The Perfect Storm that All Writers Need to Avoid

The Perfect Storm that All Writers Need to Avoid

I’ve been in the professional writing game for nearly a decade and if I’ve learned one thing, it’s this:

Writing can go perfectly right… or horrifically wrong.

When it goes right, you feel like a rock star. The content is effortless to produce. The words hit the page and just keep coming. You’re in the zone. It flows. You see your style unfolding in real time, as your fingers fly over the keyboard.

The sun’s shining on your writing career. And it feels fantastic.

When writing goes wrong? It’s a place of hesitation, or even outright paralysis. Every word seems idiotic. Your confidence lies in the muddy gutter, with a torrent of uncertainty pouring down upon it. You know any reader will think your work is trash, and the worst part is that you know you’re not crazy. You’re clear enough to be certain of one thing: Your writing is rubbish.

Sounds psychotic? It is.

How does it happen? How do writers get so far away from being in the zone to end up in such a cold, dark place?

The perfect storm of epic writing failure is created by a specific sequence of steps that treacherously unfold for unwary, amateur writers. Each step forward seduces you in, making perfect sense in the moment – even as dark storm clouds begin forming on the horizon.

You can spot the telltale signs that a storm is brewing, but you’ll need to develop your eye for the weather. And since the storm builds up insidiously in your mind, following your intuition isn’t always enough.

Conscious awareness of what the storm pattern looks like and how it unfolds is essential.

By the prickling of your thumbs – and this handy guide to writing-gone-wrong – you’ll always know when something wicked this way comes.

Here’s how the perfect storm unfolds for unwary writers…

1: Aim way too high

The initial mistake made by amateur writers is setting aggressive and completely unrealistic goals for themselves. Before they’ve even tied their shoelaces to head out on a writing journey, they’re setting goals in such a way that the goals themselves create sabotage.

It’s difficult for most people to pinpoint this portent, because it’s still just the first step that begins brewing the perfect storm. All you’ll feel is a metallic taste of rain to come, and the breeze picks up.

That’s why it’s essential to lick your finger and hold it to the wind. At the start of any writing project, you MUST step out of your own skin (mentally) and get an objective perspective.

Before the storm gains momentum, look at the size of your goal itself: the key is making sure that your project isn’t radically beyond the scope of what you’ve already done. If your last ebook was 10,000 words, don’t leap into to a 100,000 word-count project.

2: Shun bite-sized steps

For writers who are blind to the dark unrealistic-goal storm clouds gathering on the horizon, the next mistake is to start sprinting toward that storm with furious enthusiasm, with an all-or-nothing mindset.

My friend Peter Shallard, the Shrink for Entrepreneurs, calls this “splitting“. It’s the clinical name for the mental process that causes some people to see their lives, businesses and projects in black or white terms.

As a writer, this means you’re either totally nailing it… or failing miserably. There isn’t anything in between.
You’re chasing a massive ebook project, or the sales page of the century, or a monster content-marketing strategy, and all you can see is the huge, overarching goal. You know that your daily efforts aren’t even getting you close to where you need to be.

You’re splitting, because even though you are producing words, you consider yourself a failure.

Make no mistake: a black-or-white mindset is always black as night, when the perfect storm approaches.

If you find yourself here, it’s not too late to turn around and avoid the storm. The solution is to consciously rally against the “splitting” habit and set baby-step goals. Work towards those, allowing yourself to feel good and experience reward every step of the way. Do this, and slowly but surely a few rays of sunlight will peek through the clouds.

Don’t do this, and there’ll be hell to pay. You’re steering straight towards it.

3: Isolate yourself from others

For the amateur writers who’ve plunged onwards into the storm, the situation is getting uncomfortable. Your writing project has stalled, and you’re starting to freak out. Heavy raindrops are falling and thunder is ominously grumbling, getting closer and closer.

It’s at this precise moment that writers make a terrible decision:

They shut themselves off from the world.

“I just have to get serious about this,” you tell yourself, putting on your most determined face. You cancel your appointments, stop socializing and cut off the internet with all its distractions. No more Facebook until this gets DONE, dammit!

