How To Be A Successful Author: Smash Through 7 Writing Roadblocks

    writing roadblocks

    Do you wonder what’s holding you back as a writer?

    You know you want to write. It’s compulsive.

    You find yourself scribbling stories all the time.

    Your friends say good things about your work.

    So why aren’t you a more successful author?

    Don’t feel ashamed to ask yourself that question.

    Every writer asks it, even if their books glitter at Amazon.

    New writers ask it all the time—if they’re serious writers…

    So how can you achieve the success your work deserves?

    You face not one roadblock—even one can kill a writer’s passion—but seven.

    But each has a remedy.

    How do I know?

    Over the past six years, I’ve worked with more than 2000 students at the Writers’ Village Academy, possibly the world’s most advanced coaching program for serious fiction writers. Helping story tellers to perfect their craft is what I do each day.

    Almost every one of my students has hit these barriers, as their writing experience grew. And—they have overcome them.

    Here’s what you need to watch out for.

    1. The Apathy Trap

    Some days, we’d rather go back to sleep than churn out new words.

    And revise what we wrote yesterday? Yawn…

    But we know we have to complete x number of words every day or we’ll have nothing to revise. And if we don’t revise, our work will be drivel. No argument.

    We must also brush our teeth every day or they’ll fall out. No argument.

    And we do brush our teeth, despite family distractions and holding down a job.

    Why should writing be different?

    Here’s a tip: turn your writing into a game. I once suggested a fun new way to lose weight to a student who’d told me she was on a diet. Just match the number of calories you eat each day to the number of finished words you’ve written, I said.

    So if she achieved 2500 good words, she could eat well.

    Just 500 words? Starvation.

    I meant it humorously but three months later, she emailed me to say it had worked.

    She’d finished her novel and lost eight pounds. (As her email to me was 300 words, she could now eat a sandwich, she said.)

    What games could you play, to get out of the Apathy Trap?

    2. Fear of the Unknown

    When you’re starting out as a writer, you don’t know if your work is any good.

    You’re afraid it’s not—and you’re probably right.

    Can every newbie golfer hit a hole in one? No.

    On their first swing, they may not even hit the ball.

    But have you ever considered: getting it wrong is part of the fun?

    If you can win a game the first time, every time—it’s not a game. Nor is it fun.

    Setbacks, failure, and rejection go with the territory, whatever game you play.

    How many bruises did Jahangir Khan suffer before he became, reputedly, the greatest squash player of all time? He doesn’t count them. Nor should you.

    If your work hasn’t been rejected yet—by an agent or contest judge—you’re not an author. Just a scribbler.

    Got 50+ rejections? You’re in with a chance of being a successful author. Why?

    Because you’re persistent. And persistence is 90% of the writing game today.

    Talent? That’s the remaining 10%.

    3. Distrust of Friends

    You can usually trust your friends to say the right things.

    Show them your story and they’ll be polite: “I like it,” “Very good” or “It’s so you.

    Those are the wrong replies! They don’t tell you how to improve your story.

    Even a writers’ group or web forum may not help. “I don’t like your character.” “Why?” “She didn’t ring true.” “Why?” “Can’t say.”

    That gets us no further.

    Thoughtful feedback is better than none, of course. And sometimes you will get good advice. But people in amateur writing groups are unlikely to know more about the craft of writing than you do.

    What’s the answer?

    First, consult only those friends who are writers themselves, and have faced the same dilemmas. Second, give them specific questions to respond to.

    Not: “Did you like this story?” But: “Is my main character plausible/interesting/well depicted? If not, exactly why not?”

    Or: “Does my plot sag at some point? If so, where?

    Or: “Could my closing lines be stronger? If so, how?

    And so on.

    Only then will you get feedback that you can trust and use.

    4. Terror of Achievement

    Are you frightened by the thought of success, of gaining great sales, of being known as a successful author, if only in your community?

    It sounds absurd, but many writers are terrified of achievement—if it brings them public attention.

    Harper Lee, J. D. Salinger, Thomas Pynchon… all shrank from the media spotlight.

    Not everyone wants it. Nor does it necessarily sell books.

    When I published a guide to heirloom gardening The Lazy Vegetable Grower in 2002, I was interviewed by my local newspaper. It gave me a generous half-page review along with full purchase details.

