Overcoming Writer Frustration

Mary Keeley

Blogger: Mary Keeley

Recently, I’ve had conversations with several clients who are frustrated. Their circumstances are as different as their individual personalities, but there was a common thread: they were frustrated with themselves. It caused me to wonder if there is something about this time of year that provokes this angst.

The calendar has flipped to the last half of the year. Writers who dream of finishing their manuscript and getting it into the hands of editors this year may see their goal slipping out of reach because they’ve placed unrealistic demands on themselves. Client #1 fits into this category.

Her WIP has been on hold while she finishes her demanding Masters courses. But she also is anxious to finish her manuscript. I could hear the frustration in her voice at not being able to do it all. When I reminded her that the writing is only one half of the work involved in a successful publishing experience, she had the reality check she needed about her self-imposed expectations. Not only that, but she agreed that her young family also needs her quality and quantity time now. After talking it through together, she adjusted her manuscript goal to early next year.

Episodes of frustration aren’t limited to new writers. Veteran authors with years of experience in the industry can fall prey to impatience and frustrations with themselves when circumstances or writer’s block impedes progress. Client #2 fits into this category.

This client recently came out of a severely stressful, pressure filled working environment. Finally out from under it, the client is just now realizing how taxing it had been on mind, body, and spirit over an extended period of time. The client is frustrated because a proposal, which has been requested by several editors, is progressing slowly. This person asked me to provide a proverbial kick in the pants, which I did…gently and with a boatload of affirmation and understanding.

Rejections and discouraging critiques received at summer writers conferences have dashed hopes that a proposal would be ready to present in past years. Client #3 fits into this category. Her response offers a road map for getting through.

Her dreams are high, which is good. Authors need to dream big. Her concept for a series is what first caused me to believe in her. But her journey has been frustrating and discouraging as she came to terms with the need for growth in her craft before her work can compete in today’s market. After continual prayer, seeking daily inspiration from God’s Word, and three or four manuscript re-writes, her fortitude is paying off. She recently sent me her latest re-write, and the portion I’ve read so far is immeasurably improved. Encouragement and praise replaced frustration.

I mention this client’s journey last because it expresses the key for all three of these clients, and for you as well. If you believe God has gifted you with the passion and ability to write for his glory, stay close to him and he will direct your path through seasons of frustration. Your agent or close writer friends can be his hands and feet to support you.

Make your agent aware sooner than later if you are in a similar predicament. One facet of an agent’s role is to be a good listener. He or she will appreciate the early heads-up to help you adjust to a workable strategy and negotiate with your publisher when it appears an extension on a due date may be necessary. Delaying this conversation in hopes you’ll either have a burst of productivity or circumstances will suddenly improve may cause serious problems regarding the release date of your book and certain frustration for your agent.

When was the last time you experienced an episode of frustration about your writing progress? How long did it last, and how did you get past it? Veteran authors, how do you break through your frustrating seasons to get back on the right track? Newer writers would love to hear your words of wisdom.

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54 Comments

  • Anne Love says:

    Mary, thanks for this encouraging post. All three examples are encouraging, for both new or veteran writers.

    As a new writer, the first time I realized I’d need to rewrite my entire MS, I didn’t think I could do it. But with encouragement from veteran writers, prayer, and discipline, the 2nd draft was much improved. Now that was 4-5 years ago, and looking back, I now have much more perspective about craft development. Also, I can’t say enough about supportive critique partners and accountability groups. I was quite frustrated until I found mine. But with prayer and diligence, if you don’t have a good CP/group yet, you will if you keep waiting and praying.

    Also, I’ve learned that I write by seasons. Winter is my time to get out a new MS. Summer is my time to work edits. It fits with my family schedule. I’ve learned that morning is the best time for me to write new content, because after a long day at the office–my creative mind is fried and my left brain has been on overload.

    Another perspective that has helped me, is that I’ll never quit my day job. So what does that mean for my writing? When I came upon the term “bi-vocational” I realized that though my day job is my main calling, it doesn’t mean God hasn’t called me to do one job at the expense of the other. It just means I do both. Somehow that clicked for me.

    Mary, it’s obvious you are a good listener for your clients, and you help them find perspective and balance. Kudos to you.

    • Jeanne T says:

      I love your thoughts here, Ann, and how you’ve figured out how you write best (winter=MS, summer=edits, writing in the morning). Knowing this would reduce frustration, I’m thinking. Thanks for sharing this.

      • Thank you, Mary for your gentle reminders and encouragement.

