Grab a paper and pencil, because this isn’t an article you can just read and ignore. Instead, you’ll be forced to examine yourself and identify what’s hindering you from writing the book you dream about. Because, let’s face it, most of us haven’t achieved our aspirations. We’re in despair because our writing style hasn’t sharpened quickly enough or because we’re unable to finish a draft.
We’re in trouble. We need a breakthrough—which can be accomplished by training ourselves to detect and destroy obstacles that might be holding us back. But first we must address the core issue.
What’s Your Long-Term Vision?
If you can’t define why you’re a writer or what your goals are, you’ll lack motivation, and the rest of this article won’t matter. Knowing your desired destination will help you navigate toward it and determine what to sacrifice along the way.
You’ll need to boldly confront yourself. Carefully jot down your answers to these questions:
- In one sentence, what is the chief reason you write?
- How broad do you want your scope to be? Are you writing to organize your thoughts, reach millions of readers, or something in between?
- What do you hope to accomplish in readers’ lives? Provide quality entertainment that teaches valuable lessons? Share the gospel? Encourage other Christians to grow? All these missions can coexist, but one will be your main thrust depending on your target audience.
- How much income do you wish to earn as an author?
- How do you want to personally mature through writing? By strengthening your dependence on God? Your empathy for others? Your communication skills?
- How much time do you intend to spend writing each day (balancing realism with idealism)?
- How much does it mean to you to become a writer?
- What basic timeline do you have in mind for your author career? How do you hope to progress or change over the years and at what intervals?
Now that you’ve pinpointed your objective, you can work on eliminating obstructions in your path. Every breakthrough will take effort, so it’s important to weigh how much you can reasonably give of yourself.
Barrier #1: Not Getting Feedback
Nothing is as inexcusable for a writer as trying to go solo. I realize many of us are shy and don’t like to ask for help, but we need it, and it’s biblical (Proverbs 15:22).
Everyone has a unique perspective, so the more people providing input on your writing, the better. One simple method is to arrange a critique exchange, which is when two writers agree to critique each other’s manuscripts for free. As long as you have the time, this is a win-win situation. Another option is to ask friends and family to donate their time to review your book. This might sound like begging, but many of your friends and family will want you to beg from them. They want to read your book. The worst they can do is say no (unless you have an insane uncle who totes a shotgun with him everywhere). Finally, you can hire an editor. Yes, editors do cost money, but editing is their profession, so they’re more likely to excel at it.
Breakthrough strategy: Be aggressive in recruiting people to assist you with your writing. Laziness is not allowed. Seek and you will find.
Barrier #2: Receiving Inadequate Feedback
Perhaps you have nine beta readers and a professional editor, but you still feel like you’re stuck in a boring writing style. What’s happening? Aren’t ten advisors enough?
Not all feedback is equal. Maybe you don’t realize your counselors are subpar because you’ve never seen what a proficient editor/beta reader looks like. Just because Uncle Bob isn’t a huge fan of your writing doesn’t mean he’ll give you pointed advice on how to revise your novel. He just won’t sweet talk you. Just because Max the editor charges money for his services doesn’t automatically make him the best editor ever. He just charges a fee for his services.
Here’s how to tell whether you’re getting constructive feedback: a great editor or beta reader will increase your knowledge of the writing craft. Every counselor needn’t be this exceptional, but one or two should. What you truly need is a writing coach. A normal counselor might show you what you need to repair, but a writing coach will teach you why you need to fix it and how to conquer the problem once and for all. A writing coach is someone who is more advanced at writing than you (at least in many areas) and is deeply invested in you.
You find a writing coach the same way you gather your other counselors. You may need to keep your eyes open and try various people out. Also, be sure to practice the golden rule. If you are able, be a writing coach to others. They’ll appreciate it.
Breakthrough strategy: Enlist one or two people to be your personal trainers throughout your writing journey.
Barrier #3: Never Finishing a Project
I’ve interacted with several writers who all suffer from a brain full of story ideas that never come to fruition. Although I haven’t personally encountered this predicament, I suspect lack of planning is the root cause.
A writer starts a story because it seems promising, but then inspiration peters out. The writer chases another butterfly that appears absolutely glorious until it fades, and so on and so forth. The issue isn’t that the writer keeps forming more interesting ideas, it’s that none of the ideas are strong enough to morph into a full story. These writers don’t know how to map out a novel in advance so it will succeed.
To survive a novel, you must start with a plan. Every writer approaches outlining differently than his compatriots, but some basic factors to consider are: Do you have an outline that covers all your story’s major events? Are you familiar with your characters’ motivations? Do you comprehend how to write riveting characters in general? Nailing down these three elements will usually supply enough steam to go from start to finish with a novel.