There’s one huge problem with this strategy: When the storm gets this bad, the only way out is to call for help. You need someone else to give you clarity, to show you how crazy you’re getting. The wind is whipping rain into your eyes, and you’re blind – both to the reality of your writing project and the path that’s right in front of you.

In my last article, I talked about the importance of community for writers, and this is precisely why. Anyone with an outside perspective can help a lost writer in the penultimate part of the storm, but another writer can actually show up with a sparkling lantern of light and a second set of raincoat and boots to assist you in finding your way out of the danger zone.

4: Get overwhelmed by writing and EVERYTHING else

The writer who doesn’t holler for help is now in serious trouble.

Lightning cracks across the sky and pounding thunder follows, way too close for comfort. You’re alone, you don’t know what to do, and you have no idea which way to turn. If that weren’t enough, your mind is about to turn on itself.

The perfect storm rages so hard that it spills out into other areas of your life. You’re a writer and also a small business owner, so you start to stress over whether you should stop working on this writing thing and get something else done. Staggering against the wind, you pull your to-do list from your pocket and give it a quick glance. Your stomach drops as you realize you have no idea what the most important thing is.

There are hundreds of items, they’re all massive, and they’re all important.

Then the storm whips the list from your hand, flinging it into oblivion.

The intensity of the perfect writing storm doubles – even triples – when you fail to avoid the dangers of the previous three steps and find yourself thrown into overwhelm. This state of overwhelm means paralysis via inability to determine priorities.

In other words, you know what you need to do. And you don’t even know where to start. It all seems too much.

For writers who sail straight towards the eye of the storm, overwhelm can spill out into every other aspect of your entire life. You’ll find yourself staring into the fridge not knowing what to eat or where to begin with this thing called “lunch”. Your business feels like incomprehensible deluge of responsibilities and under-utilized intentions.

If you can’t figure out your priorities, the storm will suck you in further… and deeply.

5: Lose confidence in your abilities – maybe even your identity

Waves of freezing cold water crash down upon you. Lightning and thunder crash, like gods at battle while you’re caught in the middle. You’re frozen, terrified and can’t see which direction – if any – you should turn to take a single micro-step.
Welcome to The Tempest.

It’s at this place that writers turn their attention, horribly and inexorably, completely inwards. Battered by the fury and darkness, a new thought strikes you: Maybe it’s your fault.

Maybe I didn’t make the right moves.

Maybe I don’t know how to do this.

Maybe I’m not made of the right stuff.

Maybe I don’t have what it takes to be a writer.

Maybe I’m a failure, and I’ve just been kidding myself all along.

When your confidence fails you, it’s the worst feeling in the world. The last flicker of hope extinguishes and leaves your body as the biting wind and cold rain find their way through every gap, hole and seam in your coat.

It starts when you doubt your decisions – the behaviors you carried out in the past. Almost instantly, the confidence continues to drain until you doubt your capabilities. Before you know it, the memory of warm hope has fled, and you begin to doubt your identity. Not just as a writer but as a successful person.

You’re knocked to your knees in the freezing mud as the storm crashes down upon you. It’s over. You’re finished.

Don’t bother getting up.

The only possible solution is to avoid the Perfect Storm before it happens

The Perfect Storm for writers is just that – perfect. Once the momentum begins, it’ll build, and the storm is almost inescapable. You have to know the weather warnings and all the signs so you can be ruthless in your commitment to ACT… to grab what you need and flee before you’re destroyed.

Psychologically smart goals. A step-by-step plan that rewards you along the way. Community for a lantern in the darkness. These are what you need.

Even if the wind hasn’t picked up for you just yet, it’d be smart to start counting your supplies and preparing for the day the first raindrop falls.

I’m doing this big time, and I’m about to announce what I’ve been working on soon. All I can say right now is that you should do everything you can to make sure that you’re free on Monday, April 28 at 4pm eastern.

