4 Uncomfortable Truths All Writers Must Eventually Accept

4 Uncomfortable Truths All Writers Must Eventually Accept

If there’s one thing writers lament it’s people not understanding that writing is hard work. Some people seem to have the impression that writers spend the majority of their day sitting by the pool sipping martinis and maybe an hour on weekends making the magic happen. And since many writers also work day jobs, I can see how people mistakenly believe that writing only requires a few odd cracks in the day to be completed.

But pushing the ideas out of your head and onto a page in a form that allows others to accurately recreate them in their own minds requires many hours of pounding the keyboard, questioning your sanity, and silently sobbing over the fact that you’ve composed a giant pile of garbage. There are a lot of hard choices to be made along the way.

I urge all writers to keep at it despite the inevitable setbacks. I have never regretted enduring to the end of a project – and I certainly have reasons to celebrate pushing through to the end. But let’s be real, writing isn’t all rainbows and unicorns. There are a lot of hazards on the journey I think writers prefer to avoid thinking about (let alone talking about).

However, it’s sometimes easier to face a challenge when you know what you’re dealing with. So here are four harsh realities about writing that people don’t like to talk about. And why writing is worth doing despite them (of course).

Art is Subjective

This is something people do talk about. But the writing community usually focuses on the fact that you can’t please everyone. It’s important to understand why.

Not everyone likes the same things. This is an immutable fact of reality. No matter how hard you try, someone will always be displeased about the results of your efforts. This is why every book, even the best of the bestsellers, has 1 star reviews.

There’s no way to control what media people consume. Plenty of people select to read my books even though they sit outside genres they usually prefer. Sometimes this works out well – sometimes not so much. Sometimes people leave reviews gushing about the same aspects that make others leave poor reviews. I even had one review of the 7th chapter of a story condemned because it didn’t stand alone.

You think?

But understanding the subjectivity of art can be as freeing as it is frustrating. When you accept that there’s no way to make everyone happy, you can focus on making a select group of people happy. Such as yourself. And people who like your genre or writing style.

I point to the infamous Dark Tower movie as an example of why it’s a bad idea to try to please everyone. If you haven’t seen it, the movie was essentially focus grouped to within an inch of its life by the two studios in control of the contract. In the end, they produced the most generic sci-fantasy movie I’ve ever witnessed.

So if you find yourself changing the same set of details everyone says something new about them, take a step back. Remember that if you do your own thing and are happy with the results, someone else out there is going to appreciate what you made.

You Cannot Do All The Things

You’re never going to run out of ideas. Lots of creatives fear this. But the more you use your creative muscles, the stronger they grow. Sooner or later, you’re going to discover a shiny new idea – usually while you’re in the middle of executing another.

One of the most common questions in the writing community is: should I finish the project I’m already working on? Or should I start this brand new thing?

This is a hard question to answer. Because on the one hand, if you feel the flame of passion and creativity, no one wants to tell you to set it aside. Writing during that honeymoon period feels great.

But the harsh reality is that spark always fades. If you want to finish a project, sooner or later you have to pass through the shadow of feeling like it’s doomed to fail. The good news is, this feeling eventually subsides. The bad news is, it happens with every project. So you can’t really avoid it by switching to the shiny new thing – unless you switch to another shiny new thing.

And if you keep switching to shiny new things, you’ll never finish anything.

It’s a sad reality that our time is limited, as is our energy. Only you can decide where that time and energy is best spent – on the bright new fun thing or the project you agreed to stick with. But this also means you probably won’t be able to finish every project you ever feel excited about.

Choosing between your darlings seriously sucks. Especially when you know the unchosen project is more likely to fall by the wayside. But sooner or later you have to decide what to finish and what to let go.

You Could Always Do It Better

Creativity is a cycle. I wish someone told me that when I first started. I think everyone knows we go through periods of feast and famine. Those dormant periods are necessary to recover the energy spent during our most creative moments.

But part of that cycle means that every time you finish a draft or a project, you’ve honed your skills in some new way. That makes you a better writer than you were when you started that draft. Which means if you read back through what you’ve already written, you’ll notice a bunch of problems that didn’t seem present the first time.

And the harshest reality of this is that our sense of what is wrong with our work always moves a little ahead of our ability to fix it. So sometimes we know what’s wrong but have no idea what to do about it.

If you wait three years and go back to read something you wrote, you’ll be able to snap your fingers and realize exactly how you could do it better. But you might have to start over from scratch to implement it.

This makes it easy to get stuck in a specific creative cycle. It’s also why some writers say you never finish a project so much as you abandon it. At a certain point, you have to decide how much return you can get out of the effort of improving a project. And sadly this means you’ll probably always be at least a little disappointed with the final project.

Perfection is an impossible goal. Accepting that you’ll always spot something new you could fix makes it easier to decide when to consider something done and move on to the next project.

Only You Can Make the Hard Decisions

This post only mentions a fraction of the hard choices writers have to make while they’re working on a project. What if two beta readers you trust give you opposing feedback about a scene or aspect of the story? Who do you listen to? Which fix do you choose? How long do you set a project aside before starting the next editing draft? When is it actually worth it to start over from scratch and re-write a story?

No one minds offering advice to fellow writers facing these and many other problems. There are tons of blogs and other resources to offer assistance. And the friendly writing communities on various social media sites are usually more than happy to offer their perspective.

But at the end of the day, the only person who can decide what’s best for your project is you. Only you know your story well enough to determine what works best – even if it ends up going against all the advice you’ve been given. Because of the amount of details required to truly understand the nuance what’s going on at any given moment in a scene, and because of art’s subjectivity, it’s impossible to put full control of a decision in another person’s hands.

This is something I say a lot to the authors I edit for. I can make recommendations based on my impressions, sure. But I might have missed an important detail. And sometimes that feedback helps the writer fix a project’s problems. But that doesn’t always make it easier to make a decision. Especially when the voices of feedback sometimes pull you in many different directions.

If you find yourself surrounded by conflicting advice and uncertain which way to go, take some time to disconnect. Think about what you really want out of a project, or what you were initially trying to say. Usually, your gut will tug you in a direction.

And there’s nothing wrong with changing your mind down the line.

The good news is, the more you navigate the pitfalls of writing, the easier it becomes to navigate them in the future. You can become comfortable with the uncertainty of a project’s midpoint, for example. And you learn when to trust that tug in your gut.

So while it might feel daunting to have to strike out so much on your own, I promise you’ll get the hang of it eventually.

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