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What’s Your Biggest Struggle as a Writer?

By Henry McLaughlin

This is a question with as many possible answers as there are writers. Some struggle with finding time to write. Some with aspects of the craft like dialogue or characterization. For others it might be show, don’t tell. And what on God’s green planet is the difference between lie and lay?

My biggest struggle right now is thinking I know more than I actually do. Maybe it’s pride or a cocky attitude. Whatever it is, it’s been very humbling to admit.

I write seat of the pants. Usually the writing process flows smooth and easy. I’m into book four of my fantasy series and it’s all been seat of the pants writing.

But recently two projects have clunked. My NANO project reached 43,000 words but is going in an entirely different direction than I originally envisioned. It’s turned from light-hearted to a dark story of the protag having a split personality while being stalked.

The other project is a short story. It began with a very interesting opening scene. The characters are uniquely interesting with plenty of conflict, tension and suspense. However, when I re-read the scene, I discovered I had no idea where the story was going.

In both cases I stopped and asked myself where it went wrong. I discovered I wrote with an attitude of “I’ve got this.” And I don’t. As I said above, I started both projects thinking I had the process down pat. I see now my attitude was prideful arrogance.
It’s hard to admit pride is operating. It can be even harder to make the pride get out of the way. It’s asking pride to admit it’s wrong and to surrender control.

Today I sat down with my short story and told myself, my pride, I was not writing another word until we figured out what the story is about and where it’s going. The bulk of my writing time today went into a free write, laying out the characters’ goals and relationships and identifying where the goals come into conflict. Now, I’ve got a focus on the story and I’ve got a free write document to guide me.

When I make the time to free write, my stories don’t clunk and clatter. They flow.

And the free write reminds me I don’t know it all.

What’s your biggest struggle as a writer? What is your strategy for dealing with it?

Henry McLaughlinHenry McLaughlin’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest. He serves as Associate Director of Story Help Groups (formerly North Texas Christian Writers). Besides writing fiction, Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers.

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5 Responses to What’s Your Biggest Struggle as a Writer?

  1. JPC Allen says:

    I have trouble with showing, not telling. I didn’t realize I had this trouble until I hired an editor to work on my YA novel. I have learned so much through this process, but I still have to slow down when I reread my work because the showing can slip in very easily.

  2. Henry McLaughlin says:

    Slowing down is a great strategy. When I start my 2nd draft, I have my computer read the manuscript to me. Hearing it helps me catch things my eyes would miss.
    May you’re writing be abundantly blessed.

  3. Carol says:

    I am taking my first course in fiction writing at Taylor Univ and I never dreamed that making up stories was soooooo complex. I have taken several writing courses but new to fiction. I said I would never write a novel but never say never. Fiction has an element of serendipitous adventure.

    Reading your post was fun because I now understand the jargon.

    The thing I like the most is characterization….making up a person to be what you want is interesting so I guess I struggle with all the rest….

    I put your book on my to-read list and not sure when I ever read a western cowboy story since my younger days.

    Thanks for your insights.

  4. Hi Carol,
    I’m blessed that you found my post helpful and encouraging. That is my prayer with every one I post.
    I love writing and I loving paying forward all that others have poured into me.
    Enjoy your experience in learning the craft of fiction. If I can be of any help please contact me through my website: http://www.henrymclaughlin.org.
    Blessings and peace in all your writing.

  5. Thanks so much, Henry. I am right there with you on the book I’m working on now. So, I think I’ll stop right now and free write!