What does it take to write a book? What obstacles will you face along the way? And if you’re already writing a book, are the challenges you’re facing normal?
Writing a book can be a fulfilling and personally rewarding process, but I think it’s also important to be honest about the challenges you will face. That way, you can prepare ways to overcome those obstacles rather than allowing them to overcome you.
The 10 Greatest Obstacles to Writing a Book (And How to Overcome Them)
This week, forty-five writers in our community finished writing their books in the 100 Day Book program. To them, I want to say, CONGRATULATIONS! Our mission at The Write Practice is to help writers finish their books and accomplish their writing goals, and it’s so exciting when we see writers doing just that.
As they finished their books, I asked these writers what the most challenging part of writing a book was. In this post, I’ll share their responses with you as well as the solutions to those challenges, so if when you encounter these challenges, too, you will be equipped to overcome them and keep writing.
Ready? Here are the ten greatest obstacles we’ve found writers face as they write their books:
One of the most difficult parts of writing a book comes before you put a single word on the page. Every writer I’ve ever met has faced fear and self-doubt. Here’s how Patricia Bumpass puts it:
I never thought I was a good enough writer to write a book. I always thought, “Who would want to read anything I wrote?” Honestly, I let fear stop me dead in my tracks for a long time.
Linda Meyns agrees. For Linda—a lawyer, artist, and writer (in that order)—getting started was frightening — and the prospect of sharing what she’d written was even more so.
The most challenging part was getting over my self-cringe in the beginning. I was terrified. I was embarrassed at how much I wanted to tell my story, and afraid that what I found momentous and profound would seem trivial and whingey to other people. I was also very afraid of people being kind to me for the sake of having to give feedback, you know that tepid, “oh good effort, keep trying” kind of vibe.
The good news? Once Linda started writing, she discovered her fears were unfounded. She had a story to tell and she had what it takes to tell it.
But this didn’t happen. I found the feedback genuine and supportive. It helped that people seemed to like my story, I would have found it difficult if no one had got it.
Be brave (and find your team).
It’s normal to feel fear as you start writing, and even more so to be nervous about sharing your writing.
But having a team is one of the best things you can do to ensure you finish your book. Most people think they can write their books all on their own, without support and encouragement and accountability. And that’s why most people fail.
When you have the right team, they will encourage you when you feel self-doubt, they’ll support you when you’re stuck, and they’ll tell you to keep writing when you feel like quitting.
If you don’t have a team yet, you need one.
2. Finding Time to Write
Writing an entire book doesn’t happen in a day. It takes dedicated time over the course of several weeks or even months.
Of course, regular life won’t conveniently pause for you to give you the time you need. J. H. O’Rourke (jenhorganorourke.com), a computer geek from Nova Scotia, realized she’d have to strategize to find the time she needed:
Finding the time to write was a challenge some days. Life tended to get in the way. Setting daily word count goals and deciding in advance when I’d be able to write was really helpful. Having a book plan in place at the beginning was key to staying on track during days that I experienced writers’ block or lack of motivation.
It might seem impossible to write a book when you have multiple major responsibilities weighing on you. But freelance writer Patricia Bumpass (patriciabumpass.com) decided her dream of writing a book was worth weaving into her busy schedule.
I have an adult son with Autism, and elderly parents I care for, plus a full-time job. I had to find creative ways to get the writing done (at lunch, while waiting for my Dad while running errands, late at night, whenever I had a few minutes to spare). There were times when I had to simply let them know that I had to work on my book.
Think you don’t have time to write a book? The truth is, no one does. But if you want to write a book badly enough, you can find and make the time you need to get your story on the page.
If you want to write a book, choose to make writing a priority.
Look through your schedule and plan exactly when and where you’ll work in your writing time. Maybe it’s 5 am at the kitchen table, five days a week. Maybe it’s an hour at lunch, or after the kids go to bed. Maybe you’ll need to sacrifice something to carve out time, like watching TV in the evenings.
Set your intention for your writing time. Then, stick to it.
Need more time? Look for gaps of a few minutes throughout your day: waiting in line at the grocery store or the doctor’s office or the school pickup line. Pull out a notepad or your phone and jot down notes for what you’ll write next when you’re able to sit down with your story.
Yes, you’re busy and you have no time to write a book. But you also have more time than you think. For as long as it takes to write your book, choose to make writing a priority and cram it in wherever it will fit.
3. Meeting Deadlines
Writing a book is an enormous undertaking. To break that into manageable tasks, these writers were given weekly deadlines. That didn’t mean those deadlines were easy to meet, though. Here’s what Bonnie Matherson, author of the book Ahead of the Curve, has to say about the experience of writing to a deadline:
The most challenging part was getting my 6,500 words written before the “last minute” on Fridays. But I did it and met every deadline. This has given me great confidence.
