The Number One Reason Writers Give Up

There are a lot of writers out there who have started writing their novel but never finished it. They tend to beat themselves up for this, believing that the reason they gave up was lack of determination. I’ve worked with enough writers though to know that this is not the case. In fact, I’ve actually never met a writer who lacked determination. Instead, the truth is just a bit more insidious.

Most writers give up on finishing their novel because they get confused.

Some writers start out writing one story, and by the time they hit the middle point they think they might be writing two or three, or even more, and they have no idea how they’re going to braid them all together.

Some writers begin writing from the viewpoint of one strong character, and then that character mutates, and then mutates again. Finally, the writer realizes they don’t recognize this new person and they don’t know what to make of them.

And some writers wake up one day surrounded by a rainbow of different sections, chapters, and pieces, and the thought of trying to stitch them all together seems impossible.

All of these situations are completely normal. They are typical challenges that arise when a person is writing a book. I promise you that writers throughout history have struggled again and again with these types of problems. In fact, I’m willing to bet that Hamlet takes so long to make up his mind because Shakespeare himself wasn’t sure where to take the story.

What’s different nowadays is that when humans question anything at all, the first thing they tend to do is jump on the internet to look for the answer.

And not only does the internet not have all the answers, but the internet instead frequently has quick-fix arguments and advertisements that masquerade as answers.

This is how writers get overwhelmed and sucked into the myths of “Successful Story Arcs Look Like This” and “Ideal Characters Do These Five Things” and other such nonsense. The truth is that human beings have been producing great works of literature for hundreds of years without writing guides, MFA programs, or the internet.

I’m not saying that writers should shun the internet, or turn away from useful information about writing, in whatever form it might come. I’m a blogger who blogs about writing, and I’m a writing coach, so obviously I use the internet to connect with writers and distribute my own ideas regarding what I think is helpful in writing. But I do think writers should listen to their own inner voice first.

I also think it’s okay to be confused. And that it’s perfectly normal to experience moments of uncertainty while writing your book.

The key is to give yourself permission to not know where you’re going.

So if you’re in the middle of your story, and you feel like you’ve hit this swampy patch where all of your ideas about what kind of book you’re writing have been turned upside down, you can rest easy. Chances are that you’re right where you need to be.

Keep forging ahead and keep believing in yourself. Sooner or later it will all come clear.

If you enjoyed this article, you might want to check out:

Writing Your First Novel? Watch What You Consume

Why You Can’t Finish Your Novel

The Real Reason You Can’t Stop Procrastinating

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  • Reply Randy Smith 7 May, 2014 at 2:46 pm

    Simply lovely. Very nice and good advice.

  • Reply Ty Unglebower 7 May, 2014 at 6:13 pm

    I agree that thee is a near-fetishism in regards to formulas, “must dos” and check-off lists when it comes to writing. In general they might at times be helpful, but we seem to be at a point i the writing community, at least online, where it is assumed that if our work is getting sluggish, it’s because we’ve failed to plug in the right X or Y into the magic equation. Shoehorning our projects into such shapes will probably in the end only lead us further from accomplishing our storytelling.

  • Reply Adrienne Morris 9 May, 2014 at 7:54 pm

    Hurray! I agree! Formulas and too much information kept me away from writing until after a near-death experience shoved me into getting started with my life. I wrote my story because I was loving it–with only a vague sense of direction. the surprises fascinated me–and still do. Aside from people telling me how much they love a character or my book the biggest thrill still is discovering my style all by myself.

  • Reply Sandra Danby 9 May, 2014 at 11:50 pm

    You are so right. Also so many new writers think they should get it right first time. Writing is very much a ‘learn on the job’ occupation, you learn by doing. Many writers have unpublished novels in the cupboard before their first is published. SD

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