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What are you waiting for? How to overcome the hurdles holding you back from writing

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If you're not writing as much as you want to, it's time to take a look at what's stopping you. No matter what's holding you back, you can write more if you really want to.

But of course, that's the crux: do you really want to write more? If you like having excuses for why you can't publish as much as everyone else, the answer is no (and that's okay—writing more is hard and time-consuming, so don't do it unless you actually want to).

But if the answer is yes, you just need to overcome whatever's holding you back. (If I haven't covered what's holding you back below, leave a comment and let me know. I'll do my best to follow up with a post that addresses whatever I missed here.)

The vast majority of the world cannot do what you can do, and of those who can, most are sitting around consuming. — Sean McCabe

Time

Time is one of the most common hurdles I've heard people complain about. You don't have enough time to write, right? You're too busy. You have so much else to do that has to take priority. You can't find the time to write even if you try.

The tough thing about feeling like you don't have time is being able to admit that if you really, really wanted to, you could make time. Acknowledging that you choose to prioritise other things is a huge step closer to fitting in writing, or anything else you want to do.

In my case, I write all the time. Every day, I write for hours. But there are more things I want to write. I've been working on a writing course off and on for months now. I wish I had more time to work on it. I'd like to write a book—I've even started planning it. And my personal blog has languished since I went back to working full-time.

I say I don't have time for all these things, and I believe it. But if I really, truly wanted to, I could make time for them. It might mean not eating well or exercising, not reading as much, or even not putting 100% into my work at Ghost. Those things aren't negotiable for me, but it's important that I admit I'm choosing to prioritise those and make everything else negotiable.

This is a huge step because I'm taking responsibility for my time and how I spend it. It's much easier to act like I have no control and simply complain about all the things I'd do if I had more time. Taking responsibility means nobody can change the situation but me, so I can either change it or stop complaining.

Overcome it

Once you've admitted you're in control of how you spend your time, you can start overcoming the time problem and writing more.

First, you'll need to make writing a priority. As I alluded to earlier, whatever you prioritise will take up your time. You need to make writing a priority if you really want to do it. It doesn't have to be your top priority, but it needs to come before some things.

Maybe that's TV time, reading, cooking, or some other hobby you enjoy. Maybe it's a side project you've been working on. Maybe it's just time that you spend relaxing. You need to figure out what you're willing to give up to write more and what you're not. If there's nothing in your schedule you're willing to throw out to fit in writing time, that's okay! So long as you know you're making the call that other things are more important.

If you can squeeze in some time for writing, try to make it the same time every day. Carve out a particular period of time that suits you and stick to it as often as you can. It's much easier to let go of a commitment you do whenever you can fit it in, as opposed to something that's scheduled into your regular routine.

When you develop a habit of writing, it becomes easy to do often, and harder to not do. These days, I don't go a day without writing something. Even when I'm not at work, I'm constantly writing notes to myself, hashing out ideas on paper, or writing blog posts for myself or my own company. It's such a part of what I do that I would have to try hard not to write every day.

With patience and practice, you too can build that strong a habit.

Finally, plan what you'll write before you do it. It's one thing to say you're going to write every day at 7am for half an hour. It's another to sit in the chair and spend that half hour productively.

If you're trying to build a habit of writing that becomes part of your regular schedule, the last thing you want is to feel like you wasted your half hour when it's up.

You can avoid this feeling by planning ahead. Choose a topic you've been thinking about. Pick something you've been meaning to write for work. Whatever it is, define it as best you can, so you can start writing as soon as you sit down. That half hour isn't for planning or thinking, it's for getting words on the page.

If you have trouble coming up with ideas, we've written a few posts in the past that might help you out:

How To Come up with Great Ideas for Blog Posts, Every Single Time

One of the best ways to find new content ideas: write what you want to read

Dig deeper: how to find new ideas in old content

And you can always find all our posts about coming up with new ideas in our Inspiration category.

Permission

This hurdle is not one I hear people mention often. It seems to be more of a subconscious hurdle than something we openly grapple with.

When we try something new, especially something as public as blogging, we often get held back by the idea that we're not good enough. Seeing examples of others who are successful in a field we want to explore can be inspiring, but also intimidating.

It's not crazy to want someone to have confidence in you before you start something. It's scary to take risks, so the more certainty we can get before doing so, the easier it can be to jump in.