Rosemarie Smith (rbsmithauthor.com), who finished her first book at the age of 79, realized quickly that if she wanted to meet her goal, she’d have to fight for it.
Life goes on regardless of our goals. It was at times difficult to stay on track. Fortunately I’m competitive and respond well to the constant support from your admin members behind the scene.
The first step to meeting your deadlines is to set deadlines. I recommend setting a weekly deadline, including the number of words you’re required to write each week and the day and time by which you’ll need to write them.
But don’t rely on your own willpower alone to ensure you meet them. Your willpower may be strong when you begin, but somewhere towards the middle, you’ll hit a slump, and those deadlines will become harder and harder to meet.
To ensure you’re successful week after week, find someone who will hold you accountable to meeting your deadlines.
Remember that team we talked about, the team that will help you overcome your fear? They’ll also give you the tough love you need to fulfill your word count goal and meet your deadline every week.
As Rosemarie discovered, it would have been all too easy to miss a deadline, or two, or three when life got in the way. But with support, she was able to keep writing and finish her book.
The book in your imagination is wonderful. Brilliant! Genius! Inspired! If critics could only read it right now, you’d be on the top of the NYT Bestseller list, no question.
And yet, when you sit down to write, the words don’t come out like you imagined. They’re messy, unpolished, nowhere near that vision of the instant bestseller you’re dreaming of.
Pat Macy, a retired research scientist writing epic fantasy, realized quickly that if he tried to write a perfect book on the first try, he’d never finish anything. It took time, but he managed to silence the voice of perfectionism and allow himself to just write, even when the words were a mess.
[The greatest challenge was] defeating the inner critic, or at least putting the critic’s call on hold. The first couple of weeks were tough. I think I have rewritten the first chapter four times now. But by week three I tamed that monster and started getting on with the book.
Joan Cory (beargrasspatientpartners.com), a “recovering” biomedical scientist, and Varuni Sinha (fob-ish.com), who lives in her new home of New York City, had to fight the urge to edit as they went. For Joan, this desire stemmed from the nonfiction she was used to writing in the past.
The most challenging part has been writing the story without worrying in this first draft about the perfect flow of events — and perfection in general. I enjoy editing but, in the past, allowed it to get in the way of focus on story. I come from a scientific background not a literary one. Imagining and crafting a story is a very different exercise than writing terse journal articles, formulaic patent applications, and carefully worded company contracts.
Varuni wanted to edit as a reward for her success in meeting her word count goals. She realized quickly, though, that she needed to stay focused on her next deadline rather than spending time revising before she’d finished writing.
The most challenging part of my journey has been trying to stay consistent with my efforts and not over-congratulate myself on meeting my target. I had to stop myself from getting into the process of editing even before I had words on paper.
Linda Barrows, the soon-to-be-best-selling author of the Flirting With Stupid series, didn’t feel an urge to edit as she went, but she did struggle to allow herself to write sentences that weren’t perfect from the start — especially when she wasn’t sure what to write at all.
The most challenging part has been writing when I didn’t know what I was going to write about. I would spend a few minutes brainstorming on those days and pick something and just start writing. It’s been freeing not worrying about how good it is and not being afraid to write crap.
Perfectionism is tempting because it promises you that if you just work hard enough, polish each word before you type it, when you’re done your book will be a work of genius. But the truth is, all first drafts are messy, and that’s how they’re meant to be.
The first step to overcoming perfectionism is this: Give yourself permission to write poorly.
Give yourself permission before you start to write. Give yourself permission again when you’re excited, when the writing is flowing and every word seems perfect. Give yourself permission again when you’re discouraged, when it seems like every word is a mess and there’s no hope for your story.
Remember, first drafts are meant to be messy. If your first draft is flawed, you’re doing it right.
If your inner critic won’t be quiet, hide your writing from yourself. Change your type font to white, or make it too small to read, so there’s nothing to criticize.
Above all else, meet your deadlines. There’s no time for perfection when you have 3,000 words due in six hours.
5. Finding Writing Software
At the most basic level, the only tools you need to write are a pencil and paper. But if you want to keep track of an entire manuscript, it’s helpful to take advantage of technology.
As Ramnem found, though, this wasn’t always easy. In fact, sometimes the tools got in the way of creativity:
The most challenging part was being creative while using my sub-par abilities at the mechanical aspects — like typing!
The best book writing tool is the one that works for you. If typing is holding back your writing, try dictating your story with a tool like Dragon Dictate.
My favorite book writing software is Scrivener. It’s made for writers by writers, and it gives you the flexibility to break up your book into chapters and scenes so you can work with just a small piece at a time and easily reorganize anything.