In the meantime, I’d like to hear your thoughts. Have you ever been sucked into this Perfect Storm? If you lived to tell the tale, you must have found your way out – tell us in the comments how you did it. We’re all writers and storm-chasers by career definition; let’s swap a few survival stories.

Right now, the sun is bright and warm, and the storms of the past are distant memories.

All the same, I never take my eye off the horizon. Neither should you.

Post by James Chartrand

James Chartrand is an expert copywriter and the owner of Men with Pens and Damn Fine Words, the game-changing writing course for business owners. She loves the color blue, her kids, Nike sneakers and ice skating.

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  1. Oh my! This is sooooo true! When the wind brews in the wrong direction, you can get sucked in and it feels like you’ll never get out.

    I have ebooks on my drive, posts in draft status, so many projects started and not finished because the Perfect Storm came in and took over…every time. Telling me I’m not good enough. Shut up. Stop writing.

    I love this idea of managing the weather before the storm hits. Just pushing through. Making it happen.

    And as a DFW alumni, I can say with bleeding sincerity, that DFW came at a time when I just KNEW I was on the wrong path. That I’d never make a living writing. But James stepped in and literally held my hand through the course. By the time all that freaking homework was done, I was a different writer. Now I earn more money than I’ve ever earned and I’m a contributing author to Chris Brogan’s Owner Magazine to boot.

    So, yeah. The storms come. But, they eventually pass…if you’re willing to tough it out and do the work regardless.

    • Yeah, you know the feeling, eh? It’s bloody rough, and it feel crazy.

      I’d love to take credit and believe the course was that guiding light, but I also know it takes more than DFW to get through the storm – what do you feel were the key elements that set you back on track? What helped you pull through it, beyond sheer determination?

      • James, I think DFW is enough to get through the storm. And the key is this: you get as much as you give.

        To be specific, being willing to tell you every time I get off track and feel self-doubt creeping in. And being willing to be vulnerable and look like a dipshit. You always know where your students are coming from and exactly what to say to help them clear the clouds.

        Remember how I emailed you how you probably make a great mom? I still believe that.

        Someone doing the work and guilty of the crimes you speak of in this post, just needs a little bit of TLC from someone who knows what she’s going through. Bonus if she gets it from you.

        • To be honest, I would’ve loved to know someone like me when I started out, way back when. And there was NO ONE – no one at all. None of these “experts” existed, and mentorship was a dream, not even accessible. The info was crap, the resources were sketchy…

          And after going through all the hard knocks and learning lessons the tough way, that’s when I swore I’d make sure that everything I do in my career helps someone else have an easier time of it than I did.

          I appreciate my scars and the adversity I faced. It made me a better person. But I’m glad I know what to look for today, and how to help others avoid danger zones.

          (I actually had both my kids tell me this week that I was a good parent. I must be doing something right these days! :P)

  2. Great post. I think the title could be “The Perfect Storm That All Writers Need to Avoid: Excuses”

    • I agree that there are a LOT of people who just make excuses to avoid doing the hard work – but the Perfect Storm in writing isn’t that. When you’re smack in the middle of the colliding hurricane, you AREN’T making excuses.

      You’re hanging on by your fingernails. You’re desperately looking for the compass. You’re scrambling around, trying not to be swept away as you tie knots (are they the right knots?), grab tools (the right tools?) and slip around the deck hoping the ship doesn’t capsize.

      It’s definitely a question of trying to survive – and no one in that situation is curled up sucking their thumb saying, “But it’s so hard.” They’re screaming against the wind. “I’M DOING EVERYTHING I CAN!”

      And it’s not enough.

      I know. I’ve been there. It’s the stuff of nightmares that make those who’ve been through it shudder with the memory.

      I’m curious, though – have you ever been through something like this yourself?

  3. K.R. Morrison says:

    Overwhelmed? You bet. However, there’s only one of me, so I put the blinders on and just get done what is immediately in front of me, and damn the torpedoes.

    • Isolation is one of the biggest torpedoes out there. And while trying to just bull through it and keep heading forward hoping to break through sometimes works (though rarely), it’s well worth thinking about throwing out some S.O.S. calls while you can.

