The Anxiety of a Non-Writer Surrounded By Writers

Hey, everyone, hope you’re having an awesome Friday! One thing some of you might possibly know about me is that my dad is a writer. A successful one, at that! And as such, he knows a lot of other successful writers. Because of that, I’ve had the amazing chance to meet so many super cool, fantastic authors and be immersed in a book-filled, writing-intensive world. A world where words on a page are basically blood in your veins, where hardcovers are the air you breathe and paperbacks the water you drink. I’ve lived in this world for as long as I can remember.

And, honestly, it’s pretty daunting. It makes you think, how can I ever amount to what all these amazing people have? Will I ever be at their level, going on book tours and having signing lines hundreds of people long? How can I become as great as them, have my writing be as loved as theirs?

So, I started writing, determined to get to that point, hellbent on having a best-seller out by the time I was eighteen, having my book translated into twenty different languages and tour the world by the time I graduated high school. Obviously, that didn’t happen.

I don’t have anything to show for all my time spent writing. Because I can never finish anything. And I know writer’s block is a thing and that a lot of professional authors struggle with completing a book, but eventually, they do complete it! And I have never been able to do that. I keep thinking, this will be the story I finish, and it never is. I can’t make it past a certain page number in any of my stories.

So I contemplate why I can’t just crank something out, why I can’t just sit down and finish any number of things I’ve started and abandoned in my Google Drive cemetery. I think the main reason is because I love all my concepts and ideas, but as soon as I start putting those thoughts onto the page, they’re not what they were when they were still in my head. Trying to write them out seems to almost ruin them. I can’t seem to convey the things in my head well enough to be satisfied with the thousands of words I’ve written.

And the whole thing of being a writer is conveying your ideas to others through the written word, but I just can’t seem to do that. How can I ever be a writer? I’ve got the support, the connections, everything anyone who wants to be a writer could wish for, and I just can’t write. It’s not even like I’m trying to write a whole novel, I’m just trying to get something finished, and it seems impossible.

My whole life I’ve been around successful people who are doing exactly what I want to do, who are living the life I want to live, and I don’t think I’ll ever catch up.

Anyways, this is my second to last post on here, so I wanted to share that with y’all. I know a lot of you like to write, too, and it probably seems like an impossible task sometimes. Well, you’re definitely not alone. Keep at it, though. That’s the best advice I have for you.

And have a great weekend!

66 Comments on “The Anxiety of a Non-Writer Surrounded By Writers”

  1. You have been writing and finishing these blog posts all summer. You may not have anything to “show” for that previous work, but it’s an important foundation. Arrows in your quiver.

  2. Except you’re making the classic mistake of comparing the seed with the 400 year old tree. You’re seeing towering oaks and thinking ‘I’ll never be there!’ but the truth is, and it’s a cliche, that they started in the same place you are. You just have to grow. Plus you have the advantage of knowing someone who has done it, so you know it can be done. Keep going. You’re actually doing great.

  3. One of the interesting things I’ve notices is that working in journalism teaches a person to finish things. There’s a very clear print deadline after all. And it teaches a person to write clearly. A number of my favorite writers are former journalists. Heh, I think you might know one.

    Certainly journalism is a career in great flux right now. And some journalism has become blogging or writing on medium. But I’d guess it still has useful lessons to teach, ones that I’m interested in as well.

  4. Just a couple of observations Athena..first you’ve done very well writing in this particular setting/format .. you may be expecting a little too much of yourself too soon..writing well is hard work and most of us do not have the particular gifts to succeed..that being said many famous authors did not achieve success until later in their lives.. experiencing life as we age teaches and hang in there..half the battle is figuring out what you really want to do (or write:)

  5. Another great post, Athene – I will be sharing.

    As someone who specializes in helping people overcome blocks, I call what you are describing “situational perfectionism. ” It turns out that there are a zillion things that can cause someone’s perfectionism to spike, and knowing (esp. living with / being related to) authors (esp. successful ones) is one. FYI I also see it a lot in academic couples where one is super productive and the other is struggling. (In hetero couples, the productive one is almost always male and the struggling one is almost always female, for reasons I’ll let everyone guess.)

    The solution lies in overcoming perfectionism generally. I would also focus on writing and finishing short pieces – finishing itself is a skill. And River Vox makes an excellent point that you did a good job finishing and publishing this summer. This brings us to another point which is that it’s often our arbitrary categories that get us into trouble. It sounds like you’re being challenged by your fiction, which you might be heaping all kinds of expectations onto. But you should approach that with exactly the same attitude as the blog posts you’ve done very well at this summer.

    On an entirely different note – obligatory question from an envious old: what classes are you taking this fall?

  6. You seem to be doing a good job with your blog posts, at least I think so. Just continue along that line commenting on the world around you and look at each of these short missives as the beginning of a chapter in a longer tome that can be expanded over time or collected together to form a story.

  7. Athena—I used to be just like you, except without another writer in the family. I wanted to be a novelist since the age of eleven, and told everyone I could that I would be. But my problem was the same as yours. I couldn’t finish ANYTHING. I started tons of stories, and then I’d lose interest or get distracted by something else. After high school there would come years when I wouldn’t write anything at all, then I’d dive back in, but again, I’d hit that wall. Finally, at the age of, I think 31, I actually finished a novel. Not a great one, and one that’s only been read by a handful of friends in an old writer’s group. But I did finish, and proved to myself I could. And once I proved that, there have been very few novels I’ve started that I haven’t finished. In fact, since that first completed book, I’ve writing another 35 novels and have been a full time novelist for a decade. I think the reason I never finished a book before I did was that I wasn’t ready…what I mean is, I needed to soak in more of the world. I needed to immerse myself in stories others were telling, whether in books or movies or tv or whatever. I needed experience, I guess. But all those failed attempts weren’t wasted. They honed my skills. Taught me how to write better and better and better. I’m still learning. All this is to say, you are on the right track, and you’ll eventually finish that first book. Keep going. You’re doing great!