Looking for more software options? Check out all our book writing software recommendations here.
It’s all well and good to have a deadline. But deadlines are only effective when you do the work to meet them. And as Patricia Bumpass found, that gets more difficult the deeper into your book you get.
During this whole process, about mid-way through actually, I remember sitting down at my computer thinking that I just can’t do this anymore. But I committed to the process (the 100 days) and was determined to see it through to the end.
Ken Carriere, who works for a news organization in Canada, likened the experience to a gym membership:
[The most challenging part was] pushing through the days when I lacked motivation but had to force myself [to write], no matter how tired I was. It requires the identical self-discipline, really, as to going to the gym.
You may have started writing your book because you had a brilliant idea, you felt deeply inspired, or you loved the act of writing and telling stories. While all those things are wonderful, they alone won’t carry your story to the end.
You will experience slumps in the writing process. When they come, don’t use them as an excuse to quit writing.
Rather than waiting for inspiration to return, write your way back to it.
Maybe you need to change up something in your writing process. Try writing in a different place, or at a different time, or by pen or dictation rather than typing it all up.
Maybe you need to revisit your plan, the idea that got you started, and reimagine the story.
Whatever you do, don’t rely on your inspiration alone, or even your own self-discipline. Reach out to your team, let them know that you’re struggling, and ask for support.
Then, keep writing until you meet your writing deadline.
7. Family Emergencies and Illness
One of the most difficult challenges writers face when writing a book is navigating the unexpected life events, family emergencies, and illnesses that are bound to happen over the course of a few months. Deadlines, goals, and self-discipline are vital, but sometimes family has to take priority.
Philidelphian author Frankie Delson (facebook.com/FDelson) realized quickly that she’d need to adjust her expectations for herself and her writing, or she’d get discouraged and quit before she ever got going.
I have chronic migraines, and have days, sometimes several in a row, when I can’t write. Actually, when I can’t get off the couch. At first, I felt like I was failing if I missed the Friday deadline, but I came to realize that if I was going to be a writer I had to make peace with my limitations, accept that there were days that I had to view the deadline as a goal, not a contract, and post my submission a day or two late.
Award-winning photographer, artist, and now author Glenda Thompson’s writing was nearly derailed when she received a major diagnosis halfway through her book.
In the middle of the course, I was diagnosed with heart disease. As a matter of fact, I am having a heart procedure done this month, but through it all, y’all’s support and encouragement has kept me writing.
J. H. O’Rourke faced a parent’s worst nightmare early on in her book writing process. In the midst of her grief, she was somehow able to persevere and find inspiration:
Near the beginning of the 100 days, I lost my youngest son. He had been very supportive of my writing. So, when I encountered days when I simply didn’t feel like writing, I wrote anyway. For him. He was my inspiration.
If you’ve ever experienced tragedy, a family emergency, or health problems like these, then you know how it can make writing a book feel inconsequential. What’s the point of writing a book when you’re in pain all the time? Or grieving the loss of a loved one?
How do you keep going? SHOULD you keep going?
If you’re experiencing something like this, first let me just say, I’m so sorry. Second, it’s okay if you need to take a break from writing for a while. But before you step back, here are a few things to do first:
Let your writing community in. Share what happened with your writing community. They are there to support you, not just with your writing but your life, too. You might find that they have gone through similar things and can help encourage you through your journey.
Use the pain or grief to fuel your writing. Some of the greatest writers in history have experienced huge amounts of trauma and suffering. The great Russian author Dostoyevsky was exiled to Siberia where he faced near-starvation. Ernest Hemingway lost his father at a young age to suicide. Instead of letting pain and tragedy impair their writing, they were fueled by it.
8. Reliving Personal Trauma
If you’re writing memoir or basing your stories on your personal experiences, you face unique challenges. Varuni Sinha found writing her memoir cathartic, but also painful:
As an immigrant woman living and working in US, I have had some good experiences and some bad. I decided to write this book to talk about my story and in the process overcome the pain I have endured in my journey. While writing is a cathartic process that helps to heal, writing about something that you are going through while it’s still happening can be difficult. So, there were moments when I woke up in the morning and cried for hours, because the words I had put on paper made me more aware of the difficult road ahead of me.
When you write about trauma, it can feel like you’re reliving that terrible experience, and while you might be tempted to avoid that, it can actually be one of the best ways to heal.
In one study, researchers found that people who wrote about their traumatic experience for as little as fifteen minutes had “significantly better physical and psychological outcomes.”
In fact, many therapists prescribe writing as a way to heal from trauma.
Don’t flee from your feelings. Write into them.
And if you’re writing about trauma, don’t feel like you have to share it with anyone, at least not right away. They are your experiences and your words. It’s up to you what you want to do with them.