        No matter how organized we are, life has its own schedule. All we can do is pray and stick to the plan–interspersed with some wise flexibility.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      “I write by seasons.” Anne, I’m guessing that astute self-observation helps to alleviate frustration for you during the rest of the year. Thanks for sharing. Applying that perspective will be a relief for all writers who have full-time jobs and families.

    • Heather says:

      Anne,thank you for sharing with the rest of us. I appreciate your concept of writing by seasons. I have felt a lot of frustration over the summer because my writing time has been hugely diminished by my children being home from school for the summer (they are 5 and 9) and by my farmer husband’s harvest schedule (and the help he sometimes needs from me like helping them move machinery or get parts when they break down). I feel guilty because I have commitments to get certain projects done and I’m excited about other projects I want to work on but I also want to enjoy time with my kids and be there for my husband. I’m struggling to find a balance among my vocations. Your concept of accepting being bi-vocational (or multi-vocational) is great. I was aware of my juggling several callings, but it is comforting to be reminded that other people are successfully doing the same. Getting back to the idea of writing by seasons, I think this summer is a great lesson for me that I need to accept that it is necessary for me to cut down on my writing time in the summers (not over-commit next summer like I did this year). Thanks again for sharing.

  • “If you believe God has gifted you with the passion and ability to write for his glory, stay close to him and he will direct your path through seasons of frustration.”

    Mary, I think this sentence is the key. Writers can have seasons of frustration for many reasons. Staying close to God (through Bible reading and prayer) can keep that frustration from being paired with feeling overwhelmed beyond hope.

    Also, I give myself lots of small, specific assignments for the day. Then, I set a realistic time for each. When the time is up for a given task or I have completed it, I move on to the next item. I am almost always surprised at how much less time something actually takes than I think it will. At the end of the day, I can see my progress toward the bigger goal and am less apt to feel frustration.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Carol, I agree. Staying close to God is the key to overcoming a writer’s (or anyone’s, for that matter) feeling of being overwhelmed beyond hope.

      Thanks for your suggestion and how-to about setting specific assignments for yourself each day. That practice can encourages discipline of time as well as an encouraging daily sense of accomplishment to combat frustration.

  • This is very encouraging to me. Thank you!

  • Last night as I took out my contacts, I looked in the mirror and said “What do you think you’re doing? You can’t write…no one wants to read this stuff!” Then I blasted that voice. I knew it was not from God. Voices from God tend not to crawl up one’s spine and go through the heart.

    My biggest worries lately have been “Am I creative enough? Have I done enough research? Will the Navajo accept my book?”

    This morning in Jesus Calling, it said “There is no limit to the variety of ways I can communicate with you.”
    Which reminded me of a huge miracle/blessing which happened this week. I have been praying for a way to get back to New Mexico to experience more of Bosque Redondo, and do a bit of hiking around there, as a full 1/3 of Book Two takes place there and then another huge chunk takes place in Southern New Mexico. I want to know the smells, the feel of the air, etc. I was frustrated because I saw no way on my horizon to get there, and no money to do it, even if I could go.
    So what did I see on Facebook the other day?
    The young, brilliant founder of a great website and daily FB post called ‘Navajo Word of the Day”, Byron Shorty, is re-tracing the Long Walk of the Navajo to raise awareness and funds to record more of his language. I’ve had NavajoWOTD on my blog and I’m impressed with Byron’s efforts. Through a few FB messages, Byron has agreed to be my eyes and ears and make note of the things I mentioned before, and will be sharing parts of his journal with me for my books. He’s even agreed to imagine himself as a young warrior taken captive and write down all he feels as he marches across the desert.

    How big is God? Big enough to have me already in an professional relationship with someone who trusts me enough to share his private thoughts with me.

    God knows my frustrations. He knows my need to get things as close to perfect as possible. He knows my fears that no one will see Jesus in my work. He also know to nudge me toward making my work an offering and leaving it in His hands.

    Also, if you don’t mind me asking for prayer for him, Byron leaves at 6am this Sunday, he has 500 miles to walk. It’s going to long, hot and emotional. Please pray that God is present with him. I do not know if he is a believer, yet.

    • Jeanne T says:

      I love your heart for accuracy, and your passion for the Navajo, Jennifer. I’m certain God has the perfect timing and details for you covered. Keep your hope in Him. :)

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Good point, Jennifer. Some seeds of frustration and discouragement are sown by destructive personal thoughts that don’t come from God. Staying close to him provides the antidote.

      Thanks for sharing your blessing this week. Indeed, let’s be praying for Byron’s needs–body, mind, and spirit.

