My Top 12 Most Common Writing Obstacles a Writer Faces

Jordan Dane 
@JordanDane 

squirrel

Every author has their own personal list of obstacles they have faced or are still confronting. Obstacles do not go away, no matter on what success level you are. These are mine, but I would like your input. Share your thoughts on my list or add to my list with experiences of your own.

1.) Perfectionism – Every one wants their work to be perfect. Perfection simply does not exist. Give yourself permission to write poorly. That’s the only way you will see improvement. Don’t judge your success by others or be envious of another writer’s success.That’s a waste of energy and can add stress. Find the internal motivation to improve and strive to be the best writer YOU can be.

2.) Lack of Productivity – Life gets in the way. Spouses, work commitments, children’s needs, etc. If writing is important, an aspiring author will squeeze out time for it. Motivational speaker Zig Ziglar (RIP) motivated me when he said he wrote his non-fiction book doing it a page a day. If you keep to a schedule like that, you will make progress and theoretically get to the end. Make it happen.

3.) Lack of Confidence – It’s hard to be driven with passion to write and yet not know if you can actually do it. It can feel impossible to write something and expose yourself to criticism by showing your work to someone else or to a fellow writers’ group, but the more you do it, and the more you study your craft, you will see improvement. Any confidence you have must come from within. Nurture it. It’s there. Make it grow.

4.) Listening to Naysayers – Everyone has advice on a topic they have no experience with. It’s rare that people who say “I’ve always wanted to write a novel” have actually even started one, much less finished one. Yet that doesn’t stop them from shelling our advice. Some advice I got was: write what you know, write a shorter story because it’s easier, write for a house that lists what they’re looking for in great detail (ie category romance) so you don’t have to think too hard. Surround yourself with positive people and those who support your writing endeavors.

5.) Putting Too Much Into Writing Contest Feedback – Generally I found contests to be a good experience. They got me noticed and looked good on my writer resume, but you have to take them with a grain of salt.

As I studied the craft of writing, I entered various national writing competitions to see how my work stacked up. These were mainly through the Romance Writers of America (RWA) and their many opportunities to compete. There was a rush when I received word that my entries were named a finalist. Even my first entry had some success and the first time I entered the Golden Heart contest for aspiring authors in the RWA, I was a finalist. These things can go to your head and you have to stay focused on your objectives. Good feedback and negative feedback can have an effect on you, just as good or negative reviews can. Keep things in perspective.

In contests you get lots of judges’ comments and editor/agent comments when you final, but you have to take whatever works for you and disregard the rest. You must develop a sense of your voice as a writer and not chase every suggestion, otherwise you will lose your instincts by constantly needing reassurance you’re on the right track.

6.) Taking Advice from Other Authors – We offer our views on TKZ, basically our opinions and what has worked for us about craft, for example. Some authors overly stress the importance of their opinion, especially at the local writer chapter level. I’ve attended local writer groups where someone who has never published, or even submitted a proposal, is giving out strict advice and members listen as if it’s gospel. Every author’s journey to publication is different. Success may not be totally involve skill, it might also be about LUCK. Be wary of people who give hard and fast advice, without being open-minded to alternatives.

7.) The “Rules of Writing” – This tags onto #6. Usually the authors who are biggest on hard and fast advice, they typically use words like “always” and “never” and speak in absolutes. The creative process is fluid and ever changing. Be daring and take risks with your writing. That’s how an author will stand out in the slush pile. You could have the idea for the next big thing. Go for it and believe and nurture your instincts.

8.) Agents & Editors – Rejection can sting

Editors – I’ve been blessed to have worked with some wonderful editors, those in the big publishing houses and those who work with indy authors to self-publish. But keep in mind, they are people who have no better crystal ball than you do about where this crazy publishing industry is going. They rely on authors to bring them ideas. If an editor sends you a rejection, it’s for the book you submitted and not a rejection of YOU as a person. Don’t take their rejection feedback personally, but keep an open mind about their criticism. When an industry professional gives you free advice, if you’re lucky enough to get a “good rejection letter” with feedback, respect their experience and consider it. In the end it is your decision to heed the advice or not.

Agents – Literary reps dole out similar advice, but they generally are looking for authors they feel will have a career and not just one project sold. They might be more critical for this reason. I submitted to my first agent 3-4 times and got rejected each time. When she finally saw something in my writing, it was because another of her clients recommended me. Don’t get discouraged. Again, rejection isn’t personal. It’s business.

9.) Chasing Writing Trends Can Be Distracting – In the course of my career, I’ve seen many authors who never finish a book because they are constantly entering contests for the first 25 pages or they are chasing trends to see what someone might like. Some of these authors had 40-50 started manuscripts. Crazy. FINISH THE BOOK. Believe in your project and see it through to the end. You’ll be like that dog in the animated movie, UP, that gets distracted with “Squirrel!” If you are an avid reader and a buyer of books, YOU are the market. Write what you want to read and believe in it. You could be the next big trend. As I said before, no one has a crystal ball on where this industry is headed. Push the envelope.

