There are a lot of things that stop us from writing. Fear of failure, discouragement, and exhaustion are my big three. Sometimes, what we need to push through those barriers is a reminder of who we are and why we do what we do. We need someone to come alongside us and speak encouraging words for writers.
We need to be told again the stories that have led us to the place we are now.
3 Encouraging Reminders for Writers
On the wall of my office, I have a collage of quotes and pictures that have inspired me. Each quote represents a story from my past. I read over them whenever I need a boost of encouragement (which is at least once a day).
These encouraging words for writers are a wonderful source of strength for me. Many of the quotes on the wall are from friends and family who had the right words for me at the exact right time.
Here are three I lean on regularly to get me through rough patches.
1. “Work the process.”
My mentor said this to me at a moment when I was completely lost.
Things at work were falling apart. Several projects had started to break down at the same time, another staff member had verbally attacked me in a staff meeting, and I was being accused of something I didn’t do. On top of that, the organization I worked for was in financial trouble and I wasn’t sure we were going to turn things around.
I called my mentor to ask for help because I had no idea what to do next. We sat in an empty hallway in the basement of the building. It was late and everyone had gone home. Leaning against the painted cinderblock wall, I explained to him in detail everything that was going wrong and all the extravagant plans and drastic measures I had designed in my head that would turn things around.
After hearing me out, he said, “Work the process.” I asked him to explain.
“Don’t do anything extravagant. Don’t take drastic action. There are processes in place. Work the process.”
Often as a writer, I work myself into a dark place. I begin to feel like my writing is worthless. I grow discouraged and lose focus. I find a thousand things to do instead of writing the next chapter.
When I get in that head space, I remind myself to “work the process.”
There is a process to my writing. I write after my family has gone to sleep. I sit at my kitchen table with my laptop, a drink, and a notepad, I skim the last chapter I wrote, I look at my outline, and then I write the next chapter.
When life is hard and I don’t feel like writing, the process keeps me focused and moving in the right direction.
It’s not extravagant. It’s not drastic. It is mundane and routine; and when things get hard, that’s exactly what we need.
2. “No one is going to die on the table.”
I wasn’t prepared for the pre-med course load I took on my sophomore year of college.
My freshman year, I’d been a music major. Since the classes were mostly about performing, I’d been able to wing it with a minimal amount of preparation. Instead of working hard in the practice rooms each day, I learned to play racquetball and became a regular on the basketball court.
Predictably, my disdain for practice made it clear to me and my teachers that I wasn’t going to cut it as a musician, so I decided to pursue one of my other interests, science. While I loved the classes, I was not prepared for the amount of studying that was required.
By the time I got to my midterms, I was way behind in multiple classes.
The night before three tests, a group of friends who were in class with me came over to study. We blew through our biology and chemistry notes in our first three hours together and I felt good about my prospects in the morning.
A little before midnight, we began studying for physics. I hated physics. Sitting at my small round kitchen table, my friends rattled off formulas, made up problems for one another, and answered practice questions with ease. I, on the other hand, was completely lost.
After an hour and a half of trying to “get it,” I excused myself from the study session, claiming I needed to get something from my bedroom. Hiding in my closet so no one could hear me, I began to cry. I called my dad and explained through tears what was happening. I was sure I was going to fail the test and it was too late for me to do anything about it.
After calming me down, he said several things to me that night that have stayed with me. One of which was, “Listen, if you fail tomorrow, no one is going to die on the table.”
Dad was a surgeon who primarily saw high-risk patients. When someone got to him, it was life-or-death. If he messed up or came to work unprepared, someone might literally die on the table.
The words he gave me that night were a fantastic reality check that I’ve used again and again. They’ve helped me take risks and push through fear. When my fear of failure begins to slow me down, I remember sitting in my closet and getting a good dose of perspective from my dad.
Through the years, fear has stayed with me. It is the greatest enemy of writing. Many nights I will sit down to write a chapter and hear fear in my ear whispering, “You’ve got nothing. You’re not a real writer. Stop kidding yourself. You’re going to fail.”
When that voice comes around, I remind myself of the stakes. If I write a terrible chapter, no one is going to die on the table. I’ll just erase it and try again tomorrow.
Having a refreshed perspective helps me move through fear and write.
3. “The tension is good.”
It was after midnight. My friend and I were alone on the second floor of a bar. On the table in front of us were stacks of meeting notes and ideas we’d sketched out together over the years. We were drinking coffee, talking about a non-profit we were both serving, and dreaming up ways to solve all the organization’s problems.
There were some amazing things happening in the organization. We were seeing real breakthroughs in the community we served and people were being helped.
At the same time, we could feel the organization hadn’t reached its full potential. We knew what it could be, but we weren’t sure how to get it there.
We thought that maybe, if we tweaked this one process, or increased our effort in this one area, or redirected resources to this other direction that we would see a breakthrough.
Caught in the tension between the good we were doing and the good we wanted to do, I began to complain. I whined about wanting the future to arrive already, and how I didn’t want to have to wait for changes to take hold.
After I finished another pointless rant, I remember my friend smiling at me and saying, “Don’t rush it. The tension is good.”
He was right. If we had made the changes right away that I wanted to make, we would have failed. Things that looked like a good idea at that moment were actually terrible ideas. Moving slow and making careful and strategic changes helped us see different paths and solutions that weren’t immediately apparent.
As a writer, I often find myself with a problem I can’t fix easily. For me, it usually has to do with plot. I’ll work myself into a hole in my story that I can’t get out of.
Weighed down by exhaustion, my gut tells me to just ignore it, hope readers won’t notice, and rush to the end. I tell myself, “Just publish it and move to the next one.”
Unfortunately, I’ve learned the hard way that readers always notice.
The phrase “the tension is good” has served over and over again to remind me that some problems need to sit. They can’t be solved right away. Instead, they need to be thought through because marinating in the tension will produce a better result.
Encouragement for the Journey
Those are three of the memories that bring me inspiration and encouragement. When I’m stumped in my writing, overwhelmed, afraid, or all three at once, these encouraging words for writers remind me that I will make my way through.
No, my writing isn’t perfect. But the process works. No one is going to die on the table. And the tension is good.
When you hit a rough patch, what encouraging words for writers do you lean on? Let us know in the comments.
Today, you have two practice options. Write about a time when someone told you something that continues to help shape your practice. Or, write a scene in which a mentor gives your character a pep talk. What obstacle do they face? And what does their mentor say to help them overcome them?