Nathan Bransford, Author

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

What's the Hardest Part About Being a Writer?

After Monday's post on the sobering odds involved in the publishing process, I think we can all agree that being a writer is not easy. Particularly when the publishing industry is going through such a tumultuous time.

It's not easy to pour out 250 pages, it's not easy finding an agent, it's not easy finding a publisher, it's not easy for your book to catch on, and it's certainly not easy to become the next Stephenie Meyer.

But what's the hardest part about being a writer?


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lynnrush said...

"But what's the hardest part about being a writer?"

It's pressing on through this tough time.

But we must, if that's what we're called to do.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

One of the hardest parts of being a writer is the lack of accountability. Unless we have a writing gig with an established deadline, no one is waiting for us to turn a piece in. That’s where a writers’ group can come in handy; if I sign up to read, I know I’m going to come up with something before the next meeting. I’ve also publicly committed to posting three times a week on my blog, again, to instill a sense of accountability. Otherwise, I’d be watching endless reruns of Family Guy and E True Hollywood Story.

Mark C said...

Tom Petty said it best:

The waiting is the hardest part
Every day you see one more card
You take it on faith, you take it to the heart
The waaaaaaiting is the hardest part.

ryan field said...

For me it's promotion and publicity and selling. It's hard to do it well.

Margaret Yang said...

Dealing with agents.

(that was a joke, Nathan!)

Catalina said...

I think the hardest part of being a writer is the self doubt after the project is complete. I love the writing process. I love falling in love with my characters, and the jubilation I feel when I have a stroke of brilliance. I am proud of my work.

But after it's all said and done, there's the self doubt of whether it is good enough to publish. I start to question how my story could compete with the other books on the market.... I don't know about other people but I actually have to stop myself from obsessing. Prozac is starting to look pretty good about then.

I think my world would be a happier place if I gave up on publishing, but then again, a little trauma keeps life interesting.

Merry Monteleone said...

I think it varies.

If you ask any of the unwashed masses (unagented and unpublished):

The hardest part might be the rejection, the research to find an agent, the querying process, or even learning all of the ins and outs of the editing process and working on your craft.

If you ask the agented but unpublished:

It might still be the rejection, the waiting while submissions are out, working on something new while nervously hoping the thing that's out gets picked up, deciding whether or not to work on a sequel or put the entire first novel (characters, plotlines, etc) away and start on something completely fresh in case the first one is never picked up.

If you ask the agented and published:

It might be the sell through, the worry about getting a second one picked up or a third. The worry about whether a publisher will back you in this climate or whether all of these years building up your writing will come crashing down if you can't hit the next level. It might be the worry over things out of your control or it might still be the writing and fear of rejection... it might even be monetary, or fitting in a full time or part time job while trying to continue on a strict writing schedule.

If you ask the multi-published best sellers:

It might be the self-censor and the idea of a myriad of writers and critics who pan their work, or it might be the worry over whether the current WIP will be up to expectations... it might still be rejection...

Writing is like any other career choice, for each stage and level you reach there are still worries and difficulties. There is still room for growth and improvement. With writing, you're never done unless you quit or die.

Vieva said...

for me, the hardest part is believing in myself and not chucking it all to weave baskets.

It's HARD to get back to work when the odds are so incredibly bad against me ... harder to send out the next piece, hoping THIS one is good enough and sparkly enough and whatever enough to at least get a second look.

(not literal sparkles. Y'all would shoot me. And I wouldn't blame you.)

(word verif: suidist. blogger, do you MIND? it's hard ENOUGH, thank you very little!)

RW said...

Reconciling the writing time (unpaid work for me, so far) with other obligations.

Vegas Linda Lou said...

Oh, can I add one more thing? How about the fact that ANYONE can call themselves a writer? How often do you hear someone say, “Oh yeah, I write, too”? I’m always amazed by people who call themselves writers yet have never bothered to study the craft, and furthermore, are reluctant to hire a writing coach. And then they wonder why they can’t get published!

I often make the analogy that trying to find an agent and have your book published is like trying to get into the Olympics. Don’t you think Peggy Fleming might have taken a skating lesson or two along the way? OK, that’s dating me, but you get the picture.

Professor Tarr said...

I, too, believe the hardest part of being a writer is the acquisition of patience. Patience used to send me long rambling query letters, but while they seemed impassioned, they seemed a bit rushed and juvenile (and lo those hypothetical questions she'd ask - 'Did you ever imagine what it would be like to slow down just once?' she gushed, and don't even get me started on those darned period/space conundrums.)

So I sent her queries back with form rejections (Thank you for your interest in overtaking compassion and passion as prime attributes of my being. However, because of the overwhelming pursuit of my attention by those and other virtues - and quite a few vices as well - I must return your query to you with this form letter. I wish you every luck in finding placement elsewhere, but you simply don't fit my list.)

Over the years I became more and more accustomed to patience sending me her little missives, begging and pleading with me to accept her. Frankly she began to grow on me. She still seemed at times to try my very soul and to fluster the bejeebers outta me, but I eventually got used to the fact that she was my destiny and I hers.

Finally I matured to the point where I was asking patience for fulls and embraced her almost without reservation. In my youth, I could not have done that. People told me all the time that I should have patience, she was what I needed, but I was young and full of myself. More's the pity.

Now I find that those referrals were right - isn't that always the best way? Patience is indeed a phenomenal artist. And I am a better person simply for knowing her.

Maybe I changed, maybe she. But I have since become accustomed to the thought that we were destined to be together and now my long, gray years are filled with nothing less than an abiding contentment with patience.

What a gal!

Devon Ellington said...

Honestly, I think it depends on the writer.

I write full-time, I'm constantly juggling multiple projects under various names in both fiction and non-fiction, making sure I can pay the bills, and still keeping that love and passion for what I do, AND keep my professional skills honed.

When I get very tired and am on multiple deadlines, proper proofreading becomes one of the hardest things. I hate sending out materials with errors, but after awhile I can't see straight any more. Usually, I have someone who can triple check it for me, but when it's midnight and you're doing that last pass . . .I'm very good about getting things done ahead of deadlines, but often there's a foot-dragging on the other end, for which I am supposed to make up.

But, honestly, I think the hardest part is that more and more of the production and marketing burden goes on the writers. It's happened more than once -- I turn in my edits/corrections before the deadline, the publishing house gets behind, and then I'm expected to turn the final galleys around in 24 hours, while still making the deadline for the next book while marketing the book that's out there. And, I've noticed frequently, as publishers outsource, copy editors ADD errors or rewrite passages (usually badly) instead of doing the simple copy edit.

It's got to be written -- and in GOOD SHAPE -- before it can be marketed.

In my humble opinion, the hardest part of being a writer is that more and more of the marketing burden has become the writer's job and there's less emphasis on actually writing something good. You're supposed to cough up perfect prose in a matter of minutes, but spend days, weeks and months out on the road marketing it. I don't mind working WITH the publisher and doing my share -- but I mind doing almost ALL of it when it prevents me from spending a reasonable amount of time writing.

Waiting doesn't bother me, because as soon as a submission is out, I'm already on to the next project and juggling current deadlines.

Adaora A. said...

I think the hardest part is the waiting that comes after the writing is finished. You wait for earlier requests to be recieved from agents, you wait for the response to requested material, you might wait for a possibly offer of representation. And even when and if you get that offer, it's still will likely (unless it's some wild fluke) that you'll wait for response from editors at publishing houses. You spend so much time writing, that when it comes to waiting to see how the writing (that you put everything into)is recieved, can fee like hell.

