Writers are faced with the task of completing pieces of poetry and prose with not much to guide them but raw talent and an accurate inner compass for what is “finished” and what still needs work. So when that inner compass starts to waver, many writers doubt their talent instead of realigning the compass. The following list of self-sabotage scenarios and solutions will help you evaluate your inner struggle with clear eyes so you can cancel your pity party and get back on the writing horse.
Issue #1: Writing is starting to feel like a chore. With so much work and rarely any immediate payoff, you’re starting to forget why you loved writing in the first place. Your pieces are starting to feel forced and uninspired, and the only time you sit down to work at it anymore is when you absolutely force yourself. You just feel like giving up.
Solution: Forget about trying to write “well” for a while. Listen to your inner voice—where is all of this “blah” coming from? Chances are, you used to write only when you felt a natural urge to write, and now you’re treating it like a job to do. Get back in touch with the things that used to inspire you, rather than trying to find inspiration itself. Start journaling again and forgo attempting to complete “finished” pieces, and your passion will find its way back to you naturally.
Issue #2: You’re feeling unaccomplished. Other writers are being published all around you, and you’re starting to feel that your comparative lack of publication credits stems from a lack of talent. Worse, you’re starting to see your words in a different light; the pieces that used to excite you—the ones you wanted to someday see published—are now looking amateurish and unpolished.
Solution: It’s time to shut down the pity party and reevaluate how you judge your work. Ask friends from your writing group—or any friends or family—to critique your finished pieces. Note the weak points they find: Is your work lacking tension? Are your characters one-dimensional? Take chances and revise, then ask them to take a second look. Figure out what changes you can make to improve your writing, and remember that even those published authors you look up to had to write and write and revise and revise to become successful.
Issue #3: Lately, you’re not feeling very inspired, and you’re experiencing full-on writer’s block. After a while of not writing, you’re wondering if your passion was just a fluke; you’re questioning whether you should bother trying to pursue the muse at all.
Solution: Don’t try to force inspiration where you can’t find any. Instead, try to change your scenery and your creativity. Rather than pouring all of your concentration into writing, pick up a new hobby for a while. Sign up for a class on pottery, photography, or jewelry-making. Start hiking or bike riding on the weekends. Without trying, you’ll suddenly be immersed in totally different worlds than you’re used to, and your observations and curiosities for your new activities will eventually rouse your muse.
Issue #4: You’ve conquered all of the problems above and successfully completed your poem, short story, essay, or book, and you’re ready to submit your work to literary agents or editors. You start by sending to a few and, after you receive just as many rejection letters, you think, If my work were worthy of publication, one of these agents or editors would have picked up my work already. You decide to either move the piece back into the drawer or revise heavily before attempting any more submissions.
Solution: Most writers, regardless of talent level, face 1 out of 100 odds when it comes to submitting to literary agents and editors. So unless you’ve submitted your work to 100 appropriate markets (and we do stress appropriate), you haven’t given your work a real shot. Make a commitment to submit your finished pieces to realistic markets on a regular basis so that you can chip away at the 1-out-of-100 odds.
With these solutions to common self-sabotage situations, you can keep your confidence and passion for writing going strong. And here’s another submission tip: Don’t sabotage your confidence by aiming too high too quickly—journals like Tin House are not likely to publish your work until you’re a very seasoned writer, so give your work a real chance by starting off with some mid-range online journals that have more room to publish and can take on more beginning writers. In time, your publication credits will grow more impressive and you can aim for more prestigious publications. Likewise, literary agents like to see that book authors have publication credits as well. To improve your chance of landing a literary agent, seek publication of book excerpts before querying literary agents—they’ll definitely take notice.
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