    • Jennifer,

      I’m so glad that you blasted that voice. It certainly wasn’t from God.

      Be assured of my prayers for you and Byron.

      Blessings!

    • What an awesome opportunity to be in step with Byron (pun intended). I admire your boldness in asking.

      • Thanks, Jenni, I’m surprised what happens when I simply ask! I’ve done some daring things in the last few months and my theory is “the worst they can say is no”.

  • Mary, like most folks, I’ve weathered many seasons–a season of love, a season of loss, and a season of “just wait.”

    As writers, it’s so important to surround ourselves with encouragers who continue to challenge and inspire us during our difficult seasons. Without mentors who have traveled similar paths, it can be an uphill climb with no end in sight.

    For years, I’ve quietly watched another writer survive various seasons with dignity and grace. She doesn’t shy away from “telling it like it is” so others might learn from her journey, and I doubt she even knows the full impact she’s had on folks. I was overjoyed at a recent milestone she’d reached in her career, and yet, she continued to shine a light on fellow writers. That’s the kind of person we should all strive to be.

    Something I would encourage newer writers to do: surround yourself with a safety net. Those who will uplift, yet tell you the truth in love. Negativity is a tool from the enemy and serves no purpose. Encouragement ushers in a new whole season of possibility!

    • Jeanne T says:

      I especially agree with your final paragraph, Cynthia. Having that safety net helps so much during times of writer frustration.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      I so agree, Cynthia. That safety net is vital for a writer in this demanding publishing industry. True friends are those who support you AND care about you enough to tell you the truth in love.

  • Shauna says:

    “If you believe God has gifted you with the passion and ability to write for his glory, stay close to him and he will direct your path through seasons of frustration.”

    If I tweeted, I would tweet that.

    I think I received some “direction” this week, but am continually stumbling over the starting block. So, I’m asking Him for the courage to start…again.

    I’ve considered asking friends to pray, but it seems almost presumptuous when so many are struggling with grave circumstances.

    I appreciate the wisdom shared on this blog and in these comments.

  • When I get frustrated, my inner research junkie Google’s established authors for advice. Susan Wiggs, one of my all-time favorites, writes her first draft by hand. At first I thought she was a couple sandwiches short of a picnic, but I gave it a shot and the result, (albeit spelling-dismal), painted a clear picture of where the story needed to go and how to get there. In particular, I struggle with pacing, and seeing the written word, physically written, helps to plot out cadence and sentence structure. And the margins in a spiral notebook are a perfect place for bursts of thought, and grocery lists.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Good suggestion, Kathryn. Writers don’t have to limit themselves to their small circle of friends, but can reach out to a broad sector and choose suggestions that work best for them.

      I’ve know of others who also write the first draft by hand. I see your point that this method, being slower, helps the brain to be sensitive to the pace as you scroll your story on paper–more so than quickly plunking keys. I’m glad you found what works for you.

  • Jeanne T says:

    I’ve experienced various episodes of frustration. A couple months ago, when I thought I had my story all figured out, I talked with a couple author friends about my “perfect” plot line. Only to discover it was more common than I’d realized, and I needed to make it more unique. I set it aside for a couple months, mulled over some good questions one author friend gave me to consider, and then revamped my story idea. That was helpful for me, and I’m fast drafting it now.

    Sometimes I get past frustration by working on other projects, or doing writing tasks that may not directly relate to my story, if that makes sense. And I pray, for guidance, clarity and a peace about how to move forward.

    Wonderful post today, Mary. So encouraging. Thank you.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Good practice, Jeanne. Being stuck about an aspect of a WIP can be very frustrating. Stepping away from it to work on something else for a while can be the best frustration reliever. I’ve done that myself and, like you, I’m always surprised at how clear the problem and solution are when I come back to it with fresh eyes.

  • Mary, thank you for this shot of encouragement today. Isn’t it interesting that summer is a time of frustration for some when others see it as a time of stress-free relaxation? My husband’s schedule changes drastically for the eight-week summer semester, and it affects us severely at home. It seems that it would be logical that with more daylight and sunshine we would be more energetic and enthusiastic, yet it also means less sleep. That, then, can turn planning and organization and clear thinking into a muddled mess. Yes, stay close to the Lord, seeking His will in all. Thanks for asking the veterans for their suggestions. I’m looking forward to their answers.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      So true, Meghan. What is one writer’s productive season may be another’s time of frustration. Fortunately, it would be unusual for everyone in a writer’s circle is discouraged and frustrated at the same time. Those who are in a good season can offer support to those who need it.