Love this topic!

Melissa said...

For myself, I have to agree with Vegas Linda Lou. Ican be incredibly prolific when I have true deadlines, but I have trouble focusing without them.

In every aspect of life, I'm an all-or-nothing kind of person. I'm either 100% focused, or I have trouble giving something any attention at all. Without deadlines, it's difficult for me to maintain the focus I need to write.

Dick Margulis said...

I think the hardest part for most people who think they're writers is confronting the fact that they really aren't. The first time they go through the editing process for real (not in school and not in a writer's group)--when every red mark is a dagger to the heart, when they have to finally murder their darlings and focus on the reader's needs, finally start treating the book like a product in development instead of the fruit of their loins--is the hardest part. Once they make that transition, the rest is easy. Some people stay amateurs forever and never make that transition. But for me, that ability to let go is what defines a professional writer.

Scott (Thinking Man) said...


I pretty much feel like Private Santiago and the gang from the publishing world is giving me the old Code Red treatment (Forgive the Few Good Men reference).

Seriously, being a newbie fiction writer, the hardest thing for me at this point is just completing the manuscript. I'm not new to writing, but I am new to fiction writing. So, at this point, I'm trying to learn the craft as I go. I'm also trying to learn about a million other things like agents, query letters, marketing, etc.. So it all seems a bit overwhelming at times.

Making the time to write is really my biggest challenge. I work full-time, have three young children, etc... Recently, I've taken to getting up at 4 am to get in a few hours of writing before the day starts.

Anyone out there have advice about writing habits?

I did join a writing group about six months ago and that's helped a lot.

Anonymous said...

Writing, rewriting, rewriting some more, finally getting an agent after years and years of trying, and then having said agent not sell your book. Or the next one.

No wonder writers are drunks.

firedrake said...

I'm just testing the waters for the first time and the most difficult thing for me is the uncertainty. Obviously, I feel that what I've written is good enough to be published, but it's not knowing how it will be regarded by that legion of faceless agents "out there". It's one thing getting positive feedback from your friends and family, but it's an entirely different matter when you've poured your heart and soul and passion into something for a stranger to judge.
I'm guessing my hide will be getting a lot tougher in the months to come.

Jeanne said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Anonymous said...

I think the problem for most writers is getting ahead of yourself. WOrrying about marketing before you've finished the book, worrying about the next book before the editor is finished with your current one. Writers tend to lose focus when this happens, and it is reflected in the quality of their work until eventually they start off a book with "In a world where..."


Scott (Thinking Man) said...

You're right, Anon. Really, I know the odds are amazingly against anything I ever write being published. But that's okay. I do it because it's what I love to do. Reading Nathan's site and a few others, I guess, should just be left for "deep background."

acpaul said...

The hardest part of being a writer is, for me, the revisions.

I can pound out a story, a novella, a novel, a series, but I hate editing my own work. It's like I can't let go of the precious words and turns of phrase already on the page, no matter how badly they need to be deleted and rewritten.

Professor Tarr said...

Scott, that would make a great topic on its own - writing habits. What I have found is that regularity is your friend. When my boys were young I'd write every night at 11:00 until I began to lose sense. I awoke one night on the keyboard having written several hundred pages of ZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZZs

I also set number goals for myself. I actually have a spreadsheet detailing my daily goal and my cumulative goal. I have a rough idea of how big a book is going to be and I break it down by week. Each day of the week I have a set goal - Mondays are heck, zero is fine. Tuesday - 1000 words, Wednesday - 1500 words, etc. I set attainable goals (based on my own self-knowledge) and I tell myself every day I will be gentle on myself if I don't reach my goal. I wrote THE MISSIONARY AND THE BRUTE that way and never missed a daily goal. There were days when I was tripling and quadrupling my word-goal based on the endgame enthusiasm...

But the key for me is to have a calendar, and to have a plan that I stick with and fits my other schedules.

Just thoughts.

Ruthanne Reid said...

The hardest part is, by far, having to believe in yourself and your creation when you are not being fed encouragement from outside sources.

Case in point: a friend of mine is an artist, and a very good one. Although she hasn't "made it" to the point that she can quit her job, she sells several hundred dollars' worth of art every month - and that's with practically no publicity.

She has constant reminders from strangers that she *can* do this, that she is good, that her creations are worthwhile. For an author, it's a little different, especially if we're trying for traditional publishing routes. Until an agent picks us up, we're still guessing; until an editor expresses interest, we're holding our breath.

Until that time, we're *believing* - based on nothing more than our own instinct.

Adaora A. said...

Just thought I'd add the randomest thought in the world: I am slightly in love with the word tumultuous. Ever since that fantastic Alanis Morissette song called Unsent. Just had to add that. (video:

Diana said...

It's knowing that you might put your heart, mind, and soul into a manuscript for six months or a year (or longer!) and in the end, you may not be able to find a buyer for it. There just aren't too many things I can think of where you might put in that kind of effort and ultimately see no return.

Anonymous said...

Writing's easy.

Writing for a paying publisher - now that's hard. Far and away the hardest part is realizing and accepting that when the publishing industry says it wants 'Fresh & Original' what it really means is 'The Same Old Thing With a New Twist.'

Bertiebeans said...

I think the hardest part about being a writer is that moment when you realise it's the one and only thing you want to do with your life, but you're completely at the mercy of agents/publishers to fulfil those dreams. Having no real control over your fate is very tough to come to terms with.

Crimogenic said...

"No wonder writers are drunks."


The drunk part is the best part.

Strictly from the unagented/unpublished writer's pov, getting the agent is the hardest part right this minute. And when I get an agent, I'm sure that finding a publisher will be the next hardest step. But I'm in this for the really really long haul.

Anonymous said...

Kudos to Diana and Bertiebeans comments above.

Dave F. said...

Waiting for a rejection. I do more short stories and waiting for months to find out if a story is accepted or rejected is a waste of my time and very rude.

The writing is hard work but I enjoy it. And rejections are something I can deal with. But to wait over six months is wasting time. Plus, it reflects badly on the agent or magazine (That's turning the table because all you hear from agents and magazine editors is how badly anything they don't like reflects on an author, well physician, heal thyself.)

Tiffany Chalmers said...


Scott (Thinking Man) said...

Thank you for your suggestions, Prof. Tarr. I have done some of that, although not nearly as ambitious as yourself. My goal is to write a chapter a week, which seems to be ranging from 2500-3500 words.

Anonymous said...

Realizing it doesn't matter how well I know my target readership through education and daily experience, if the publishing industry believes something else about them my story will be rejected.

Kristan said...

Every part! Lol.

Nah, I don't know. I imagine it's a little like being a parent: everything's kinda hard, but every day is worth it.

Mark Terry said...

Paper cuts.

R. Daley said...

Unpublished novelist's (and father's) perspective:

Balancing the time between work, family, and writing is the hardest part for me. The only way I was able to complete the first draft of FATE'S GUARDIAN was to wake up regularly at 5:30am and write until 7am, then get ready to go to work. After I got home, I helped my wife with the kids, and by the time they were fed, bathed, and in bed, I was too frazzled to write anymore - not to mention the need to spend time with my wife, too. Then it was off to bed. Rinse and repeat...

I am not a morning person! The discipline required to get up regularly is staggering.