  8. If I had a nickel for every time I heard or read a writer (or pretty much any creative person) say something like this, I’d be on Forbes’s list annually. Your dad probably has had similar feelings. Writing is a craft, an art and a job, at least if you want to be a writer. You’ll do well at whatever you finally decide to do. That much is clear from reading your contributions here. It’s been a pleasure reading your posts.

  9. Ira Glass said it best: ““Nobody tells this to people who are beginners, I wish someone told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase, they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know its normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story. It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”

  10. My husband read somewhere (Lawrence Block in one of his how-to writing books?) that one cannot be taught to write, one must learn to write, by writing. Somewhere north of a million words is required. So he set out to write those words, or two million if necessary. He was a good technical writer, being an engineer. But expositional and fiction writing, not so much. So he wrote blogs. He wrote essays. He wrote books (one of them about 4 times over). He took online classes about how to write sentences, and worked on the building blocks of the craft.

    And he did, in fact, learn to write well formed, well plotted, and interesting books. We’ve published a non-fiction book and a fiction book about how Arthur Conan Doyle didn’t invent Sherlock Holmes, and we’ve got another 11 fiction books planned. (I’m the publisher, but we do it professionally, hiring artists, designers & editors)

    The point being, writing is kind of like getting to Carnegie Hall. Nothing you write is wasted. It’s practice. Or material for revisiting and editing later in life. Finishing not required. Publishing not required. You’ve kept up your posting responsibility this summer, so good for you. As I’ve learned in my own art (bead weaving), not every piece is immortal art. Some is just practice. Every piece is learning.

    Have a wonderful time at college this year.

  11. Thank you, Athena. I also struggle to finish anything, and am not particularly happy about it. I’ve been reading *Mindsets* by Carol Dweck, and am seeing myself in that. We’ll see if it helps me break through…

    Good luck to you!

  12. Have you tried short stories instead of the “great novel”? How about writing the ending first?

  13. Hmmmm. I seem to remember you posting up a completed short story for us all to read just a little bit ago. It was a pretty well-framed and well-contained story, too.

    Did that work for you because it was an assignment? Because it had strict requirements it had to meet or a strict deadline? Because it was very short? Figure out which parameters help your writing and find ways to use them. (And if it’s the ‘very short’ one and you want to write a novel, remember short pieces can be creatively strung together to make something bigger.) And yes, finishing is difficult, largely because it is so much harder to *practice* finishing than to practice beginning. I actually had the exact same problem in jewelry making for a long time. Keep at it.

  14. *cough*
    Have you asked your dad for advice?
    HELL, bet you can talk him into collaborating with you.

    If nothing else, isn’t this what writing clinics are for?
    Helping to get from A to B.

    You have already made a great start.

    Ask your dad to show you some of his early crap, that he has kept, but won’t show to humans.
    My guess is that you will find that all writers start where you have started from.

  15. Have you heard of/considered NaNoWriMo? You could use it to concentrate on finishing a book! I hope you crack this, it must be frustrating for you.

  16. Advice is worth exactly what you pay for it, so I’ll just add a tiny amount here (about two cents worth, in todays currency). Actually, not advice at all, other than “writing is never wasted, any more than taking ground balls is wasted if you’re a baseball player”.
    It’s just that beginnings are easy and fun. Endings are satisfying and a huge relief. It’s that long slog in the middle, where the road is endless and the blisters are really beginning to hurt, that the trouble often lies. I’ve played a whoooole lot of computer games in my life – most of which I haven’t finished. Some I finished with a sigh of relief. Some I finished with a sense of satisfaction and accomplishment. A very few I’ve finished and then played again with about as much pleasure as the first time – and like books, often there is so much there in good ones that repeated replayings grant new insights each time.
    I piddle around with writing, but other than my dark and brooding short story take on “Eensy-weensy Spider”, it’s all disconnected fragments. Maybe you’ll reach the point that critical mass will be reached and your first story will just take off and write itself through you – or maybe you’ll go into molecular biology and agonize over every paper and grant application that you write for those annoying editors and criminally insane reviewers. Possibly you’ll go into interpretive dance and resolve never write anything again. Hey, it’s all good. You’ll be swell. No, you’ll be great! Gonna have the whole world on a plate! Etc., etc.
    Have fun, and let the future arrive in its own time. But never forget the seven ‘P’s!

  17. Amen to other commenters about your posts here and your intriguing short story about Death. You finished them all. You are NOT a non-writer!

  18. Bravo – anyone would be intimidated ion those circumstances – Love that you work on it – your articles have been great all summer – nice variety and always with enthusiasm and surprising thoughts. Hang in there – you will find the time and the space one day – and it WILL fall into place. I look forward to reading more…

  19. Others have already said most of what I would have said, so I will just add that you might consider that a novel is not the appropriate length for you – at least at this time. Try doing short stories, which not only require fewer words and hopefully less opportunity to get stalled, but are actually a genre that seems to work better for some people better than any other. My father was a very successful short-story writer, and he once told me that this was the art form that fit him best, by far.

    BTW, don’t think that writing short stories is an easy task that will not help you develop your writing skills. Creating an interesting story that really pleases the reader is a real challenge because almost every word can be critical. Many writers today are producing novels of 400-700 pages, and I consider ti a tribute to your father’s skill that he creates novels of a fraction that size that are at least as entertaining, and generally more so.

    – Tom –

  20. I read Whatever via an RSS feed. True story: not long ago I started reading a Scalzi piece where he waxed poetic about various memes, and I was surprised that he was such a hip and with-it dude. It wasn’t until the next day that I realized that *you* had written the post! So I think you’re on the right track. ;-) I enjoyed reading your posts this summer–you are every bit as engaging and personable as your dad. Have fun at school!

