Write It Sideways

7 Reasons You’ve Failed as a Writer

This writing thing is starting to get to you.

Yesterday you were full of amazing story ideas. You dreamed of being the celebrity novelist, the kind whose books grace those special little tables right by the bookstore’s front doors. Today, you wonder if you have any writing talent at all.

You want to write. It’s all you think about. The ideas are there, but the right words won’t always come. Or everything seems great while you’re blurting it onto the page, but a week later you reread it and see only flaws. Suddenly you realize writing is actually . . . well . . . a whole lot harder than it looks.

We all go through this at one point or another—feeling like a failure. The good news is there are a lot of common reasons this happens, and while writing will always be a whole lot harder than it looks, all of these issues can be remedied with time and effort.

If you’re feeling like a writing failure, here are seven possible explanations, and how to overcome them:

You haven’t written enough.

As much as you’d like to think all those papers in your drawer and files on your computer attest to how much you’ve written, it’s probably nothing compared to what you really need to be considered ‘practised.’

You wouldn’t sit down at a piano after a year of lessons and expect to be able to play Chopin like a master (I took piano lessons for more than 10 years but am still only mediocre). Good writing takes practice, just like anything else. Don’t expect too much of yourself too quickly.

Though patience can be difficult when you’re passionate about something, think of this as time you’ve spent learning, not time you’ve spent failing.

You’re forcing yourself to write something specific.

You intend to be a novelist. Not just any novelist—a writer of only the highest literary genius. But if you’re not making much progress on that literary masterpiece you’ve been plodding away at for years, there’s a chance you might actually be better at writing humorous articles, children’s picture books, or nonfiction.

Your dream of becoming a writer has probably been laced with very specific images of how you’ll achieve success—perhaps from as early as childhood. Anything less than exact isn’t good enough.

Most writers go through periods of writing in a variety of styles or genres before they settle into what’s best for them, so why not allow yourself an opportunity to try something different? Experiment in your notebook. You might be surprised at how easily the ink flows when you give yourself a little room to move.

You’ve let criticism cut to the heart.

Rejection is never fun for anyone.

But instead of turning rejection on its head and accepting it as a learning experience, you’ve allowed it to eat away at your confidence. You take constructive criticism personally rather than objectively. Each fresh rejection convinces you—at least for a while—that you shouldn’t be wasting your time.

So, whenever the going gets tough, you give up.

Stop beating yourself up and recognize that rejection is inevitable. For everyone! It’s not only to be expected, it’s necessary. If you never feel the sting of rejection, you’ll never feel the drive to improve your writing.

You’ve allowed other things to get in the way of your writing time.

In every writer’s life there will be things that necessarily come before your writing. Your family, your day job, other responsibilities.

But how many unnecessary things are you putting ahead of your writing time? Is there a TV show you regularly watch that you could give up? Have you overloaded yourself on social commitments?

Sit down and make a list of all the activities you could easily give up. Once you’ve found an extra 30 minutes in your day, use it for writing. If you’re really stuck for time, try getting up 30 minutes earlier in the morning.

You might find, like many people, that early morning can be the most productive period of your day. I know I do.

You haven’t finished what you’ve started.

You’re wonderful at starting projects, but horrible at finishing them. You have dozens upon dozens of half-finished stories, articles, and even novels filed away, with no concrete plans of ever reviving them.

What if you took just one of those projects (the one with the greatest potential) and determined to finish it, no matter what?

Start with something small like a short story or an article. Don’t work on any other projects while you’re completing this one. See how long it takes you to finish writing and editing it.

When you’re done, you’ll see how wonderful it feels to finish what you’ve started. You’ll want to make a habit of it in the future.

You haven’t spent enough time reading.

Hey, if you can hardly find time to write anything, are you really supposed to make time to read too?

Unfortunately, you can’t be a successful writer if you don’t read enough. Reading is a learning opportunity, showing you what works, why it works, and how you can make it work in your own writing.

Try building up the amount of time you spend reading. Start with 10 minutes a day, and add an extra 10 minutes each week until you’re reading an hour each day. Most people watch at least an hour of TV a day, so a trade-off might just make that possible.

You can do this during your lunch break, while you wait for dinner to cook, or at bedtime. If you can’t fit in one long session, break it into shorter ones. If you really struggle for time, try listening to audiobooks during your commute or while you do chores around the house.

You haven’t found the balance between art and craft.

Writing is an art, but it also involves skills. Creativity can be innate, but skills are learned behaviours.

Creativity without skills equals sloppy, unfocused writing. Skills without creativity equal stiff, uninteresting writing. You need to find a balance between the two.

How do you learn new skills? By studying those who have mastered them. You can read books on writing, research, find a mentor, join a writing group. Above all, you’ll need to give yourself time.

How do you foster creativity? Try stream-of-consciousness writing, listening to music, painting or drawing, and reading highly creative writing.

With time and practice, you’ll start to see a greater degree of balance achieved in your work.

Stop The Cycle of Failure

Does one of these seven reasons explain why you’ve failed as a writer in the past? Maybe it’s more than one. Perhaps it’s all of them.

Just being aware that these are problems common to most aspiring writers is the first step, and planning to change these problems one at a time can lead you out of the cycle of failure and back onto the path of doing what you love best: writing.