      If you lived in a perfect world and could wave a magic wand, what do you think would help you smash through that overwhelm the most?

  4. Congratulations Tania–James and Chris are two of my favorite people. You must really be a good writer!

    My Perfect Storm was a Tempest–right in the Mall Food Court.

    A friend and I were having a birthday celebration and I casually asked if she had read my blog. She let loose, er screamed, that I was just a whiner and had a perfect life and how dare I spread such misery on the world. Yea, the little kids started to cling to their mothers, the Goth teenagers changed tables… it was bad. And I was shocked.

    That day, I not only lost a friend of 30 years, but I haven’t written any new articles on my blog since. Paralysis indeed.

    I also took Damn Fine Words and James shared her expertise. I would have quit writing without her encouragement. As she states in the article above, it take a community. I am very thankful.

    I’ve kept my blog and recycle “evergreen” articles, but I will never be the same. The good news is my university students LOVE the blog articles and have told me that’s the best part of the course.

    I guess some wounds just take time to heal. James has counseled me that I control when I will get out of my slump. That helps me keep the dream alive. I do have the power to change the sails for fairer winds.

    • Actually, congratulations! That entire situation with the other person must have absolutely SUCKED, and I’m very sure you bear the scars of it… but damn! Thank goodness you found out her true colors now and not in 10 more years!

      Events like that do turn our world upside down and leave us feeling shattered, but that’s not a bad thing. There’s positive in every negative, and there’s always a learning experience.

      What YOU’VE learned sounds like that person was pretty jealous and bitter and resentful, and cared only about her feelings, and not yours. And you have confirmation of that from your university students – they’ve clearly told you they love what you do, and I’m sure they’d love to see more.

      Why not cater to those who DO care about what you do instead of those who just want to knock you down? Those are your sails – unfurl them!

      • I have to tell you James, your encouragement and actually critiquing my writing and giving me a high-5–was the best LIFESAVOR you could have given me in the storm. After years of thought, I’ve decided “My friend and I shared a lot–and I mean a lot–in the past. Both of us are doing good work and caring for our children the best we can–in the present. But we won’t share the present and probably not the future.” It’s sad because few people understand our circumstances. BUT, I’m excited about working with future teachers, and we’re actually in the schools two days a week–helping kids who have nothing. So, that’s a great boost.
        Hugs–you always make me cry.

  5. It has already started drizzling for me.

    Need to act quickly!

    • Indeed! – so tell me, what is the first thing you can do RIGHT NOW, considering you’re already feeling the drizzle, to make sure it doesn’t get worse and that you only skim the edge of the storm?

      • I think the best I can do is to start breaking down my big project into more manageable milestones, and then into executable activities.

        Keeping the ultimate objective in mind is important but, if not managed properly, it can also make you lose sight of the small things that you need to do in order to get there.

        I think that’s where I’ve gone a bit wrong as well.

        The balance between planning and action is not right – need to fix it!

  6. Had to check in the closet to make sure you weren’t there. Those points hit some chords deep into home for me. Some of it has the same strains as alcoholism (been recovering for 24 years)..Take it one day at a time. Even the serenity prayer might even have a place.

    Plus my sponsor said never GET to Lonely, Hungry or Tired…that’s when your demon’s wheels are greased and ready to roll right in. He emphasized the GET, meaning don’t even go there.
    Good post, look forward to your 4/28 announcement.

    • That’s a very interesting angle, Joe, and I have to say I agree with you – at least, from my personal experience and from what I observe in others, there’s addictive tendencies in all the hustle, the busy-ness, the bright shiny projects, the accumulating task list… it’s like riding a high but coming off like a madman in a maelstorm.

      And I also agree that getting lonely, hungry or tired are TERRIBLE for any writing career – which is exactly what most writers let happen, every single day.

      By the way – congrats on the 24 years, and counting.

  7. Great post, James. I’ve been in this storm before and hope to avoid it in the future. Thank you for pointing out the warning signs!

  8. Hi James,

    Wow! Your last post was fantastic but this is super-fantabulous.