  21. I read this post this morning and it really resonated with me.

    So, here’s the thing; most of the advice you’re getting is from people much older than you. We’d like to think we’re wiser, but, really, there’s no guarantee of that. Well meaning advice, to be sure, but advice born from our own hopes and fears and successes and failures. But, I can tell you, you’re not alone. Today, I struggle with exactlly the same thing and I’m actually a little older than your father.

    I knew I wanted to be a writer when I was in the 7th Grade after reading Frank Herbert’s Dune. For years, I worked at it and my output got progressively better until, shortly after college, I had a story that was good enough to sell. At least, according to the editor of the small press magazine that was shutting down just before they could publish my story. Then, as it tends to do, life gave me a little sideways shove. It doesn’t matter what that was, but it took me further and further away from that dream of being a professional writer. And, all that time, everyone who mattered in my life told me that it was for the best. It was for the best because, of course, we all know that it’s almost impossible to make a living as a writer. Except, of course, that just isn’t true. But, as someone not much older than you, I believed them when the oldsters told me that was how it was. That was just how the world worked. Except that they were wrong. But, as a result, I set aside my writing, for the most part, outside of some half-hearted attempts while stumbling and bumbling through life.

    But, now, I’m trying again and it’s as though I’ve forgotten how to tell a story. And, believe me when I tell you that I’ve read dozens of books on writing, possibly hundreds, so it’s NOT that I don’t know what makes a story or good writing. It’s something else. It’s something that only comes when I’m quiet and alone, which every writer is when they sit down to actually write. It’s fear. It’s fear of failure. It’s fear of doing it once maybe, but then never again. It’s fear of doing it poorly, again and again and again.
    I don’t know why you feel stuck or have the problem I do, but I can tell you that I feel less alone knowing that I’m not the only one. And, maybe, a little less afraid.

    So, I hope you find your way out of it, whatever “it” is, and get to your stories. And, thank you for writing this post, because, if nothing else, it’s helped me.

  22. fwiw, my breakthrough moment came when I competed in NaNoWriMo, the National Novel Writing Month, in November of 2004. I committed to working the program so I bought the paperback, I signed up for the rah-rah emails, I went through the same stages everyone seems to go through.

    It was the first time I completed anything longer than a short premise. The idea is to write a 50k word rough draft in 30 days so I picked an idea I thought would be fun with a kind of Firefly feel, peopled it with a large cast of colorful characters who could bounce off each other, and the dialogue practically wrote itself.

    I had the hardest time in week 3, which is common, and got to the place where I was writing word count just to write word count. And then, in the depths of my hardest day, a character broke out and did something I hadn’t expected. It startled me and I kept writing to see what would happen next.

    I finished the month with 55k words, easily soaring past the 50k word limit, and I really liked the ending that presented itself. The confidence that gave me cannot be overstated. Since then, I’ve sold a dozen short stories and have written four novels.

    I’m going through The Story Grid content this summer and it’s been fabulous. I’ve always been a seat-of-your-pants writer and this program has showed me about the structure underneath our stories. Instead of making me feel penned in, learning about genre conventions and obligatory scenes has lessened the load by doing a lot of the heavy lifting for me. Author Shawn Coyne put out a series of five short videos which give a pretty good overview.

    Good luck with your writing!

  23. What a wonderful and insightful article. I will be forwarding this to my girls.

    The only advice I can give you is instead of having ideas, let the idea engender a path, the path to a plan and a plan to action items…. and then execute the items … including. The idea of the ending before you have started.

    Good luck and i am sorry there is an ending to your writings here.. you are a breath of fresh air (As compared to you know who! :-))

  24. Athena, first of all, you write. That makes you a writer. Finishing and especially finishing at publishable level? Those are extraneous concepts. You’re a writer.

    Second, you may find it difficult to finish a story if you did not have the end of the story firmly set in your mind when you began it. It’s probably necessary for you to plot the story, know how that great first idea causes (or is caused by) the worst period of time ever in your protagonist’s life. Because s/he is going to come out of it changed, and generally, the situation demands fast change of your protagonist.

    You might find it useful to look into the general structure of fiction. Google “story structure.”

    Explore some writing blogs. Somewhere in there you may find someone who makes sense to you in terms of structuring your story, which is what keeps most of us from finishing our work. You seem to me to be an emotionally aware young woman, so wait for that “Aha!” moment. You either know what I mean, or you’ll feel it when you find one that’s right for you.

    And heck yeah, talk to your dad. He’s been here, done this. His answers may make emotionally-felt sense to you, or may not, but why pass up the opportunity to consult the in-house expert?

  25. This sounds a little glib, and it certainly won’t work for every story, but if you write the ending first, having that target to aim for helps you make your way to it as you write.

  26. One thought on the “finishing” things: have you considered a short story forum or something? I have seen that a lot of authors on those comment that they used to never finish things, but the comments and enthusiasm from the people who are reading chapter by chapter gives them the drive to do it. So new chapters every Monday! Or whatever.

  27. I started books and never finished them, eventually gave up fiction, then writing altogether for many years. I had a huge rush of creative energy with first child I birthed at age 37, started a novel when I was about 41 or 42, finished it at age 46.

    What I had at 46 that I didn’t have at 16 or 26 was a much better understanding of people, how they change over time and with life experience, how events unfold over time, how people’s priorities change, etc etc etc. I didn’t have a novel in me until then.

  28. Completely understandable (and relatable) anxiety. I think you’ll soon find that finishing things gets easier. It is hard to create a Thing when you are still in the process of creating your Self.

