You’re Not a Bad Writer If It’s Difficult and You Choose Grace

An exhausted writer lays his head down at his desk.
Image by Nataliya Vaitkevich, Pexels

I think, if any writer says every day is a good writing day, they’re lying. I think it’s okay to struggle. I have to think that because I struggle often.

I think we (as in human beings) tend to believe in The Natural because we all (as in all human beings) want to believe there’s something we each were specifically designed to do. We want to find our life’s purpose, and we want to fulfill it. There’s a bit of the chosen one complex hidden here, but I think it’s typically fine and healthy. 

Where we might go awry is in the logical leap that, if we find our purpose, it should be easy, right? I mean, when you take a pair of jeans that should be your size to the dressing room, they should go on without much tugging or tummy tucking involved.

In my own case, I’ve spent about fifteen years of my life chasing my writing dreams. That’s a long time, and I haven’t felt like I’ve really accomplished much, if I’m being honest. Sure, I’ve had some wins here and there, but most of those could be attributed to stubbornness versus actual skill or talent. Law of averages and all that.

Despite a world that seems resistant, I firmly believe I was put on this earth to tell stories. That isn’t to say I believe in an omnipotent and omniscient deity that had a plan for me when my parents did the deed, but I do think, given all of my talents, desires, passions, etc., I keep coming back to banging thoughts out on a keyboard. It’s the intersection of what I love and what I think I’m pretty good at (nevermind the other half of the Ikigai).

The trouble is writing fiction is difficult, and in my experience, there’s a difficulty creep. That is, as I’ve grown and improved as a storyteller, you might think it would get easier, but it doesn’t. There’s a principle that google’s failing me on right now in which every new discovery begets a certain number of new questions, and I think the pursuit of every artform is probably a lot like that. Not only are we evolving as people, writers, and readers, but with each project, we spark new ideas that we might not have otherwise illuminated, and as we chase those, inspiration strikes again, and writing then becomes a chain or web of stories that probably wouldn’t have happened if you hadn’t started somewhere.

All of that is to say any writing worth writing is an act of discovery, and that is necessarily difficult. Therefore, I don’t think any writer should feel difficulty is an indication that the pursuit is in vain. Quite the opposite, I would think. I would imagine, if we asked every writer who achieved a measure of success, none of them would admit to it being easy for them, and I don’t think that would be a lie.

I used to have a ten-minute rule—shaved down from a one-hour rule. I may have written about this before, but I’m too lazy to search my blogs. The ten-minute rule hinges on the idea that you can do anything for ten minutes (exceptions include holding your breath, standing in a campfire, freefalling in Earth’s atmosphere, and more), so you commit to having your butt in your chair at your computer for ten minutes a day. When those ten minutes are up, you’re free to go whenever the desire strikes you, but more often than not, you should find yourself working for longer than ten minutes. The idea is you’re not so much a writer as a surfer waiting for your wave to come in, and if and when it does, you ride it as long as you can.

(This isn’t to say I think writers should wait for inspiration to strike. I think good writing, on some level, has to be conjured, but it certainly won’t come in any meaningful way if your board isn’t in the water.)

Anecdotally, I find most writers strive for a daily word count, and I think that’s fine if that works for you—any rule, strategy, or approach is fine if it works for you—but I have experienced a lot of feelings of inadequacy when I focused on my word count, partially because there are days where I end up net-negative in the word count department—cuts are still progress.

I think, when most writers are beginning their writing career, they think of words as paver stones set on a path. Laying them down moves you forward, but there is no turning back. I think this attitude can persist for many writers, but when we discover our writing can reach new heights as we go back, rearrange stones, set new ones down, take old ones out, create new paths, annihilate old ones, that measure of achievement breaks down.

Whatever you measure for a good day with the pages, what happens when you inevitably fail to meet your expectations? It’s easy to think in comparisons to other writers. We live in a world that still believes in that mythical figure, The Writer, which doesn’t actually exist. I don’t think it ever did. We try to be Fitzgerald and Oates and Hemingway and O’Connor and Falkner and Le Guin and Dick and Butler and Bradbury and Morrison and King and … and … and … , but none of them were mythical. They were real people with real lives and their own problems or obstacles. Some of them had great privileges, of course, and while times have changed, the dream of being a self-sufficient fiction writer was never easy to achieve or realistic for many of us.

Ironically, key to that success formula is putting on that mask and projecting that image, but I’m here to tell you it’s just not a realistic standard to hold yourself to, nor is it healthy. Every one of those legendary writers had days where they struggled. Every one of them had days where it just wasn’t happening, so they got up and walked away. Of course they did. 

Struggling doesn’t make you a bad writer. It is the very thing that makes you a good writer, because it’s through the struggle that we write anything worth reading.

So whether your ten-minute timer is going off or you’ve eked out your minimum word count (or you’ve not hit whatever daily goal you set), give yourself grace. Find fulfillment in the fact that you tried, that all the bull shit aside, you and the page had some time together.

And know that’s enough, and it’ll be enough tomorrow, too.