No matter how hard I tried, I could not fall into sync with my story.
Just the day before I had worked nonstop on it for hours. That day I could barely type a single sentence. I could not understand how I could go from “probably writing too much in one sitting” to “your characters clearly don’t feel like talking to you and also your narrator is apparently on vacation, bye” in less than 24 hours.
I took a walk, came back and started trying again. I was able to start writing steadily that time, but it was becoming very apparent to me how difficult this particular part of my book was to write.
It got to the point where I was starting to doubt my ability to finish the story at all. Was it really the same story that had called to me all those months ago? Did this struggle — this honestly miserable writing session — mean I should just stop trying?
As usual, there was a lesson in this not so great moment. And so, as I’m known to do, I’ll share it with you.
The story I was trying to tell was one I’d sat on — perhaps tried to tell in different ways here and there — for years. I was thrilled that it was finally coming together. Until I hit a wall.
I started talking down to myself. I wasn’t just frustrated — I was disappointed.
This shouldn’t be so hard, I started to think. I have been writing long enough that I shouldn’t struggle getting a story out. I’m past that. I should be able to do this easier.
Yes — even I still encounter moments during which I forget that writing often for a long stretch of time does not make you immune to struggle. It’s no secret that I’m far from perfect in any capacity. Half the reason this blog exists is to show you what it’s REALLY like to be a writer.
Sometimes we think we’re invincible because of this reason or that, until we’re staring at a blank page and remember we’re still just human.
It took some reflection, more writing, and a decent night’s sleep. But I finally learned what I was supposed to learn — again — from this experience.
Writing is sometimes still a challenge because by writing, I am challenging myself. By telling a story that isn’t effortless to tell, I am extending myself beyond the limits I have previously perceived. This is why writing is not easy. Not because we don’t have the skills or the willpower or the ideas, but because the only way we can grow as storytellers is to tell stories that take great effort to put onto paper.
The story you’re meant to tell is the one that pours out of you in some moments and emerges drop by drop in others. Some days you know exactly where you are taking the narrative and others you start to question whether you’re meant to keep driving it forward at all.
But in the end, the challenge is always worth the victory, no matter how small. Why? Because even getting a small piece of a story out is better than not trying to tell it at all. I feel better pouring out 100 words of my intended one thousand than I would have felt if I wrote zero.
There’s a lot of debate out there about whether or not you should force yourself to write when the words aren’t coming to you. Ultimately, how you handle “not feeling like writing” is completely up to you and I’m not here to judge your life choices.
However, I do think many aspiring writers hold themselves back because they think feeling challenged somehow means they’re doing something wrong. That’s not the case at all. Writing is hard because life is hard, and when you’re telling a story, you’re doing the best you can to reflect that hardship through your characters and the things they go through. It takes a toll on you. It’s the reason we all have to take breaks, and why I’m one hundred percent supportive of any writer who needs to step away from their desk for a second to have a good cry.
Writing should not always feel like work. It should not always feel like a game. It should be enjoyable and rewarding and accomplish some sort of goal. It should make you feel something. It should allow you to look at yourself and say, “I am glad I am writing this thing. I feel stronger because of it.”
Could many of us afford to take writing a little less seriously every once in a while? You bet. Should writing always be enjoyable in the end, even when we’re struggling to get the words out? Absolutely. Writing is not a chore, it’s not something you “have” to do. It’s a choice, one you should always make with enthusiasm.
That doesn’t mean there aren’t going to be roadblocks and tough trails along the way, though. Even on days I would rather start my own personal Law & Order SVU marathon at 6PM, the fact that I’m struggling to get my work done that day doesn’t mean I’m not proud to be a writer. A challenge doesn’t mean you aren’t supposed to do something. It means you’re supposed to grow while doing it.
I could have abandoned this story long ago in favor of something easier. But even in the beginning, I recognized its value — I saw how much it had the potential to help me grow as a writer, which is something I’m hyper-focusing on this year — a personal (and I suppose professional) choice.
So on some days I go for the easy stuff. The “I’ll probably never publish this or even show it to anyone” prose. The “I’ve told versions of this story before but I just want to have fun and make things up and entertain myself” stories. Everyone should have those — those projects that just don’t matter, and yet make a world of difference to your creative and psychological well-being.
But on most days I also have the challenges. The work. The stories and projects that put me on high alert. The ones that require me to extend myself, to pretend I’m fully confident in my ability to spin good tales (even for a little while). The ones that, when I compose their final words, will leave me a stronger, better, more experienced writer and human being than I was before.
If that is your goal — to be the best creator and person you can be — let yourself establish that balance. Face challenges, but also take the time to “write easy.” After a while, you start to figure out when you can handle which type of creative exertion. You get pretty good at detecting when you need to retell an old story just for the fun of it, and when you need to take a deep breath and face the harder roads ahead.
No matter what you hope to accomplish in your life as a writer, always seek one thing: Fulfillment. If it makes you feel alive, if it wakes up and ignites you in a way seemingly nothing else can … all that matters is that you do it. Don’t talk about it, don’t worry about it, barely even think about it. Just write.
Of all the things you might regret in your life, that won’t be one of them.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a 10-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.