Fortunately, I was able to do it long enough to finish the first draft, then revise it, and currently the early morning is dedicated to further refinements and queries.

Anonymous said...

The hardest part is finding time to write without interfering with everything else that is important in your life such as work, family and the "all-important" leisure time.

Success and failure depends on too many things that are not in your control. The best advice is to just have fun writing and maybe some day, someone will want to read it. In the meantime, don't forget to take a nap.

Natalie said...

For me personally, it's the waiting, combined with the sobering idea that as hard as I work, my stories may never see the light of day.

Usually I just ignore that, though. Why dwell on it when I can pretend I'm a ninja instead? Writers can totally get away with a little insanity.

Ugly Deaf Muslim Punk Gurl! said...

It's hard to not give into despair, depression and loneliness... it's hard not to question yourself as a writer, and whether you're actually a really good writer or not.

Dorinda Ohnstad said...

As an unpublished author I think that the hardest part is getting those around you to view writing as your occupation, not your hobby. Problem is that they see "occupation" as something that brings in money.

When writing novels it takes years of studying, writing, critique sessions, editing, etc. before there is even a glimmer of hope of seeing a dime. It's not the money that drives writers, but others don't get it. They see it as a "hobby," which should take a back seat to making sure you earn a good living, clean the house, do the laundry, cook meals, etc. They make you feel guilty when you set aside time to write.

It's hard enough to stick to your craft knowing that the odds are slim that you'll ever be published; or if you do, that it's hard work to market and be a successful author. It's even harder when your spouse/family doesn't support you in your pursuits until after you have met all of their needs first.

sex scenes at starbucks said...

sending out batches of queries. very stressful to get them right.

Anonymous said...

The lack of feedback. I want to have a game plan and learn from everything, but when the form rejections arrive, the lack of feedback is a struggle. Is the query bad? Is the story just not interesting? I seriously cried (grateful tears) when an agent's assistant actually gave me useful feedback in a P.S. on the bottom of a rejection letter (that actually was addressed to me). I will never forget the assistant's name and, more than that, I took the advice immediately even though it meant a huge overhaul.

I recognize the time that would take for agents and all the practical realities, but you asked and that is my answer. :)

Polenth said...

The worst thing is when I write something in a style that lacks markets. It reminds me that some kinds of work don't really have anywhere to go. I find seeing that harder than any of the other stuff (rejections, writing, changing my name to Stephenie, etc).

The problem markets are light-hearted speculative fiction short stories and nonsense poetry. The former has some places. I've not found anywhere publishing the latter (other than work by classic nonsense poets).

Anonymous said...

The hardest part?

Falling in love with everything you have written one day, and hating it the next.

You begin a cycle of rewriting yourself into that love/hate realtionship every time you sit at the key board.

Each day that passes there is less love and less hate...getting to that point is the hardest for me.

Learning that it is not always about what I like to write but finding the words that the reader will want to read.



Lisa Dez said... New Year's revelation went something like this:

Writing is like heroine. When you’re doing it you’re flying and when you’re not doing it it’s all you can think about, but no good can ever come of it and in the end it will ruin your life.

At the time I woke screaming in the middle of the night with this revelation I had a partial out that I knew sucked and was in the process of a major re-write before I sent out two more.

So...for me the hardest part is everything that comes after the writing. The waiting bites and the second guessing while waiting bites worse.

Joe Iriarte said...

lol @ Mark Terry!

RW nailed it for me. As a committed but unpublished/unpaid writer, the hardest part for me is balancing what I want to be doing constantly with the things I need to do to get paid.

(Which is not quite the same as saying it's hard to find time to write. Finding time to write is easy for me . . . it's finding time to do the things I should be doing when I'm writing that is a struggle!)

permist: (n.) What I might find myself doing if this writing thing doesn't work out and if I keep on neglecting my day job.

I swear, sometimes it's like these captchas can read my mind.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the question Nathan

I concur with what most of the others have written, but for me personally, the window was already narrow as I write in the multi-cultural field, and now with the downturn in the economy it's even more so. Still I will push on, and polish my writings until such time as more MC literary works are accepted again, or change my protagonist to YA. The Astonishing Life Of Octavian Nothing, 1 & 2 gives me hope.

Joe Iriarte said...

I think you've nailed it, Dorinda. There is a little discussion on Kate Testerman's blog about job versus hobby, and you've nailed why it's so important for me to call it a job, even if it's a job that doesn't pay me money. How can a hobby justify the sacrifices I've made? The sacrifices I've asked others to make? It's not a hobby--it's a vocation. You don't have to get paid to have a vocation.

AmandaKMorgan said...

I was going to say waiting, but....

going to acquisitions and being shot down at the very. last. second.

Mary said...

for me the hardest part is staying focused on the current process and project when i'm waiting to hear about a past piece getting published. i have weekly deadlines that i must meet in order to get paid and stay working but the looser projects can bog me down a bit. a schedule is key, for me, anyway.

Eden said...

Waiting for feedback (and then getting "it's good" and nothing else).

JES said...

At the risk of glibness, I'm torn between two "hardest parts":

(1) the next word;

(2) getting rid of the previous word.

(Word verif: "uncise." Amen.)

Carley said...

Right now for me, selling my book. Writing it was, and is still so easy in comparision to what it takes to get it looked at.Discipline in writing, coming up with ideas, that's all a cake walked compared to trying to break into the publishing world. Who knew you'd actually need a marketing degree for this?

On a totally unrelated side note, I was watching American Idol last night (my guiltly pleasure) and I had to smile as I turned the judges into Agents in my mind. For one moment I think I got a glance at the kind of odd, bizarre,sometimes rubish, beautiful, and every once in a while a diamond in the rough that agnets must look at every day. It put things in perspective. Very few of those people could sing, very few had what it would take, and it was up to the Judges (in our case Agents) to weed them out. What a daunting task! I assume the few jewels you find along the way make it worth the journey. I have a whole new appreciation for what you all do....even if some are as blunt as Simon...but hey, he still cracks me up!

Dennis Cass said...

Unfortunately, writing for me has tainted the reading experience.

I miss that feeling of being completely blown away by a book/paragraph/sentence.

Now, even if it's really good, I can kind of see the strings.

LiteraryMouse said...

The hardest part would have to be finding the time to write and then once you've finished the manuscript, the self-doubt that creeps in as to whether it's any good or not. After all the work you've done, you desperately want it to be good. It HAS to be good, or else all that effort seems as if it was for nothing (it isn't, with every manuscript you learn and become a better writer, but it seems that way).

For most of the time I was writing my manuscript, I was working a full-time job that demanded 80-100 hours a week during the busy season and then 40-60 hours the rest of the time. I found time for writing through a mix of sleep deprivation/using my vacation time to write instead of traveling/writing on the train and other creative methods. I always kept a few pages of my manuscript at my desk and for example, when there was a power outage and the computer system went down, I'd pull it out and start editing. All the while your family is telling you you're crazy and to give it up already.

It's the sunk cost fallacy and after all that, you want your investment to pay off. I've adjusted expectations and see the completing of the manuscript as a pay off in of itself, because so many people don't finish their books.

Still, I'd love to be part of that even more elite group that actually gets their work published, but we'll see.

Anonymous said...

Today, it's realizing that I'm going to have to rewrite my blasted novel from scratch. AGAIN. I mean, for the sixth or seventh time.