  29. My father is a professional-class musician who played music for fun. When he retired, a local house band finally convinced him to join them for their Sunday afternoon gig at an Irish retaurant. I like music. I tried to learn to play music. I could never get my music to sound right and got discouraged. I stopped playing. And you know what? Music wasn’t my path. There I was, with a great example who could teach me to play and introduce me to players and how it all works and who wanted me to play … but that’s not what I was meant to do.

    I found my own path in life. Do I miss music? Sometimes, I wish I’d kept up with the practice, but then I think of all the other things I did because I had time, since I wasn’t practicing music. You’re so young. Go try out other things. Try out LOTS of other things. If writing is your true calling, you’ll come back to it, and with lots of experiences you can put into your writing.

    The thing about writing is that it’s always there, waiting for you, if and when you want to come back to it.

  30. You will finish something when you are ready too. The best thing about having lots of projects simmering is that at anytime you can go back to them. I understand exactly where you are coming from because I have the same problem. I have lots of good ideas but nothing seems to come to fruition. You have a great voice though, keep pursing it and something will eventually stick. Writing books isn’t going anywhere and you don’t have to give yourself crazy goals to get one completed.

  31. “And the whole thing of being a writer is conveying your ideas to others through the written word”

     I think of this differently, here’s how.

    The thing of being a writer isnt to convey your ideas to others. It is to encourage your readers to create their own ideas with a little encouragement from you, the writer.

    If in 1938, you had asked ten people to read the text of the hobbit and asked them to draw a sketch of, say Gollum, you would get ten different sketches.
    Today, with the book turned into movies, everyone pretty much has the same image of gollum.

    Archmedes said “give me a place to stand, and a lever long enough, and I can move the earth.” Writers are Archemedes. The story is the fulcrum. It is the readers who are the lever. Dont think you have to do it all yourself. Give your readers a fulcrum and a little nudge in the right direction, and they will create (and move) entire worlds for you.

    The readers are your friends. Give them something to care about, and keep nudging them in the right direction now and then.

  32. Athena, just because you don’t have a book to hold onto doesn’t mean that all your work leaves you with “nothing to show for it.” You were and are in the process of teaching yourself to write. And yes, I think every writer at any stage of development knows that deep ache when we realize that the words on the page, even when they’re good, don’t match the glorious, golden words and ideas we had in our heads. That is part of the learning process. They’re never going to match, and the goal is simply to write the best story you can, so that the gap between the written words and that shimmering vision is as narrow as possible.

    I will “ditto” everyone who pointed out that you finished multiple blog posts, on deadline, all summer and they were good! Interesting! Fun to read!

    Keep on. Try different things — writing classes, writing prompts, working with a buddy, shorter works– to figure out what you have to do to make it to the end. And celebrate everything you do that you like.

  33. Since you are at college, and learning all sorts of stuff, now might be the time to take one of these story ideas and see if it lends itself to another expression. A short film. A diary entry. A painting. A graphic novel. I’m an architect, and some concepts just don’t lend themselves to being expressed in a building. I often have to take those ideas and find homes for them elsewhere: emails to friends, facebook entries, quilts, recipes, etc. .

    Have fun with this!

  34. Athena, are you naturally good at telling stories? If yes, then continue writing fiction. If not, then perhaps a change in creative direction is best. Good luck.

  35. Hello Athena,

    I suspect that your Dad knows your aspirations to be a writer. I’d also suspect he knows you can struggle getting your ideas into a satisfactory bundle of words. Reading the comments above helps me believe I am right.

    My guess is that the blog writing you have done this summer has been your Dad’s way of helping you to “just write” and “finish”. You’ve had deadlines. You practiced getting a subject into meaningful order, then articulated your thoughts about it. I’d say you’ve done well. Keep at it and it will become better. I won’t say it will be easier because your standards will rise along with your skill level.

    Hope your school year is fabulous!

  36. Not to put too fine a point on it: So what?

    So you can’t finish a story. So what? We’ll take as read all the rah-rah, buck-up, you-can-do it posts above; perhaps one day, if you work real hard and keep at it, you too will be a best-selling, award-winning, globe-trotting writer just like Dad.

    Or, perhaps, you won’t. So what?

    Maybe, just maybe, you aren’t a writer. Most people aren’t! It takes a while to become the person you will be as an adult–and it generally isn’t who you thought you were going to be growing up. (Me, I was two years into grad school–in the wrong program–before I found my calling. You’ve had what, a year of college now?)

    What you will be, is Athena Effing Scalzi. And it’s pretty clear you’re gonna be great at that.

  37. Athena,
    Your experience is not unique. There are many people—some of them professional writers—who experience the exact same level of writer’s block, whether it’s in developing partial stories but being unable to finish because they don’t pan out/anxiety/lack of time/lack of attention or whatever.
    That being said, the difference between a writer and a nonwriter is that the writer sits down and writes, and the nonwriter doesn’t. You don’t have to finish everything or most things you write. You don’t even need to finish anything—it is the act of writing that makes one a writer. (Now, being famous and/or paid handsomely for writing is another issue, but that’s really a secondary issue.)
    I use myself as an example: I did all the “right” things to be a professional writer, including submitting stories, getting an MFA degree, attending workshops and conferences. I still struggle with writer’s block, and finishing stories, or just undeveloped neat ideas I have. It’s a constant challenge, and I actually get paid to write, as a professional journalist. By any measure, I have a successful career, but I still struggle with my fiction.
    That’s OK. Despite all the market pressures and the drive of the big fancy New York publishing houses to discover the next young genius “voice of his/her generation” writer, but those are truly the .1 percent of the literary world. Everyone else has a different schedule. Richard Adams’ first novel was the beloved classic “Watership Down,” but he didn’t see it published until he was 54.
    So don’t worry about any time frame (and don’t let your father’s success be a measuring stick for your own writing). Just keep writing. Write a journal. Write short-shorts under 300 words. Write short stories. And read widely and frequently. Seeing how other writers do it is the best education a writer can get, and it’s also a fun education.
    In short: just keep writing, do what you love to do, don’t fret the expectations of the industry or the clock or whatever measure you hold yourself up against for comparison, and the rest will follow in their own due time. Best of luck!

