Ten years ago, I never would have believed I would be able to finish writing a book.
I always wanted to be a writer, but writing was so difficult for me. In middle school, I struggled with every writing assignment. In high school, my friends always got better grades on their essays than I did.
And yet, here I am, teaching people how to be better writers. How ironic.
I had such a hard time writing that I majored in it in college. I felt that if four more years of school couldn’t help me, nothing could.
Even college writing classes didn’t work because after I graduated, I still continued to struggle to write even basic pieces.
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The Exact Reason for My Writing Struggles
Here was the problem: I would spend most of my writing time not writing.
I would stare at the page, lost in thought, trying to come up with perfect sentences before I wrote them down. And if I couldn’t come up with those perfect sentences in my head, I would skip off to check my email or scroll through Facebook.
This is still true, by the way. I often still struggle to write even a few hundred words a day. It takes me far too long to write anything. I sometimes make it my goal to simply write 100 words per hour. That means to finish a 1,000 word article, like this one for example, might take me as long as ten hours.
Perfectionistic to the extreme, I stare at the drafts of my books for hours sometimes, wondering, How am I supposed to write this? Why isn’t this working? When will I ever figure this out?
Here's What I've Learned After Writing 7 Books
Yesterday, I was dealing with this same writing struggle, as so often happens, when I realized this:
Thinking is not going to get me out of this mess. Only writing is going to get me out of this mess.
If I write, I can fix it later. But if I don’t write it down right now, I’ll have to come back tomorrow and it will still be a mess.
And so that’s what I did. I wrote it down.
And you know what, it turned out okay. Pretty good, even.
Three Quick Steps to Finish Your Book, Chapter, Story, or Article
How do you actually do this, stop struggling and finish your writing projects? Here are the three quick-and-easy steps I've developed over many years of trying to write:
1. Write a Skeleton Outline of Your Chapter, Story, or Article
Outlining isn't for everyone, but for me, a bare bones outline of the chapter's inciting incident, progressive complication, crisis, climax, and resolution acts as a kind of map for my writing process (or for nonfiction, the chapter's problem, solution story, solution, and conclusion). I find that if I have a map of my chapter, I don't get stuck as often.
Also, when I'm writing a book, I never try to write it all at once. I just take it one, small chapter at a time. Writing one chapter is hard enough. Don't overwhelm yourself by taking on a whole book at once.
2. Write Your Best Bad Version of Your Chapter
This is the hard part because I usually want to write a perfect chapter, not a bad one. Who wouldn't, right?
But writing is iterative. You don't write a great book all at once. You write a bad draft, then rewrite until it's a mediocre draft, then rewrite until it's good, and finally polish until it's great.
Take the pressure off yourself to write a perfect chapter. Instead, just get writing.
3. Play With It Until It Gets Better
After I write my best bad version (reminding myself often to not worry that it's not perfect and just write it), I read through it again.
Usually I'll refer back to my outline, seeing if I've hit all the important points. Sometimes, I'll rewrite my outline to match how the writing has unfolded and other times I will rewrite the chapter to better match my outline.
Then, I play with it. I read through and make changes as I go. I read through again making more changes. I give it to friends and family to see how they read it. I make more changes.
I keep messing with it either until it's perfect or until I'm sick of it (but usually the latter).
Good Writers Struggle the Most
A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
I'm still amazed I’ve written seven books sometimes. I think back to those moments when I could have given up and am surprised I didn’t, that I kept struggling. It was luck—and stubbornness—that I ever figured out how to write a book.
But to finish a book, I also had to develop this: a willingness to be wrong, to write badly, to be humbled by my own lack of perfection.
Writing is a humbling activity. You can write a perfect chapter one day and then spend the next day writing the worst paragraph of your life.
If you want to be a writer, though, this is the work. It doesn’t get easier. You just figure out how to deal with it better.
Do you struggle with writing? Let me know if writing struggles resonate with you in the comments section.
Today, practice working through the struggle of your writing. Go back to something you've quit writing, whether an old book or a short story or a blog post or an article.
Then, write one paragraph, using the tips above. How did it go? Were you able to push through the struggle and write the best bad version?
When you're finished, post your paragraph in the comments section for feedback. And if you post, please be sure to give feedback to at least three other writers.