self.

For now, I’m only working on the edits for an hour a day, and I got to be honest, that hour goes quickly, and even though part of me wants to shove my schedule aside and keep writing, at least for this week, I’m sticking to my one hour.

Why? Because I do have to complete other work that isn’t nearly as developed as the manuscript and two, because I don’t want to do one big day and then not touch the book again for another week.

But that’s just my process from many years of trial and error.

It’s only been a week, but because I’ve structured my entire life around writing, everything starts to feel wobbely when that centre is removed.

Now, I’d love to hear from you. Do you ever take breaks from writing, either consciously or unconsciously? Do you feel rusty when you return to writing or does it feel natural? Do you miss writing when you aren’t working on a project? Leave a comment below and let me know.


Follow-through_ How to complete a long-term writing project (1)

Need help finishing that short story, novel, memoir? No problem. The Follow-Through Formula is a free video training which unpacks the five strategies you can use to go from idea to completed project.

To access, click here to join my email newsletter and you’ll receive a thank you email containing the link to the free video training.

You’ll also receive my weekly newsletter which is sent out every Thursday morning. This is where I share links to my latest blog and YouTube video as well as other inspiring goodies that I only share via email.