    Had I bought that space as an ad it would have cost me at least $2000. Just as well I didn’t. It sold two books.

    Other authors have attested that radio and TV interviews barely brought them enough sales to cover their travel expenses.

    Exposure in mass media is great for the ego—and everyone needs an ego massage at the start of their writing journey—but don’t expect it to sell many books.

    Because if your book is targeted to a specialist market (as mine was) or sits within a specific genre, unless it’s already a bestseller—and by definition has a broad appeal—it won’t interest a mass audience.

    So don’t worry if you’re shy.

    You don’t want mass media interviews or speaking engagements? Just say “No.”

    You’ll lose few sales. Truly.

    But if you’re not shy, enjoy the buzz!

    5. The Hurdle Race

    It has always been hard for an unknown author to get published.

    But debut writers today face more hurdles than ever before in publishing history.

    The first hurdle—and the greatest—is to find a competent agent. (Today, only small independent publishers are likely to accept un-agented submissions.)

    London’s top agent Luigi Bonomi of LBA Associates once told me that in a given year, he receives around 6000 submissions but takes on only three new authors. That acceptance ratio of 0.05% is probably similar for other agents.

    Depressing? Yes.

    However, once an agent takes you on, the chances are excellent that they’ll find you a publisher. Simply because they wouldn’t give you a contract unless they had a good idea of where to place your work.

    Don’t be daunted (too much) by that 6000:3 ratio. All ratios lie, because they make no allowance for exceptions.

    English author Berwick Coates had spent twenty years trying to interest agents in his historical novel The Last Conquest. Last year, it caught the eye of agent Jim Gill. Immediate result: a $130,000 deal plus a two-book contract from the renowned publisher, Simon & Schuster.

    Mr. Coates is aged 80. Suppose he hadn’t persisted?

    If your work is competent, just persist, and you’ll beat the ratios too.

    6. Sour Grapes

    Have you hit the Fifty Club yet?

    That’s when you’ve sent your work to fifty agents.

    Eight have rejected it outright, two have said “If you don’t hear from us in three months, consider it a rejection” (and you don’t hear from them), and forty have not even acknowledged your submission.

    Incidentally, those figures are not a guess. One of my students kept a precise log of his submissions across 18 months. He did everything right. But four out of five agents never did respond to him.

    Who can blame you if you decide the game isn’t worth the candle?

    Hope Clark of Funds For Writers confessed that she got 71 rejections for her brilliant debut novel Lowcountry Bribe. I bet she felt like quitting.

    But Hope’s a fighter. With submission #72 she gained an agent and a publisher.

    Now Lowcountry Bribe is riding high at Amazon, four books have followed, and Hope is recognized as a successful author.

    No, the grapes aren’t sour. Just don’t let those early rejections sour you.

    7. Acceptance of Mediocrity

    So you’ve had some successes. Won a contest or three. Sold a few hundred copies of your book.

    You’re an author! Indisputably.

    That’s when a lot of good writers go wrong. They lose the passion. It’s so easy to trot out old tricks, isn’t it? And the game’s no longer fun..

    Let me tell you a true story.

    I recently had a student who was so determined to become a successful author that he gave up a lucrative job to focus on his novel full time. (Unwise, I agree.)

    But now, he had to succeed! And persist. And he did.

    If I emailed him a critique of his chapter one evening he’d send it back to me next morning, totally rewritten. He’d worked on it all night.

    He was a ‘so-so’ writer when he started out. By the time he’d finished the novel two years later, he was a great one. He tells me he has just signed a publishing deal. And I’m not surprised.

    Would he have achieved that deal if he’d been content to stay a ‘so-so’ author?

    Settle for mediocrity and you cheat only yourself.

    How to be a successful author – what else is missing?

    Did you notice some startling omissions from my list of roadblocks? For example…

    • Writer’s block? It’s a myth. Do as journalists do and write 1000 words of drivel. Then come back the next day and edit it. Anyone can write drivel and edit it, don’t you think? Result: no more writer’s block. It works.
    • Lack of inspiration? Take three reports at random from today’s newspaper. Mix them together and ask yourself: “How can I get all those elements into one story?” At first, your story will be absurd. Just play with it and you’ll have a plot. It works.
    • No idea how to develop a story? Study a great story that you love, and analyze it. Its opening and close, tricks of dialogue and character depiction, its ways of moving between scenes… Tear it apart. Then you’ll know precisely how to develop a story of your own. It works.