And it's having to deal with the possibility that I may never get it right.

And it's remembering that I told my husband last night that getting this novel finished and polished was the most important thing in the world to me.

And it was waking up this morning and hoping that I didn't mean that, that I might be able to put this novel aside and take up badminton or crochet or graphic design, but then having to realize -- again -- that finishing, really finishing, this novel seems to have a pathological hold on my life.

(I'm trying to be optimistic here, but maybe query letters will seem like a breeze after this...? My short story and essay rejections are nothin' compared to the verbal beatings I give myself about my novel.)

Craven said...

The writing is easy and fun. The hard part is editing. By the time I reach the end, I'm tired of it and feel it's all crap.

The other hard part is querying, where the doubts reach an all-time high.

Dara said...

Right now, it's the research process, at least for me as a historical fiction writer. It's time consuming and often frustrating (esspecially when the info you are looking for is in another language!). But that will probably change should I ever get published.

Oh and I beg to disagree with Anon 9:22. Not all writers are drunks--I don't like alcohol (except a tiny bit in a strawberry daiquiri) :P My addiction is chocolate.

Dara said...

Grr. Type in my comment--one less "s" in "especially."

Marjorie said...

The hardest part about being a writer is kissing the behinds of the literary agents. I visit online blogs and read the comments. One literary agent has an almost cult-like following. I believe her followers would without hesitation drink her special blend of Kool-Aid.
Ah, the power of the literary agent. "Query me," they say. Such a lofty expression. And they will reject a submission if they spot one misspelled word. 'Tis a shame because the writer could be the next Hemingway.
Yes, the hardest part about being a writer is morphing into a sycophant. I don't. Being a "Sybil" is so not my strong suit.

Alicia said...

Right now for me the hardest part about being a writer is maintain self-confidence in my ability as a writer. There are those days when I just think "man, I suck." When I get to that point, it's hard to plot, write, revise, or anything else.

Nathan Bransford said...


Just to be clear on where I stand on those matters, I would never want someone to "kiss the ring," and in fact excessive praise creeps me out and is in fact precisely the wrong strategy. Personalization is one thing - shows the author did their homework. Kissing up, though, works to an author's detriment. And I think most agents would agree with me.

I also don't know an agent in the world who would pass on an author for misspelling a word.

Anonymous said...

The lack of respect from non-writing peers. I have a lot of friends who are being laid off, and while I sympathize, I keep hearing, "Well, maybe I'll just write a book and sell it" as an "easy" alternative to finding another job. REALLY???

Biff Humble said...

Finding the exact combination of cocaine and barbiturates to unlock the creative juices without causing one's heart to explode or dropping too deeply into coma and missing the deadline.

Juliana Stone said...

for me, it's my lack of patience. Which isn't great in this business....even after you get the agent, and sell, you find out that your book won't be out for almost two years!!!! Agghhh! The pain.

jackykendricks said...

Waiting on others. Oh, how I hate having to wait. To say patience isn't one of my virtues is a monumental understatement. Which means I find myself pushed into a state of mind where I snarl at people, and lock myself out of my room to stop myself from starting a new project while I wait for that copyeditor to get back to me, or my beta reader to give me back my manuscript.

After about two days of this, I finally toss my hands in the air, state firmly that not doing anything is silly, and dive right into that project that I shouldn't have started.

Now, because I didn't wait patiently, I find myself loath to put aside my current project to go back and work on the previous project I was waiting to hear from the copyeditor and beta reader on. That I'd be leaving fresh writing for revising does not make it any easier.

Oh, waiting, how I hate you.

Robin L said...

As a pre-published author, the hardest part of writing was trying to see my work objectively.

Hm. Come to think of it, that part's still hard.

The hardest part of being a published writer is all the things that are outside your control that are needed to create book sales.

Ink said...

The hardest part is writing something truly great.

I don't, however, think that's a bad thing. In fact, it's the best part. If it were easy I probably wouldn't do it, as I like that challenge. What satisfaction is there in doing something that's easy? It's like those 1 in 10,000 odds we touched on the other day. I like those odds, and I like that challenge. Because I want to be the one. I may not be, and I can accept that, but I'm going to embrace that challenge, that opportunity, until it's no longer there. And the only way to embrace it is to try and write something great. Count me in.

My best, as always,
Bryan Russell

MzMannerz said...

I've only scanned the other responses and think someone else said self doubt. Ding, ding, ding.

It's very easy to sink into discouragement, and that's BEFORE a rejection letter has rolled in. While there are times I finish a section and feel pleased and accomplished, there are so many more times I think about my stories and wonder how on earth I managed to log so much useless drivel.

Ashley said...

For me, it a lot of what others have said. Confidence is a big issue. My mantra while working on my novel is basically, it might suck now, but when you get the final draft completed it will fantastic. This is followed by a headshake and hearty chuckle about how it's ridiculous, and uncharacteristically optimistic of me.

I also find that trying to control the flow of ideas through my brain is a bit tricky. When something comes, I scribble it onto a note pad, or random piece of paper, so it's out of my head. Then I can concentrate on the novel.

And spelling, I'm a terrible speller.

Anonymous said...


I just wanted to thank you for asking questions like this and providing a forum for writers to share our take on this process. Writing is a solitary activity, which leaves us with plenty of time for worries, self doubt, and various frustrations. I am grateful to read about the experiences of other authors. It gives me hope (as strange as that might be with a question about the hardest part about being a writer).


Parker Haynes said...

The hardest part for me? Condensing all those thousand of words I’ve spent months playing with into that single sentence hook, and then the few words allowed in a query.

The easy part (and, of course, the fun part): When I relax, throw the “rules” out the window, and let the words flow like the river.

Then along comes another hard part: Revise, rewrite, edit, and try to believe I actually have something publishable.

And in spite of it all, I keep writing. Just ‘cause I enjoy it!

Carley said...

Upon further consideration I have to add, the lack of feedback from people in the know. You never really know if your work is good enough until you make your breakthrough, and that is frustrating. Not to mention it can let self doubt, and other little demons begin to run rampant. :)

Parker Haynes said...

Oh yeah, and I suck at seeing my own mistakes. "Thousand" in my previous post is missing an "s" at the end!

Lori said...

I agree with many of you who've said that it's patience. I don't send out much yet, but I have trouble making myself wait to go back to revise a piece, letting it sit for at LEAST three weeks (Stephen King's advice), so that I can give it a truly cold edit.
My new strategy is to start writing something else.

As far as sitting down to write, I do it almost every day now. This has only happened in the last year, but a writer told me "The years are going to go by anyway. Quit making excuses, saying you'll do it when the kids are older, etc." I make the time like it's as necessary as food or exercise. It has become that way to me.

LurkerMonkey said...

Getting paid.

other lisa said...

I'm with the self-doubters. Even now that I've decided the book I just finished is good (after many many rewrites, polishes and much feedback), now I get to worry about whether I can pull off the one I'm writing now. It's almost like performance anxiety every time I sit down to write. Like when I used to play in bands: "Am I gonna get on stage and do a good job? Or will I suck?"

Anonymous said...

Ooh, I'm with Amanda K Morgan--

Being shot down after finally making it to acquistions is killer. That's happened twice to a book of mine. The book is still unsold.

Which brings me to another hard part... your agent losing faith in you, after failing to sell your book even after its gone to acquisitions and dropping you as a client.

A knife plunged into my heart would've felt better, I swear.

Anonymous said...

