Twice a week after school in second grade, I would put on cleats and shin guards, fill up my water jug, and go to soccer practice. First, we’d do conditioning. Laps, suicide, and high knees got us warmed up before we moved on to drills. We learned passing and shooting. We learned spacing and defending. We learned and we practiced, and we learned some more.
It was sort of a lot. We got sweaty and tired and steadily drained our water jugs. But we got better because we had coaches who knew how to play soccer and pushed us to it.
Writing is similar. To get good, you have to practice. You have to learn arcs and plot points and get feedback. And you can’t just know how to write–you need to be able to network, platform, and learn about everything you don’t yet know.
It’s sort of a lot–but you’re not the only one.
The truth is, the authors before you all had hurdles of their own to jump over. And no, they didn’t just breeze through the whole thing–they’re human, and they were once novice writers too.
But they made it. And thankfully, they came back to tell us how.
In this post, we’ll explore the writing struggles and strategies of eight different authors, from romance novelist Tricia Goyer to teen nonfiction writer Shelby Abbot to children’s fantasy author S. D. Smith. Then we’ll unpack the ways that you can triumph too.
Writing Problem #1: Overestimating Our Writing Skills
Sometimes, you think, I could probably be a published author pretty soon. And then you read a post about developing raw characters or hear a podcast on pitching to agents and you realize, I probably don’t know what I’m doing here. From drafting to pitching to platforming, everything’s a process. It can be hard to know where to start.
It can also be hard to know how skilled you really are. How much do you really know? And practice? Where are you lacking?
Below, Tricia Goyer, an author of almost a hundred books–from historical fiction to nonfiction on parenting–shares what helped her see more clearly and grow as a writer.
How Tricia Goyer Conquered Overestimating Her Writing Skills
I remember going to a conference when I was 22. I went with my friend and we were like, What if a publisher offers us a book contract?
I had barely started writing. I hadn’t even finished a book, so I was very optimistic. A publisher can read the three paragraphs that I’ve written, think it’s amazing, and give me a book contract. There was so much about the process I didn’t realize.
As the years passed, I started taking more workshops and understanding more of the process and standards. Things like: they actually want to see your whole model, you write in an active voice and don’t just copy what someone else says–they want unique voices.
It takes time to learn all that stuff. Most people, when they get started, don’t realize how much they just need to keep learning and keep learning and keep learning. Dialogue, description, story arc–there’s a lot to it. If I had known, I probably would’ve been overwhelmed, so it was probably good that I didn’t realize how much I didn’t know.
And if I go to conferences, I’ll still go and sit and listen to what someone else has to say and learn new things. With every book, you want people to make you even better and even better.
Tricia Goyer writes out of her passion for God and her love for family and others. The author of more than 80 books, she writes both historical fiction and nonfiction related to family and parenting.
3 Ways to Conquer Overestimation of Your Writing Skills
Don’t let your lack of knowledge stop you. Here are a few ways to get yourself started on the learning curve:
1. Find a writing resource to learn from regularly. This can be a podcast, blog series, or even an interactive class like the Monthly Themes we do on the YWWC. Often, there will be a way for you to get weekly notifications for new content. Use that as your reminder to keep learning.
2. Attend an interactive class. Tricia Goyer mentioned going to writers’ conferences, which are great opportunities. The cool thing about interactive classes is that they allow you to ask questions live, and sometimes even receive feedback on your work. Tricia teaches these alongside our other instructors in the Young Writers Workshop.
3. If you don’t know about it, learn about it. Don’t know how to research? How to blog? What an agent is? Go to one of the trusted sources you found in Step 1 and search for it.
Writing Problem #2: Information Overload
Maybe you’ve already found some trusted resources for learning about writing. You’ve got the K. M. Weiland books on your shelf, you’re saving up for a writers retreat, and you’re even subscribed to The Young Writer Blog. Yay! You are on a roll.
Or you think you are. Halfway through the seventh article on theme you’ve read in the past three days, you realize that you have all this head knowledge, but no idea how to actually weave a theme into your book.
Did those articles even help? Were they just a waste of time?
Don’t let them be.
YA adventure author C. J. Milacci wrestled with the same problem and figured out how to break her cycle of learning without applying. Here’s how.
How C. J. Milacci Applied What She Learned
My biggest hurdle when I was first getting started was probably information overload. I love learning, so I would read books, listen to podcasts, attend webinars, take courses, and try to consume as much content as I could. The problem was that I was taking in so much that I was almost paralyzed with all the information and unsure how to proceed forward.
I overcame it by actually taking steps and applying what I was learning. Instead of just reading a stack of books on the craft of writing, I would read one and try to apply what I was studying to the story I was working on. If I was learning about marketing, I would see what action steps I could take.