Overcome it

Nobody will give you permission but you. Sorry to break it to you.

If they haven't already, nobody's going to encourage you to write until you take the leap and start doing it. Nobody else has time to keep egging you on until you finally get around to doing something.

I didn't realise consciously that I was waiting for permission to be an actor until my most recent acting class. My acting teacher was tough, and didn't dole out praise for the sake of it. For the entire first term, I was disappointed with everything I did. Classmates would praise me, and we'd collectively applaud our group effort after a performance, but still I'd be frustrated that I hadn't performed better.

Eventually my acting teacher gave it to me straight. "Nobody's going to give you permission to do this," he said. "You're already good at it, but you have to realise that for yourself before you can get any better." On reflection I realised what he was getting at. I'd been waiting for his praise, his approval, after everything I did. I wasn't willing to take the risks needed to give my best performance because I spent the whole term waiting for permission.

If only I'd realised I'd had it in me all along... cue Disney music

No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others. — Martha Graham

Don't make the same mistake as me. I wasted a term of acting class waiting for permission when I could have been improving my skills. Give yourself permission to start writing, and stop worrying about what other people will think.

Thousands of people start new blogs every day. They give themselves permission and go for it, and nobody bats an eye. Trust in the fact (even though it might be really hard to believe) that nobody's holding you back but yourself.

And if you still think you're not ready, do it anyway. You won't be successful if you're forever waiting for go time.

Skill

A hurdle that's closely related to permission is thinking you don't have the skills required. So you're not a good writer, and that's holding you back. Fair enough! Why write if you're no good at it?

Only that's not actually fair enough.

Here's why: you can't get better at writing unless you do it.

And you know what's really scary? You can't get really good at writing unless you let other people read and criticise your work.

I know. It's super scary. The last thing you want is criticism, right?

But getting really good at something is hard. And to get there you have to do things that are scary.

It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. — Martha Graham

Overcome it

This is another area where you need to start before you feel ready.

You can't build the skill without practice. And you can't practise if you never start.

Austin Kleon suggests sharing your inspiration if you're not ready to share your work. Then you can build up to sharing bits of your process—your tools and techniques, and maybe snapshots of your work-in-progress.

Your influences are all worth sharing because they clue people in to who you are and what you do. — Austin Kleon

These approaches can help you get more comfortable with the act of sharing while you hone your skills. And eventually you'll be able to share your finished work with more confidence.

Austin also has some advice when it comes to accepting criticism about your work. The more people see your work, the more criticism you'll get, but that can often be what makes you improve, so you need to learn to take it on without letting it cripple you.

The way to be able to take a punch is to practice getting hit a lot. Put out a lot of work. Let people take their best shot at it. Then make even more work and keep putting it out there. The more criticism you take, the more you realize it can’t hurt you.

Inspiration

Of course you can't write if you're not inspired! Who can?

Well... pretty much all professional writers. You kinda have to learn to do that when you're making art on a deadline.

But hey, I get it. It's hard. I hate writing when I'm not into what I'm working on (that's why I always have a couple of pieces on the go at once, so I can switch between them).

Maybe you don't know what to write about until you get a jolt of inspiration. Or maybe you have a huge list of ideas withering away while you hunt around for some motivation to get started.

Overcome it

Trust me, you're inspired all the time. Even if it doesn't seem like it.

The problem is, you miss these moments. We're all missing moments of inspiration because they come so frequently. The more you read, create, talk, think, and go outside and do stuff, the more potential moments for inspiration you can run into.

The remedy? Take more notes. Get a notebook, diary, journal, scrapbook, or photo album. Save stuff. Think more about what you see, read, and experience. Write about what it made you feel, what connections it encouraged in your mind, what you thought was missing.

You don't have to have a writing session every time you come up with an idea or notice something interesting. But taking note of these moments will help you recognise inspiration and tap into it. If you've got a list of ideas to write about whenever you sit at your computer, it'll be much easier to get started.

Most importantly—having a trove of ideas and notes that have inspired you already will help you get into the right frame of mind to write on cue.


Writing can be an intense process, but it doesn't have to be. If you're struggling to write more often, try to figure out which hurdle is holding you back the most so you can start overcoming it.

And if I didn't mention your biggest struggle, let me know in the comments so I can cover it in the future.