  38. Lots of great advice already but I’ll add my 2 cents in the hope it helps a little. Athena (that’s the name of one of my characters, and yes she plays the goddess of the same name, obviously :), but in a SciFi setting), do you know if you think you’re a plotter or a pantser? I think depending on which you think works best for you, different kind of advice might apply. I’m a pantser myself. Though I’ve been suspecting I’m doing part of the plotting too, just in my head (mostly).

    Also, know that you can be a bestseller and struggle with this too, but you already know this. I’ve achieved bestselling status a few times already on Amazon and even so, this year, I managed to be blocked for like almost 6 months. I did some writing (one of these extra stories I give my readers) but I’ve fallen so far behind compared to the first day I went pro, that it’s scared the bejeezus out of me. I might have frozen for the exact opposite you describe. I wasn’t worried I couldn’t finish a book, I was worried I couldn’t start a new one. I finished a successful (to me that is) 10 book series. And it scared me cause what if it’s the only series that ever sells? I know it’s silly but hey, I’m a writer (LOL).

    Now in the past, before I got an electroshock (following a burnout) to finish something, I was exactly like you. I would start so many projects, be it books, comic books (I draw too and do my own covers), video games, you name it. Any media that I could think of to try and tell a story. And I never ever finished anything before that first book, really. Maybe with the exception of a less than a 10k short story and that was for a contest. Funnily the only one story I wrote in French (my main tongue), all the rest I always did in English. But yeah, I have like 3 video games concepts, some websites I did for them, sprites (2D) graphics for 3-4 or more games I’ve worked on, a 32 page fully colored manga that is somewhat related to the universe I wrote as books 13 years later (a version of that comics/manga was even on the Apple and Windows store for a time). But none of these projects were ever truly completed. But I see them as important nonetheless as they were part of the creative process and some ideas from each ended up later in my books. So don’t fret if you don’t finish something. On a subconscious level, it’s part of you and might resurface when you least expect it :).

    I read in some of the comments about perfectionism, and I know a little about that as well. It’s frustrating when you can’t do as good as you envisioned it, but I would advise you to keep at it. First, you’ll work on your craft (as you are posting these wonderful blog post BTW), then there is repetition. The more you do something every day, the more it becomes a habit. And that’s exactly how I got out of my own block lately. But like you, sometimes I don’t want to continue on a certain page, and I realized that for me at least, there’s an easy way out of this. Write multiple stories concurrently, every time you don’t feel like writing story A, jump to B, but just give yourself a very attainable daily wordcount (start with something like 200-300 or even less if you have to), and don’t let yourself skip days. Why I find works best is to start the day and do the word count, but I suffer from ADD/ADHD so I get so easily distracted that I have to use software to disconnect myself from the net, and I also blast music in my ears when I write, that keeps me focused somehow :). If you do it every day, I bet you’ll be surprised how easier it gets. Sometimes I’m not in the mood. But I write anyway, now. It’s excruciating for 500-600 words, and by the time I burst through the resistance, I’m past my daily word count and I’m like. “See, you could write today, even with your bad mood.”

    Right now I’m writing two books at the same time, some days I write Book A, others Book B. And I get so much satisfaction from achieving my word count every single day (99% of the time, sometimes I fall a little short but other days I fo 50% more so it kind of compensates) that I realized that something I thought I would never like (write two stories at once) is actually addictive, and I want to add Stories C & D in there… and basically you could take up all the stories you’ve left and just open one, see if you can write more, if not switch to another or just start a new one. I’m not sure if this can work for everybody, really, I was amazed it worked for me in the first place.

    Also if you haven’t read War of Art from Steven Pressfield, I HIGHLY recommend you do. This book alone convinced me to finish up my first book. I read it, and about six weeks later I had completed the first draft of my now bestselling series (universe in flames). It took another 8 months to get the right editor, proofreaders (that was a new world for me, fortunately, your dad can help with all of that), and cover for the book (long story short (I know funny right :)? Considering the length of my post): I hired an artist, things got delayed ad nauseam, and I just ended up doing it myself), and after 40 days on Amazon, it had sold over 2000 copies. The rest is history, really. But to get back to perfectionism just for a second, I spent 150 hours crafting my first book cover. That’s insane. I wanted every little pixel detail possible. And You could blow up the cover on a building size and you wouldn’t see any degradation of image. But hey, that wasn’t needed. In the 150 hours I spent making sure the cover was the best it could be, I could have written an entire second novel. But my first book was like a baby to me, and maybe I was procrastinating away from launching it in doing so. Nowadays I whip up a cover in 5-10h max, sometimes shorter than this. In the end, though it really helped me doing everything from the book to the cover, to website and author platform. I feel like I’ve achieved so much, and yet I often focus on what I didn’t manage to do in the three years I’ve done that full-time.

    On average I drop a 80-110k book in the wild every 90 days. And I think I’m slow. Have 14 books out (11 full-length novels + 3 shorter works, and 2-3 more stories that are freebies for my subscribers).But ever since I conquered my fear of the block, about three weeks ago, I have a 2-2.5k daily average, I think I can do better. I really love your dad’s writing, so I hope there’s some interesting piece of advice you can use in this post. I apologize for its length :D.

    Good luck with your writing and like others said here, you’re finishing your blog posts. Some of them quite long, so don’t sell yourself short. I’m also an expert at self-critique and tend to focus on what I didn’t do instead of what I did (not a good habit let me tell you).