This habit has helped me tremendously. I still love to learn, and I still do all those things I listed above, but now I also look for ways to actively apply what I’m learning.
CJ Milacci writes stories for teens and young adults with heart-pounding action and hope. As a referee, she’s always relearning the hard lesson that it’s impossible to make everyone happy, and she’s discovered that stories can be found anywhere, even on a lacrosse field. She’s passionate about crafting stories of good overcoming evil, finding hope in the midst of seemingly hopeless circumstances, and true acceptance.
3 Ways to Apply What You’re Learning
Let’s apply Ms. Milacci’s advice on application. Only fitting, right?
1. Take notes. You’ll want to be able to refer back to what you’ve learned. There are some lesson notes that I’ve looked back at over a dozen times probably. And if you can summarize in your own words, even better. This helps it to stick in your brain.
2. Find just one way to apply that lesson or episode, right after you’ve gone through it. Oftentimes, the creators will list ways to implement what you’ve just learned. For instance, in Emma’s post on productivity, she listed some questions to help us understand our mental energy patterns and advised us to track our writing habits. She even included a free printable calendar to help us on our way. That’s a great pointer to the first step a reader could take to implement her advice.
3. Find someone to keep you accountable. Even better, find someone who’s gone through the same lesson as you and implement it together. Two are better than one!
Writing Problem #3: Writing Uninspired
Today, you’re just exhausted. Maybe you stayed up late last night to finish that research paper, or perhaps you’re trying to sort through some relational difficulties. Or maybe, you know, you just don’t feel like writing.
And yet, the writing must go on!
You poise your fingers over the keyboard, but can’t seem to write coherent sentences.
Even when her prose isn’t flowing, Christian women’s nonfiction author Heather Creekmore still finds a way to keep writing.
How Heather Creekmore Keeps Writing
I’ve learned to just sit and make myself type ideas even if they aren’t complete sentences. If I’m not in a writing mood or don’t feel inspired to write, I just write single words in the place where my sentences should go and try to capitalize on the time I’m spending in my analytical brain, by organizing or adding outlines.
Heather Creekmore writes and speaks hope to thousands of women each week through her books, coaching, and podcast titled, “Compared to Who?” Heather’s heart is to encourage women who struggle with body image and comparison issues and help them find the freedom to stop comparing and start living. Connect with Heather at www.comparedtowho.me.
3 Ways to Keep Writing
While you may not always feel the Muse perched on your shoulder, a writer has to keep working. Here are three ways to do so.
1. If you’re really blocked, do other writing-related work. Outline. Edit. Work on a backstory.
2. Form a writing habit. Your mind will cooperate better when you write in the same place at the same time regularly. And when it’s accustomed to creating sentences.
3. Try working on multiple projects at once. Right now, I’m working on three–this blog post, the draft of a novel, and a short story. I work on the novel on Mondays and Thursdays, this blog post on Tuesdays and Fridays, and the short story on Wednesdays and Saturdays. On Sunday, I take a sabbath. This schedule helps me to work on at least one project per day while taking a break from the other ones.
Writing Problem #4: Inconsistency and Apathy
How many minutes a day do you write? Or should I ask, how many times a week?
Writing steadily is a toughie. Just like any habit, you gotta keep doing it. But distraction hits. Fatigue hits. Life hits.
J. C. Smith can relate. Yet between school and work, this teenage writer managed to co-author a middle-grade fantasy novel just this past year.
So how does he keep writing day in and day out?
How J. C. Smith Finds Motivation
It’s easy to start a book. I’ve done it a lot of times, but the amount of times I’ve actually finished a book is pretty small. So the biggest hurdle is just not wanting to write. I want to be a writer, but I don’t want to write a lot of the time.
Practically, it’s helpful to commit to doing it and sometimes have an accountability partner to help you and ask if you wrote 500 words a day.
Also, I write movies a lot of the time, so another thing that has helped me is to watch one of my favorite scenes or go into the Lord of the Rings and read one of my favorite chapters. Seeing something that good and that well put together inspires me to keep going.
J.C. Smith is a seventeen-year-old student, author, musician, and visual artist. When he’s not creating or collaborating on stories, Josiah enjoys soccer, music, Sun Chips, and the study and practice of filmmaking. He lives in Grandview, West Virginia, with his parents and three siblings.
3 Ways to Find Motivation
Get hyped; you’re about to get even more hyped for writing.
1. Find an accountability partner to report your daily word count or time spent writing to. And maybe hold them to one of their own goals too. If you’re in the YWW Community, we have ready-made accountability groups that you can join to help you with your goals.
2. Be inspired. What’s your favorite book? You know, that one that first inspired you to want to write something that amazing? Read it.