10.) Writing Different Genres Can Spread an Author Too Thin – I’ve tried writing different genres and I love doing this. The first step is to read a lot of books in the genre you want to tackle, but people will tell you, “Don’t write that. Why don’t you stick with romance, it’s what I read.” Whatever. I write cross genre stories or I attempt completely new genres to keep myself challenged. I don’t regret any of my decisions and thoroughly enjoy the challenge. One thing I will say, that I’ve learned from hard experiences, is that if you branch out from adult books into YA (Young Adult) books, you may struggle with branding and promo in a new arena with different readers. Joe Moore had an excellent post on Thurs for “What’s Your Brand?”

11.) Self-Publishing – Should I or Shouldn’t I? – This can be an obstacle for authors on whether they want to step out with either their back list books or their first novel. It takes work to self-publish – from developing the story, formatting the book for digital and print, developing a cover, writing your own book jacket synopsis, generating a marketing strategy and implementing it, etc. But I will say that the industry today is wide open with possibility because of self-publishing. I straddle the line between submitting to traditional houses and self-publishing so I do both, but the fact that we have options is a good thing.

12.) The Time Sucks of Promotion & Social Media – I love writing, but the business end of our industry is not my favorite thing. I struggle with doing it and am happiest when I’m writing, period. Promo and social media is a necessary evil and something every author must do, even if said author is pubbed by a big house. But I find it an ongoing obstacle. Plus all the online time, working on social media is a distraction from writing – a time suck. TKZ’s Clare Langley-Hawthorne had an excellent post on this topic called “Have You got Focus?”  Everything in moderation, people.

For Discussion:
This is my list of the top obstacles I have experienced. What about you? Care to comment on my list or add your own challenges? Fire away!

HotTarget (3)

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When Rafael reaches out to his sister for a job, Athena Matero—a founding member of the private security agency, the Omega Team—can’t help but be protective of her younger half brother. After a tragic hostage rescue and its aftermath, Rafael Matero turned into a solitary loner, only surfacing to fulfill his duties as team leader for an elite SWAT sniper unit with the Chicago Police. Athena decides to fast track his application by vetting him on the job—a mission to Havana Cuba to investigate a cold case murder.

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Jacquie sees something in Athena’s mysterious brother that touches her heart. Chivalrous and brave, Rafael is as rare as a unicorn in her life as techno computer geek and white hat hacker for the Omega Team. After she joins the team on its mission to Cuba, she uncovers Rafael’s shocking burden and it breaks her heart.

Rafael stands in the crosshairs of a vicious drug cartel—powerless to stop his fate—and his secret could put Athena and her team in the middle of a drug war.

5+
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About Jordan Dane

Bestselling, critically-acclaimed author Jordan Dane’s gritty thrillers are ripped from the headlines with vivid settings, intrigue, and dark humor. Publishers Weekly compared her intense novels to Lisa Jackson, Lisa Gardner, and Tami Hoag, naming her debut novel NO ONE HEARD HER SCREAM as Best Books of 2008. She is the author of young-adult novels written for Harlequin Teen, the Sweet Justice thriller series for HarperCollins., and the Ryker Townsend FBI psychic profiler series, Mercer's War vigilante novellas, and the upcoming Trinity LeDoux bounty hunter novels set in New Orleans. Jordan shares her Texas residence with two lucky rescue dogs. To keep up with new releases & exclusive giveaways, click HERE

26 thoughts on “My Top 12 Most Common Writing Obstacles a Writer Faces

  1. #1, perfectionism, has by far been my biggest problem and to me it’s the worst one because it pretty much causes most of the others on the list. There’s the fear of failure stuff, of course. Fear of poor writing, not doing enough research, etc. But also I am often plagued thinking “What if I publish this thing and THEN think of an angle that would’ve made this book better?”

    Stupid, I know. But real.

    The only one I haven’t experienced is #10–writing different genres and spreading oneself too thin. Not likely to have this one–I don’t see myself doing sci fi one moment, spec the next, young adult the next. I pretty much stick with historical with a few contemporaries mixed in. While it’s not good to be spread too thin, I think that’s cool when people are able to write a variety of genres like that.

  2. Perfectionism is a killer, BK. It stops you in your tracks, yet you’ve somehow learned to deal with it. Any tips? I would like to hear back from you on this

    I got over this one fast. The main way I did it was by realizing my author’s journey is to become the best writer I could be. I accepted my dreadful first manuscript as a learning process and delighted in seeing any improvement. Maybe the contest success helped reinforce that I was improving but I could “feel” it too.