    Don’t beat yourself up. As a matter of fact, forgiving oneself is probably the best piece of advice I can share. If you focus on the not’s and not achieved, missed deadlines, wasted days, it will eat at you. Just congratulate yourself for any achievement, no matter how small, and I think it makes life easier (full disclosure: I’m still working on that one ;) ). Some people don’t start writing until a much later age in life, too. It took a burnout at age 39 to finally sit myself down on that chair and finish the novel I had started 10+ years before. And don’t be too sad about missed deadlines like having a bestseller by the time you’re 18. That one though, I understand very well: I wanted to be the next Akira Toriyama (Dragonball Z’s creator for those who just went “who?”) by age 30. Well, that obviously didn’t happen :). But what did, eventually, is just as cool (in my own vision of success that is).

    Cheers, and keep on writing.
    Thanks for all the cool blog posts, keep them coming.

  39. You’re doing fine. I know it doesn’t seem that way, but you are. See, you’re at the point where you can tell good work from bad, but you’re still learning how to write. So of course most of it looks like crap to you, because you can see what’s wrong with it but don’t yet know how to fix it.

    But here’s a secret that a lot of people never learn: you cannot be objective about yourself or your own work. Just because you think it sucks doesn’t make it so.

    And guess what? It actually doesn’t suck. You’re quite good with your posts here. You know what you’re doing. You’re clear, knowledgeable, and entertaining, which is exactly what’s called for.

    I think you’re off to a great start. Yeah, you’ll need to write a lot more. It’s a lot of work and a lot of time. Ray Bradbury said that if you want to write for a living, you need to be prepared to write a million words, and throw them away, before you can expect to produce something publishable. I don’t think it’s quite THAT bad, but the more practice you get, the more opportunity to learn.

    You’re in a fantastic position, if writing is something you want to do. Enjoy it, and be sure to explore every opportunity. You’ll be on the bestseller list before you know it. Have a great sophomore year!

  40. I could just go with “what they said ^^^”, but I’m gonna chime in anyway.

    My first manuscript (which is in its 12-billionth revision) that I actually finished was the 3rd time I’d started to write that exact story. Somewhere (usually between 10 and 20,000 words), the inspiration and excitement start to lag, the reality of your skills/writing sink in, and getting back to the keyboard and making new words turns into a grind.

    The 3rd time I tried it, I was doing NaNoWriMo and I hadn’t missed my word count for the day, yet. So, I figured I could write a side story or some character’s background and count that towards my word count. And I did. Whenever I got stuck, I thought about what needed to happen next and I realized my character hadn’t eaten in a while… (I edited out about 3 different meals). The drive to not lose my streak helped me with my drive to finish. And I hit 50,000 words on the last day of November, with a messy manuscript that wasn’t near done.

    It took me another 9 months to finish the novel at 131,000 words — with a lot of editing ahead of me.

    I’ve got 2 other rough drafts that I haven’t looked at since I wrote ‘the end’, one filled with place holder names (Alice, Bob, Carol, all from Canadia) that are hot messes. But I finished them.

    It’s hard to look at so many accomplished writers and compare and strive to do what they do.

    I know I fight with the feeling of, “if it’s not done, no one can judge it.”

    Write because you want to, write what you want to. And remember to only compare your work to your OWN earlier work. Writing is like running a race — all you need to do is beat your last record.

  41. Wonderful comments. Not much to say except that Athena, you are doing great at these blogs. I appreciate the comments, as they apply to all phases of accomplishment.

    I don’t even attempt to write novels, I write decent short stories instead. They are fun and entertaining. Novels are work and I’m too lazy for that. ;>)

  42. I was expecting your last sentence to be half finished as a joke, but I was disappointed!
    Everyone has different character traits. Check out belbin team roles on the Internet. There are very few strong completer finishers in this world who would be good at finishing a book, so maybe you’re not strong in that area. However someone who is a strong C-F may lack the ideas of a plant, or organisational skills or motivation to start a book. I’m a plant naturally, so i can generate all sorts of ideas easily. Finishing things is really very hard for me and I’ve had to learn to be a co-ordinator for my work. You can learn to be a C-F, bit it might not come easily and might take a lot of effort. If you love writing, don’t give up, practice, practice, practice!

  43. Hi Athena, (and others)
    Around your age I started calling myself “a recovering wimp” so that I finished everything. (You know us recovering alcoholics can’t have even one drink) But this did not apply to art, such as stories, because I wasn’t doing any art.

    Being in recovery means that I never considered asking any prof for any extension on any term paper. I was willing to hand in just a title page rather than wimp out. So I never got term paper block, and I always finished ok.

    I suppose, maybe, perhaps, if I was going to consider writing fiction then I would go to the counselling office and ask for an aptitude test to how much I was artistic. (To me, journalism is as much craft as art. Same as blog essays, which I write every week)

    Rose is the lady who acted in Charmed, and has a book out, Brave, where on the cover she is shaving her head from not believing in sexism. Here’s a cut-and-paste from my desk top sticky note to remind myself:

    Rose, in Brave, page 203: “Looking back, if there were one thing I could change it’s this: I wish I had known I was an artist a lot sooner. I would have started (X) a lot sooner… (and Y sooner, Z sooner) ” meaning: directing, singing, writing.

    Poor Rose. Me too.

    I believe there is such a thing as person being artistic, call it being creative. A young lady in a weekend poetry workshop cried after I admitted I was learning to stop seeing artists as “they” and instead say “we.” She was just learning to do that too.

    And I believe the world has a good place for those who, in place of art, are better at crafts, or being realistic, or enterprising, or social.

  44. You want to write. So just keep on writing and living. Some day it’ll suddenly be like you finally made it to the top of a hill and now you can coast a little. You’ll see the path to an ending and you’ll finish something. Even if you don’t find that particular effort worthy, keep on writing anyway. If you want it and keep on trying you will succeed. Something will be good enough to publish. And then it’ll happen again and again, because you kept on trying.

    And stop back by here once in a while and let us know what you are doing.