Zero feedback.

Michael said...

It's putting in all the work without any kind of guarantee that it will be rewarded.

ChadGramling said...

This is more than one, but they are all number one at various stages of a writer's life:

1.) Finding the time to write while also maintaining a 9-5 and family life.
2.) Convincing an agent or publisher that you know what you are doing, that you understand the process and are willing to do whatever it takes to make your manuscript - something you believe in more than anyone else -successful for everyone.
3.) Determining whether advice that other aspiring writers give you is sound advice or hogwash.
4.) Convincing yourself not to give up on your dream.

Kate H said...


Waiting for feedback from critique partners, waiting for agents and editors to respond, waiting for the book to actually appear, waiting for the checks to come in, etc. etc.

I think I could handle rejections if they only came quickly, so I didn't have time to get my hopes up.

klromo said...

Well, I think being referred to as one of the "unwashed masses" is probably the hardest part.

Marilyn Peake said...

Hardest part of being a writer for me: days on which I’m hit by a combination of exhaustion and disillusionment. I’ve gotten better at pushing very hard on writing projects, knowing where to submit them and balancing my life. As a result of this blog and other information on the web, I’ve gotten better at writing query letters and sending them to places that handle the specific types of projects I’ve completed. For example, rather than submitting one of my fantasy short stories written in a literary style to a science fiction/fantasy magazine, I recently tried submitting it to a literary print magazine that specializes in "magical realism". I heard back rather quickly that my short story made it through the first level and has been passed on to the editorial board which includes a number of English Lit professors. This was a real thrill for me!

I know writers who have been through much worse than me. Many have lost their health; some have taken out second mortgages on their homes and ended up broke after signing with disreputable self- or small publishing houses and dumping huge amounts of money into marketing. I also met an author online who made a couple million dollars on his self-published series of quirky novels when POD was brand new and big publishing corporations hadn’t yet bought up the POD distribution channels. Being at the right place at the right time is so important, many writers throw caution – as well as energy, health and money – to the wind, gambling that they just might be in the right place at the right time. When we’re wrong, it’s tough picking up the pieces and plowing ahead to write the next manuscript.

D.A.A. Price (aka Elgin) said...

For those of us who are unpublished, it is ... wait for it... patience. For those who are published, I can only theorize that it's trying to figure out how to spend all your money.

Mim said...

I think that hardest part is believing in myself enough to think I can write the novel that is worth reading and then sharing it with others.

While at the same time feeling silly at times because I do have that hope and belief that Yes I CAN do it, and even more that I AM going to do it.

The sacrifices before you get published in time and self are difficult, when you can't see the immediate payback.

For me I think balancing my unbelief in myself, and my belief in my dream is the hardest part.

Katy said...

For me, a fledgling fiction writer, the hardest thing I have had to deal with is having the courage, and sense, to make the decision to put something I had worked on for over a year in the drawer and begin work on something else. It's tough to have to make that decision, especially when everything I have read about writing advises against quitting a project. But sometimes, you just know that, at least for now, a project is not working and just continuing to pour time and energy into it isn't going to solve anything. It doesn't mean that I gave up altogether, though, it just means I put it away for a while, began work on something else (by all means, I keep working!), and maybe, after a while, I might get it back out. Still, a tough thing to talk myself into.

wonderer said...

For me right now, it's revising. I know how to critique and how to take critiques, I can bang out first drafts like nobody's business, but turning those messes into something polished is making me tear my hair out.

On the other hand, I haven't gotten to the query stage yet. I imagine that when I do, I'll join all those of you who said "waiting" and "putting your chances in someone else's hands".

wv - untengl - an archaic past tense of "untangle"

Nikki Hootman said...

Finding an agent. Hands down hardest part. Actually I think it's easier for straight genre fiction - mystery, sci fi, romance - which is very clear cut. When we're talking mainstream fiction, however, everything suddenly gets nebulous.

I've written several books. I've rewritten several books. I've edited several books. At least one of them is really quite good, at least according to some of the agents who read it but ultimately decided they didn't want to sign me because they had something too similar or it wasn't quite in line with the rest of their stable of authors.

I have a good book. I have short story publications. I'm prolific.

But I just can't get an agent.

Mike Walters said...

The hardest part of being a writer? Can I cheat and put two things (because they are linked!)

1. Believing I am a writer;
2. Changing into the person I need to be to write the next piece.

Joyful frustration every bloody day.

Welshcake said...

Getting that first draft down on paper.

At least when the rejections are flooding in, there's something to work with!

Scott said...

I'd have to echo Ryan field's sentiment that promoting one's work is by far the most trying. Of that grueling process, running into the conflict between needing to be already published, represented or having sold and being a new writer with a simple BA degree always sinks my heart. I often find agents that appear perfect for my voice and style who I know will never get a look at my letter.

That said, how important is that "bio paragraph"? Nathan? Anyone? For those agents who clearly state that they're happy to be queried by first time authors, does a brief, well-written paragraph about the intended themes and vision for the story work in place of a boring bio?

Anonymous said...

Is it just my query that is bad or does my whole story suck

Nathan Bransford said...


I don't have a problem with boring bios.

Ashley said...

For me, I would have to agree with Anon at 10:10 about loving what you write one day and then hating it the next.

There have been so many times that I write something and think "Hey, that's pretty good!" only to look at it the next day and say "Oh my gosh, that sounds completely lame."

It is good to be able to view your work with a critical eye but, personally, I think I judge my work so harshly that I discourage myself and get in the way of my own writing.

Very frustrating. I would LOVE to get to the point where I'm worried about queries, agents, and the like. If only I could finish my WIP :)

David said...

The promised responses that never show up.

Loren Eaton said...

Finishing projects.

Mary Keenan said...

Looking at the screen and blinking and having No. Idea. What to say next.

Anonymous said...

Everyone else has been very eloquent (not surprising, for a bunch of writers.)
I love the writing itself.
The selling part is what's hard. The queries, the waiting, the doubt, the rejections without explanation, the disappointment. You know it's a long shot, it's subjective, etc, but it's still a long and exhausting process.
The nicest surprise? How supportive most writers are to their peers.

Marty said...


Professor Tarr said...

I think a larger problem in actuality is loving what you wrote and then on the next day loving it again. Hard to excise those lovely thoughts, don't you know.

Just_Me said...

In the order that they tend to hit me:

- chapter 3
- the last 3 chapters
- editing
- staying on task
- explaining what you're writing to all the non-writer/non-reader people you know
- not beating people over the head when they say they never read
- finding a "perfect fit" agent who loves your writing and understands where you want to go with your career

Stephanie said...

I actually would rather be the next Meg Cabot!

The hardest part...hmmm... I'd say the hardest part for me is believing, even when the odds are against me. Even when rejection letter after rejection letter comes back at me, I have to force myself to still put my work out there. They knock me down, I get right back up again.

Jess said...

A lot of people are talking about the industry side of being a writer as the hardest part, but I interpreted your question to mean, literally, the hardest part of the WRITING side of things.

For me it's the amount of time. I am a do-it-now kind of person, and I make time to write, but it's still hard not seeing the grand fruits of my labor for six months. That's why I love tracking my word count - I can see a change.

Michael Devers said...

I can handle the waiting, the rejections, etc. Those are all things out of my control, so I try not to sweat it too much.

For me, the hardest part is any day when I am an unmotivated hack. It's completely within my control, but those days still happen. At least I can find solace in blog commenting on those days.

