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.