    I’ve battled the storm for the past few years and in addition to aiming too high; all or none mindset; self-imposed isolation; and overwhelm; I am afflicted by entrepreneurial ADD. My priorities keep shifting.

    What has helped me most is the readiness to learn from my mistakes, the willingness to make a fresh start, and the readiness to reach out for help.

    I’ll get by with a little help from my friends (and mentors).

    I’ve marked 28 April on my calendar with a red-hot fiery flaming cross.

    • Ha! I can relate. I have the same affliction, doctor-diagnosed, and though it’s very mild and manageable, I do have to double my watch for the Perfect Storm. Which means I’ve become very, VERY good at checking the barometer 🙂

      • Thanks for letting me know, James. Mine is also mild and manageable.

        I’ve started recording my work in my diary every 30 minutes.

        It helps me to stay on track most of the time.

        I also keep my three major goals right in front of my face so that I don’t get sidetracked.

        It’s a slippery slope. 🙂

  9. Here Goes!
    1. Aim too high. Right. I have a published book which has been used as a text in college but it is more of a positive psych/ self-dev book for the general reader. It also has two workbooks. I think I did it right (or almost!). The “aim too high” aspect was writing for a general market and a sub-set with it. Now I have to market to two audiences. Which is OK it’s just complex.
    Also aiming too high by creating two websites and a blog, all integrated because of the two market segments. (it’s the general reader and at risk students, BTW) and proving now to be manageable now with some tools, but setting them up was torturous.)

    2. Splitting. Right again. Aside from that book I have a kindle book published and have about six more I want to write (several in early stages or writing/research—therein lies the problem). Plus products I have to prepare for the “sales funnel” of my new business.
    A good thing is a lot of ideas but ideas without execution are worthless. I find that you DO have to prep something on a new idea: notes, etc .– else you will lose the generative force for the idea. But finishing one thing at a time is best. It’s what I teach re time and project management, and productivity but it ain’t easy!

    And then there’s splitting with writing (and wouldn’t it be great if we could just write and market) vs. all the other required stuff you mentioned to run a business.

    3. Isolation. Not concerned with that except it would be good to talk with other writers more. Maybe in person would be best. I do belong to some groups on Linked In and elsewhere but it is time-consuming to read, comment and converse. It all takes time away from writing and the rest of the necessary aspects of business.

    4. Getting overwhelmed by writing and everything else. Yep! (Even taking time to write this, as useful as it is!)

    5. I have never lost confidence in myself or my abilities unless it is technical abilities (which slow me down) and the fact that I need a small (!) staff to do-the “everything else.” However, you can’t do that unless you are making enough money to fund it. The loss of confidence comes from not being able to do all the things necessary in the amount of time that exists –while still having a of life, wife, children, friends, sleep… you know! (See isolation above!) You sometimes feel that no matter how hard you work you are swimming upstream.

    I was the dean of English and Communications at the largest college in Canada and the first Friday I was there I stayed until 7 p.m. (in August) because there was so much work. Then I got an image of me at the ocean and the waves ceaselessly crashing on the shore. I was trying to shovel the water away as fast and as well as I could.
    That’s when I went home.

  10. I tell my 20 something daughters, “Get yourself organized and stay organized (especially before having children), because you never know when something out of the blue will blindside you….. and something out of the blue WILL blindside you someday.”

    They listen to me about as much as I listened to my mother when I was their age…. but at least they’ve been backing up their more important stuff to Google Drive lately.

    Great article James!

    • I tell my 20-something, “For the love of Pete, learn to budget, stick to the budget, and start learning how to manage your money and save it NOW, because believe me, you’ll thank yourself dearly when you’re older!” But getting organized certainly works too. 🙂

    • Robin Davis says:

      Ha ha! Fortunately my girls are much better at budgeting than I am. I think that’s the silver lining to this recession.

  11. I loved this and hated it at the same time, damn you! Loved it because it’s nice to know there’s a way out (i.e. don’t get in that boat in the first place or make sure it’s a big ass boat with lots of life preservers, back-up generators, etc.). HATED it because I recognized myself at every step, and sometimes it doesn’t have a damn thing to do with writing.