    Hang in there.

    • Same here. Thing is, I should know better. There’s nothing like getting into the groove and letting the words flow — it’s like flying in a dream.

      But THEN — I see a flabby sentence and stop the engines to get the words right. It’s like I can’t stop myself.

      Maybe sometimes you just have to accept the way you work and make the best of it.

      • That’s exactly what I do..I’m going and going and bam! Sentence is all screwy and I must. fix. it. and then my momentum is jacked.

        • I don’t know, guys. I’m thinking “whatever works” in this case. Some authors love the momentum thing and correct in drafts but not every one can let something hinky on the page without tweaking it. Whatever gets you to THE END, I say.

          • Haven’t got the foggiest idea who Paul Arden is, but I received this quote in my inbox today:

            “You need to aim beyond what you are capable of. You must develop a complete disregard for where your abilities end. Try to do things that you’re incapable of… If you think you’re incapable of running a company, make that your aim… Make your vision of where you want to be a reality. Nothing is impossible.”

            — Paul Arden

            • Nice quote. I believe in this philosophy and try to push myself into writing where I am slightly uncomfortable. I never want to be complacent about each book until it feels like a “rinse and repeat” kind of thing. Naysayers would tell me to aim low thinking it’s easier to reach. I thought, “What’s the point in that?”

    • I haven’t overcome perfectionism & wouldn’t recommend my years long perfectionism cowardice to ANYONE. But I think I’m finally coming to terms with it.

      I have a book I’ve been sitting on for 10 years–almost 11. Donald Maass is coming to do a 1 day workshop here in May. My goal is to revise that thing for the umpteenth and final time and cut it loose right after that workshop.

      I don’t know how people dream up the books they are going to write, but I don’t just look at one book at a time, but the books, collectively, that I want to write. It has always been my dream to write an entire collection of books set in and around Arizona, mostly historical, but with some contemporary. And what I’ve been reminding myself more and more lately is that if I do not let the first book go, that collection will never happen. And when I go, the ideas will go with me.

      But it has taken me all those years to begin to accept the idea that is commonly advised in writing circles—your first book, (there are always exceptions of course) is probably not going to be your best.

      So “Let it go and get better” is my mantra for 2016.

      BTW, for the bloggers here at TKZ and elsewhere, I know sometimes you must get tired of coming up with blog posts, sometimes wonder if a topic has been done too much, but this tough subject of perfection in writing and others like it are a reason for the importance of good blogs like TKZ—the collective effect of reading TKZ posts each year, even when eventually covered more than once, helps folks like me keep drilling the right info into our heads. And then we eventually have that “AHA!” moment. 😎

      • I like your mantra for 2016, BK. Do it! You will wonder why you didn’t do it earlier, but celebrate the moment. Each writer’s journey is different and all are amazing.

  3. Jordan, I kept reading through the list, waiting for you to detail something I haven’t faced—I’m still waiting. Although I have a number of novels out there, I encounter these obstacles on a regular basis. Thanks for the reminder that it’s possible to get past them.

  4. I think any writer deals with everything on the list; it’s a matter of which item is in your face on any given day. Today, #3 is big for me. I’ve got a new series launching, and since I don’t have a Big Publisher behind me pushing it, I can only sit here and hope readers will follow the new characters, the new settings, and the modified premise–it’s still romantic suspense (especially since I’ve already written the first draft of Book 2). Nobody wants to be told their baby is ugly.

    But then, I remind myself that for me, it’s about writing the book. Sure, I love to see sales and royalty checks, but I love the writing process.

  5. Perfectionism is by far my biggest obstacle. I’m way to hard on myself, and often expect more than is humanly possible, more than I’d expect of anyone else. That tiny voice inside my head fluctuates between “This is awesome” and “This sucks. You have no business writing.” It’s a constant battle.

    BTW, I can’t believe you killed ________. Or did you? Don’t answer that. 🙂 Review coming soon!

  6. Hi Mike. I accept my process. Embrace it. I call it my rolling edit process but I can’t just let the words flow without editing too. I still get my word count in but when I reach the end, no drafts. I’ve since learned that many authors write like this. I do what works for me.

  7. Hi Terry. You make an interesting point, that each of these items can easily lurk and become the monster du jour. Put on your suit of armor and get to work.

  8. Hi there, Sue. I can see you struggling with perfectionism but after reading your debut book, you have definitely found a way to survive it. You had me hooked from page 1. You go, girl

  9. I am glad to see your comments on absolutes and posilutes in the opinions of some. There is, for example, a guy running around on the internet who, rather than teach, edits. And the way I see it, he pounds his opinions onto and into those who engage his editing services to the point where he demoralizes new writers. New writers–having once been one, I know–want to try new things, see about new things that may work.

