It feels at times as if the universe just doesn’t want me to write. Whether it’s finally getting into the groove of things only to lose my nearly complete draft in a software crash, an onslaught of “real life” events eating into my usual writing time for weeks, or having my daughter break two laptops in the span of six months (yep, this really happened), I’ve experienced my fair share of obstacles since plunging into writing a novel. Some have been more defeating than others, completely knocking the wind from my sails and leaving me wondering whether I can (or should) continue. If you’ve ever felt this way, I’d like to share a little encouragement to get you through your tough times.
1. Accept the Suckage
This is a good place to start if your computer has just failed causing you to lose your latest thousand words (which were all just perfect and dandy, right?), or if your apartment has flooded for the third time and now you can’t get to your computer for a few days. Allow yourself to wallow in the cruel fate and accept that the world is unfair and unjust and such types of things often happen. Don’t “what if” yourself to death or obsess over fixing things if they’re broken; these types of behaviors only serve to make things worse and leave you frazzled. Instead, do what you can, then step away from the problem. Obstacles like a broken computer or lost manuscript absolutely suck, even though we all know they are temporary, and sometimes it is for the best to just feel all of the loss in the moment and come back to it later with a more level head.
2. Try Long-Form
In the immediate aftermath of a catastrophe, the last thing you may want to do is drag out a wide rule composition book like a Neanderthal and rewrite your lost paragraphs long-form, but it is important to jot these things down while they are fresh on your mind. Even a short outline in your phone can be a helpful springboard for when you are able to write again, so that instead of moping and floundering from the loss of momentum, you’re able to crank out a few hundred words with ease. This can mean the difference between struggling in the days following disaster to reestablish your writing rhythm, and returning to your story with confidence and direction.
Writing in long-form can also help you stay active in your writing, even in the downtime caused by unforeseen obstacles. I tend to struggle with a bit of panic I am unproductive in writing — “How will I make my deadlines?”; “I’m not meeting my daily writing goals.”; “My writing abilities will regress to those of a three-year-old!” — so writing in a notebook, whether its actual storytelling or just notes to tease out later, helps ease the stress over my progress. Even if you simply journal about the obstacle, your experience, how you’re feeling about all of it, long-form keeps your hands in writing mode.
3. Reassess Your Story
Sometimes the universe really doesn’t want you to write a story. Or maybe its not the universe, but just the story itself sending messages through the physical world that it’s time to let go (that got a little hooey, didn’t it?). What I mean is, a disaster like losing your work or being unable to write for a long period of time can give you a blank slate to think about your story and whether it is worth continuing with its present trajectory, or even at all.
To give you an example, before diving into Imperfect One, I was working on a novel I had been composing for years, with characters I love and an intriguing world. I had been struggling with the plot since the start, and started to rewrite the story several times thinking I had nailed those issues. Each time, however, I’d wind up in the same lost place realizing my story was going nowhere and was only interesting to me.
But I kept at it because I really wanted this book to work and because I’d pictured it as my debut novel, so when I lost my outline to a computer crash, I was devastated, but pressed on; when I couldn’t work on it for weeks because I’d failed to plan around huge life events, I was crushed, but trudged forward. Finally, when I lost my first laptop, I gave up hope on the story, thinking I would never finish a draft and that it would remain on a hard drive somewhere to rot with its beautiful characters and interesting setting. I went several days without working on it, focusing on short stories and journaling instead.
When I gave myself that space from the story, I was able to resolve its gaping plot issues in a day, and then I was able to realize I wasn’t ready to write that story. It was too expansive and overwhelming, the required research and character details too time-consuming for the frame I had given myself. It was a sad day when I decided to let it go for the time being, but it was the right decision, and I wish I had made it when the first disaster struck.
Maybe your assessment doesn’t lead you to drop a story, but to redirect it, change a character, the point of view or setting or internal struggle. When it comes to writing, especially as a beginner, time isn’t always on your side, but when you’re given an opportunity (though it may not seem that way in the immediate) to step out of your story and view it with a fresh perspective, to handle it plainly and see it as it is rather than as you want it to be, it is wise to make the best of it.
Finally, when these things happen, it is valuable to remember that obstacles can make or break you as a writer. It’s not that overcoming an obstacle in the moment will magically transform you into a published author, and choosing defeat for a while means you’ll never become one. But if you continually choose to rise in the wake of loss or challenge, if you continue to push yourself to write even under the harshest, least facilitating circumstances, you will reach your goals; maybe not as quickly as you’d like or in the way you imagined, but you will accomplish something with your writing. And if you continue to choose defeat when times get tough, more than likely, you won’t. Obstacles are inevitable; difficulty is promised. You get to decide whether those obstacles will own you or whether you will overcome.
NOW TELL ME // What kinds of challenges have you faced in writing? What is your best advice for overcoming obstacles? Comment below!
photo by: Ronaldo de Oliveira