Feel like you're falling behind in your writing life?
As someone who blogs about writing fiction, I’m often asked about the fiction I write. How are your projects coming along? What kind of stories do you write? Are you published yet? Where can I find your books online?
I’m always honored and encouraged when someone expresses interest in my work, but I’ll be honest: as a sort of public writing figure, I often feel a lot of pressure to excel in my personal storytelling, and that pressure can weigh heavy. When confronted with the fact that I haven’t yet published my work, that pressure compounds until I fear that I’m falling behind in my writing life.
This is a reality that I’ve dealt with for years, but now I’m gratified to realize that all the hard work I’ve put into owning my slow and steady approach to the craft has helped me build confidence in my creative journey. If, for any reason, you’ve also wondered whether you’re failing to live up to your creative potential, I’d like to share some of the hard truths I’ve learned with you today.
I’ve been writing fiction for nearly eight years now…
In that time, I’ve written four novels, including three manuscripts and one complete rewrite, and I’ve done plenty of revision work as well. I’m currently almost three years into working on the story I intend to be my debut, a medieval fantasy novel called Lady Legacy that you can read a little about by clicking here.
I’m dead smack in the middle of draft four revisions on this project, and I’m happy with how the draft is coming along. But I’m still months, if not more than a year, away from preparing to publish this book.
In truth, my fiction doesn’t always get the attention it deserves. I do try to work on my novel each and every day, but most of my mental energy at this time goes toward my work at Well-Storied. I don’t always have a lot of gas left in the tank at the end of the day to work on my fiction, though this is an issue I’m working to address this year.
Knowing that I’m not where I’d like to be in my fiction writing life is, admittedly, a bit frustrating. This only lends to the fear that I’m somehow falling behind, that I’ll never get around to publishing my fiction and that one day, everyone will realize this and lose faith in my ability as any sort of writer, novelist or otherwise.
But fear is just fear. It isn’t fact; it’s simply a common response to uncertainty. And as I explain in this article, uncertainty is just another word for doubt. It’s how we respond to doubt that matters. Let fear win, and doubts will warp into limiting beliefs that hold you back from living your best writing life. Take action, and you’ll resolve the uncertainty at hand.
For me, taking action means continuing to revise my manuscript, but it also means taking a good, hard look at the limiting beliefs that already cloud my creative mindset. What internal struggles are holding me back? How can I rewire my beliefs to better set myself up for writing success? In asking these questions, I’ve uncovered a few powerful truths...
Truth #1: You are your own worst enemy.
If you feel like you’re falling behind, that means you’re already playing the Comparison Game. You’re looking at other writers’ work — their process, their progress, their successes, and so on — and choosing to believe that you don’t measure up. But what exactly are you trying to achieve?
Each writer’s process is unique, as is their definition of writing success. And most often, what we see of other writers online (and even in person) is taken out of context. It’s consumed without intimate knowledge of their own doubts and fears, their own bad writing days, their own missteps and sidesteps and failures.
To combat the fear of falling behind, you have to get out of your own way, and that often means diving deeper. It means getting real about what you want from your writing life. It means addressing your creative mindset and limiting beliefs. It means cutting the head off the Comparison Game and learning to love your writing life.
Truth #2: Publishing won’t make you a real writer.
Because traditional publishing comes with gatekeepers in the forms of agents and acquisition editors, there’s this pervasive belief that landing a book deal will somehow validate your worth as a writer. But what about all of those objectively awful books that still somehow manage to get published? What do they prove?
In truth, the only thing that traditional publishing can validate is that an industry professional believes your work may be marketable. I don’t say this to knock traditional publishing. Not in the slightest. What I’m knocking is the belief that one hasn’t truly made it as a writer until they land a book deal or make it big.
Publishing is a career path, not an entry exam. A person with a phenomenal singing voice isn’t any less a talent if they don’t pursue a career in music, and you aren’t any less a real writer if you aren’t yet published or choose not to publish at all. So don’t let anyone pressure you into publishing before you’re ready.
