“For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.”
—Catherine Drinker Bowen

How to Keep Writing When No One is Reading

This guest post is by Paul Angone. Paul is the creator of AllGroanUp.com and his debut book 101 Secrets for your Twenties (Moody) releases this July 1st. You can snag a sneak peak of his book and follow him @PaulAngone.

How do you continue believing you have a message worth telling, when no one seems to want to listen?

How do you justify all the hours spent alone working on your craft, when the rapidly slamming doors all seem to say, “Keep your day job!”

I’ve wrestled with these doubts for years. If you have too, I want to help you ease this frustration and amplify your message.

Writing When No One is Reading

Photo by Susan Sermoneta

My Writing Journey

For seven years, I’ve been actively pursuing publishing my first book.

As each year was marked off the calendar, I felt failure wrapping around my wrists and holding my writing hostage.

Paralyzing doubt and questions like, “what are you doing?” began to plague me, following my fingers with each stroke of the key.

My writing was fueled by a purpose and a passion—to help confused twenty-somethings who were wrestling with the question, “What now? Now that college is over, what am I supposed to do with my life?” I personally knew so many twenty-somethings who were struggling with doubt, anxiety, unmet expectations, and fear, but they were sweeping those feelings under the rug. I wanted to write a book that placed those feelings in the middle of the room.

Yet, I couldn’t get a publisher to invite me to the party.

What Do You Do When You Hear “No”

At one point years ago I thought I’d made it. I snagged a prominent literary agent, we worked for a year polishing a manuscript and proposal, and then I sat back, anxiously refreshing my email for that one “yes” that would change everything.

But… that yes never came.

I say “but…” because that became the transition word I began to dread the most. I read with conflicting emotions as numerous publishers told me they liked the book, my voice, the story, with one publisher going so far to say “we think this book could be a bestseller”, BUT… we can’t take a risk on an unknown author in this economic climate. Come back when you have a platform.”

Cue the long walk on a pier, in the fog, to violin music.

It’s tough to keep writing when all you keep hearing are no’s.

Don’t Give Up. I Didn’t.

It was either time to quit or it was time to find another way.

Why are you really in this writing game—the hope of future success and status, or because you truly believe your story needs to be told? (Want to tweet that?)

After being TKO’d by the publishing industry, I began a Rocky-esque training montage. I “picked myself” and started a website called AllGroanUp.com. I stopped waiting for a publisher’s permission to tell my story.

But in the movie, it only takes Rocky one emotion-filled, synthesizer-blaring song to completely transform himself. The reality is my “training montage” actually took place over a year and three months of grinding, unglamorous, sweaty work, with very little synthesizer involved.

I did listen to a lot of Passion Pit though.

What Writing is Really About

I learned the hard way that writing can’t be about validation. If it is, every un-returned email from a publisher, every form rejection letter will pour lemon juice on your numerous paper cuts.

If writing is solely about being published, you’ll stop writing. (Share that?) Writer need to stay present so that success can be a possibility, but success can’t be the motivator.

You know you’re truly a writer when it’s simply something you can not NOT do. As Stephen Pressfield writes in the War of Art, “We must do our work for its own sake, not for fortune or attention or applause.”

Catalytic Moment

For the 1,365th time, I went into a coffee shop to write. I wrote a list called 21 Secrets for your 20s, a compilation of ideas and articles I’d been crafting over those seven years. I posted this article without thinking too much about it.

Four days later, it was read so many times it crashed my website. Twice.

“21 Secrets for your 20s”has now been read by more people than live in Wyoming and Barbados combined. The article was the tipping point that led to my debut book 101 Secrets for your Twenties, releasing this July 1st.

Every no is leading you towards a bigger yes.

Every time you fail, you’re one step closer to a more profound way to be successful.

Yes, it’s a shame that the publishing business can be more about the number of followers you have than the story you’re trying to share, but that doesn’t mean you have to wait for anyone’s approval to write it.

The 101 Secrets for your Twenties Writing Contest

101-Secrets-for-your-Twenties-Writing-ContestFor your writing practice today, you have the opportunity to send your writing straight to my publisher’s desk (no agents, proposals, or 10,000 Twitter followers required).

Here’s the prompt: What is your #1 Secret to rock life in your 20s? If a struggling twenty-something was sitting across from you at a coffee table, what one piece of advice would you give them? Even if you’re a twentysomething yourself what’s one thing  helping you through? It can be funny, engaging, sarcastic, serious, light-hearted and anywhere between 50-500 words. Simple as that.

Moody Collective has agreed to read every single one of your submissions. The best entries will go into my expanded 101 Secrets for your Twenties ebook, and your article and bio will be featured on AllGroanUp.com.

See the full 101 Secrets for your Twenties Writing Contest details here.

I can’t wait for you to tell the world your secret.

