The Art Of Struggling


“If you don’t challenge yourself, you won’t succeed.” – a million different people, probably.

As I continue to work on my next project (read: book), I’ve been thinking a lot about how challenging it feels to start over from scratch.

Why am I struggling with this?  Did I not just write an entire book (after the 6 books I wrote before it)?  Shouldn’t this be easy by now?

Yesterday morning I spent some time journaling, and as I was sorting through my thoughts I came to a (pretty obvious) realization.

Writing a book will always be a struggle.  It’ll always feel like the most challenging thing in the world.  But why?

In the end, I think that it’s because I (and most of you, probably) always want to be better.  We want our next book to be sharper, more compulsively readable, more emotional.  We want our plot to be more thrilling.  We want our characters to reach out and tap directly on the hearts of our readers a little more insistently.

And the only way to do that is to challenge ourselves to be better, to master new techniques, to always try a little harder.  And harder.  And harder.

Over the course of the past year I rewrote my manuscript three times, learned a hundred lessons, read two incredible books on the craft of fiction (The Fire in Fiction, and The Emotional Craft of Fiction, both by Donald Maass).  I picked out three specific things I wanted to do better in my next project, in addition to all the ones I felt I had mastered in my last one.

Challenge.  Struggle.

Or stay the same.

It’s a horrible realization to know that writing the next project will always be as difficult as the last, if not more so.  But at the same time it’s freeing.  If I feel challenged, if I’m struggling, I know I’m trying.  I know I’m getting better.

Maybe in 40 years I’ll have written 5 bestsellers in a row and penned several Pulitzer Prize winners.  I’ll look at all the accolades hanging on the wall in my office, winking down at me with pride, and still I’ll turn to my computer and think, ‘Well, shit, there’s no way I can write this next story.  It’s going to be too challenging.’

But eventually I’ll write that one, too.  And if I find it difficult, I’ll know I’m doing a good job.

So, for now, I’m happy to embrace the challenge.

For a few weeks, at least.  I’m sure at that point I’ll be ready to throw my computer into the wall again.

What about you?  Do you feel that each project (writing or otherwise) feels just as challenging as the last?

In addition to everything I feel I mastered in my last book, in this next project I’m focusing on sharper, more wholly defined characters, more memorable dialogue, and fully unleashing my creativity (as opposed to dulling it down to what I think will “sell”, or what I think the market wants to see).  No idea is too outlandish for this book – I’m going to write the first draft with creativity, force, and total conviction.  Self-editing will come later.

It’s time to work.

What are you focusing on in your next project?  Character arc, plot, tension, emotion, creativity?

19 comments on “The Art Of Struggling”

  1. I totally agree with this! As an author myself, I always want my next book to be better than the preceding one. Case in point: I am currently editing a novel I finished three years ago. For the second time! I think the hardest part is finally being satisfied with the finished work as is and letting others be the judge. It’s just so hard to let go…

  2. Hmmm…sounds like this time you’re “writing the story that’s in you” (oh, where have I heard that before? wink wink nudge nudge)…congrats! And when do we get a peek at the story line of the last great novel you penned? Keep on writin’!

  3. Thanks for this post, I needed to read it tonight! I deal with this a lot. Improvement is an infinite process. Sometimes it feels like looking over the edge of a building to realize no matter how far you go – you still haven’t made progress from the perspective of infinity. BUT everything in life is unfinished, always – it’s not like there’s another hobby where you can say “I’m done” (ha, truthfully that is). And each piece of work – great or truly dreadful – teaches you another piece of yourself you would never have discovered otherwise.

    1. Yes so true, “everything in life is unfinished, always” – could not agree more! I’m glad you liked the post. Every once in a while it’s nice to stop and appreciate how far we’ve come independent of how far we still want to go

  4. I’m tinkering with an already published book, gearing myself up to start a new one…”All beginnings are difficult.” (Rabbi Ishmael of the Talmud)

  5. Hey, I feel it’s healthy, in an odd, somewhat scary way, to continually challenge yourself with whatever your next project is. I do that, that’s the perfectionist in you talking. You know yourself better than anyone else, so naturally after finishing a project you’d think about what you feel worked well and not so well, and what areas you enjoyed writing more than others. Then, with your thoughts, adapt where you feel necessary. A really good conversational piece.

  6. As a novelist myself, I must say that I truly feel the experience you’re describing. We always want everything to be better and bolder than the last. Honestly? I think the struggle comes from a place of not feeling ready. Not feeling prepared to take on another work and everything in between.

    I think as writers, we constantly go through an evolution, not only with every book, but with every page. This is why our work can turn out so different in the end versus when we started. It’s constantly a challenge because we’re constantly learning. And in our world? Sometimes the learning never comes easy. Its a lot of… trial and error.

    For my next project? I’m heavily focused on making my work sharper and to the point. Stories, in my case, can often be left with an over explanation. This, in turn, sometimes makes the work feel dragged out. As someone who is highly detailed, this can be very difficult to do. But I embrace the learning curve.

  7. The only people who think writing a good book is easy are people who have never written a good book. Most have never written a book at all, good or otherwise. Writers know how hard it is, but still we do it. Now is the time for some of that discipline you mentioned.

  8. So true! I find making my next video just gets harder and harder because I feel like I have to come up with something really different and epic every time. I find that if I just start shooting a story usually comes out from nowhere. Might not be epic but I usually like whatever it ends up being. Works for me!

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