3. And then, maybe take a few minutes to write down why exactly you write. Next time you’re just ‘not in the mood to write,’ read your personal writerly mission statement.
Writing Problem #5: Perseverance
Maybe writing isn’t my thing after all. How long will it take to get better? To get one thousand subscribers? To get published?
I can’t do this.
Serious writing is work. And it takes time. How do you know you’re not wasting your efforts? We’ve all faced doubts and discouragement, and published authors are no exception. But they didn’t give up.
It was the same with Shelby Abbott, author of humorous Christian living books for young adults.
How Shelby Abbott Persevered
It took me about 5 years to get published once I began pursuing it.
I wanted to give up several times, but I kept feeling that nudge to keep going. I asked God to help me make wise decisions in the pursuit of getting a book published, and I genuinely thought that what I had to say in my writing was something others could benefit from in the Kingdom of God.
That’s the biggest thing that kept me going…not acclaim, money, prestige or anything like that, but believing that God wanted to use my words to encourage others for their benefit, not mine.
Shelby Abbot is an author, radio/podcast host (Real Life Loading…), campus minister, and conference speaker on staff with FamilyLife, a ministry of Cru. He has one dog, a sizable sneaker collection, and a rather impressive vinyl LP record compilation. He and his family live just outside of Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
3 Ways to Write On and Persevere
Don’t give up. At least, don’t give up because of doubts, but rather out of conviction. Here are some ways to persevere even in the face of worry.
1. Pray. Ask the Lord for guidance the whole way through–from your level of commitment to writing to which agent you should pitch to.
2. Remember. If God calls you to the writerly life, there’s a reason. Remember also to write for His glory alone.
3. Write. To bless others. It’s amazing when you can see your writing bless others, even if it’s just a silly poem for your dad on Father’s Day.
Writing Problem #6: Discouragement
There’s this thing called the Imposter Syndrome. It makes your brain say something like this:
Ugh, my writing is so cringy. And I have no idea what to do about that plot hole. I’m barely writing an hour a week.
I must not be a real writer.
Sound familiar? As you might imagine, this train of thought only spirals downwards.
I can’t imagine that anyone would want to read this. I’m not even improving. I’ll never get published.
My writing is trash.
Whoa, hold on there! You aren’t the first writer to feel this way. S. D. Smith, indie author of hilarious and inspiring middle-grade fantasy novels, deals with discouragement too.
How S. D. Smith Breaks Through Discouragement
We often think that hurdles are the state of publishing or agents or poor readership. We like to look for external excuses out there. But I think for me–and I think for most of us–most of my barriers have been internal. So it’s a mindset, it’s a way of thinking. It’s a discouragement or despair, that kind of thing.
It’s so much more convenient to think that the problems are external, that they’re out there somewhere. And if this circumstance would just change a little bit, it would be fixed and we would be successful. But most of my barriers have been internal.
Having a mindset of discipline, habit, determination, showing up, and being faithful is the most powerful sort of way to break through the blocks.
S. D. Smith is the author of The Green Ember Series, a million-selling adventure saga featuring heroic #RabbitsWithSwords. His newest novel, co-authored with his sixteen-year-old son, is a thrilling fantasy called Jack Zulu and the Waylander’s Key. Smith’s stories are captivating readers across the globe who are hungry for “new stories with an old soul.”
3 Ways to Break Through Discouragement
Discouragement is practically inevitable in anything tough. And pursuing authorship can be tough sometimes. But just because discouragement is inevitable doesn’t mean you can’t do anything to fight it.
1. Make it a habit. As Mr. Smith said, “A mindset of discipline, habit, determination, showing, and being faithful [is] powerful.” If you just write whenever you feel like it, discouragement may prevent you from writing at all. But if you make it a point to write at least one hundred words before school every day, discouragement isn’t so fatal.
2. Pray for strength and encouragement. Ask others to pray for you as well–especially writing friends. If you’re in the YWW Community, post in our Praise and Prayer space.
3. Call yourself a writer. It might quite literally change your mindset. If you follow step one and write regularly, then you are a writer. So own it.
Writing Problem #7: Balancing Writing and Life
School. Family. Bible time. Sports. Friends. Work. Hobbies.
Oh, which reminds me . . . writing.
Do any of you look at your planner and wonder how you’ll get it all done? It’s a lot, and it’s hard to do it all. Even harder is to get them all in the right order of priorities. And still, you know, eat and sleep.
Below, Christian YA novelist Chuck Black shares his strategy for time management.
How Chuck Black Manages His Time
At the time I wrote my first book, I was the main engineer for a company. I was also a father of six, whom I was helping homeschool. I was just trying to manage my time so that I wouldn’t jeopardize the priorities of my life, which were my marriage, my children, and my job.
