3 Ways Writers Block Their Success (While Thinking They’re Hard at Work)

From Jane Friedman:

In my early thirties, my aunt sent me a copy of The Secret, a movie claiming my thoughts determined my destiny. I watched it once, then shelved it, knowing I couldn’t just imagine my way to success. Yet my years as a writer and writing coach have taught me that the movie had a point. While you can’t wish your way to a book deal, your thoughts drive what you do.

Most of us spend our time dreaming of the external yes we hope to achieve—whether it’s an accepted pitch, query, or book deal. All external yeses stem from the yes inside you. But many of us lead from our no without realizing it. Those nos stem from feelings of unworthiness, doubts about our work, and fears that we’re not good enough—which are easy to trigger in a competitive field where you’re expected to cozy up with rejection.

It’s easy to spot our internal no when we’re feeling low, but many of these nos disguise themselves as hard work.

Because I recently appeared on the Hungry Authors Podcast, I divided these nos into the three hunger-based categories writers regularly fall into.

The Too Hungry Writer

Too Hungry Writers want everything yesterday, largely because they feel constantly behind. They work tirelessly on their projects, giving up time with family and friends to meet word count or revision goals. Ask them to take a break from their projects, or set a completed draft aside, and watch their eyes narrow as they mentally knock you out. How can they quit when their books must be done by a certain date (like a milestone birthday)?

While Too Hungry Authors are fierce writers with a killer work ethic, they often snack on scarcity, which feeds them lies about how there’s not enough time, or they’ll be worthy when their book gets picked up, or if they land an agent and Big Five deal.

But overwork gives them tired eyes. Muscling through revisions on manuscripts that haven’t rested will cause those tired eyes to gloss over problems. Sprinkle in impatience and a tinge of burnout and they’ll send their projects out before they’re ready.

What starts out as pre-submission optimism soon sours as the rejections pour in. Having worked hard, these external nos feel like personal failures, which leads to more scarcity thinking, which can make a Too Hungry Author ravenous.

Fortunately, you can address what you can identify, and the fixes for this problem are simple. First, make this your mantra: you and your project are on time. Repeat it to yourself until you believe it. If you can’t shake your doubts, think about the authors who raced to publish in 2020 thinking it would be their year, and the relief many experienced when their books weren’t published.

Once you’ve committed to slowing down, let projects you’ve worked on intensely rest for at least a couple of weeks, but better yet, a few months. Spend time with family and friends. Go on a vacation. Write something else. During that project’s fallow period, take a few classes to inspire you and help you see your work in a new way.

I know this will be especially hard for the Too Hungry Authors who either crawled their way out of the next category or fear falling into it.

The Writer Who Fails to Eat

Writers Who Fail to Eat put everyone else’s needs ahead of their own. They want to write, but they fear that it’s too self-indulgent—or selfish—when so many other things need to be done. Some fear not being seen as productive. Others worry their efforts aren’t valuable if they’re not income producers.

So, they focus on other people’s crises, try to do everything, and overbook themselves so much there’s no time for their writing projects. A portion of these writers complain about their lack of time, but others are baffled by their lack of progress, because it seems like all they do is focus on their writing.

Take the writer who signs up for countless classes or participates in five writing groups. They give insightful feedback, tirelessly support their writing communities, and have the best book recommendations. But ask them how much time they’ve spent on their latest draft, or how much they’ve gotten done, and the answer is usually not much.

The more you prioritize others, whether it’s your clients, paid work, children, or writing group members, the more you reinforce the belief that your passions aren’t worthy of pursuing, and you’re not a person who gets things done.

The antidote is simple. Create a small writing goal (like fifteen minutes, three days a week), schedule it, and make it as regular as your bowel movements. Yes, this might mean letting something go or asking for help, but those precious few minutes will make the rest of your day more meaningful. If caregiver guilt gets in your way, ask yourself the following questions:

  • How do you feel and behave when you make time for your writing?
  • How do you feel and behave when you don’t?
  • Which version represents the self you want to share with others?

Link to the rest at Jane Friedman