It wasn’t supposed to be like this.
When you aspired to become a writer, you imagined crafting pages of immaculate prose, publishing work that gets better with each read, and your peers telling each other, “Now there’s talent!”
Instead, when you try to write, you feel paralyzed.
You don’t know if what you’re saying makes sense, and every moment you spend with your work is a struggle.
What you eventually produce takes longer than you planned, and it fills you with a sense of disappointment.
Here are seven barriers to writing every writer needs to overcome – and how to leap over them today.
1. I Don’t Have Time to Write
Your boss is demanding, your spouse needs your attention, you’ve got three kids to feed, and the dog is begging for a walk.
Then, you’ve got bill to pay bills, a shelf to hang, a house to clean, and a hundred and one other things to do.
All this before you sit down, come up with an original idea, and write about it.
If you call yourself a writer, writing is one of your life’s tasks. Like any professional, you’ve got to turn up every day and get to work.
Be brutal with the activities filling your day. No, I’m not suggesting unemployment, divorce or animal services.
Eliminate the non-essential:
Delete the email app from your phone.
Watch television only on the weekend.
Turn off notifications and internet access while you write.
Protect your time and concentrate on developing the habit of writing every day.
You’ll know you’re succeeding when it feels like writing is taking over your life.
That’s a better problem—trust me.
2. I Can’t Find My Voice
Before J.K. Rowling had her way, the Philosopher’s Stone was a long-sought artifact from the Middle Ages. According to legend, it could turn base metals into gold.
When they write the history of our craft, the writer’s voice will stand as the Philosopher’s Stone for writers—an elusive entity you can spend your whole life chasing, yet never find.
Your voice isn’t something you go in search of. You already have a voice, but you need to develop it through continued, disciplined practice.
Short-story writers can develop their voice by writing short stories in the style of their writing idols, and then adding their personality.
Copywriters can take a proven copywriting formula and make it specific to their industry.
Prefer poetry? You could take an English translation of Japanese Haiku and write a poem following the same structure.
Test the confines of the niche you’re writing within, and you will develop a voice people will listen to.
3. First Drafts Feel Impossible
Many writers hate first drafts.
There’s the horrible moment when you open a new document, stare at the white screen and wonder, “How am I going to fill this page? What will I ever say?”
Unless you’re remarkably creative, it’s natural to feel afraid.
Think of the musician who experiences stage fright before going on to wow the audience, the actor who struggles to remember their lines before getting a standing ovation, or the athlete who paces nervously around a dressing room before going on to win gold.
Start writing or typing. Write whatever comes to mind for ten minutes.
Don’t edit, or censor yourself, or hold back.
Like the athlete who stretches before an event, free writing will warm up your mind to the task at hand.
Once you feel more confident about what you’re going to say, stop and write a quick outline of it. Then, write your first draft.
4. I Hate Editing
And you thought first drafts were hard?
I was a journalist for several years, and learned the fundamental difference between writing and editing the hard way.
In a newspaper, it is the job of two separate people to write and to edit the same news story.
They are two different skills that engage different parts of your brain.
To write is to compose; to edit is to arrange.
If you’re starting off, you probably can’t afford to hire an editor.
Allocate one portion of your day to writing (mornings are good). During this time, write without censoring yourself or making dramatic changes to your work.
Later that afternoon or evening, print your work and mark the changes you need to make with a red pen. Then make these changes in one editing session.
If you still hate editing, Stephen King has strong words for you: “To write is human, to edit is divine.”
5. My Writing isn’t Good Enough
Perfectionism is a nasty vice that almost every writer must overcome.
When you’re new to the craft, your writing probably isn’t good enough. Your desire to improve your work and become a better writer is a noble one.
However, if this desire is holding you back from finishing whatever you’re writing, you’re doing yourself a disservice.
Neil Gaiman would agree. He says, “You learn by finishing things.”
By finishing even the duds, you will learn more about your strengths and weaknesses as a writer.
Most importantly, you will gain the confidence to keep going.
Take out the last piece of writing you abandoned.
Read it, making a list of what’s wrong with it, and then set a date on your calendar. Commit to finishing your work by this date.
When this date comes, share your work with someone e.g. your writing group, your writing coach or members of your email list.
Then go and write something new, something better.
6. I Don’t Know What to Do With My Unpublished Work
Most writers have stacks of unpublished essays, articles and stories in their drawer, notebook or on their computer.
Your personal slush pile is part of the writing process.
Not every piece of work is meant to see the light of day. You don’t have to do something with everything you write.
Some pieces serve as markers for your journey towards becoming a better writer, or as evidence that you’re doing the work.
You can gain more value from your growing slush pile by starting a blog.
It is one of the easiest and cheapest ways to share your work with the world.
Blogging will also force you to consider what your target audience wants, instead of what you think they need.
It takes time and patience to become a proficient blogger. But it’s the perfect outlet for new writers because it gets you into the habit of sharing your ideas.
7. I’m Afraid of What People Will Think
‘What will my mother say when she finds out I’m writing about sex?’
‘What will my friends think when they catch me writing about the world and all its ugly imperfections?’
‘What will my wife/husband do when they see themselves in my work?’
New writers find it difficult to separate their personal lives from their work. Fiction writers, for example, often face a disconcerting moment when they reread a piece and find parts of their personal life scattered on the page.
I’ll never forget the first time my wife read a short story I’d submitted to a competition. She asked if the woman in the story was her. I didn’t admit it then, but she was right.
Accept the world as your source material.
For your work to be authentic, you must draw on what you see, feel and experience.
This doesn’t mean disrespecting the people in your life.
Several years ago my creative writing teacher recommended that we take people from our personal lives, and change minor details about them (such as their age, sex or backstory) so that they become harder to recognize.
You’re going to have to get comfortable with people loving, hating, or (worst of all) not caring about what you have to say.
Why these Barriers to Writing are Worth Overcoming
If writing were easy, it wouldn’t be worth doing.
These struggles and frustrations represent opportunities for you to improve and to grow as a writer.
They are signs that you are making progress.
You can overcome any of them with continued practice, by getting help from an expert, and by sharing your work with those who are better than you are.
What you must never do is give up because filling a page is too much work.
What you must never do is to let difficult moments dissuade you from seeking out new ways to improve.
What you must never do is quit because the craft is more difficult than you thought.
What you must do is write.
Now it’s your turn. Which limiting belief holds you back as a writer? Please share in the comments.
Your audience is waiting.