Breakthrough strategy: Outline your story beforehand and be sure you have a solid grasp of story craft. The better writer you are, the less that can impede your story.
Barrier #4: Thinking You’re Incapable of the Task
The easiest way to lose is to give up. The fastest route to nowhere is to never move. And the biggest precursor to failure is to believe you’re unequipped.
I was not a natural-born writer. When I was fourteen, I was assigned to write a short story, and my finished product wasn’t any better than the other students’ (it was pathetic). Since then, I’ve improved a lot. But I’m not a genius. Most writers aren’t. The only qualities that make writers great are their passion and method of advancing their skills. If you have passion, you’re almost set. Method is how you squeeze the most out of your time and effort, your beta readers, and the books you read.
However, I realize it’s possible to sense you have potential, yet still feel that you can’t be a noteworthy writer. I experience this with every book I write. When self-doubt creeps in, take a step back. A large step. Survey your life in general. Ponder whether you define yourself as a writer. If you do, you’re being idolatrous. What should define you is that you are a child of God. Are you willing to face what God hands you, even if you have to cope with a never-ending struggle to write one draft? What if you died in a nuclear blast and never had any fans? Would you be at peace with that? Get that straight first. Once you understand that you don’t need to succeed, you’ll ironically be much more apt to do so. Next, pray for guidance. Second, seek encouragement. Third, pursue mentorship. Fourth, reignite your first love—embrace what gives you joy in writing. Joy produces strength and strength carries you to victory.
Joy and victory are often reaped through fellowship with others. Yeah, newsflash. You aren’t the center of the universe. Join a writing group or endure the consequences. Our KP forum is the best writing community ever.
Breakthrough strategy: YOU CAN DO THIS. A task may be difficult, but that doesn’t mean you’re a loser. Also, be humble about your writing and connect with a writers’ community ASAP.
Barrier #5: Feeling Apathetic to Your Story Idea
This is similar to the problem of never finishing a story, except the writer doesn’t even start. Writers with this weakness are typically more honest with themselves. They’re aware that they aren’t attached to an idea enough to plod through an entire novel, so they don’t bother wasting the time. This obviously leads to failure.
Again, this indicates either insufficient planning or understanding. Once you develop a detailed outline for your novel that attracts you, it ought to energize you to persevere to the end. If it doesn’t, you probably don’t know enough about professional storytelling. If you did, you would be able to invent solid story ideas without trouble. The solution here is simple: read books by expert writers like How to Structure Your Novel and The Anatomy of Story. Dig deep and you’ll unearth gold.
Breakthrough strategy: Study your craft more.
How to Pursue Your Goal
Return to the paper you filled out at the beginning of this article. How important is writing to you? Why do you write? What do you hope to achieve? If writing is merely a fun, inconsequential hobby, maybe it’s okay for you to be a mediocre writer. If writing is a crucial aspect of your life though, you need to treat it like it is. It’s up to you to prioritize your writing, but here are a few time-management tips:
- Dedicate time to writing every day—even if it’s only for ten minutes before breakfast. This builds discipline, which helps you write faster and even when you don’t want to.
- Set attainable but challenging goals with rewards and/or punishments for completion/nonperformance.
- Generally avoid instant gratification and train yourself to cling to long-term gratification. Be brutal with yourself. Take zero desserts from the potluck this year. Stop playing video games completely. Exercise. Read your Bible daily. These habits will transfer well to your writing life.
- Abandon social media permanently. Social media sucks in my opinion. Before I get stoned, there are legitimate reasons to participate in social media, but you must analyze the costs versus the benefits first. Is it as valuable as you think it is?
- Don’t enroll in college just because it’s standard procedure. That’s not a valid reason. To make an informed decision, consider the advantages, financial costs, and alternatives. Some of you may be better off spending four years building your author career than four years and thousands of dollars on college.
- Watch fewer movies. That is, only if you watch several already. Movies are fun, but also long. For every film you watch, you could write a short chapter instead. Eye opening, huh?
Go Forth and Write
Take one final look at the vision statement you wrote at the beginning of this article. Is it still your dream? If so, commit to it right now. Your vision might alter in the future, but you need an objective to aim for to move forward.
One last note: if you’re a writer who is struggling to get off the ground, I recommend you check out our Jumpstart Your Novel course. It’s designed for writers like you and worth the investment. After all, a little bit of friendly aid doesn’t hurt when you’re up against a wall.
How has this article changed you? Have you planned out your next breakthrough yet? Share in the comments below!