I can remember the moment I fell in love with writing. It was in 2nd grade, and we were supposed to be working on math, but all I wanted to do was finish an imaginary story I had started that was loosely based on the movie Selena. Yep, my first foray into writing was essentially J-Lo fan-fiction, and I’m all right with that, because it showed me that one idea can spark many more. I remember as a little kid experiencing that joyful feeling of catching yourself losing track of time. I now recognize that sensation of getting lost in your passion as pure life gold and I try to mine it whenever possible.
Still, just because you discover what it is you really, really love to do, it doesn’t always mean pursuing your dream is easy. As with many creative endeavors, you have to figure out what sacrifices you’re willing to make, how to balance your art with other aspects of your life, and how to keep going when you experience inevitable disappointments.
Writing, by nature, is a solitary experience. Unless you’re in a writer’s room brainstorming lines for a TV show (dream job!) you’re probably sitting at a desk, in your bed, or at your dining room table, with just your thoughts. And it’s not just the physical act of writing that’s solitary; it’s often also the many experiences and moments of reflection that have to happen in order for good ideas to surface. But no matter what you write about or how often, all writers go through universal experiences and emotions that can be challenging, discouraging, and hard to understand unless you’re putting pen to paper. You’re not alone in feeling those feels, because these are all common things writers go through at one point or another:
Worrying that you’ll run out of good ideas
I don’t know a single writer who doesn’t have this fear, whether it pops up on a day-to-day basis or takes up extended residency for a long phase of writer’s block. When you’re feeling uninspired, try to remember that a good idea can come from the most unexpected places. Looking at the world in a slightly new way can be a catalyst for new thoughts and ideas; getting a breath of fresh air, a change of scenery, or listening to a perspective that’s different from your own can inspire a whole slew of new thoughts. Also, simply not trying to have any brilliant, logically-sound ideas can be liberating. Sometimes it’s when we give ourselves permission to have random, nonsensical thoughts that we actually come up with our most creative, insightful ideas. Take a cue from the Queen of Hearts and try to believe “six impossible things before breakfast,” no judgement allowed!
Not knowing how to turn your passion for writing into a career
Knowing you love to write and actually making time for it are two totally separate things. In the world we live in, many of us will have many different jobs in our lifetime, and finding a way to integrate our passion into what we do to pay the bills can be tough. Let me just say: there is no shame in that game. I recently heard Elizabeth Gilbert (author of Eat, Pray, Love) speak, and she reiterated that there’s nothing wrong with having a 9 to 5 and making time for your creative work when you get home.
That doesn’t mean you can’t be ambitious and work to incorporate writing into your life as much as possible. If your day job doesn’t have anything to do with writing, you can look for small ways to start integrating your craft into your daily tasks. If you work in a restaurant, ask your manager if you can help write copy for some of the promotional materials. If that isn’t possible, commit to at least one hour of writing a day, either first thing in the morning or right when you get home at night. Set up a workstation, free yourself of distractions, and try not to judge your work before it’s finished. Whether you submit things in hopes of being published or do it to express your thoughts and get things off your chest, all writers write because they must. No matter the external outcome, the internal reward is the simple act of making time for something you love.
Taking edits personally
The Catch-22 of writing is that if you’re sensitive enough to be a writer, you’re also setting yourself up for the experience of being critiqued over and over again. I know it sounds cliché, but the best way to get over hurt feelings regarding criticism is to practice, practice, practice. Make a habit out of asking for feedback and listening to comments with an open mind without internalizing them. Constructive criticism should be enlightening and eye-opening; it should allow you to see how your words convey meaning to someone else. We can all benefit from having another set of eyes on our work, and the key is to use the criticism to make us better writers–not to let it stop us from writing in the first place. If you want to publish your work or simply have people you know read it, you need to know how others will interpret it.
When you’re on a roll and can’t be interrupted
Just like writer’s block doesn’t ask you when it can come to visit, an unexpected burst of inspiration can sometimes arrive out of nowhere (yippee!) with no regards for your personal life or need for sleep. This is such a good problem to have, but at times can be inconvenient. Sometimes I feel words flow best for me late at night or early in the morning, when I’m not thinking so much about the tasks ahead of me. Of course, this (and an unabashed Netflix addiction) don’t always leave me bright-eyed and bubbly in the morning, but what am I going to do? Any writer will tell you that when inspiration knocks, you answer. The rush of getting down ideas on paper in a way that excites you is worth it.
Thinking everything you write stinks
As writers, we can be our own worst critics. We go through phases of being unsatisfied with our own work, of thinking things we’ve written in the past are garbage, or that we’re somehow flawed and untalented because we can’t think of anything brilliant that day. The truth is, every writer goes through phases of being unsatisfied with her work, and that’s okay! Sylvia Plath said “The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt,” but doubts are a part of being human. Acknowledge the feeling and let it pass. Instead of letting it drag you down, use it to motivate you to keep trying and experimenting. This video by Ira Glass explains why persevering through those moments can make all the difference.
Explaining to others that you’re pursuing writing full-time
If you’re lucky enough to turn writing into a full-time gig by freelancing or publishing the next amazing novel, you may have those select relatives or acquaintances that don’t understand or think it’s unstable. Well, life’s unstable. That may be harsh, but it’s the truth. And as long as you’re doing what makes you happy, you don’t need to justify it or explain it to anyone. The question “What do you do?” is preferred small talk for most people, and when you’re in-between gigs or starting an unconventional creative path, don’t feel like you need to answer it in a conventional way. “I get to do what I love!” is a great response, as is “I’m trying to figure it out just like everyone else.” Try to find a group of other freelancers or writers who make a living doing what they love. I bet they’ll tell you that it can be both scary and exciting to be their own boss, but they wouldn’t have it any other way.
Constantly finding yourself at paper goods stores justifying why you need a new notebook
If you want to make your writer friend’s heart fill with joy, give her a new notebook. Most of us have to work on computers all day, but there’s nothing better than writing on actual paper, jotting down your words as fast as your brain can think. Few things in life give me as much nerdy pleasure as perusing a paper goods store for a brand new journal, notebook, or set of new pens. And if I find a candle with a Jane Austen quote on it while I’m at it, well then, all the better.
Dealing with rejection
Putting your work out there can be the scariest part of being a writer, but it’s also probably the reason you like doing it: to connect with other people through your words. We’ve all been rejected, and it’s never fun, but don’t let it slow your momentum. Keep submitting your work, reading other people’s work, and surrounding yourself with a positive community of friends or family who support your endeavors. Your writing may not be a perfect fit for every outlet or medium, but would you really want it to be? You have a unique voice: keep using it and good things will come.