    Story writing should be fun. It’s a game. You have to lose a lot of games before you become a grandmaster.

    The more you lose, the more you learn, and the faster you achieve your writing goals.

    Does that sound perverse? That you have to lose to win?

    It works!

    If you’re a new writer and haven’t faced any of these roadblocks yet, you will. Trust me.

    But if you have, and you’ve overcome them, congratulations. You’re an author, and well on your way to being a successful one!

    Which obstacles have held you back in your writing? How did you handle them? Share your experiences in a comment below. All comments get a fast, helpful reply.

    About the author

      John Yeoman

      Dr John Yeoman, PhD Creative Writing, was a tutor in creative writing at a UK university. He was a successful commercial author for 42 years and was a regular, much-loved contributor to WTD. He died unexpectedly in 2016.

    • Joshua says:

      Writing is one of those rare specialties that you can really learn with a library card and writing groups. If you are not one of the golden writers whose early work is raved over and snapped up as most people aren’t, it’s not just a matter of writing a million words. Doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results is a huge problem within writing. I think it takes a million words and a decade of hard work once you’ve figured out that what you have been doing hasn’t been working for you to get from where you are to where you want to be. If you get stuck in the my stuff is perfect, it’s the editors and agents out there that are too stupid/scared/ignorant to recognize my genius without realizing that people in the publishing world are desperate for the next best thing, the problem is much more likely that your writing isn’t strong enough rather than you’re a misunderstood genius.

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    • When faced with writer’s block, I convince myself I’m writing this for myself and no one else will see it—that allows me to get rid of the perfectionism disease that kills productivity. So I appreciated when you called writer’s block a myth. It’s like fear, only affects you as much as you let it.

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    • Yamini says:

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    • kara keenan says:

      An incredible lack of motivation and maybe lack of passion, probably because my emotions feel like a robot only a bit more then a robots because robots don’t feel emotion. Or do they? There have been stories about a robot being able to feel.

      Anyway, before I start rambling about something completely irrelevant to the topic, my thought process is basically

      I have an amazing plot idea, I’m going to write it. How do I put this idea I’m thinking of into words? I haven’t a clue how to do it. I’ll read some articles on writing, oh this has inspired me I’ll put it into practice…Wait…This article seems interesting lets read this one first….Okay so now I’ve forgotten what the first one said to do….Oh my god, a full day has gone and all I’ve done is read, read and read. Now I can’t be bothered to write but I want to, I’ll just push myself (writes a few sentences) now my mind has gone blank, what do I put next?

      So that’s basically my roadblock. I’ve read tons on motivating yourself to do it but I can’t seem to find a motivation exercise that works for me.

      I have a vivid imagination which is why I wanted to get into fiction writing. I’ll play out my plot in the form of a daydream, watching as the story unfolds in my mind like when you’re watching a film. I just struggle with writing it, putting it into words it might be because I’m so busy trying to remember what I’ve been taught.

      This Roadblock is something I want and need to overcome though, this is something I can’t and won’t give up on.

      I’m not sure if any of that made sense? I just thought I’d share what my roadblock is and let it all out. I also apologize for the long comment.

    • Really great post. Now i learn new things in the social media opportunity to growing business. Thanks for this article.

    • Ben says:

      Thanks for conveying the information this is really helpful for me in writing purpose. I also have a tip that use short words, short sentences and short paragraphs so user will easily understand your motive.
      paper writer

      • Yes,Ben, short words and paragraphs – just like a blog post – are the current fashion. (Hemingway brought in that style and, IMHO, ruined the English novel.) But it depends on your genre. If you’re writing steam punk or historical fiction, you have more latitude.

    • Vonnie Hill-Neyhart says:

      Damn that’s so inspiring. The part about the eighty year old, English author Berwick Coates gave me hope. If I have twenty more years left in my life I’m going to keep trying to become a successful writer. Hopefully sooner.

      • Write a novel every year, Vonnie, and you’ll have twenty novels in twenty years. At least one of them should strike a chord with publishers!

    • Jack Orchison says:

      Suppose for a moment you write both horror and fantasy. A while back I looked at the agents in the UK that dealt with these and we’re accepting manuscripts. The numbers? Horror, 10. Fantasy, 9.. Both, 8. I fail to see how anyone can get 50+ rejections unless they are targeting them incorrectly. The low numbers above also mean that once you’ve applied to them and been rejected, then it’s off to Kindle without a moment’s thought. But not without proofreading and some semblance of editing….