    I take issue with only one point: #1 Aiming way too high. I think it’s important to do that in a few circumstances. First, as a way to daydream or create a vision board or whatever–to see yourself as the writer you’d like to be. For me, that’s crucial–if I don’t have that overarching goal, it’s harder for me to arrange the steps below it to get me there. Second, if I hadn’t aimed way too high, I would never have finished my first (albeit shitty) novel via NaNoWriMo. In 30 days, I gave myself something to work with, both in content and confidence, and it may have taken me years to gain both of those otherwise.

    Now to be fair, I broke that big ass 50k-word goal into smaller ones, and that’s what got me through the month sane. If I had sat down at my desk on November 1 and said, “Now write 50k words!” I would have lost it.

    • Ah, see? I agree with THAT strategy: choosing a high-level dream goal – but ABSOLUTELY breaking it down into small, manageable, realistic steps.

      And that’s what most writers don’t do.

      And that’s why many end up absolutely crushed.

      I’ve seen it time and again – and I’ve done it myself. “I’m going to write XYZ! I can *totally* knock that out in three weeks.” And voila, you hit the decks and start pounding out words and busting yourself and after a few days you’re already thinking, “Wow, this is… big.” After a week, you’re starting to not like your idea much. After a week and a half, you’re starting to hate it. But you stick to it – dammit! You’re going to DO THIS!

      And you push through and marathon-write and your eyes are melting and your fingertips are bleeding and your brain is calling mutiny and going on strike and it’s getting harder and slower and god it’s awful and you’re never going to finish this and the deadline’s looming and you’re only halfway done, not even, and what were you thinking, no one’s going to read this anyways because it’s sheer crap and who were you to even think you should try…

      Been there. Done that. It’s hell.

      Break that big dream down? You’ll quickly see that it’ll probably take you 6 months, not 6 weeks – which is FINE, and right, and perfect! And you can schedule a proper, healthy amount of time to work towards each daily goal, and feel victorious checking every one off your to-do list.

      On the topic of NaNoWriMo, I like some things about it… but I’ve unfortunately heard a LOT of horror stories and seen many writers have their self-confidence absolutely trashed from the experience. It’s not NaNoWriMo’s fault, of course… but it IS the fault of aiming way too high, and having a community that promotes that.

      All that said, sounds like you did it just right, and took everything in stride – and THAT’s fantastic. Well done!

  12. James, another excellent, thought-provoking and compelling article.

    I’ve been at the place recently (less than 1 year ago) where a writing project consumed me, my life, my family, my local town, and probably almost the whole universe. It was a mammoth task to get out of it. With strong advice like you have here, I could definitely have avoided it.

    It’s another lesson learned, and with the clarity you’ve added here, I hope that I will begin predicting the writing-weather much more accurately 🙂

  13. Oh yes, I know that one – worst is when you can’t decide anymore what to do next.
    So far I always managed to get through the storm. Focus on one thing, get it done, move to the next.
    The last four days this started again, and I really really hope the weather will get better any day now. So far no luck, but I’ll manage. Somehow I’ll get through this. Again.
    But I hope to avoid these storms in the future!

    • Not knowing what to do next is one of the worst places to be, and it’s fraught with self-doubt – I’m sure you remember the feeling well. “Should I do this? Or that? Is this more important? Is that more important? Ohmigod, what if I do this, and I should’ve been doing that instead?”

      Sometimes, the best answer is that no matter what you do, it’ll always be the right choice *for the moment*. Just moving forward on something – anything! – can bring a sense of relief that you DID take a step, even if it wasn’t quite in the right direction.

  14. I’m constantly going through this type of thing. The only way out for me is to not put pressure on myself and let the storm blow over. Once that happens I can see that my writing isn’t awful, it just needs some re-writing. When I relax, my brain can go back into creative mode and the plot flows again. I learned the hard way that pressuring myself into deadlines has the reverse effect. I get even less done. I would like to be more prolific and sell more books, but my sanity comes first.

