For every writing problem there’s a solution – just ask a writer

Girl at typewriter

I had enough – I was officially sick of my own voice. I seemed to always be talking about me, about Write-Track, about why, how and what. As it was my birthday this week I wanted to make it about other people. So I sent an email into the ether asking about you – the writers using the website. Here’s what happened.

Write-Track is growing with writers joining the community every day. I got sight of their goals, their dreams and updates. But who were they? And what were they writing? I genuinely wanted to know and the only way to find out was to ask. I wrote an email asking just that:

Email text -  tell me about you

I pressed send and the email disappeared out into the world. I went away for the night to celebrate my birthday and when I logged onto my computer the next day my inbox was full of replies.

Real people, writing!

Writers replied to my email – I was amazed, humbled, and inspired by what I read. My first surprise was to see people, actual real people.

On Gmail I could see photos of people onscreen and not just avatars. One man turned out to be a woman – the delight of cross-gender non de plumes! User names were clever portmanteaus of first and last names. Personalities were being revealed before I even read a word.

Tell me your struggles and motivations

I asked three questions:

  • What are you writing at the moment?
  • What is it about writing that you struggle with the most?
  • What motivational tips could you pass onto other writers?

I want to respect the privacy of what people told me – my request was about genuine connection and not gathering blog fodder. However, some themes came through and though I won’t claim that they are universal there are some things that many writers find difficult.

1. Fear of the blank page and writers’ block
Many writers struggle to start, to overcome the blank page. For others it wasn’t about starting but moving onto the next chapter– despite being able to complete whole sections, a blank page always lies ahead. Finally, some mentioned writers’ block – the paralysing fear of not being able to write anything, ever.

“I dream of the luxury of being able to lark about with ‘morning pages’ rather than dealing with passive aggressive toddlers before breakfast.”

2. Time and organisation – building a habit
The words are there but the time isn’t. Many people find it impossible to juggle their work and family responsibilities with time for writing. For some it’s a matter of being organised, for others about building a regular habit or prioritising their needs as a writer alongside everything else.

3. The nuts and bolts of writing
Once people got writing they stumbled over plot problems, pacing, finding a voice, developing a character or a decent structure. These are the nuts and bolts of writing that get easier with more experience but all writers at some point in their career have got stuck with one of these issues.

4. Confidence and the self-belief to keep going
This is the big one – pretty much everyone struggles with self-belief. It should probably be listed first, but it can strike at any time, even with a great idea, the time to write, and the words flowing, many writers doubt their own ability.

“I struggle the most with my confidence as a writer, believing I have a story worth telling that will find an audience who needs to hear it.”

The inner critic has many ways to humiliate and undermine a writer’s confidence, whether it’s saying “everything of value has already been done” or asking “whether it’s worth writing at all and whether anyone will want to read the thing.”

This fear is huge – it can be about originality, competition from other writers, not being good enough to get published or find an audience, and what the audience will think. All the effort can feel like a waste of time.

Top tips!

Enough of all that doubt – time for some super useful tips from our top writers.

Once again, there were some common themes – one writer quoted Ray Bradbury’s advice to write a thousand words a day and several others said this was their daily goal. It seems that number was: “achievable and very satisfying at the end of a given day.”

There were profound insights that touched on deeply human motivations:

“I want to be able to tell my children they are capable of doing anything they set their minds to. Completing this novel is something I want to do to be able to look them square in the eye and say just that, and know that it’s true.”

Other tips were packed full of positive encouragement to go out and just do it:

“So, my tip is to have self-belief. If you enjoy writing, the chances are other people will enjoy reading what you’ve written. You don’t need some sort of special permission from on high. Just go on a course or join a writing group and learn all you can. Learn to give and receive feedback.”

Learning and listening and being open was important:

“My tip would be to read all the time. Read poetry, essays, fiction. And listen to it read out loud. I don’t know if there is anything more powerful than the word spoken. Go to poetry readings, book signings, plays. Read your own poetry at an open mic. Fall in love with words again.”

There was a huge number that focussed on the practicalities – back to those nuts and bolts issues we all face. Such as:

  • Just stop procrastinating!
  • Write out your goals and focus on what you want to achieve
  • Practice – develop a routine and find your flow
  • Absorb writing – go to the theatre, readings and literature festivals
  • Take a course – online or at a workshop
  • Join a writing group or find a writing partner
  • Use a notebook or your mobile phone to make notes
  • Draw up detailed character and story boards
  • Don’t edit as you write

Here are some of my favourite, almost Buddhist mantras:

  • “Find your time, respect it.”
  • “Writing time can be snatched from the jaws of work demands.”
  • “Just find a good story and get lost in it.”
  • “Go outside and do other things. Inspiration strikes when you expect it the least!”
  • “The story will save you.”

Someone captured the moment when fear can be used for positive effect:

“I’ve wanted to write a novel for as long as I can remember, and as I’m now underway with it, the fear of not writing it is starting to outweigh the fear of writing it.”

There’s a solution for every problem

It was fascinating that one email would contain a struggle then the next email shared a tip to solve it. Here’s one example of feeling so tired “my desire is to rest rather than write.” The advice in another email was “the issue is focus, not energy.” With that writer saying that advice “freed me to be exhausted and yet lean into writing.”

Sending my email made me feel part of a vibrant community. When I sit alone at my computer I know that many thousands will be struggling with the same issues as me. And, that at least one of those writers has a piece of advice to offer me when my confidence is at its lowest. If I want help – I just need to ask a writer.

Thank you!

A huge big thank you to everyone who emailed me, for the birthday wishes, the honesty and damn fine advice. I salute you all. Thanks also to Justin Jackson who inspired me to do this. Justin manages an online community for people who build digital products that delight people, which is my new goal for Write-Track – useful, beautiful and delightful.

Bec Evans About the author: Co-creator of Prolifiko, Bec has spent a lifetime reading, writing and working with writers. From her first job in a bookshop, to a career in publishing, and several years managing a writers’ centre, she’s obsessed with working out what helps writers write.