I still fulfill that dream of writing a good book and also staying disciplined so that I move forward. I think what helped me to stay disciplined was when I heard an interview with John Grisham. He said, “A lot of people want to write a book, and I tell them, ‘You just have to discipline yourself to write a thousand words every day. If you do that, eventually you’ll have a book.’”
That has been a good motivator for me, a simple little piece of advice like that to help me stay disciplined. Now to be fair, it is more complicated than that, but that’s what helped establish my discipline.
I spend a lot of time plotting all of my books way before I ever sit down and write my first word. I do a lot of driving for conferences. That’s hours and hours behind the wheel. I think and dream about what my next book should look like, and I visualize each of the different scenes. Then, when I sit down at a computer, I don’t have to think about what to write. I just write what’s already been created in my mind.
Chuck Black, a former F-16 fighter pilot, is the author of twenty-one novels, including The Kingdom Series, The Knights of Arrethtrae, the Wars of the Realm, The Starlore Legacy, and Call to Arms. Chuck’s passion is to inspire youth to follow Christ while equipping parents, pastors, and youth leaders to do the same.
3 Tips on Managing Your Time
Writers have lives, people! And especially if you aren’t writing full-time, you may find that it’s tricky to live well and write well simultaneously. Here are a few tips for managing your schedule.
1. Decide on your goals. Finish that novel this year? Write a hundred words a day? Just have fun? Pursue publication? It’s important to know what you want to achieve before you start trying to achieve it.
2. Make a plan. How long per day can you realistically write without burning out or getting too stressed? Talk about it with your parents and decide on the length and time of day. Then protect that writing time and write.
3. Multitask when you can. Chuck Black brainstormed while driving. You might listen to a podcast while folding laundry, or problem-solve while waiting in line. Or read your textbook while doing pushups–hey, it frees up more time to write.
Writing Problem #8: Balancing Writing and Work
Okay. It’s time to do writerly things. But wait–should you send out that email to your subscribers or work on your next blog post? Join a street team or a critique group?
Maybe you’re in one of each already. How do you balance your time between them?
It can be tough to attend to the different parts of your writing life consistently and at the right times. Below, entrepreneur and author Sarah Mackenzie shares her thoughts on balancing platforming and actual writing.
How Sarah Mackenzie Balances Writing and Work
The first book I wrote was Teaching from Rest, which is a book for homeschooling moms. I self-published it as an ebook on my website, but within a couple of months, a publisher reached out and said they would like to publish it.
My second book was published through Zondervan. The trickiest part there was that, with so many traditional publishers, they wanted a platform. It can be difficult to grow your platform and spend all that time on lead magnets or your email list and then also work on your writing craft. So balancing those two things was really tricky.
I try to compartmentalize when I work. I feel like it’s a completely different part of my brain to work on platform versus writing craft. For me, the business stuff comes a little more naturally than the writing stuff, so if I start with the business things, I can’t get my brain back out of that zone.
So when I’m going to work, I tend to give at least the first solid hour of my day to just writing. I’m not looking at my email, I’m not looking at anything else. I’m just working on my writing, and then I can transition over and work more on the business side.
Sarah Mackenzie is the author of nonfiction books for adults and picture books for families to read aloud. She’s also the host of the Read-Aloud Revival podcast, which has been downloaded over 12 million times in more than 160 countries. She makes her home in the Northwest with her husband and their 6 kids. Get Sarah’s favorite read-aloud book recommendations at readaloudrevival.com/recommends.
3 Ways to Balance Writing and Work
Here are some ways to balance all the different writing work you have:
1. Tackle the hard stuff first. Whether it’s sending that monthly email to your subscribers or pounding out that 500 words, do it first. Preferably in the morning, before life saps your creativity. (And then the rest of the day you’ll feel quite victorious.)
2. Make a plan. This time, to balance all the different things. Remember how I work twice on three projects a week? Making plans like this helps you to see right from the start if your goals are feasible, and if they are, how to meet them.
3. Work in blocks. This piggybacks off of Sarah Mackenzie’s compartmentalization strategy. It’s easier on your brain if you write two hundred words on your blog post on Monday and then two hundred words on your novel on Tuesday than writing one hundred words on each of them each day. Once your brain is in gear, it has an easier time staying in gear than switching to another gear.
Overcoming Your Own Writing Problems: Your Next Steps
The journey from starting to write seriously to publication is six years on average. During that time, every writer faces a myriad of challenges.
Learning how writing works. Actually writing. Balancing writing, business, and life. Conquering discouragement.
But to be a successful author, you need to move past those hurdles, just like all the authors before you. Thank goodness that a few of them shared their tips and tricks with us!
To help you as you fight your own writerly battles, we’re offering a list of 47 amazing writing resources. You can click the image below to access it.