About Joe Bunting

Joe Bunting is a writer and entrepreneur. He is the author of the #1 Amazon Bestseller Let's Write a Short Story! and the co-founder of Story Cartel. You can follow him on Twitter (@joebunting).

  • Elise White

    I love this! I’ve been working on a site about my own experiences as a lost 20 something and what I’ve been trying to do to navigate through my 20s. It’s called “A Decade of Wanderers” and it’s in its infancy but All Groan Up has really inspired me to keep at it. Here’s a link if anyone wants to check it out http://adecadeofwanderers.wordpress.com

  • James Hall

    Dare to dream. Dreams reflect more about us than anything else because they show where we want to be and what we would like to be doing. For me, I went to college for four years, married, had two kids, and, now, I’m a computer programmer. My dream is to make a living from home.

    Ask yourself questions. Why is this dream important to you? For me, I wish I had more time to spend with my family, at home, and a greater sense of independence from the job market. I want to be working on my own projects and dreams for fun, not for someone else’s profit. How much are you willing to give up to get there? I would give up time with my family in the short-run for more time in the long-run. I would be willing to work more hours and with more challenging deadlines.

    Make a plan. The only difference between those that achieve and those that dream is a goal. Achievers define the steps to get there and they don’t give up. It is the Descartes Method, to break down a big problem into smaller steps.

    • Margaret Terry

      dare to dream… yes!

      • Winnie

        Dream, and plan accordingly.

  • Stéphanie Noël

    We tend to forget why we write; that’s when it seems daunting. It doesn’t work anymore because we’re not writing for ourselves, we’re trying to please someone. Great article. I will add your contest to my contest round up.

    • James Hall

      Absolutely correct.

      I wrote 16000 words of a novel in about 2 or 3 weeks. It was an answer to the question, “can I do it?” Then, I got sidetracked by why to do it. I’ve not written anything on in 6 months.

      Do it for the challenge and do it for the fun.

      If you want to worry about if it is good enough for someone else to read or good enough to publish, save it until you’ve written the darn thing.

    • Yep. Exactly. Thanks Stephanie. Pumped you’ll include the contest in your round-up. Honored.

      • Stéphanie Noël

        My pleasure. Good opportunities needs to be shared. 🙂

  • R.w. Foster

    I’d ask them, “What do you want to do? Does it hurt anyone?” If the answer is, “No,” my response would be, “Do it. Don’t wait for permission, or approval, or validation. Most likely, they will never come. Do it for you. You’d be surprised how many people will identify with your personal story.”

  • Anthony Moore

    Paul, excellent post. So inspiring, so well-written. So stoked to be a part of your project, man!

  • NewbieWriter

    Love it! Ok this may be the dumbest question ever. But are we to post our suggestions here in the comments or e-mail them to the address listed at the “Writing Contest Details” site?

    At first I thought they were going to pull them from here but I don’t think that’s correct.

    • Sorry for the late reply! Yes please submit directly to Moody if you’ve not done so already. Thanks.

      Submission Deadline: Submit your top twentysomething secret directly to Moody Collective at moodycollective@gmail.com by June 24th, 2013 for consideration in this contest.

  • The Striped Sweater

    I’m not sure I have advice for people in their 20’s. My 20’s were spent consumed with medical school. I barely remember them. Maybe I’m living them now. . .

    • Carlita’s Way

      @Thestripedsweater, You’re so smart. You went into STEM (Science, Tech, Engineering, Mathmatics) instead of the arts. Clever for you. Of course I wish I had done that. I worked very, very hard & did everything I was ‘supposed’ to do in writing to make myself better. And now, over 10 years later, I realize the harder I work & follow directions like those suggested on this blog (which do sound good, BTW), the worse I do. All the hard work in writing yields the same result as doing nothing but sleeping with your feet up somewhere. It took me a long time to ‘get’ that, but I do now.

      And BTW, I don’t think self published John Locke was ‘evil & wicked’ for buying book reviews. At least he’s successful now. A former critique partner of mine has recently been accused of getting fake reviews & I stopped communicating with her (for that & other professional reasons). Her book is climbing up the charts. Maybe being ‘evil & wicked’ is where it’s at. I’m ready to find out. And be successful.

  • S.D. Skye

    Very inspirational and uplifting–and true! And trust me when I say, the challenges don’t stop when a publisher says yes. At the end of the day, you’re right. True writers are compelled write and share their gifts with the world without regard to the expected outcome.

    • Thanks S.D. Yep a publishing deal doesn’t change a thing. Probably just complicates things more. Thanks for the great words!

      • Carmel Coffee


  • Dance. Shimmy your shoulders, wiggle your fingers, and pull up your knees. Dance under the moon, over the earth, inside, outside, wherever you are. Your ideas, your sensations; dance every one. Lift your arms to the air, step lightly, step hard. Pirouette for the crowds, demi plie for yourself. Dance with cats and dogs and strangers and friends; and when you think you have finished, start dancing again.

