Monday, October 10, 2011

Writing Can Be Frustrating, But Don't Let It Get You Down!

This has not been the easiest of months for me so far writing-wise. After a fantastic August and September in terms of productivity I've only had a so-so first third of October. I've managed to keep up with my daily writing for my Seinfeld Chain and my blog schedule but that's been about it. To top it off, I've also not been terribly pleased with the quality of some of what I've written. In short, there have been some days lately when thinking about writing has made me feel sort of like this...

Photo courtesy ralaenin
But I know I'm not going to get anywhere by wallowing in my frustration. So, what can be done to work through this and get back to a place of greater satisfaction?
There are several things which you can do but the first thing is to figure out why it is that you're feeling frustrated. Until you've done this, you're going to have a really hard time resolving anything because you won't know what it is that you're trying to fix. In my case, I think it's primarily that I'm working right now with story lengths that I don't feel comfortable with. I've always written short stories and my current WIPs are all things that I project to be longer works. So, I'm trying to deal with using some different techniques and I'm also not getting the "buzz" that I've gotten on a regular basis in the past from finishing a short story. This has left me with a sort of writerly malaise. For you, it could be a similar problem such as writing in an unfamiliar genre or it could be something totally different such as some painful feedback on your writing which you've gotten recently or even matters not directly related to writing like stress in your personal life. But until you know what is driving your frustration, you're likely to have trouble fixing it.

Once you've determined why you're frustrated, the next step is to have an action plan of some kind. Let's say that the problem was that you were writing in an unfamiliar genre. In that case, your plan might involve doing some additional reading in that genre and finding a couple of fellow writers who specialize in that genre to look at your work and give you feedback. If your frustration stemmed from something different, like feeling that you didn't have enough time to write then you might want to review time management tips like the ones I posted last week. For my specific issue, I plan to discuss longer-length fiction with a couple of writing friends that I know have worked at that length. I'm also (as per my goals for the month) starting work on one short story with the hopes of finishing it this week and getting that short-term "buzz."

After you've put together a plan you need to put that plan in place. All the planning in the world doesn't do you any good if you make the plan and then don't follow through. This is also somewhere that talking to fellow writers -- even if that's not explicitly part of your action plan -- can be helpful, both in terms of some commiseration and possibly getting additional ideas on how to approach the problem you're facing. Having the support community of other writers on blogs and Twitter has been tremendously helpful to me these last couple months. Without it, I suspect I could have already reached a point of terminal frustration with my writing and wandered off into one of my writing dead zones.

Even after you've done all this, you could still end up feeling frustrated. What should you do if the steps above haven't worked? I would suggest two things. First, consider that you might have misdiagnosed the problem and give some more thought to how you are feeling. If you're not dealing with the correct issue (or what's only a secondary issue) then you could still be feeling badly about your work. Second, if you think that you've diagnosed the issue correctly, that you had a good plan, that you executed that plan and you're still frustrated maybe it's time to try shaking up your writing routine somehow. You could do that in several ways, such as trying to write a different genre, at a different length, etc. Obviously, if you're already feeling frustrated about having shaken up your routine in some way then maybe you want to find a way to go back to your comfort zone while also doing something new. Let's say you normally write darkly-themed Private Investigator novels but you're working on a historical novel and feeling frustrated by it. Maybe going back to the mystery genre and writing something short would do the trick. You could even go for a comical caper story if you had an idea for one.

Above all, remember that the way to be a writer is to write. Frustration can make that awfully hard some days but if you want to succeed you'll need to stick with it and not let the frustration get you down and keep you from your dreams!


  1. Great advice! I think we've all been here at one point or another...I know I have. And it always seems easier to encourage others rather than ourselves. So, consider this a boost of encouragement from me to you. :)

  2. Thanks for the encouragement, Nicole! If all goes well, I may have a nice large chunk of time tomorrow for writing. Here's hoping!

  3. Great advice. The fact that you're writing anything at all is more than I'm doing lately! I signed up for NanoWriMo and am really going to do my best; I mean it's all we can do! But I admit I'm a bit nervous about how daunting of a task that will be. You are not alone and thanks for the tips!

  4. @Lady Nicole, good luck with NaNoWriMo this year. If you want to sign up as writing buddies on the site (once they have that feature back up and working), I am mhaynes there.

  5. I read a lot of sites talking about how to keep motivated and continue to write--from tips likes yours above to maintaining daily word counts, but nobody ever seems to address my problem, which is the opposite.

    I find writing a compulsion, bordering, and probably teetering over, to an obsession. I write much to the detriment of other aspects of my life, such as work, wife kids. While fairly prolific over the last 2-3 years--I write about 20k words a week--my biggest fear (and something I've heard other writers suffer from in my position) is that I'll eventually burn myself out and find myself with an unshiftable block. Help, anyone?

  6. Hi, RF, you're right, that's definitely the opposite problem.

    The first thing I'd say is that if you feel like this is harming your work and home life that you might want to talk to an actual professional about that. Like anything we add to our lives (sports, hobbies, etc.) it's certainly possible to take writing to an unhealthy extreme. Since you expressed a concern about that yourself, you might want to consider discussing this with someone.

    So, setting aside that aspect of it, I would say that I don't think that writers have a set number of words in them that -- once they've written them all down -- they can't write any further. Does that mean you won't hit a point some day where you feel blocked? Well, no, but I would suspect that it wouldn't be unshiftable and that techniques others use to get past blocks might work for you as well in that case.

    This honestly isn't an issue I've had to think about much, but I'm glad you brought it up, as I think it adds an interesting dimension to the discussion!

  7. Great advice! As with anything else, it is very important to determine what the root of a problem is and then commit to resolving it.

  8. Thanks, Yelena! I'm glad you found the post useful.