  45. Check out the ages of Campbell Award writers. Most ‘Best New Writers’ are in their 30’s in this field.

    Have a great term!

  46. I have found what many of my favorite authors have said about writing to be inspiring. For me, I enjoy it as a hobby, and honing my skills has been very useful while I pursue my degree in Psychology, as a 51 year old college freshman. Your dad’s, “You’re Not Fooling Anyone When You Take Your Laptop to the Coffee Shop” was fantastic. I discovered it while doing NaNoWriMo…on my lap top…in a coffee shop. Yes, I was procrastinating…but to be fair, I *was* looking for books on writing.

    This commencement speech by Neil Gaiman… you *may* have heard of him… was inspiring to me, not just for writing, but for life in general. You’ve probably already seen the video and/or read the transcript, but I’m going to provide the link to the transcript here anyway, because it’s the kind of thing that should be read more than once or twice, or even three times.

  47. One thing which might help: nobody starts out by writing the Great $NATIONALITY Novel.

    Instead, a lot of writers start out with things like short stories, where they get the basics of figuring out how to “do” story, and then work up from there. I tend to compare writing to weight-lifting – you don’t start by loading a few hundred kilograms onto the bar. You start small – maybe with 1kg dumbbells, and build up your strength until you can lift the heavier stuff. Or think of it as being akin to painting – most artists don’t start out with entire murals full of allegorical scenes with additional triptychs showing their patrons. They start out with sketches and doodles, and build up from there.

    A number of writers these days are getting their start in fanfiction, because it’s a good place to start getting the basics of pacing, narrative structure, and definitely characterisation, down before you move onto trying to do your own world building. So there’s that option as well.

    Also, even if you never get published, even if nobody else ever sees your stories: do you like them? Because if you like what you’re writing for yourself, then it isn’t a waste of time, or effort. This is something a lot of us forget in the middle of this world’s constant push to monetise everything: not everything has to be saleable, not everything has to be professional quality. In the words of Sheryl Crow: “If it makes you happy, it can’t be that bad”.

  48. Athena, what you are suffering from is a lack of skill (not talent). The only way to overcome this is by learning and practice.

    Pick a simple idea (not your favorite) suitable for a short story. Write a rough outline of the story. WRITE THE STORY. Push through to the end no matter how bad it feels. When you get to the end, you will feel it’s horrible, nothing like you envisaged. This is to be expected; it’s your first story. Find some critiquers who can give you advice on how to improve the story. Listen to them even though it will not be a pleasant process. You are fortunate in that you know some good writers. Rewrite the story. If you learn more on how to improve it, rewrite it again.

    Pick another story idea. Write it out. Again, the results will be disappointing. Get feedback and rewrite. Repeat. Only by writing out stories will you learn what you need to know to produce stories that come out as you imagined.

    Do not give up.

  49. Hm, I thought I had posted a response but it disappeared.

    ” It makes you think, how can I ever amount to what all these amazing people have? Will I ever be at their level, going on book tours and having signing lines hundreds of people long? How can I become as great as them, have my writing be as loved as theirs?”

    Maybe, but it usually takes a while for writers. There’s not that many of them that hit the jackpot at 18.

    “I think the main reason is because I love all my concepts and ideas, but as soon as I start putting those thoughts onto the page, they’re not what they were when they were still in my head. Trying to write them out seems to almost ruin them. I can’t seem to convey the things in my head well enough to be satisfied with the thousands of words I’ve written.”

    Me too. There’s a gap between the nice fuzzy warm daydreams in your head and the brutal reality of actually trying to concretely execute it. I suspect everyone has this issue though. I would presume your dad probably has had it at some point if you want to ask him. This is why every NaNoWriMo novel I’ve done since 2001 has been crap and nobody’s ever going to see them. I don’t have this issue with nonfiction but having to make up details 100% by yourself is haaaaaaaard, man.

    I still haven’t really solved this problem so I suppose I can’t advise you, but you do get bonus points in life every time you try to write it down, at least.

  50. For me, the issue is figuring out how to plot. I’ve written a few short stories that I’m happy with but they are all plotless, stream of consciousness, meditation type things.

    Nobody ever talks about that. But plotting is the nitty grittiest of all the elements of writing. You have to know where you are going to go. Without that, you are just spinning your wheels.

    Please don’t stay away forever. You’ve had some nice ideas.

  51. Athena, I’ve really enjoyed seeing your posts here, and I loved your story. If you decide writing is for you, take your own advice and don’t give up: from here it looks like you have all the tools. I suspect time and practice will do the trick if you persist.

    Wishing you a great sophomore year full of interesting experiences and adventures, whether or not you use them in your writing.

  52. If there’s a fandom that you enjoy (Harry Potter, Star Wars, Hunger Games, etc.), perhaps you may want to write some fan fiction just to get in the habit and practice of writing.

    Back in the day, I used to write Star Wars fanfic. It was so much easier starting with an established universe and its characters than to completely create a new world. I would add my own characters to the mix, and I found that it really took the pressure off to be able to use the framework and “mythology” that George Lucas had already created.

    I second the advice of others to start with short stories if a novel seems too daunting. Or write essays based on your observations of the world and of your own life, ala David Sedaris and others. You’ve done a terrific job writing for the blog, so I have no doubt you’d be able to create an entire book of personal essays.

  53. For starters you are comparing yourself to people who are at least a decade older than you, many at least two decades older than you, and that time does make a difference. I was daft enough to compare my progress against that of my older brothers for years, I always came up short, and they were at the most a decade older than me. I finally came to my senses and realised that my rate of progress, as well as what I valued, was different than theirs, but that that was ok. I also decided that what I valued made sense for me and that while their approval was nice when I got it, their disapproval shouldn’t deter me from the path that was right for me. So try not to compare yourself to the successful writers you know, easier said than done of course.

