3 Ways People Fail At Writing (And How To Make Sure YOU Succeed)

3 Ways People Fail At Writing (And How To Make Sure YOU Succeed)

By Neal Martin/ August 28, 2014
Last Updated April 27, 2023

The single biggest lesson that I have learned on my self-publishing journey (and this includes blogging as well) is that as a writer you have to get out of your own way and go with the creative process.

What do I mean by that?

I mean that when it comes to writing and publishing (either through blogging or indie platforms like Kindle) many beginning writers never even get out of the gate because they don’t know how the creative process works.

Lots of writers when they start off will take an idea and try to develop it into a book or an article or a short story or whatever. They begin strong, full of enthusiasm, but inevitably they falter for various reasons and whatever progress they made comes to a stop.

Why is this?

Here are three main reasons:

1. No understanding of the creative process.

This is a biggie as far putting a stop to progress is concerned. Instead of writing out and fully developing an idea, many fledgling writers think they have to get things perfect first time around. Of course this never happens and things grind to a halt quite quickly.

No one achieves perfection first time around.

I doubt if any one achieves perfection at all.

Perfection is an ideal, an imaginary concept. By its very nature, perfection can never be achieved.

So stop trying!

The creative process is all about working in passes.

Think of a sculptor who molds a piece of clay. Does he try to sculpt the perfect piece of art on his first attempt? Of course not. Instead he makes multiple passes at it, first creating the basic structure of the piece and then refining that structure, adding more detail with every pass until he ends up with a finished piece of art.

Writing is no different. You work in passes.

The most important part of that process is the first pass. You need to get your entire idea down on paper first, be it the first draft of a novel or a rough draft of an article or non-fiction book.

This is massively important!

The real progress doesn’t happen until you have a complete draft to work with.

Who cares if it’s shit? First drafts are always shit. Doesn’t matter. The point is you will make more passes at that draft to make it better, to make it publishable.

Creating a finished piece of work is a constant process of restructuring and refinement. In order for that process to happen you absolutely must get out of your own way, stop yourself from backtracking and restarting, and keep going until you have a complete draft to work with.

I can’t overemphasize how important this is. You will get nowhere as a writer until you learn how to do this.

You must develop a tolerance for your own crap, as John Updike has so famously said. This means resisting the urge to go back and change things until that first draft is completed. Change all you want after that.

The real work doesn’t start until you have that completed first draft. Then it becomes a process of rewriting. Now you can strive for perfection if you want too, though personally I don’t think aiming for such an out of reach thing as perfection is such a good idea.

You will never achieve perfection, and in fact you will hinder yourself by trying to do so. Aim for your very best. That’s all you can do. Be realistic or you will fall into the other trap of endlessly reworking and polishing, spending more time than need be on a single piece and never getting it out there for people to read.

It is more important that you finish something to the best of your ability, and then get it out there as soon as possible.

Publish it and move on to the next project. This is the only way to learn and the best way to refine your creative process. Your work will get better as you go, trust me.

2. No work process in place.

If you don’t have a work process to follow when you’re writing you are much more likely to stall and get caught up in the whole idea of trying to get things perfect.

Having a solid process to follow will insure you keep moving and don’t waste time backtracking or restarting.

When I first started writing, I did so without any kind of process or creative structure in place. I came up with a vague idea and sat down to write. Pretty soon my efforts at writing came to a standstill and I would usually abandon whatever project I was working on. After I got over the despondency that came with failure, I would start another project and quit that one too soon after. And so the cycle repeated itself for years.

Then I worked out a process to follow. Now I finish everything that I start.

In my book, 1500 Words Per Hour, I explain this entire process in detail, but so you can get an idea of where I’m coming from, here’s the outline of that process:

  • Intention
  • Conception
  • Thinking
  • Outlining
  • Prewriting
  • Writing
  • Editing
  • Proofing
  • Formatting

As you can see, the process is broken up into distinct stages. Doing it this way helps me to stay focused and most importantly, it stops me from trying to do everything at once and becoming overwhelmed. I know if I follow the process from beginning to end I will wind up with a finished project.

This is doing things professionally.

Trying to write without a process of some sort will result in a lot of floundering and unfinished projects.

Do yourself a favor. Adopt a process for writing, then witness the miracle of creativity in action. Creativity thrives under structure. Always remember that and you will be miles ahead of those writers who think structure and process kills art. It doesn’t. It nourishes art. It makes art possible.

Most importantly, it helps you finish.

3. An unprofessional approach.

If you want to be good, if you want to be successful, you can’t be a dabbler. You can’t be one of those people who only write when they feel like it, or when the muse strikes them.

I’ve got news for you: Waiting around for inspiration to strike from the blue is the quickest way to fail as a writer.

Writers write.

I’m sure you’ve heard that a million times before, but so what. You can never hear it enough times. In fact, here’s a visual reminder you should print out and stick everywhere:

writing tips

Writing is no different from any other endeavor. I’ve been involved in martial arts for over thirty years now. I teach self defense professionally and I ran a successful blog on the subject. Over the years, I can’t tell you how many people I heard say they wanted to be better fighters, or they wanted to learn how to defend themselves properly, but yet refused to put in the time to train, and train hard. Needless to say, those same people got nowhere fast.

I got good at martial arts because I put a shitload of training time and study into making myself good. There was no other way around it. Sometimes it sucked, sometimes I wanted to give up, but I constantly reminded myself that if I wanted to be good, if I wanted to stand out, I would have to train.

And train I did.

Same with writing. You need to put the time in if you want to get good. Not just writing time, but also studying time as well. Read as many books on the subject as possible. Learn the craft. Strive to master the tools at hand.

Write as often as you can. I’m lucky these days in that I can devote as many hours a day to writing as I like. I put in four to six hours a day, usually more if I’m writing the first draft of a book.

Even when I had a day job that consumed most of my time and energy, I still managed to find time to write most days.

If you want to do it you will find the time. It’s that simple.

By forcing yourself to write even when you don’t feel like it, you are becoming a professional. Pretty soon the resistance will lessen and you won’t need anything as silly as a muse.

You’ll just write.

Amazing things happen when you commit in such a way. Words and ideas flow better. The whole process becomes easier. Before you know it, you have a body of work behind you, which only adds to your sense of professionalism.

Having trouble with resistance? Read The War Of Art by Steven Pressfield. The ideas in that book will help you form a more professional approach to your writing and help you overcome any resistance you feel to sitting down and banging out those words.

In the meantime, set things in motion by committing to the writing life now. Be professional and sit down to write and don’t stop until you’ve finished whatever your working on.

Then do it all over again.

Write. Publish. Repeat.

That’s all there is to it.

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