Monday, June 22, 2015

Besides Fear, What's Holding You Back?

By Karen Albright Lin

There are many reasons we get stuck. We lack confidence, develop a fear of failure or, ironically, fear of success. What other obstacles stand in your way?

Lack of writing skills: It’s a rare author who has raw talent and the sponge mind to read others’ work and instinctively “get it,” subsequently pounding out a first book that hits the publishing jackpot. If one hasn’t attended classes, critique groups, workshops or retreats, or hired a personal writing coach, it may be time to seek education just as someone needs to learn coding before becoming a software engineer.

Ambiguous motivations: If publishing is on your bucket list, why? Are you writing a memoir to get revenge on your high school nemesis? You want to lecture but not entertain? Are you expecting fame and fortune, showing off? Are you seeking catharsis instead of allowing that to come naturally in the process? These may be valid. Or they may be restraining you. Dig down deep, identify what’s really motivating you, and it may help you move forward or decide to start a different project.

Unrealistic expectations: There are many myths about being an author. Mention that you are a writer and people venerate. What an easy job! They expect you to have success with Stephen King money and fame starting from book one. Instead we are crushed by negative experiences. Our critique groups don’t pile on the praise; we don’t meet our minimum words per day; we find that life and writing patterns take sharp turns into brick walls. Setbacks are part of the process, so reopen that file but this time with a pragmatic mindset.

Impatience: One reason to have realistic expectations is to allow for the long writing apprenticeship. “Overnight successes” are rarely that. Ask authors about the three books or film scripts in their drawer. This is not a career meant for someone who can’t stand in a line at the movie theater. Your goals may be unrealistically grand. You may need to take smaller bites. It helps to celebrate every time you meet a benchmark.

Lack of writing sanctuary: How can you leave your insecurities at the door if you don’t have one? You create one. You may live in a small apartment without an office but you can reserve a little corner in the bedroom or living area exclusively for writing. If hubby is watching Monday night football, use earplugs. If you write better out in public, find that coffee shop or restaurant that welcomes loiterers. Buy something, nurse it over your laptop. The white noise might allow you to be a part of the world but without the burden of having demands placed on you.

Loneliness: Often writing in a coffee shop isn’t enough to conquer that feeling of isolation. Most professions involve interacting with coworkers. We writers also need social stimulation to refill the writing well and to be satisfied in general. Most places have writers’ communities you can reach out to: regional writing organizations, critique groups, conferences, retreats. You can pair up with a beta reader, collaborate, or create a support and accountability group. Report progress regularly. If you can’t or don’t want to schmooze in person, try one of the on-line communities. General and genre-specific critique groups and forums abound. Families don’t typically understand the happy dance you do after having your essay published in a magazine that pays you two copies. Being part of a writing community allows you to celebrate with a crowd that understands.

Writing by committee: Though it is good for your writing to get feedback from beta readers and critique groups, be careful not to allow your voice to be combed out of the book. Let your readers know what you are looking for. Be as specific as possible: believable dialogue? consistent characterization? skillful transitions? If you were happy with your plot and characters before seeking input be careful not to take your pile of written feedback and start amending without putting every comment through your own filter. Every idea may sound fun. Not every thought will be appropriate, especially not a salad of impressions. Listen, make note of opinions, then think each over before applying it. A decision to let an idea go is not repudiation; it’s allowing your book to tell you whether it needs a particular change.

Magical thinking: Some wait for their muse to come along and drag them to the keyboard. Multi-published authors will tell you that the best way to call the muse is by getting your butt into that seat and your fingers moving. Get going on that “shitty first draft” as Anne Lamott calls it. Momentum is your muse. Just like luck, wonderful words come your way through hard work.

Take inventory. If you are stymied by any of the above obstacles, tap into your strengths and determination. Confront them head-on, triumph over them, so they won’t have the power to hinder the progress on your writing project.

About the Writer: Karen is an editor, ghostwriter, pitch coach, speaker and award-winning author of novels, cookbooks, and screenplays. She’s written over a dozen solo and collaborative scripts (with Janet Fogg, Christian Lyons and director Erich Toll); each has garnered international, national and regional recognition: Moondance Film Festival, BlueCat, All She Wrote, Lighthouse Writers, Boulder Asian Film Festival, SouthWest Writers Contest, and PPW Contest. Find out more at


  1. Besides fear, the one thing that's holding me back in many things (not just writing/publishing) is money. Sadly.

    I am a naturally impatient person, but I've learned that nothing in this industry happens overnight or with the snap of a finger. It takes time...years.

    This was a great post with awesome advice. Thank you both for sharing it! :)

    1. You are welcome Chrys. This, sadly, is why most writers have the "day job" and often have to write at unnaturally early or unnaturally late times. As a mother of two, I remember writing in 5-10 minutes spurts between the demands. Wouldn't it be nice if we could all have patrons of the arts?

  2. I always have something else I think needs to be done first. I guess that relates to lack of confidence if I honestly think cleaning toilets is a better use of my time.

    1. This is exactly the reason I get out of the house, usually, to write. I write over lunch at chosen/welcoming restaurants... yes, I sit there a long time, yet I tip well, yes I get a lot done that way.

  3. Great gentle bumps into the void, Karen. Thanks for these, ESPECIALLY for speaking about the powerful loneliness factor and for echoing Anne Lamott's expectations of the "shitty first draft." Ah, yes. Permission to be less than perfect in the process of creation. Big s-i-g-h.....


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