9. Keeping the Plot Moving
What happens next? That’s a question you’ll find yourself asking over and over . . . and over . . . and over as you write your book. Jesseca Bond (jessecabond.com), who was inspired to write by her children, discovered her story as she wrote, a process that came with its advantages and challenge:
The most challenging part for me was moving from piece to piece for my plot. I didn’t know what this book was going to be when I started. I’m not a planner. I had to figure out a process that kept the characters moving and things happening.
Pat Macy was surprised when his book took a turn he wasn’t expecting:
The next big challenge was the appearance of two guest characters that showed up on the page and then moved into the book even though they were not in the outline. I failed that challenge — one died, but the other is in the final scene. They did force some changes in the original plan, but helped the story once incorporated into the plan.
And for Jaimee Pifer (jaimeepifer.com), the greatest challenge was finding enough story to fill her word count goal.
The most challenging part was reaching my word count. After completing my first draft I realized I was halfway there and didn’t reach my 80,000 word count goal.
Before the 100 Day Book program begins, we challenge every writer to create a book plan — yes, even the pantsers.
Your book plan can be as detailed or as sparse as you like. You can write extensive chapter summaries, or just a few sentences of synopsis. The important thing is to think through your entire book before you start writing, so you have an idea of what your story will be.
Of course, as Pat discovered, sometimes you have to be willing to throw out your plan. Your first draft is a process of discovery, and it’s perfectly normal for your story to change and evolve as you write it.
Even so, taking time to think through your story will give you a boost when you find yourself in a slump. And when you get stuck, you’ll be able to revisit those early ideas, develop a new plan, and keep writing.
The final challenge in writing a book? Actually finishing. Lori Hoffman, who has worked as a designer, art director, photographer, jewelry designer, real estate agent, and now author, thought she knew where her book was going, but the final chapters threw her for a loop.
For the bulk of my book plan, I was already clear on how I was going to roll the story out. I had done a fair amount of pre-planning before I began the 100 Day Program, so that part was easier for me than it might have been otherwise. But, where I got stuck was the ending. It took me awhile to figure out how and where to wrap up my story and it’s an area that still needs work.
O’ree Williams, a “passionate novelist trapped in the body of a working stiff,” realized she’d need a major final push to reach the end of her story.
The most challenging part for me has been wrapping up the project. I am down to the last week and still have more to go before I can type that satisfying “THE END.”
If you’ve come this far, that’s amazing! With one final push, you’ll make it to the end.
What do you need for that push? Here are a few strategies:
Figure out how much you have left to write. Are you just a couple scenes away from the end? Or do you have several chapters to go? Be honest with yourself about how much story is left in your book.
Reset your intention. Before you got started, you decided when and where you’d write. Revisit your intention and recommit to that plan.
Ditch perfectionism and be willing to experiment. Your ending doesn’t have to be perfect. It just needs to be on the page. Give yourself permission to write a messy, weird, imperfect ending. It’s okay! You’ll fix it later.
Write faster. Struggling to make it to the end of your book? Challenge yourself to write faster. There’s no time for perfection when you’re writing in sprints.
You Have What it Takes
Writing a book is a huge challenge. If you’re wondering if you have what it takes, first know that you’re not alone.
A few months ago, forty-five writers started their books and most of them had this same question. Worse, it didn’t go away as they wrote.
And yet, they finished their books. And so can you.
Maybe it’s time to get started.
Write Your Book With Us
If you’re thinking of writing a book, or if you’ve already started and are facing obstacles like these, I’d love to step into your corner and support you. We built the 100 Day Book program to help writers overcome all the obstacles that stop you from writing a book so you can finally finish.
In the 100 Day Book program, you’ll be surrounded by a team who will support you and encourage you throughout the writing process. You’ll have weekly deadlines, and accountability to meet them, so you won’t be relying on your willpower alone.
We’ll guide you through the book planning process so you’re set up well to write your book. You’ll get feedback along the way so you can see what’s working and what’s not.
And whenever you face challenges, whether they’re the ones listed above or something new, we’ll troubleshoot with you and help give your writing a boost.
The 100 Day Book program is open for a limited time, and I’d love to see you inside.
Will you write your book with us?
What challenges have you faced when writing a book? How did you overcome them? Let us know in the comments.
Before you can write a book, you need a plan. Take fifteen minutes to write out your book idea in one to two sentences.
When you’re done, share your idea in the comments. Be sure to leave feedback for at least three other writers, too. What ideas make you want to read more?
Alice Sudlow has a keen eye for comma splices, misplaced hyphens, and well-turned sentences, which she puts to good use as the content editor of The Write Practice and Short Fiction Break literary magazine. She loves to help writers hone their craft and take their writing from good to excellent.