    • My good friend Mark McGuiness once gave me a jewel of advice that I still use today, and it went something like this:

      “Writing is like the tide. Some days, the tide rolls in and you ride the wave, feeling all great and high. And then the tide goes out, and you can sit back and feel fantastic remembering what you just did. You don’t have to stress about the tide coming back… it always does.”

      Thinking about writing as a tide that’ll roll back in is one of the best “take the pressure off” cures I’ve ever seen.

      (And yes – sanity comes first. We writers need that!)

  15. First of all, it’s good to see so many familiar names and faces of the DFW and DFE alumni. Our writing lives were just starting when we finished James’ courses. Now the training wheels are off and we are all wobbling down Oh Shit Boulevard.

    Continuing on with the storm analogy, some days I feel like I’m inside of a rickety little boat getting tossed about in the writing ocean. I’m afraid to even open the hatch and look outside for fear that the water will pour in and sink my little boat. My Inner Critic has become the captain of my ship and is controlling my destiny.

    Other days, I get pissed off and put my shoulder against the hatch and push with all of my might. I want to take back control of my destiny. I feel like Gary Sinese in Forrest Gump when he climbs to the top of mast in a raging storm and shakes his fist at God taunting him to come and get him.

    Like Lt. Dan, I won’t go down without a fight.

    • I love those moments in films when the great main character gets all ragey and shakes his fist and you KNOW he’s going to bust loose and wreak wrath over the havoc holding him back. As a writer, it’s a GREAT place to be.

      Remember, the Inner Critic is just trying to keep you safe, so if he’s controlling the ship, it’s probably because he’s freaking out about something you’re trying to do or want to do. Ask him what he’s scared of – and show him which steps you’ll take to make sure there’s no fear involved.

      That’s a simple version of the how-to advice, but it’s damned useful!

      (P.S. – I’m really good at running beside wobbly bikes and holding onto the seat!)

  16. Enjoyed the trip through the storm. Don’t know if I get that feeling very often. I am just weird? Out of touch with my feelings? A dude? Frozen in time? Okay, you get the picture. This article was a very good precautionary tale. Giving me things to look for and solutions should I find them. I am very lucky to be in DFW right now and learning all the techniques and solutions that will help me keep my boat out of the pounding surf. As you alluded to, I’m anxious to hear about the next part of the journey for me. April 28th is circled on my calendar. Great way to create curiosity and anticipation for your new venture. Thanks, as always, for the great role model.
    All for now. Ta ta.

    • I’m REALLY rooting for you, Mark. You have the type of business that I know writing can bring a profound impact to – even though it may not seem that way at first glance, and I’m pretty keen to see where you’ll be in a few months or a year. I know it’s going to be cool, and I’m curious!

  17. Not only can things happen internally for writers but externally as well. One example is Google algorithims. The constant change in online search seems to continually change how to write online. Two years ago the big thing seemed to be keywords. In 2014 it’s stellar content.Many potential great writers can be turned off by this.

    • True, changing the goalposts in the middle of the game can be annoying and discouraging, and I agree that a lot of things can be turnoffs, but that’s a whole ‘nother conversation about challenges and roadblocks.

      Good points, though!

  18. This post reminded me of some of my dark times, James.

    I’ve been in this storm so many times, it felt like the sun would never shine again. Interestingly though, it’s all been over my personal projects. Never for my clients.

    I’ve always worked in spurts so I’d always fool myself into thinking, oh this won’t take more than a week because when I’m in the groove, I can crank out some seriously epic content. But I’d forget how unpredictable finding my groove is. And then I’d go ahead and make the stupid commitment of churning out a new post for my blog every week.

    And every Sunday night, I’d be at a loss over what to write. Every topic I’d think of would feel like crap. I went on hiatus and restarted my old blog 4 times (probably was more). And I was never once able to stick to a schedule.

    The longer it took me to publish, the more I’d think my stuff was crap until I just wouldn’t write.