Truth #3: You have to work with the creative energy you have.
I am not the most prolific writer on the planet. I’m currently revising at a rate of one chapter every three to six days, and I have thirty chapters to go before this draft of my novel will be complete. I’m looking to increase that pace, but as I mentioned earlier, I don’t always have a ton of creative energy to put toward my fiction.
I’m currently striving to cultivate more of this energy — but at the end of the day, the more I push, the more likely I am to run into writing burnout. And that’s certainly not productive. So while I’m looking to expand my writing endurance, I’m also working to honor the energy in my creative well.
If you want to find fulfillment in your own writing life, you have to stop tearing yourself down for not being more than what you are. You have to take the circumstances you’ve been given and make them work to your advantage. You have to put in your best effort and let go the things you can’t control. It’s the only way to move forward.
Truth #4: Some stories take longer than others.
An indie author that I admire publishes at least two novels every year. In comparison, I am completely and utterly inadequate. But by playing the Comparison Game, I become my own worst enemy. Right?
The truth is that I’m unlikely to ever publish two novels a year because I don’t write strict commercial fiction as this author does. I write what’s sometimes referred to as “upmarket fiction,” books that straddle the line between literary and commercial appeal. This doesn’t make my writing inherently better than that of any other author, but it does mean that my novels take more time to craft because they don’t feature traditional plot lines.
And just as literary and upmarket fiction generally takes more time to write than commercial, you may have some projects that require more time and effort than others. Perhaps they’re more personal and emotional. Perhaps they require more research. Or maybe you’re just at a different and more difficult stage of life. Own that.
Truth #5: You don’t have anything to prove.
Or rather, you don’t have anything to prove to anyone but yourself.
Because the second you start measuring your work and creative self-worth by the reactions and expectations of others is the second you begin breeding dissatisfaction in your writing life. It’s the second you start feeling like you’re falling behind or failing to measure up. It’s the second you pursue a negative response to doubt.
The opinions of others are outside of your control. They’re uncertain. And the more you try to influence them, the more free rein you’ll give to doubts and fears in your writing life.
It’s not wrong to want to receive great feedback and reader reviews, nor is it wrong to write stories you believe your readers will love. But at the end of the day, the only person who needs to be happy with the work you’re creating is yourself. Because you are the only person you have the full power to please.
If you’re happy with what you’re creating, you are enough.
You’re not falling behind. You’re not failing. You’re not a disappointment or a sorry excuse for a writer. You are enough.
But if you’re unhappy with what you’re creating, it’s time to ask yourself a few honest questions:
Am I truly putting forth my best effort given the time and energy I have to write?
Am I writing stories I truly love, or am I trying to please others at the expense of my own creative fulfillment?
Am I putting in the time and effort but allowing limiting beliefs to convince me that I’m not enough?
Do I truly know what I want for my writing life, or am I chasing someone else’s dream?
So many of these questions are topics I address in Build Your Best Writing Life, the non-fiction book that I’m currently preparing to revise this May. In truth, this would be the perfect time and place to pitch this book to you if it were already published, but these words have been weighing too heavy on my mind to save them for a few months down the road. If you’re interested in being the first to know when this book goes live and to receive monthly updates along the way, you can click here to subscribe.
As someone who blogs about writing, it may seem like I’m already living my best writing life. Like I’ve made it. But in truth, there’s not a day that goes by that I don’t question my work, my worth, or my progress as a writer. I always want to be more, more, more.
There’s certainly merit in seeking always to improve, but when that seeking becomes self-doubt (or even self-loathing), that’s when you need to put the hard work into overhauling what you believe about where you stand as a creative. This is also something that I do on a daily basis, and though my creative mindset isn’t yet where I’d like it to be, I know I’m making progress.
In reminding myself of the truths I’ve shared today, I remind myself that I’m becoming the writer I long to be in my own time and in my own way. I’m not falling behind, I’m not failing, and neither are you, writer. So let’s get back to work.