Are you discouraged with writing? Here’s what to do

Reading time: About 3 minutes

Discouragement sucks the joy out of our lives. But there’s no good reason to become discouraged with writing…

Do you ever become discouraged with writing? You resent the time it takes and you’re never certain whether you’re going in the right direction.

Or, perhaps you’re disappointed by the difference between what you’d envisioned doing and the words that eventually appeared on the page. (I wrote about that disconnect here.)  

But after more than four decades of working with thousands of writers, I can pinpoint the most common reasons that writers feel discouraged with writing: 

  • You don’t have enough time to write. It’s something you desperately want to do but you’re too busy with other demanding chores – work, family or other commitments and, somehow you never manage to get any writing done.
  • You keep waiting for inspiration or “flow” and it never arrives. Inspiration and flow are both fickle, unreliable masters. Sure, they may appear from time to time, but they’re never there when you need them.
  • You feel overwhelmed. This problem occurs when your project is big — a book or a dissertation — and you can’t imagine how you’re ever going to be able to produce 70,000 words or more.
  • You’ve actually written but now you’re faced with the gigantic task of editing the “monster.” This makes your heart sink and your motivation wane.
  • You’ve had negative feedback from a friend, colleague, client or boss. This not only leaves you discouraged with writing but results in you questioning your life choices. Whatever made you think you were really meant to be a writer?
  • You see other more successful writers and you feel jealous and envious. Why should they succeed when you’re working so hard and getting nowhere?

Here are 11 practical ways to stick with your writing even when you’re feeling discouraged:

1- Make sure your goals are small enough: The biggest mistake I see new writers make is that they give themselves goals that are way too daunting. Instead of trying to write for an hour at a time, try five minutes. Doesn’t that sound a lot easier? I’m not saying you need to restrict your writing to five minutes forever, but start that way. Build the writing habit, and once it’s established you can gradually start increasing your time. 

2-Remember your motivation: Why did you start writing? (Or why do you want to do it?) Understanding this reason will help motivate you if you can connect with your initial “why” – whether it’s earning more money, being more creative and simply recording your thoughts for yourself and family members. Your reason will be unique to you and it’s the most powerful motivator you have. Use it! 

3-Adopt a growth mindset: This idea means you understand you can and will improve if you make enough effort. Being born without “talent” should not stop you from doing anything. We can all learn and we can all become better at what we want to achieve. Everything is learnable. 

4-Get enough exercise: This bit of advice might sound like a massive non-sequitur but it’s not. We all perform better when we’ve had some physical exercise. When writing, most people sit in chairs which is discouraging for the brain. Believe it or not, our brains crave physical activity, even if we’re couch potatoes. If you’re not an athlete by temperament, start adding some regular walking to your schedule. The gentle exercise you get doing this will pay off for your writing as well as for your body. (Me, I write while walking on a treadmill.)

5-See discouragement as just a step in the process: Feeling discouraged is something all writers experience – even the famous, super successful ones. Congrats! You have something in common with Stephen King and Margaret Atwood!  Just understand that this feeling will inevitably pass. Discouragement doesn’t last forever. 

6-Give yourself an attitude adjustment: We tend to get discouraged when our expectations don’t mesh with reality. Usually this occurs because our expectations have been unrealistic — particularly with respect to time. We often expect things to happen too fast. Don’t beat yourself up for not being quick enough. Instead, understand that good work takes time to happen. 

7- Understand that failure isn’t always bad: When do we learn the most? When we make mistakes. Take advice from the scientist Jennifer Gresham who created a ritual with her daughter celebrating their errors. Every day one of them reminds the other: it’s a great day to make a mistake. “That’s where the learning is,” Gresham says. “Until you prioritize learning over performance you’ll prevent yourself from having those eureka moments.”

8-Stop comparing yourself to others: We’re all different and we each have our own strengths and weaknesses. Looking at what another person can accomplish will not help you in the least. Instead of comparing yourself to others, focus on competing against the old you. That’s the only type of comparison that’s going to be useful to you.

9-Ignore external rewards: If your only motivation for doing something is the reward you’re going to get out of it, you’re setting yourself up for discouragement. Try to connect with your underlying, intrinsic motivation (perhaps the desire to express yourself?) so that the extrinsic goals — a publishing contract, fame and fortune, devoted readers — seem less important.

10-Get help: If I needed to learn about quantum physics, you better believe I would get help with it. I haven’t taken any science since grade 11 and (with a few rare exceptions, like medical issues) it’s not a topic that usually interests me. I would find mentors, coaches and other experts to help guide my path. You may need to do the same for writing. Find a writing group, take a class, join my Get It Done group 

11-Celebrate your progress: Most writers I know don’t celebrate their own accomplishments nearly enough. You don’t need to buy yourself a new car! Consider small rewards — a magazine or a book. Time on social media. A coffee with a friend. A walk in a park. Don’t assume you’ve done nothing to deserve recognition. Every little bit of writing counts. The rewards for bigger writing projects are usually a long way off into the future, especially if you’re writing a book. Don’t wait for that! Instead, make sure you acknowledge your own accomplishments every day. 

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My video podcast last week described what to do if you fear publishing. Go here to see the video or read the transcript, and you can also subscribe to my YouTube channel.  

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Need some help developing a better writing routine? Learn more about my Get It Done program. There is turn-over each month, and priority will go to those who have applied first. You can go directly to the application form and you’ll hear back from me within 24 hours.

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What do you do if you’ve become discouraged with writing? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section below.  Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by Nov. 30/22 will be put in a draw for a digital copy of my first book, 8 1/2 Steps to Writing Faster, Better. To enter, please scroll down to the comments, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join Disqus to post. See here to learn how to post as a guest. It’s easy!

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