    • I wrote this and tried to delete it when I realized I was suppose to submit to the email adress instead. Then it came back up as guest? Not sure what that’s about… no way to delete a post? Sorry for any confusion.

      • Thanks Karen! Great words. Yes you need to submit directly to Moody to be entered into contest. Still a few days left. Thanks!

        Submission Deadline: Submit your top twentysomething secret directly to Moody Collective at moodycollective@gmail.com by June 24th, 2013 for consideration in this contest.

    • Margaret Terry

      love this, Karen!

  • Margaret Terry

    Thanks for sharing yourstory, Paul. The road to publication is a crazy ride, that’s for sure. I sold my memoir to a big publishing house in 2007 with a publishing date of Aug. 2009. We had a cover selected, were at the copy edit stage and it was featured in the summer catalogue. But, fall 2008, the economy tanked, they cut staff and first time authors and cancelled my contract. Big ouch. I licked my wounds for a while, kept writing and changed to fiction. I had stories in me fighting each other to get out. Then in 2010, a friend was diagnosed with terminal cancer who asked me to send her encouraging words. I sent her 102 letters in 6 months that went viral to 7 countries(that I know of) via email. The letters were about my wild and messy life, a memoir basically, now a book called Dear Deb published by Thomas Nelson. I never planned on the letters being a book, never thought about it those six months I wrote to her…like I said, it’s a crazy ride!

    Here’s my secret for the twenty somethings:

    Remember Starbucks. Remember how it made you feel like a tourist in a foreign land. They hired you as a part time barista and you were thrilled to get the job even though you had no idea what a barista did. You were a tea drinking freshman and thought you’d graduate from college before you learned the language of coffee. We laughed so hard when your bother said he thought a frappuccino was an Italian rapper. Remember that nervous, uncertain feeling of being alone because you will feel it again. You will feel like a foreigner when you get your first job after graduation. And the second, and the third. But like coffee, you will learn the language and before you know it, you will become fluent and feel like you belong…

    • Thanks for sharing your story, Margaret, amazing the places life comes from. Love the Starbucks analogy and feeling like a tourist in a foreign land! Yup, that’s the twenties as I remember them.

      • Margaret Terry

        thanks, Karen!

        • Thanks Margaret! Great metaphor. I hope you submitted it to Moody for the contest. Here’s the submission details:

          Submit your top twentysomething secret directly to Moody Collective at moodycollective@gmail.com by June 24th, 2013 for consideration in this contest.

          • Margaret Terry

            oops, forgot about the contest! Will send this week-end, thx, Paul.

  • George McNeese

    Thank you for the post, Paul. If a twenty-something sat across from me, this is what I would say. One, set aside a time to write and stick with it. Whether it’s early in the morning, your lunch break, whenever. It’s vital to have that mindset of setting aside that time to write, where nothing else matters. Two, write about anything and everything. I try to put this tip into practice, even if I am not able to post comments on the blogs. It gets me thinking and brainstorming. Three, always be prepared. A cliche, yes, but true. I always carry a couple of pens and a memo book to jot down notes and ideas. And four, be flexible. Be flexible in what you write and read. I am trying to put this into practice in my journey as a writer.

    • Thanks George! Great words of wisdom. I hope you submitted the to Moody to be considered for the contest. Still have a few days. Here’s the details:

      Submission Deadline: Submit your top twentysomething secret directly to Moody Collective at moodycollective@gmail.com by June 24th, 2013 for consideration in this contest.

  • plumjoppa

    Stove pipe creaking, warming up. Fire growing, glowing orange.
    Shoulder aching, carrying wood. Fingers flying, shopping online.
    Starbucks cooling, too cold to drink. Wishing wishing it was hot.
    Son playing, gaming in minecraft world. Nexus clicking, exploding sounds.
    Distant humming, spinning laundry. Labrador licking, sighing sleeping.
    Bottom sinking, forming into couch. Cheeks flushing, tingling, finally warm.

  • Jerry Lee

    Personally I cannot really accept what Stephen Pressfield said. While it might hold the truth to some degree, I believe most people (would) still crave for the existance of readers.

    If a writer who kept writing for decades with not even single reader but only ads bot replying, the person would definitely be frustrated. It’s really easy to blame failure on some other people “not working hard enough,” seems to be the ethics of modern society from what I’ve seen.

    While I love tragedy story like dog of flanders, today’s belief would simply put the protagonist Nello as “not working hard enough” category. He should find a job to survive and keep drawing. Maybe one day he’ll become successful and accepted. What if that “one day” never happens (while alive)? That is the dilemma.

    Talent with hard work definitely has an advantage over hard work with no talents. Hard work without talent is a shame but talent without hard work is a tragedy? I always felt the opposite, which describes the economy in today’s global labor markets.