    But this guy: oy vey. NO CAPITAL LETTER SENTENCES, he barks. No flashbacks in the first 50 pages–ever; if you do, I will snip, snip, snip them out, and there’s nothing you can do about it. Back story? Neh. I don’t you dare even think about opening your book with a prologue. I have my electronic scissors ready.

    Honestly, I think the guy goes way overboard. I’d rather see a writer try a flashback if it’s going to drive the story. Back story? See Stieg Larrson, the one who wrote the Millennium Trilogy. Then, if your publisher’s editor comes back and says they don’t work, then alter.

    But I think writers could well profit and prophet if they make their wagers on trying different things that might work, instead of being fearful of violating someone else’s doctrine or stern edicts.

    • I’m with you, Jim. I like pushing the envelope. I’d hate to see that guy edit Anderson’s WINTER GIRLS book, a YA. She wanted to show the spiral of a teen girl’s mind as she shrank into bulemia, heading toward death. Brilliantly conceived and written.

      And THE BOOK THIEF, forget about a narrow minded editor tackling that masterpiece. Oy!

  10. Excellent list, Jordan. Really good reminders. I really like the one about critique groups. I’m blessed to belong to a really terrific one (three of us are published, one is academically-published but working on her first novel). These folks have literally helped shape my books. I dedicated my last book to them in fact.

    But man, if you get in a bad critique group, especially with pendantic know-it-alls, it can be soul-crushing. Or if you get in a pity-party. (It’s all a big conspiracy to keep US out of publishing!) You’re better off flying solo…

    I might add one smaller distraction to your list: envy and jealousy. If you pay too much heed to the success of others (How did that hack get published? How did she get such good Amazon ratings?) you’ll burn up all the good energy you need to put into your writing. Most crime writers are pretty generous in spirit but there are a few toads out there who just can’t abide someone else moving up a rung. I think envy is a deadly sin, so I guess they will eventually burn in hell — which I envision as a giant bonfire of their remaindered books.

    • That envy jealousy thing is a good one to add. It can keep writers from making any real progress when they get all balled up over someone else’s success or they try to emulate another writer until they don’t know their own voice.

      I try to celebrate every author’s journey. Big trendy books like Harry Potter or Fifty Shades (can’t believe I just mentioned these two books in the same sentence) bring new readers into our world, which is a good thing for all of us. Anytime an author influences the masses and encourages them to read, I think is a good thing for all of us.

      Thanks, Kris.

  11. My bugaboo is perfectionism and lack of confidence. I’m a professional copywriter, which you think would be a plus. But my fiction doesn’t yet measure up to my non-fiction, and I really struggle with that.

    I always get a lot out of your down-to-earth writing posts, Jordan. Thank you.

    • Thanks, Sheri. I know where you’re coming from with your copywriter style. I had a boss who liked me to emulate the style of a newspaper journalist in my corporate memo writing. The who what when where why thing up front. I decided long ago that this style (similar to how a copywriter has a different purpose to writing) is not fiction. Consequently it’s almost like a different language because the intentions and restrictions on copy writing can almost hinder you if you can’t make the leap to fiction. It’s like a golfer coming late to the sport after they’d developed their baseball swing. You almost have to overcome any tendencies before you re=learn how to write. Have patience with this.

      You might find copy writing a plus when you write your book jacket summary of your novel. That’s when a marketing approach might work. Take your gifts where they make sense.

  12. Listening to Naysayers.

    This is one that drives me nuts. Naysayers seem to come in two models:

    1. People who either haven’t made it themselves (or are afraid to try), so they love to quote the statistics of failure to justify their own inability to succeed; and

    2. People who *have* succeeded but feel threatened by competition (as if there’s actually any competition in the writing game).

    In every creative endeavor I’ve attempted, I have encountered naysayers. When I wrote my first screenplay, I was told I’d never sell it. I ignored the naysayers and guess what? It sold.

    When the screenplay sold, I got a letter from the Writers Guild itself saying congratulations, but you’ll probably never sell another script or get another job in the industry. Those are just the statistics, dude. (This was the union representing me!)

    When I wrote my first novel, people would say to me, do you know what the odds are of selling your first novel? Most people have to write ten novels before they sell one. You might as well give up now and save yourself some time and heartache.

    When I sold that first novel, I was told by the naysayers that, great, you got a two-book deal, but the chances of getting another deal and staying in the business are slim to none. I, of course, ignored this negative nonsense and went on to get several more deals and have been working as a novelist ever since.

    When I decided I was tired of my agent and publishing company telling me what I could and couldn’t write (because the books I *wanted* to write wouldn’t sell — naysayers in the industry as well), I dumped them all, went indie, and that book they said wouldn’t sell has sold over 100,000 copies.

    DO NOT LISTEN TO NAYSAYERS. They are, to coin a phrase, full of shit.

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