      • True, Jack, the number of agents (indeed, publishers) who accept any given genre has tumbled in the last decade, from six figures into a handful. However, if you add in the agents who consider every genre, the numbers increase. Yes, if you’ve exhausted every agent, it’s time to consider self-publishing. But here’s a tip: write two works. Put one on Amazon yourself at once, so you’ll climb the ebook learning curve.A year later, when you’ve exhausted every agent for your other book (or agents have exhausted you), you can easily self-publish that book. So you have two irons in the proverbial fire.

    • amber says:

      I keep getting writers block and never know how to end a story. what do I need to improve it. tis is he link to my story.


    • Sally Ryhanen says:

      Like a hungry puppy…the one I sat up with all last night…I try to gobble up all literary advice on offer. Confused and overwhelmed, I put my tail between my legs and return each time to the Master – John Yoeman.

      Thank you.

    • Thank you so much John for a truly refreshing read. I was spellbound by the easy flow of your writing. I have for security reasons at a time of civil unrest in our country, South Africa during the 1970’s been carrying around, bottled up a true tale of boundless love and courage and sacrifice beyond the call of duty, of a beautiful young wife and mother, who shared her story with me, not only were was our own country going through unrest, her country, Mozambique, were going through the throes of a full scale civil war themselves. She was employed by our firm, an armaments manufacturer, as a technical Tracer.

      One night, while their village was being attacked and ransacked, her and her husband, together with their two toddlers, had decided to escape the lawlessness and killings, and during the thick of battle between the two warring factions, the made a run for the South African border fence.

      In the chaos, she was separated from her husband and the kids. Years of endless searching, for them, finally paid off, but she would be forced to make a huge devastating sacrifice… I just cannot get the story going, and although there is loads of nail biting suspense, spiked with espionage and real spy’s and lots of actual stuff that go bump in the night, I am stuck in a “Groundhog day” kind of situation, visiting the same scenes, over and over again, trying to render a worthy likeness of the original story. Please help!

      • That’s a great story, Andre. Why are you road-blocked? Maybe because the incidents of that true event are too embedded in your memory. One of my students told me he had been a police officer in an African country, chasing drug runners across the bush. They’d caught him and tied him upside down in a tree to be finished off by predators. Shades of Crocodile Jones! But he’d escaped and always wished to tell that story. ‘Don’t tell it verbatim,’ I said. ‘It doesn’t matter if it’s true. It has to appear to the reader to be true. Falsify it massively but drop in little incidents, as they actually occurred, to credentialize the tale.’ Could that be your answer? Write a different tale entirely, most of it falsified, but retain those key true moments that will give your story credibility?

    • james a calderwood says:

      My second book The Opal Dragon came about when a movie producer read the first book. He wanted a rewrite to include a devious nasty little robber into the story. the guy had a lot of suggestions re chapters. This was very helpful. I used a similar format to the story that Bryce Courtney used on most of his books with a crossing of characters, all with a tie into the lucrative opal industry in Australia. He is trying to find a producer to run with the story. As you have said John it is a giant waiting game. Still waiting for the first million to arrive James

      • Great to see you here, James. Ay, it’s a waiting game. That’s how Boethius came to write his best-seller The Consolations Of Philosophy. He was waiting for feedback from his agent 😉

    • Sylvia Turnage says:

      Do you think a creative non-fiction novel, if well-written, has as good a chance of success as a fictional novel? Does it all depend upon the skill of the writer in presenting the story?

      • Hm, you risk a confusion of terms there, Sylvia: ‘a creative non-fiction novel’. Yet hybrids like that have done well. Mailer’s Armies Of The Night, Capote’s In Cold Blood, plus countless more… they were a blend of real news reportage and fictionalized narrative. The facts substantiated the fiction. It was also hard to tell where the one left off and the other began. Result: highly captivating works that built on recent, dramatic news events. They were bound to sell well. But both proved controversial. Just be careful that, when involving real people and/or events, you have a good libel lawyer at your elbow!

    • Great post, John! I have another “roadblock” to add: Why should anyone listen to me? What do I have to contribute?