  • Love this, as so many of us writers struggle with frustration–with ourselves. I’ve definitely experienced it too. Usually, it comes with wanting to move faster, learn faster…and not having the energy or time to do so. I write all day long (I’m a copywriter for a marketing agency), so after making dinner and settling in to write from 7-9 at night…well, I just don’t feel like it a lot of times.

    At the beginning of this year, I was stressing myself out, so much so that my husband told me he was worried. And then, two other sources told me the same thing, separately. I decided to slow down and enjoy the ride. Why rush, really? God has his perfect timing. The four months from March-June were heavenly. I worked at my own pace, and only designated a few nights a week to work on my wip. I was actually more productive because I was fresh and enjoyed the work instead of doing it because I HAD to. Now, I’m trying to get my book revised by ACFW, but I set a bit of a more rigorous goal for myself, but something that is still doable. And I’m enjoying it.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Lindsay, thanks for sharing the wisdom you’ve learned by listening to those who care about you and how you wisely applied it. Point taken: by doing so, you actually are farther along in your WIP and you’re enjoying the process. No doubt, the end result is also a better manuscript.

  • Everyday I shake my head in wonder at writers (myself included)! We face rejection, disappointment, waiting, criticism and long hours of hard work…yet, we keep on going because writing feeds our soul. The desire to pour our heart out on paper is a dream we can’t express in words–and yet, we try. Over and over again. Each book we write is an expression of that dream, and so we press on. I applaud every writer I know who doesn’t give up.

    As you know, Mary, I just finished my second novel. I wanted to submit it by the beginning of June because I knew the summer months would be very difficult to work through. My husband owns a landscaping business, so the summer is a very busy time for out household. It is much easier for me to write in the winter when he is home more. I understand that, and I really believe I’ve eliminated a great deal of frustrations by working around our seasonal schedule.

    I’ve found the best way to deal with frustration is to keep the right perspective. As soon as my perspective slips, I start to wallow in disappointment, impatience, jealousy (of where others are on the journey), frustration at my own limitations, etc. I do have days where I feel this way…but that’s when I switch my focus, remembering that God’s timing is perfect and He knows far more than I do. Recently, I was feeling a twinge of jealousy over a friend’s abundant writing blessings…and I was immediately convicted. I grabbed ahold of those thoughts and I started to thank God for her blessings instead. It changed my attitude and returned my perspective to the right place–a place of peace for me and joy for her.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Gabrielle, you movingly described tender areas that most writers and published authors battle from time to time. Thanks for sharing how you got through your recent frustration.

      I might add that agents also struggle with frustration when their clients’ worthy manuscripts aren’t quickly offered a contract, because we’re supposed to make it happen…right? That’s when we, too, have to remind ourselves that industry trends are cyclical and and we move on God’s timetable.

    • Yes, pour our heart on paper.

  • I love that this post is filled with encouragement and wisdom, Mary. Knowing God is on my side and will guide me if I allow Him to remain in control is definitely something to be reminded of. And the wisdom of not delaying necessary conversations will help to create better relationships between authors and agents.

    The beginning of this year was a frustrating time for me. My second book release was delayed. Then I learned my next book under contract was further away from publication than I realized. I also made a mistake that cost me some money. Not fun.

    On the flip side, I’ve written more this year than ever before. Progress has been made on some issues. I’m also preparing a submission I’m excited to send to an agent.

    My daughter has a background on her iPod: “Keep calm and trust God.” That’s what I’m going for.

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Cheryl, the recent conversations prompted me to think encouragement might be needed for many authors at this time of year. I’m glad it was timely for you. Congratulations on your writing progress this year!

  • Leah E. Good says:

    Thank you for this post. It is extremely timely and encouraging.

    After finishing college earlier this year I’m taking a year to focus on writing. Finding a new rhythm in life has been challenging, but the writing is coming along well so this is a good reminder to persevere and not give in to doubt.

    Thanks again, and I hope your clients are encouraged and forging on.

  • Whenever I see those words “stay close to Him ” I feel the stress drain right out of me. It’s why I come to this blog: business news from a Biblical perspective. Thank you for that. Whenever I find myself frustrated by what seems the slow pace of the industry, I go back to read the story of Joseph in the Old Testament. It reminds me of how God works through our challenges over time to accomplish big things.

  • Micky Wolf says:

    A grace-filled post, Mary, and such wonderful wisdom and encouragement in all of the comments.

