Wednesday, July 5, 2017

The Number One Problem Writers Face

By: Deb McLeod

This past year has been one of experimentation for me. I’ve started projects, shelved projects, or put them off until later. I’ve finished four novel drafts, and a few half-drafts. I designed and delivered a class on revision. And, I spent the past year working with marketing experts to determine if and how to bring my coaching business online. It’s been quite a year. 

Now I’m beginning to look at what was accomplished, what was not, and what continues to baffle me.

The Writer's #1 Problem
Working with the marketing experts has been particularly intriguing. One of the key ingredients necessary when you’re working on marketing your business is to discover what the #1 problem your clients have. Of course, if you can provide an answer to that #1 problem, well, you’re golden.

Even if potential clients don’t know fixing the #1 problem is what they need, the clients who need to find you will find you because you’ve articulated their biggest problem. And of course, when you provide a solution, well, it’s a win-win.

I’ve been coaching for more than seventeen years so I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about what a writer’s #1 problem might be. Over the years, I would uncover a problem, either in my client’s work, or in my own. It might be craft, it might be process, it might be accountability. Then I would design a class, design a way to be accountable, or document my process so I could teach it. All would be well for my clients for a bit until another problem surfaced. 

I never could get to the bottom of the problem pile though. What I offered helped, but it wasn’t the fix. 

For a long time I thought accountability would be the fix. I thought the problem was a lack of communal drive to get the work done. Creative competition is a great driving force. Creative support will get work done like nothing else. But after my year-long experiment hosting an accountability membership site, I can see that accountability is a surface portion of the real problem. That under accountability lies a bigger issue. 

After much thought, lots of questions, and comparing notes with other coaches and writing teachers, I now know what I feel like I knew all along. So simple to recognize when you’re looking at it the right way. 

The #1 problem writers face is a lack of inspiration. 

I want to say – well, duh!

But it feels great to be able to put that into words. And it feels strange too. You see, I never really thought I suffered from a lack of inspiration. My suffering always centered around time. Around too much life to live to take time out to write. Then there was a lack of knowledge about craft. My ideas were bigger than I knew how to write. Then there was lack of process. I had no clue for a long time how you got from the beginning to the end of writing a story. 

But I always wanted to write. I always saw myself writing. I always, always knew I would find a way. And I squirreled away time to write. I got up in the middle of the night. I wrote on my commute to work by dictating into a tape player. I wrote at lunch when I had to work and that kept me "cubically" sane. 

I was always inspired to write. Wasn’t I? 

Or were the issues that kept me from committing to writing in a real way (money, job, kid) manufactured by me because I was inspired to dabble? Not inspired to write? 

I’ll never know the answer to that because I’m inspired now and I will never go back. Life simply isn’t in Technicolor when I don’t write. 

The #1 Solution
So early in my marketing investigations, I never really considered that a lack of inspiration would be the #1 problem writer’s face. But what I do know is that it will continue to be a problem until writers find a way to make their writing a practice. Not a habit. A practice that they have to do to make their world feel right. 

By the way, a writing practice can be created. But the million dollar question is: can it be taught? How do you inspire someone to come along on the transformational journey that is a writing practice?  

I do not have the answer.  

Pom Pom Girl
At times my husband, John, calls me the Pom Pom Girl, or says your pom poms are showing again. Aside from the obvious jokes about that, what he means is that I’ve spent a lot of time on the sidelines of my family (and my clients), cheering everyone on. I’m the one who knows they can do it. I’m the one who sits with them until we find a solution. I’m the one ready with the smile, with the words of encouragement. I love pooling resources and brainstorming and finding a way, no matter what the issue is. I’m the Pom Pom Girl and life is great!

Until I’m not, because a more thankless job could not possibly be found, right??? And where’s the Pom Pom Girl for me??? Well, my clients have been my Pom Pom Girls. Over the years sharing success, sharing dreams, sharing solutions and doing it together has been what’s inspired me. 

And I’ve crossed a line that became very evident not long ago. Writing for me is not a habit. It’s a practice. 

Here’s how I can tell
I used to do vacations differently. In the old days, vacation for me meant bringing my writing because that was the treat I got to do when I stepped out of my day-to-day life. I have so many journal entries of short stories written as we drove in the car or flew toward the beach. I would get so many ideas when I was on vacation. I have pages of observations about where we were and the people we met. Invaluable details about place. 

But not long ago we went to San Diego. We were at a wonderful hotel on the water for a full seven days. John was in a conference every day from early till late. I planned to get a ton of writing done on my vacation. I brought the supplies. I had the time. I found the place(s) to write. I found the coffee. I had the sun. 

It was the hardest writing I’ve ever done. Because I WAS ON VACATION! Writing had become the day-to-day and vacation-me wanted a break. What a fantastic turnaround!

So now, when I go on vacation, I bring my work, but not my expectations. I’ve earned the vacation from the writing just like anyone who takes a vacation from their job. Though I still bring it and I still work most every day. But not as hard and not as fiercely as I used to when writing was still a “treat.” 

I’m on the other side of that. And I’d love to know how to help other writers get on the other side of their writing too. But that takes me back to the question of whether or not you can inspire someone to take the writing journey.

After much thinking, what I’ve discovered is that the solution to prodding writers to exercise their voice is not a-one-size-fits-all solution. Writers need different things to inspire themselves so they will find a place for their work in their day-to-day world. They need different things depending upon where they are in their project. They need different solutions depending upon where they are in their life and how writing fits into it and whether their families are supportive, tolerant, or outright scornful. Everyone needs a different solution.

So I don’t have any answers, but at least now I know where the focus needs to be for each and every writer. In order to transform your world from where it is to a writing world, the answer is to discover, develop, and honor what inspires you.

So I’m asking. Really. Spend some time with yourself and see if you can figure out what inspires you. Ask yourself these questions:

When you’re writing, and I don’t mean slogging to a deadline, or earning your green check mark on my accountability site, what is it that gets you to step out of your day-to-day life to write? 
  • Is it the story you’re working on that you’re excited about? If it is, when you’re excited about your story, try to say when in the project you typically get excited. At the beginning? Or further in when the story starts to come together and all you have to do is write it? Does revision inspire you? (NOT!)
  • Is it when you learn a new piece of craft and try it?
  • Is it after you’ve attended one of my Spilling Ink! Classes and learned all the ways the scene you thought was flat actually contains your own brand of brilliance?
  • Is it when you go on vacation? 
When your life is said and done if you knew what inspired you and you kept that in the forefront of your world... seems like that would be the difference in whether you made the transformation or you did not.

I’m always here to help if you need me – my pom poms are at the ready. 

But, really, inspiration? That one’s on you. 

About the Author: Deb McLeod, MFA, practices novel research immersion. For her novel, The Train to Pescara, Deb journeyed to Sardinia to study ancient goddess worship and spent time in the Abruzzi village her great-grandparents left in 1905. Her metaphysical knowledge for the Angel Thriller, The Julia Set, culminates from four years of studying and teaching meditation, clairvoyance and chakra healing. For over fourteen years, Deb McLeod has been a creative writing coach helping other writers to embrace their passion and get their words on the page. For more, see

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