Scott said...

Cheers, Nathan. That's very good to know.

I've been reading a book by Noah Lukeman, and he's discouraged listing any minor accomplishments, and even suggested that many agents look to the bio first and will often pass if you're a "nobody". The "no unsolicited queries" stipulation I see all the time seemed to back up the idea that you have to be a pro to go pro. Bah.

I just think briefly stating my specific narrative and thematic intentions might strike a chord with an agent, and seem to remember a query sample here that was lauded for digging out the essence of the story. I never say I've accomplished what I was trying to do, but I really want the agent to be able to gauge my literary awareness.

See, I told you this was the hard part for me. :^|

Linnea said...

The hardest part of being a writer is forcing myself to sit at my desk on days I don't feel 'inspired'.

Heidi C. Vlach said...

The hardest part of submitting my first novel wasn't being rejected, but not knowing why I was being rejected. Agents don't want to start a conversation -- that's fair and understandable -- but the "this is not the project for us" form letters drove me nuts! I'd much rather have been told that my prose was weak, or my query didn't make it sound interesting, or they thought non-human characters would be too hard to market, or whatever else it was that made the agent say no. At least then I'd be aware of the issue and able to work at fixing it.

Debendevan said...

Although I have a few dozen articles I have no book published. I think the hardest part of writing is the first sentence. The second part is the deadline. Especially after re-reading something I have submitted and realizing that I could have turned the phrase just so with better effect.

Debendevan said...

Although I have a few dozen articles I have no book published. I think the hardest part of writing is the first sentence. The second part is the deadline. Especially after re-reading something I have submitted and realizing that I could have turned the phrase just so with better effect.

Sara said...

All the glamour and money.

JJ said...

Sticking it through when the patina of newness has worn off a manuscript and other projects seem so shiny and tempting...gaaah.

(Revisions are hell, can you tell?)

lotusgirl said...

It varies from day to day. Today it's not being interrupted.

Amanda said...

By far, for me, the hardest part is the selling. The writing the pitch, writing query letters, all the nonfiction summary stuff. I'd take major editing or writer's block any day over that.

Jael said...

You're going to follow this up with a "what's the best part about being a writer" poll, right? Because this is depressing.

Kylie said...

Another popular post. :) I would say the hardest part is perserverence. It kills a lot of would-be writer. Perservering through the finish of your manuscript, through the constant rejections, through years spent improving your craft, through the attitudes of people around you who are not writers, through the publication and promotion of your book. You have to be very dedicated to be a writer and have very thick (see: bullet-proof) skin.

Anonymous said...

That with all the work I've done (and enjoyed) and the climb to get an agent (which I have) that my book which I really believe is excellent might be reduced by means not in my control and that are not fair. And I'm not only talking about the subjective opinion of an editor--people like what they like--but to be discounted because of the timing of the current market for fiction--and/or the fact that someone might find the topic "familiar"--when all books are recycled ideas anyway and it is all comes down to the writing--

After all the hard work/pleasure in doing this--it is hard to stomach that I might still "fail." I felt more secure training for a marathon at age 40, more confident that I would have a successful outcome.

And then looking ahead--I see my friends going nutso over promotion and reviews and their book dying or being mulched--and that just really sucks.

Still, I'm in it.

Kristina said...

The hardest part for me is, after creating a the best plot and storyline I can, and the most well-rounded characters, I will pour my soul out onto paper, painstakingly rewrite to choose just the right combination of words, try my damnedest to balance it all and keep it interesting, yet the entire time I know that no one may ever care about the finished product. It's doing it all anyway.

J. M. Strother said...

The hardest part of being a writer is forcing myself to plug away when I don't feel particularly inspired.

Kristina said...

I mean, *the* best plot. :)

Lupina said...

Sara, "all the glamour and money," LOL! Very hard to keep from beating up people who assume getting any book published means instant millionaire status.

Hardest overall for me is keeping a thick skin, and remembering that people I submit novels to are making business decisions, and not decisions about my personal worth. Remembering that they are looking for greatness -- or at least something saleable-- and if they are not seeing that in what I send, realizing that maybe I haven't worked hard enough.

Last week I sent first queries out for a new novel, and received such a quick nah-uh from the first agent that I figured my query must be horribly wrong. I rewrote it and received an equally swift request for a partial from the second one I sent it to. If I hadn't squelched the desire to drown in ennui and adapted, that never would have happened. And it wasn't easy, it was very hard. Much harder, psychologically anyway, than writing the novel.

The other very hard thing is keeping my dog from licking my keyboard.

:)Ash said...


Sarah Jensen said...

Balancing. Remembering that kids have to eat, and actually expect you to feed them. :)
The not writing time is my hardest time.
Rejections a small sting. But stepping away from the computer, that's hard.

Robena Grant said...

Getting that original spark of an idea--the one that stomps around in your head in big shoes--into some semblance of order, so that the idea transposes onto paper to be shared with someone else or hopefully many someones, and actually makes sense.

Kelley said...

picking yourself up and coming out for another round. swinging.

sometimes you just get...tired. so weary. of fighting and believing and holding on.

but you can't if you don't, so you have to pick yourself up and come out for another round. swinging.

that, for me, is the hardest part.

Sarah Jensen said...

And one more thing. Reading blogs. I spend too much time reading blogs when I should be writing, or feeding my kids. :)

Anonymous said...

There are so many wonderful things about being a writer.
What's hard?
Learning the craft.
The odds.
The loneliness of being in a room, on a computer, etc. with a project that can take years.
The rewriting and editing.
Not yet having listeners or readers when you have a story you want to tell.
The possibility that it will never be told or read.
The insecurity that it is not good enough.
The insecurity that it really is good enough but still won't make it.

But then it is also magic too, archetypal at times, captivating,
entertaining, empowering too.

Anonymous said...

how to understand
lie, lay, laid, lying,
*pounding head on desk*

Anonymous said...


(did somebody say tense?)


Colorado Writer said...

Waiting for an answer on a submission.

Colorado Writer said...

For the problem with: lie, lay, laid, lying.

Here's how I remember the rule.

Boys Lie. (people)
Chickens Lay. (animals, inanimate objects)

Same with lying and laying.

Steve Fuller said...


We are blessed to have the ability to write. We are blessed to have the free time to write. We are blessed to have anyone care about what we write.

Not to sound difficult, but man, writers like to whine, and it is annoying. Count your blessings, my friends.

Lady Glamis said...

Believing that I'm good and not burning/deleting everything I've written up to this moment.

Good friends help.

And so does constructive criticism mixed with a healthy dose of praise.

Anonymous said...

Thanks Colorado Writer.
Can you explain lain and laid to me?

Emily Cross said...

I think the hardest part is the 'doubting' - you work hard on a manuscript with the belief that you may be good enough but "may be your not good enough" etc sort of thoughts are always there.

Due to the process, you don't get feedback like people in other occupations etc. get - so you never know if you are just some self deluded sad person who 'believes' that they have talent but i guess all artsy careers are the same.

God, i sound depressed lol

Anonymous said...

I think that the last 15,000 words are VERY difficult.

Anonymous said...

My husband is the most well read, culturally informed, and intelligent man I know.
(Lucky me.)(And what an asset he was in graduate school while I was struggling with having to understand Literary Theory!)
And he is also my husband,
so when he tells me my writing is good,
(and boy oh boy he used to critique my letters to his mother!)
the "my husband liked it" clause always comes up and I drop Oreos on the floor and think about the guy 5 second rule.