    Some days it is so much easier than others to…”believe God has gifted you with the passion and ability to write for his glory, stay close to him and he will direct your path through seasons of frustration.” Have been in the former state more than the latter in recent weeks, but interestingly enough, just about the time I want to give up, a post, a scripture, or a very real sense of God’s presence in prayer comes along and lifts my heart and spirit.

    We know he works in mysterious ways–but thankfully, on many occasions and just when we need it, he chooses a very practical approach. Thank you!!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      “…just when we need it, he chooses a very practical approach.” It’s amazing how he always knows the moments we really need to hear from him, isn’t it?

  • Thank you so much for this post, Mary.

    Actually I just broke out of my season of frustration this week (Tuesday, to be exact). I had wanted my WIP to be ready to query by this point and it is not. The plot needed to be retooled in some important areas and I felt stymied as to how to resolve the issues. I ended up putting so much stress on myself about it that I couldn’t even think.

    So I turned it over to God and He gave me insights. Now I’m back to writing and feeling good again about the book. Since this is my first novel, I only have my self-imposed deadline, which made it easy (in theory)for me to get an extension. It took God’s grace, though, for me to extend forgiveness and compassion to myself.

    On the topic of compassion, I want to thank and affirm you for the empathy, gentleness and affirmation you gave to your clients in all three examples. While we all need a good kick in the pants from time to time, many of us (especially women, I think)mentally beat up on ourselves so often that affirmation is at least as important to receive as the well-timed push.

    Many blessings!

  • This was encouraging for me. Thank you. I’ve put some unrealistic expectations on myself this summer while my young children are at home. I can’t go back and re-gain these years when they actually want to do things with me. I appreciated your advice to stay close to God and allow Him to direct us through seasons of frustration. A reminder I needed today!

  • I’ve been thinking about this all day.
    One thing that takes away any kind of frustration, in any walk of life, is to get out and have fun.
    Not ‘go to the front door and open it’. That is NOT GOING OUT.
    Call some people who know you’re a bit of the scale (in my case this is everyone I’ve ever met) and leave your abode and go somewhere else.
    Laugh, consume beverages, eat something that isn’t exactly healthy and do not go home until your abs hurt from laughing.
    Laughter releases endorphins, and that lovely chemical makes us feel good all over.
    So, aside from the spiritual, professional and mature and grown-up ways to deal with frustration, don’t neglect the inner kid who needs to cut loose and forget it all for a while.

    Try to remember that as God created us to follow after His heart, He also loves to take joy in us.

    Think about it, what was Abraham’s son’s name?

    • Jeanne T says:

      I love this, Jennifer. Sometimes, all I need to de-stress, is a movie night, cuddled up with my hubby and seeing who can eat the most home made popcorn. Getting away from all things “mature” can be a great medicine. :)

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Great wisdom from another angle, Jennifer. I agree, writers (and agents and editors too!) can get so engrossed in work. A good dose of fun works like a wonder drug.

  • Writing must be one of the careers people are most emotionally invested in. Unfortunately that can sometimes lead to frustration. When I am frustrated with anything, especially writing, the verse that brings me the most comfort is Proverbs 3: 5-6

    “Trust in the Lord with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding;in all your ways submit to him,and he will direct your paths.”

    I once received a rejection to a query that included this verse as comfort. I think that this is God’s sign to me to keep trying, and trust in Him for literary success!

    • Mary Keeley Mary Keeley says:

      Jacqueline, I think that is the kindest, most encouraging rejection I’ve ever heard–and packed with direction for you in that verse. Indeed a blessing.

  • Lynn says:

    Mary, this is a beautiful blog post. Thanks for the reminder to keep things in perspective.

    I ask God for Holy Spirit eyes in how He views obstacles. Injuries from a car accident in February were a setback that pushed back my timing for writing goals. But it was also a rich source of time of connectedness with Him that provided times of meditation and reframing this season and then writing about it.

    When I get frustrated, I look to Acts 5:38,39, when Gamaliel says, “If this plan or action is of men, it will be overthrown; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them; or else you may even be found fighting against God.”

    If your writing is God’s plan, it can’t be thwarted. Our Father’s timing, like His will, is good and pleasing and perfect.

  • Heather says:

    I think I fall into the demanding work-load category. It’s a job I love. But I also love writing. Thanks for the perspective.

  • Joshua Shaw says:

    Mary, thank you for the encouraging post. As a young, unpublished author, the fear of encountering these obstacles is often overwhelming. And yet, though I am not entirely sure how, knowing that agented authors still have to endure difficult seasons is genuinely refreshing.

    I personally fall into the trap of believing that now that my proposal and manuscript are almost complete, everything will be easy breezy. Not so.

    Thank you.

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