      This roadblock actually has a name — The Impostor Syndrome. Here’s an article about how to deal with it:

      This is something I’ve had to plow through as I write (finish!) my book about my experiences in the Middle East working with refugees.

      And, another roadblock: Even though I’m not writing my book, I’m “writing.” I’m writing my newspaper column, I’m editing someone else’s book, I’m posting on other people’s blogs (!)….And since I get paid for my column writing and book editing, it’s a pretty tough roadblock for me.

      A technique that has helped me in the past (that I should employ now!) is from habit expert Leo Babauta of Zen Habits. Attach the new habit (writing) to something you do every day and do it for ONLY 2 minutes. So, to get out of a rut a while back, every day after brushing my teeth, I sat and wrote for 2 minutes….and only 2 minutes. I could come back and write more, but limiting this practice to only 2 minutes meant I had no excuse. After all, the world wasn’t going to stop if I was 120 seconds later, was it?

      Here’s what I discovered: Even if I couldn’t write more that day, my book was on my mind and I was “writing” while driving, grocery shopping, walking the dog. I stayed connected with my work and felt excited about it rather than beating myself up for not writing. Finally, at the end of the week, I did have 14 minutes of work done. That may not sound like a lot (and most weeks it was much more), but 14 minutes of butt-in-chair was better than nothing!

      Thanks again for the great post….and the kick in the butt!

      Kelly Hayes-Raitt
      Mosey on over to my web site and sign in for your free gift — an mp3 of me reading my book’s first chapter about a beggar in Iraq! …And a pre-publication discount!

      • That’s a fantastic technique, Kelly. Attach a writing chore to another habit that’s already firmly engrained in us. One habit reinforces the other. My son has just kicked the smoking habit. His counselor asked him what he most enjoyed doing every day. After careful thought, doubtless censored, he replied ‘drinking coffee’. She said ‘Whenever you want a cigarette, have a cup of coffee instead.’ Now he’s addicted to caffeine. But it’s healthier and cheaper., isn’t it? He just jumps about a lot…

    • Annamarie says:

      Hello Dr.John,
      I must tell you something you may never have heard of before.
      I have been writing a diary for several years and have been forcing myself to do 4 pages since 2015 wanting to keep it in diary style, I actually rejected my Intuition!!??
      Today after reading your article I am apologising to” Intuition” for being so damn stupid.
      Every time it was going to give me a story; finding something out of place, I called it a sidetracking and for that I humbly apologise to my Intuition today.You made my day for many more to come, with this article
      Thank you so much Dr.John

      • Sidetracking is the source of all new ideas, Annamarie. How can we ever find anything new if we stay on the main street? 😉

    • Cathy says:

      I’ve fallen into the apathy trap lately and haven’t been writing any fiction, as much as I love it. I used to be so much more keen in the early days and have grown cynical over the years since I know how hard the whole writing journey can be. That love for writing is still in me deep down though. I long to find that energy and passion I had for it when I was naive and ignorant, writing only because I loved to write. These days I get distracted by Facebook and other things. I long to find that focus and discipline I once had when I adored writing so much.

      I have had a few short stories published and a Children’s Christmas play years ago but my energy and enthusiasm have definitely waned over time and I don’t even submit as much as I used to.

      I have many eagerly started novels that are gathering dust. I stopped writing when the going got tough and i didn’t know what to write next. Being a pantser is annoying that way. I can see the benefit of outlining even though I have tried and my characters tend to do what they want anyhow.

      Rejection and critiques are all part of the process but they do tend to deflate a person’s passion for the whole writing process. I have to go back to basics and discover my purpose and passion for writing once again. Maybe then I will get back to writing more regularly with more discipline. Your post resonated with me and I could see myself in many of the roadblocks you mentioned, mostly the apathy, fear of achievement and acceptance of mediocrity.

      Thanks for a great post that definitely struck a nerve with this writer and many others, too, by the looks of it.

      • Very true, Cathy. Social media have become the #1 distraction for serious writers. An author friend spends all day at FB, Twitter and Googe+ then has to find time in gaps here and there to write his novels. Wrong priorities! True, authors have famously been great correspondents but letters are literate things. Facebook is not!

    • Great article, John – thank you! Filed under “inspiration”.

      • Thanks, Nicky. Just remember… inspiration gets you nowhere. Putting your butt on the seat does!