    Then I took DFW at a time when my blog was on another hiatus – and you helped me realize that things weren’t life and death when it came to personal projects. That having ambitious goals was okay as long as I knew the limitations of my own ambition. And that it was okay to abandon projects and goals if they weren’t shaping out to be what I’d originally initially thought.

    Then I retook DFW and realized that slow and steady wins the race. I could take it even slower and still reach my goals. And well, it also really helped that you helped me see that the traditional definition of success isn’t the only version of success out there.

    So now, before I aim high, I make a list. Then I make a list for each item on the original list. And once that’s done, I set a tentative timeline (never a set in stone one). I also always include a get-out-free card.

    The beautiful thing about writing is that even when you abandon a project, those words don’t go to waste. They can always be used somewhere else. In another project, in some other context.

    • Your story, overall and through the years, is actually a pretty amazing one, Samar. I remember when you just got started out, and I remember how many times you went through some really rough patches. It was very cool to be that outside observer who saw a shy, uncertain and scared writer make a decision to leave that behind and come out of your shell.

      You’re a proud, brilliant, smart writer today – I think your storms have been extremely beneficial to who you are now, because you’ve come SUCH a long way that it makes ME proud for you!

      Also, you gave me something to think about: “Interestingly though, it’s all been over my personal projects. Never for my clients.” That? Is very damned true. Perfect Storms can and do sweep away everything in business, but they typically start somewhere that’s rather personal.


      • Awww, thanks James. This comment is going in my praise file 😀

        You have had a big hand in my growth as a writer and freelancer. First with being awesome enough to always give solid, actionable advice and next with DFW. (If I haven’t said it before, that course has changed my life. Twice.)

        “It was very cool to be that outside observer who saw a shy, uncertain and scared writer make a decision to leave that behind and come out of your shell.”

        That’s exactly what it was – a conscious decision. There came a point where I realized that I whatever I was doing wasn’t working and I needed help.

        And I think once a writer reaches that stage, it’s all hard work that goes uphill from there.

        The real problem is reaching this stage – because some writers never get to this point. They slog away for years thinking this is as good as it gets.

  19. Another insightful, hard-hitting post. Exactly what I expect of you, James.
    Did you write this post about me? Every point you make causes me recognize myself. 🙁

    Overwhelm (point 4) is where I live, though.
    Everything in my work life seems equally important. It is really hard to set priorities. There is never enough time. Sometimes I succumb to feelings of not having enough talent or skill.

    Writing is a means to an end for me. I don’t make my living as a writer. After two years in the writing trenches I have gained an appreciation of writers as professionals.

    These are a few of the realizations I have come to in the last few years:
    First, writing is hard work. Really hard work. Really lonely, isolated, hard work.
    Second, since I am not a professional, I have to accept the fact that it will take me longer to write anything.
    Third, writers are courageous souls. These are people who put themselves “out there” every time they hit publish. Talk about being vulnerable!

    Loved DFW and can hardly wait to learn more about your new project.


    P.S. Still using those “minis” almost everyday.

  20. I have two novellas out with two different publishers and I still hesitate to apply for writing jobs because “I’m not good enough”. I almost apologise when it comes to describing my books when people ask about them because I somehow feel they’re trivial or frivolous, and really, why would anyone want to waste their time on them? So I’ve learned to accept compliments or positive reviews from others so they can explain the book to another as a reader themselves. Compliments are rare and you have to learn to accept them.

  21. Wow. This is so amazingly true. I found myself heading for the rocks this week, working on a book, trying to fit in some freelancing on the side and working sick. I started wondering why I even started the book and what I thought I was doing. I’ve been here before, so I realized that I needed to do something, anything, to get out of that place before I got so overwhelmed that I just gave up on the whole thing. For me, this week, the first thing was to quit working. The oak pollen is high, and I’m on a 24-hour dose of two allergy medicines twice day instead of once a day, and I was still sick. And honestly, there just wasn’t anything forcing me to work sick, so I didn’t. I took some time off and rested, and when I woke up today feeling better, I also felt better about my work. But I have been in that perfect storm many times, and I’ve only recently, after a couple of decades, learned to see it coming.


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