E. M. Sherwood Foster is a graduate student at the University of Cambridge who has published fiction and poetry.
Challenges Writers Face and How to Fight Back
Writers live a hard life. We all might be learning similar skills and working toward similar goals, but no one is really doing exactly what you're doing in the long run. Every path and every writer is different. But writing is a lonely life, even if we have a community of writers around us, given that our work is our own. So when we keep working on becoming the writers we want to be and face challenges, how do we stand up to them, especially if we're on our own for what seems like most of the time?
This article discusses some major challenges writers face every day, and what you can do to fight back.
4 Major Challenges Writers Face
- Feeling Overwhelmed
- We're Introverts...
This is a big one and one of the most obvious. Our biggest enemies as writers are ourselves. It can become a daily struggle, especially if you already struggle with confidence and self-esteem. You're constantly troubled by thoughts such as "What if I'm not good enough?" or "Why isn't my writing any good?" When you sit down in front of a blank page, it feels as if you have to climb a mountain to overcome your own thoughts and put words to paper. Everything then piles up, and you're left wondering if you should be writing at all, even if you receive encouragement from others.
How do you fight self-doubt?
- Take a look at how far you've come in the first place. Every writer starts somewhere. I like to look back on my progress and list things I've accomplished, sometimes putting it down on paper. It might not be a long list, but it reminds me that I'm heading in the right direction, even with the little payoff, it seems, that I'm seeing. Even if you're not where you want to be yet with your career, some progress means you're still learning and growing as a writer. It might be difficult when you watch other writers take great strides, but you're a work in progress. You've grown little by little, which becomes obvious when you look closer.
- Learn from failure. Take a look at the mistakes you recently made, whether with your writing or otherwise. Then decide if you want to learn from it or continue regretting it because you can learn from it and start practicing what you've just learned. Good writers actively work to improve their writing, and if you're intent on getting better, you won't let the little mistakes you make take you down.
- Don't compare yourself to other people. Sometimes I find myself looking at another writer's accomplishments, thinking, "they've done so much more than I have, and it was so much easier for them." Then I remind myself that I can't think like this. You are on your own path, and you can't guarantee anything. All you can do is try, fail, and try again. And the writers you might compare yourself to have had their own struggles too. It might look as if their success was immediate, but you only see the end result. You haven't reached the end, so don't give up now.
This is another common challenge writers face that you might hear about a lot. Rejection might be natural, but it's easy to get into the mindset that you were rejected because your work wasn't good enough. Trying again takes a whole other level of strength since we're, above all, fighting against ourselves. It can be hard to shake off the feeling that you're not good enough if you're constantly being beaten. And with one rejection after the other, it's hard not to see your writing (and yourself) as a failure, and the temptation to quit can become strong.
How do you fight rejection?
- Remember, rejection is not a failure. Once a micro-chapbook I wrote was rejected, but the publisher sent out an email saying they were close to accepting it. They encouraged me to submit again in the next reading period. I was more bummed than usual because I was so confident about my submission. It shook the confidence in myself that I was trying to build. But success can't be handed to you. You have to work for it, so when you receive a rejection, take it as an opportunity to grow as a writer and learn from feedback rather than see it as a setback.
- Know you are not alone. Sometimes, I've found, the hardest part of making a career as a writer is getting others to believe in your work. Steven King famously threw Carrie in the trash because no one believed it would succeed. Every writer struggles, even those who landed major publishing deals or enjoyed decades-long writing careers. It's right to assume that even they were rejected at one point, so don't feel like you're alone when the answer is "no." Instead, keep an open mind, taking rejection in stride without letting your own negative thoughts get to you.
- Learn from good feedback. It's always good to get others' opinions on your work. Get opinions from friends, family, writing groups, teachers, beta and alpha readers—whoever. Just know that good feedback specifically points out issues but also highlights strong points, and good reviewers offer helpful tips rather than simply stating, "it's good." Think of this as another option for growing as a writer and learning where to improve. Then try again and see the results.
3. Feeling Overwhelmed
You're trying to get your work into literary journals. You're trying to build a platform and market yourself. You're applying for grants, jobs, or fellowships. You're submitting your manuscript to publishers, agents, or presses. It all becomes so much that writers sometimes just shut down. When it comes to writers and mental health, we're more than tortured artists. We all need to take a break from time to time to keep ourselves together. But then the blank page, the unedited draft, everything we want to write but can't get out of our heads, comes back, and you feel as if you have to get writing done now.
How do you fight feeling overwhelmed?
- Take a step back if you have to. Many of us have the mindset that we need to get into a writing habit, write every day, etc. And while it's good to build up those habits, if it comes at the expense of your mental and physical health, then you should make some adjustments. What you've written, even a blank page, isn't going anywhere. Sometimes our best writing comes when we've taken the time to relax and let the writing come to us. Writers can, after all, find inspiration from anything.
- Remember, this is a mountain. I like to think of major challenges as a mountain that you're climbing. You can only take one careful step at a time. Sometimes you might take a new path or change your footing, but you're still climbing the mountain. It can be overwhelming when you look at the entire task, but breaking it up into little bits and pieces makes it easier to reach your goals. Don't think about everything at once. Find the best place to start, then go from there.
4. We're Introverts...
Writers need community just as much as the next person. When in the writing stages, it's good to have someone or a group to bounce ideas off of, get feedback on your work, or even just talk. When in the marketing stages, writers need to get used to talking with other writers and professionals and building their platform or taking to social media. For some, however, communicating can be a daunting task. We're used to working for ourselves, and learning how to network can become a daunting task.
How do you find the courage to network?
- Remember, the worst they can say is no. You took the major step and reached out, so you've done what you could. Those awkward conversations with other writers are part of the process of networking. But you can get over your fear. While it's difficult to come out of your shell, evaluate how much you enjoy being a writer and how much you want to improve your writing and publish your work. How strong is that desire? That desire should be greater than your fear. Sometimes no even means "not right now" or "here's another option." Don't see everything in black and white. Be proactive.
- Put yourself in other writers' shoes. Writers all have something in common: you want your voice heard. Be willing to give advice and feedback as often as you ask for it, and your reputation as someone capable of giving these things will grow. Other writers will be happy and honored to share their advice with you.
Being a writer is tough, but it doesn't have to be hopeless. If another mountain crops up, start climbing it. If another rejection comes your way, use it to your advantage. You'll soon start seeing results.
- Becoming the Writer You Want to Be | International Writers' Collective
- Tips for Dealing With Inevitable Rejection | NY Book Editors
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.
© 2022 E M Sherwood Foster