    • Venkaesh says:

      Hey John,

      Excellent read. Writing something drivel as writers moves, encourages, and stimulates us to create a masterpiece in future. Usually, when I struck of ideas for writing, I use free writing exercise, which boosts my creativity to write more compelling articles.

      Thanks for providing the great article.

    • Libra says:

      Fantastic Read! It was a pleasure reading this terrific article! You definitely motivate people to write more and better! Your article managed to glue me till the end! Keep writing such terrific articles!

    • Joanne says:

      I have the apathy problem, so it hit me when you said, “We must also brush our teeth every day or they’ll fall out. No argument. And we do brush our teeth, despite family distractions and holding down a job. Why should writing be different?” Now, I could make all kinds of excuses and analyze why brushing my teeth IS different than writing, but that would lead me back to apathy.

      • You do not suffer from apathy, Joanne. Or you would never have made a comment here 😉

    • pat says:

      Love the game plan and the fun read. Don’t get why you have to have an agent these days.

      • No, I don’t know why you need an agent either, Pat. It’s now so easy to put up one’s own book at Amazon, etc. Even if you get signed by an agent and find a trade publisher you have to do all the work of promoting your own book anyway then settle for a trivial royalty. Whereas you get to keep up to 70% of your royalties from Amazon. But being published by a major publisher does bring kudos and some authors like that and, unfortunately, you won’t easily find a trade publisher without an agent’s intervention. The good (?) news is that agents, as we know them, will be obsolete within ten years.

    • kumar ajay pratap says:

      whatever said is very right and will really boost to be a great writer

    • Mumbi says:

      I totally love this, were you talking about me!!!! Quite an insight, I cannot thank you enough.

    • I really enjoyed this article. I may try only eating as many calories as I write words. Or, since I love reading so much, only allow myself reading time–online or in print–for every minute I spend writing or editing my work.

      • Celeste says:

        I love the idea of reading only as much as you write!

    • Eden Esmarosa says:

      I enjoyed this article. It is inspiring and like having a mentor that I desperately needed at this time. I’ve had a story going on for a while and about three months ago finally put it to paper but I get a bit stuck and feel I have a hurdle at times or interruptions with life. I love WTD the articles are always right on of what a writer goes through and pushing through the so called roadblocks.I love the encouragement and that I’m not the only one that is going through these thoughts. Yes I am shy and I know of authors that have done interviews and have read the questions presented and I allowed that to get in my head and discourage. After reading this article I’m now thinking just do it because I enjoy it. Don’t over think. So Thank You. Eden

      • Fun is what it’s all about, Eden. Money then becomes a bonus!

    • Your comment on having the right people read your work brings me to a question… I live in a remote part of Mexico. There is no writers group. Where can I find people to exchange the favor of reading and critiquing? Doe such a group exit on line?

      • Please forgive this (minor) comment spam, Brooke, but you’ll find exactly that – a friendly international group of writers who’ll give you feedback on your work – in my program Story PenPal. It comes with a free four week trial. (Remember my advice above, to sample a program before you commit to it?)

    • An interesting read. Writing is fun. I also remembered when I started I did not know what to write about so I put many ideas on a paper and created it as a story base,

      • That’s the way to do it, Romayne. Agatha Christie scribbled her ideas everywhere, especially on shopping lists. Maybe that’s why so many of her stories feature murders using household ingredients!

    • Mike says:

      Lots of good ideas here. It seems so difficult to begin, wondering if I’ll find enough words, thoughts, ideas to create something worth more than a glimpse from others… Writing “drivel” & then revising sounds like a great start!

      • Ay, Mike, we can’t help writing drivel in our first drafts. One roadblock I didn’t mention was the tic of revising everything a dozen times as you write. Don’t do that. Let the words flow. Cool down. Take a walk. Then go back next day. Revision becomes 1000% easier.

    • This has to be one of my top three favorite articles on Write to Done.

      I swear, I had only planned to bookmark it for now, but every word blended so homogeneously with the next, it was hard not to devour it all.

      I don’t write fiction, but your advice holds true for any genre…and any writer. I started late in life – 32, to be precise – so I am strangled by the noose of negativity.

      Thank you for an amazing piece 😀

      • I wouldn’t say 32 was a late start, Krithika. Berwick Coates (whom I mentioned in my post) didn’t start writing fiction until retirement age. (Nor did I.) You have a lifetime of achievement ahead of you!