    I really liked your Death story, it was satisfying in itself, but it also left me wanting to know more about both characters. Please pop back here from time to time, and if you do write more about them please share it?

  54. Athena, writers are people who write. You write. You most definitely are a writer. And see all the other comments. Lots of folks have read your writing and are glad that they have. Just keep doing it.

  55. The one piece of advice that has kept my butt in the chair when I hate the story, when I don’t want to write, when it just isn’t working – write anyway. Simple, frustrating, and effective. Write anyway. Editing is a separate process – and you can only edit what’s on the page.

  56. Writers write. So keep at it. I suspect you have a great circle of “first readers” out there for you. Maybe you’ll end up showing creativity in graphics, audio, or other crafts, or maybe you’ll stick with the written word. I’ll let you in on my “shame” as someone who’s the same age as your dad. I was in writers’ groups. Most of those I started with in those groups (just about your age) are now published with several works well-received. I’m one of the few exceptions BECAUSE I didn’t keep writing along the way, finishing what I started, learning what it took to polish or organize along the way. Now, I do technical writing as a part of my day job, but the fiction skills are not developed. Put the time in, and you’ll learn. Best of luck to you. I enjoyed your interning here, and enjoyed this post most of all because it was TRUE TO YOU -and- relevant to your dad’s readership.

  57. Before I forget, Karma and Rachel above have said enough for a raft of comments. Good for them.

    Since this is your second to last post, and since I am hoping you come back next year, here is something to think about. It is from Jodie who avoids wimping out by posting every single day (She told me she might procrastinate if she tries to only write weekly) in her blog star passer, (all one word) named for her horse.

    It seems to me that as a student, you will be having all those “meaning of life” conversations which could give you blog and writing topics. Cool! And such non-fiction could one day lead to fiction.

    Please don’t worry about what old geezers like me would think. Just be you. OK, here’s Jodie:

    When I feel a lecture coming on, I write that first to release it, and then I delete it and write something that matters instead. Sometimes I have to get my ego out of the way in order to hear my real voice. Writing has helped me figure out the difference.
    When you write for yourself first, it’s an art. It’s self expression, it’s scary, and it’s healing to validate your thoughts and feelings by getting them out of your head. It gives you a platform to say all of the things you have been waiting to say. It gives you a medium to process all of the things you haven’t figured out yet.
    Jodie, June 3 2018

  58. You’ll be fine. You can write clearly and engagingly. (You’re lucky, many people can’t.) You just need to figure out what you really want to do. Maybe it will be writing, maybe it will be something else, but whatever it is, you’ll be working with people and your ability to communicate will help you do it that much better.

  59. You don’t have to ‘finish’ a story, just see where it leads as you write. Some will tell you where to go, some will dead-end. I’ve set out to write looooong stories that ended up as short-shorts. But they worked as such. Long form fiction is merely one of many categories of writing. There are novelists who find it hard to write short stories as well as the opposite.

    And it doesn’t hurt to revisit those ‘unfinished’ stories after a fair while. You’ve grown, and learned, and maybe that will inform the next chapter.

  60. And the whole thing of being a writer is conveying your ideas to others through the written word, but I just can’t seem to do that.

    Not quite. Conveying ideas to the world? Absolutely. Your ideas? Not necessarily.

    Your father is also a technical writer, and there is a huge need for people who can communicate ideas for people who can come up with them but not to save their lives. Or anyone else’s, for that matter.

    I live with a retired tech writer and an early-career medical writer. Both have done work where how you get the message across — not just the idea, but the whole of it, with nuance — makes the difference between life and death.

    Maybe that’s not for you, but don’t reject it out of hand.

    Retired Engineer (and guess what engineers produce?)

  61. Forget the ending. I love to read and am a decent writer of term papers and such but could never do ANY creative writing, let alone an ending. Two thoughts from someone who has no answers. 1. It’s really way to soon to tell but your blog says to me you CAN write, though perhaps your talents may not be in creative writing, but some other rewarding form. 2. Maybe your next effort you try writing a really solid ending FIRST, then write the rest. It may seem backwards but perhaps it floats your boat.

    Really, with your genes and your opportunities to rub elbows with successful, creative people I will be really surprised if you don’t become a successful writer of some type!

  62. Athena, my dear, I can sympathize. I have been an “aspiring” writer since I was in grade school. I’ve written a few very short stories, essays really. My dream has always been to write a novel. I’m 53 today, hon, and I’m still determined to do just that. Tonight I began to blog. It’s just a family history and events thing, but I feel it’ll help me get grounded in the habit of writing for purpose.I’ve started writing my novel so many times, only to stop each and every time. I know it’s not easy, but don’t despair. Don’t be discouraged. Don’t give up. Begin again. Finish. Don’t dream until you’re 53. Follow your dream actively, and see it through. I promise, I’ll do the same.

  63. I read through the comments, and I don’t know that any of them addressed the situation you find yourself in. On the one hand, you regularly find yourself surrounded by insanely talented people on a regular basis. There are positives and negatives to that. The biggest positive to that is you are not surrounded by people who will not help you drive your life. There is a big downside to that, though. It makes it harder to figure out where you go from here.

    You’re a smart girl, and there’s a strong chance you’ll figure it out on your own. But when I read through these comments, it was all writing advice, and none of it had to do with figuring out what you want for yourself.

    So, here’s my advice. Figure out what your strengths are, and figure out what your desires are, and build towards those two things. At the end of the day, you’re your own person, and you can decide for yourself what you want to do. Remember that you always have your own agency when it comes to these things, and the world is changing at such a fast pace that we have no idea what the world is going to look like in five years (both potentially positive, and potentially negative).

    For what it’s worth, I’ve appreciated reading your take on things more than your Dad’s.

    Stay positive, do what you want to do, be yourself.

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