D.A. Riser said...

Supposedly "Know Thyself" was one of three sacred sayings carved upon the Oracle at Delphi's temple wall.

That said, I'd say the hardest part of being an author is identifying your own strengths and weaknesses and adapting your writing to accomodate these.

Anonymous said...

Terry Pratchett once said, at a lecture I attended,that he loved going to work with a beer in one hand and wearing his bathrobe.

However, occasionally, having donned the disheveled writer look, (no make-up, wrinkled clothes I live in, bad hair, and a butt that's been sitting in a chair for a YEAR) gets to be too humiliating.

Kate said...

The hardest part about being a writer is hearing from everyone in the business--agents, publishers, writers--about how hard it is to be a writer. There sure is a lot of doom and gloom out there.

Amy Nathan said...

The hardest part about being a writer is the negativity put forth by other writers. I've sworn off many writers blogs because all they do is kvetch about the industry, how hard it is to publish (be it freelance writing or novel or nonfiction writing), how no one appreciates them and no one understands them.

And instead of saying shut up and write, I just don't go back.

c3authorspot said...

It's been said already, but it bears repeating. Dealing with rejection of the work is the hardest thing there is for the writer. In addition to writing for a living (if you want to call it that...), I teach writing to kids from 4th through 9th grade. I can't tell you how many of them say they cannot write because of just one comment of rejection from a former teacher. If we can't take the rejection, we just stop writing. Alternately, we stop marketing our work, so our voices are never heard.

Vancouver Dame said...

Hardest part of being a writer?
Finding the time to write, and getting a little respect from others. Most writing organizations don't offer mentoring, and those that do have hefty annual dues. It's a lonely business, and you need to develop alligator skin. Patience helps, too.

Doug said...

I'd say it's the lack of feedback, the not knowing. You write for a year or two, send it out and get form rejections. Was it because the manuscript wasn't good enough? Was it because the agent had a bad day? Was it because it pushed some reject button on the agent? As writers we don't know.

Can you imagine if you were an automotive engineer, you spent two years developing a new car, trucked it around the country for dealers to drive it, a few did, but no one ever gave feedback on what they liked or didn't like. They just said no. You wouldn't know what to change. Was it the wrong color? Was it the wrong shape? Were the seats too hard? How would you know?

How do you progress, improve, change your process for the better without good quality feedback? I'm not sure some people can.

It's easy to get feedback from writing groups, friends, and family, but none of them are experts in what works and doesn't work in the market. The only vote that really matters is the agent speaking for the market.

I wish there was a way for agents to magically have the time to provide the proper feedback, but unfortunately the system can't handle that either. Agents gotta sleep too.

So what's the magic answer? I don't have one, other than to read a lot, write a lot, and submit a lot. Your craft will improve and at some point your luck is bound to change.

Doug P.

MelissaPEA said...

The hardest part is trying to carry on a conversation with a living, breathing person when there's a simultaneous conversation between fictional characters in your head.

Bethanne said...


Anonymous said...

The hardest part for me is having to acknowledge, that craft matters so little to being successful.

I'm a book critic as well as a novelist so I spend a lot of time dissecting other authors' work. The clearest recent case is "Twilight". I didn't even make it through the first chapter before I had to quit. It is a categorically awful display of the written word. It succeeds on no level. Yet, it sells.

It's mystifying. I'm glad that over the years I've been able to separate the desire to be successful from the desire to write well and while I would certain love to see all my books in print and on best seller lists, I no longer feel the need to write for the express purpose of success.

Where it gets thorny is when I start considering my agent. She doesn't get paid unless I do and I know it drives her nuts that the industry is so narrow-minded. I'm just thankful that she believes in my books enough not to give up on them.

Phoenix said...

Knowing that even if I slog through all the other hard parts, the financial payoff is likely not going to be enough to support me. Even if I'm modestly successful, fiction writing will always be a moonlighting proposition, not a full-time career. :o(

What are typical advances for newbie mid-list authors running these days? $5K - 15K? At the high end, I would have to crank out, sell, and promote at least 8 books a year to equal the salary + benefits I make as a corporate writer/editor, especially since taxes, medical and retirement all need to come out of advances and royalties.

And short stories? Ha! Even in royalty-paying anthologies, my pubbed short stories have grossed only a couple of thousand dollars.

That, more than the daunting odds against even being published, is what really depresses me about the business. Not, of course, that I'm ready to give up on something so addictive and emotionally satisfying!

Anonymous said...

Right now it's the other things in my life, like my husband having a mid-life-crises, running off with another woman, and wanting a divorce after twenty-six years of marriage, then my son wanting to drop out of school because he's so traumatized. Sometimes it's really hard to write and I just want to be sad and read or watch movies for a few months. But I'm sure it will pass.

I think you get the point, though. Writing is the easy part. It's the stuff that life throws at you that's the hardest part about being a writer.

Chris Bates said...

1. Lazing about whilst working from home.

2. Raiding the fridge every hour.

3. Surfing the net.

4. Reading books every day - for research of course!

5. Not changing into proper clothes until the crack of noon.

Yep, it's a killer life. No wonder people go and get real jobs.

Merc said...

Avoiding being assassinated by characters.



Marjorie said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Marjorie said...

Nathan, thanks for replying. I was not shooting from the hip when I made my previous comment... so I will be specific.
In Meredith Bernstein's interview at "Witchy Chicks":

When asked: "What mistakes/blunders (in a query letter) automatically net a form rejection from you?"

Meredith Bernstein replies: "I immediately reject letters that begin Dear Sirs...or Dear Ms Sands ...or To Whom It May Concern. I also toss letters without an SASE."

So, if the next Hemingway addressed his query letter as she states above or if he failed to include a SASE, she immediately rejects the submission. It seems counterproductive and rather controlling... but her response does serve to, on some level, prove my point.

(I reposted the above comment because I had to correct the Witchy Chicks web address)

EJRuek said...


"The hardest part for me is having to acknowledge, that craft matters so little to being successful...."

His/her whole post: Five thumbs up and ditto.

Anonymous said...

To anon @ 4:23 PM

Sometimes the writing can be cathartic, too.

During times of crisis, I've always written about things, people and places that would take me far away from the crisis. And they've been some of my best reviewed works.

Jarucia said...

At this point in the game (being unagented and unpublished), the hardest thing is feeling 100% confident about the story I'm trying to push on people. Maybe that's not the right term.

Every time I get bad feedback I remind myself of books reviewed on, say, Amazon. Some wildly popular books with 3,000 reviews still have at least 10% that hated the book.

I remind myself...can't please every one all the time, just try to please as many as I can with the best work I can produce.

Nathan Bransford said...


I can't speak for her, but honestly 99% of the "Dear Agent" letters aren't worth reading past "Dear Agent" anyway. And no agent I know just throws away letters without SASEs, they just don't get responses, although, again, there's a striking correlation between people who don't follow submission guidelines and people who are sending bad queries. When an agent is pressed for time, tossing out the "Dear Sirs" queries isn't bad odds.

Personally I still look at everything whether they screw up my name, say "Dear Agent" or what have you, but there's a reason we have recommendations on these blogs.

Again, agents aren't sitting around devising ways of missing out on the good manuscripts. There's usually a reason behind all of this.

L.C. Gant said...