    • Wendy says:

      John, how would you go about choosing a writing mentor?

      • How do you choose a writing mentor, Wendy? Look for somebody who has demonstrably succeeded as a writer (a lot of writing tutors haven’t) and who is also a proven teacher. The two things rarely go together. If in doubt, look at the Amazon reviews beneath their book titles. And try a sample lesson from them first, before you commit to their entire program.

    • Wendy says:

      Thank you very much for this article John. I have been attempting to write novels and plays for years but have not been able to complete because I run out of stamina and interest – mostly to do with the blocks you mentioned above, especially no. 1. I am never short of ideas, I have a very fertile imagination that just will not leave me alone! I guess that is why I do not abandon my stories.
      Given your point about the 6,000:3 of new writers being published yearly, I can see why some of us struggle to take our writing lives seriously. Can you tell us what kept you going? What motivated you to complete your book(s) before you got your break?

      • How did I keep going, Wendy? My first three books were published in the 1990s by conventional mainstream publishers. (Those were the happy days when you could approach publishers directly.) They sold zilch. It was sheer anger that drove me to self-publish my later books from 2002 onwards. The first book, in a specialist market, made a £60,000 net profit in year one. So much for mainstream publishing. Bloody mindedness (if you’ll excuse the Brit expression) is a great motivator!

    • Pat says:


      Thank you for the comment that “writer’s block is a myth.” A million thank yous.

      You left out small publishers. There are still small publishers out there. I wrote a book that was published by a small publisher that was then bought by a large publisher. The sale elevated the small publisher at the same time. Now I have a stunning line in my query letter where I say I wrote a book that was published by two great publishers. The book sales are atrocious but having that line in my query will open doors that were once closed.

      My advice to pre-published writers would be to include sending work to small publishers also. Find one you believe in and you may be surprised what happens, and always discuss the hell out of the contract.

      • Very true, Pat. In a world where big publishers no longer give a toss for debut talent, the small independent publisher has emerged as a hero. They are doing what the great publishers still did fifty years ago (I’m old enough to remember those times): they’ll take on a promising new author and nurture them, at some expense, until their books bring a profit. That’s how William Golding got The Lord Of The Flies into print, although its first draft was awful. One publisher had faith in him. Above all, a small independent publisher can be a friend and mentor. Exactly what a new, uncertain author needs!

        • Chris P says:

          I can certainly concur with that, John. My small independent publisher has been incredibly supportive and helpful.

          As you said earlier about the fifty club… it’s very true. That seems to be the magic number (approximately). Mine was fifty four, shared between agents and publishers who were accepting un-agented submissions – often for a limited period. Few will even bother to respond, and they often make very strict stipulations about submissions which in these days of electronic media are unnecessary. MSS can be set to their chosen font size or line spacing on arrival. I reckon they’re only there as a means of filtering out manuscripts – no matter how good they are.
          Synopses criteria are even more varied though. From 200 words… to a full plot summary of ‘up to five pages, chapter by chapter’.

          Another good way to improve your own writing, is to edit someone else’s book. Either as in my case, by editing other authors’ books for my publisher… or by ‘buying’ a free e-book from somewhere like ‘Smashwords’ that offer other formats than Kindle so you can copy and paste. Most free self published e-books have never seen a proof reader, let alone an editor. Take your pick.
          Of course, if you’re lucky you’ll know another hopeful author who will gratefully let you proof read and copy edit it. You’ll learn a lot from others’ good and bad habits.

          • That’s music to my ears, Chris. I’ve always wondered at the imbecility of agents who demand double spaced text. It’s a hangover from the Gutenberg era when editors needed space to scribble instructions to typesetters. I let entrants to my story contest use single spacing if they wish. I have to change their submissions to single spacing anyway, so I can read them more easily. And yes, agents’ differing rules about synopses make no sense. The ‘sweet spot’ nowadays is around 1000 words. No agent will read a 5000 words synopsis until, or unless, they’ve been enchanted by the first chapter.

        • Do either of you know if small publishers publish genre fiction? I’m working on a fantasy novel and will send it to agents, then perhaps small publishing houses before I choose to go Indie.

    • Sara says:

      This is just what I needed to hear today. Thank you!

      • Keep writing, Sara. The gold medals go to those who stay on the track. Sour grapes are for quitters!

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