For me, the hardest part about being a writer is figuring out how to tell my stories in a way that hasn't been done a thousand times before. So much has been done already in the world of storytelling that it's often easy to doubt your abilities.

I agree with others who mentioned the lack of accountability and support from the writing community as well. Few careers are lonelier than writing; isolation is essentially a job requirement.

And yet, in spite of the obstacles, I keep at it anyway, the little writer that believes she can...

Nathan Bransford said...


Whoa whoa whoa there. Craft is essential to being a successful writer. Now, there are some things that you may not personally like about TWILIGHT, but the fact that it has become a positive obsession among teenage girls (and their moms, and plenty of guys as well) shows that Stephenie Meyer is doing something very right.

There's more to "craft" than writing a beautiful sentence. Stephenie Meyer is a master of building tension, and craft has a lot to do with it.

Kimber An said...

"Whoa whoa whoa there. Craft is essential to being a successful writer. Now, there are some things that you may not personally like about TWILIGHT, but the fact that it has become a positive obsession among teenage girls (and their moms, and plenty of guys as well) shows that Stephenie Meyer is doing something very right."

Maybe what the annoying thing here is that aspiring authors are constantly told craft, craft, craft, hammered about grammar, and have debates about how many spaces to put between a period and the start of the next sentence. So, they work hard and, still, nothing. Then, another will submit something riddled with 'ly' adverbs and dangling participles, get it published, and make millions, all because he somehow managed to hit the Magic Spot in the heart of a huge group of readers. I know it doesn't feel fair and right, but I can't see how there's any way to repeat that 'Magic' on purpose. Sometimes it just happens by accident and sometimes the author is simply born with a special intuition.

Such is life. I wish I'd been born a princess too, but I wasn't. It's not fair either. But, I'm not going to let that disappointment ruin the life I do have, because, you know what? My life is pretty darn good the way it is.

Nathan Bransford said...

Well, just to further expand a bit, I love Ian McEwan and Jonathan Lethem and what people would consider some of the best "craft" writer out there, but that doesn't mean that we can't also tip our hats to writers like Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer, who might not have the most elegant prose, but who are able to tap into something that resonates with millions of people.

And tapping into those emotions requires craft -- they're not just putting things down on the page, their choices (i.e. their craft) all work together to create a story that people are drawn to. It's just not an accident.

Nancy Coffelt said...

I think the hardest part about being a writer is being objective about your own writing.

I'm not here yet, not even close, but I can PRETEND to be that when talking with editors, my writers' groups or with my agent.

Inside, I may be screaming, "No, no, no! You just don't get it!" But outwardly I'm calmly nodding my head and taking notes. Experience has taught me that stepping back and reevaluating is a GOOD thing. Faux objectivity - it has its uses.

Anonymous said...

"And tapping into those emotions requires craft -- they're not just putting things down on the page"

But how do you convince your agent and editor that you are tapping into these very emotions when you don't seem to be following the standard formula (as incomplete as it is) for finding that magic spot?


Nathan Bransford said...


If I knew how to teach that I'd bottle it up and sell it like it's hot.

Alessa Ellefson said...

I guess it all depends on which stage you're on in the writing process, as can be seen from all these comments already.

My current anguish is having to re-edit everything. I feel I am never, and never will be, done with corrections, just as Flaubert never was (though my writing nowhere near the same as his).

However, this has allowed me to learn much about the craft, for which I am grateful.

And, despite it all (or because of it?) I love everything about writing!

Reisa Stone said...

Dear Nathan,

The hardest parts for me are isolation and rejection.

I would not be able to maintain discipline or keep my spirits up without my cherished writers group. They are a lifeline.

Because I do a fair amount of research before submitting, I am always a bit shocked by rejection. Again, my writers group keeps me on an even keel. We share ways to handle rejection, such as papering the wall, creating mobiles and building bonfires :-D

Betty Atkins Dominguez said...

Letting go of it.... at least for me.

Suzanne said...

Form letter rejections. I know they are necessary because of the volume of letters an agent receives...but since they offer no feedback, they offer no insight... is it the query letter that is being rejected or the work itself? At this point, I would actually be willing to pay someone to offer feedback to tell me!

Carol said...


Theophagous Monkey said...

There's a very cool tune by Donald Fagan called What I Do. He wrote the song, it's said, from something Ray Charles said regarding music as a profession. You do it because it's what you do. The corollary is that the hardest part of what you do is the NOT doing of what you do. i.e. Not writing when you have a story roiling in your head, the characters seething, demanding that you take their dictation.
Not writing, that's what rips your guts out. The writing, when it's good enough to be called writing, is easy. It flows, it carries you along rather than the other way round. The selling of it...well, they either love it or they don't. There's no "liking" of it or "appreciating" it. They have to love it as much as you do, and this is something you just can't gauge in advance. You do it because it's what you do.


Theo, the theophagous monkey

Marjory Bancroft said...


Laura D said...

The turnoil for me is stuffing down my perfectionist persona and giving free reign to my artist at first. I try to just write 'anything' and still find myself struggling over one perfect word. Ah, such is life. I find I write the best when I can balance my perfect side with my artist side.

Cass said...

Hardest part? Finding the time. Time to write. Time to learn about writing. Time to read. Time to write some more.

Making time for all the above in between the full time job and family. It has taken a while, but I think I almost have the rythym down.

Thanks for the question.

Toni Menden said...

The hardest part of being a writer, for me at least, is the daily realization that I cannot make a living writing. I have to put aside my dream, my passion, to get a 'real job.' I go to work every single day and have at least one moment where I need to write down something about a character or plot line, but I can't.

That is the hardest part for me.

Karen said...

The hardest part -- saying to others, "I'm a writer." I write daily. Work hard at it. Toil, sweat, fret, type my fingers to the bone. Yet, because I don't (yet) have a book on the shelves at B&N, I feel like I can't say, "I'm a writer." I try it sometimes, and I always find myself sort of apologizing and talking about all of the other "real" things I do. All that writing stuff -- that's actually fun for me, even when the going gets rough. But saying, "I'm a writer." Yep, it's the hardest.

Haste yee back ;-) said...

The hardest part...

Keeping your spirit from breaking!

Haste yee back ;-)

Heather said...

For me, it's being patient during the polishing process and the agony of waiting for feedback from that first unbiased reader.

Anonymous said...

Nathan said: "that doesn't mean that we can't also tip our hats to writers like Dan Brown and Stephenie Meyer, who might not have the most elegant prose, but who are able to tap into something that resonates with millions of people."

I agree to a certain extent. Cases like that are the publishing analog of movies like Armageddon. They are failures on every possible artistic level and yet there is some accidental X-factor there that taken in combination with good marketing, and perfect timing create a public sensation.

If an author is on the receiving end of that intersection of (co)incidents then I'm happy for them. They've certainly achieved something that few of us ever will. But let's not mistake that 'eucatastrophe' for quality of craft unless it's deserved. Any perusal of first pages in a bookstore will tell one that it is, quite often, not.

To go back to the "Twilight" example, the first chapter is not good in any sense. I doubt it would have received a passing grade in my Composition 101 class in college. Maybe Meyer improves by leaps and bounds in the next three books, I don't know, I'll never know. I do have faith in the judgment of my colleagues though and I trust their opinions when they tell me the rest of the series is similarly written and similarly devoid of character, tension, depth, or craftsmanship.

The point is that the way the industry and the public tend (naturally) to equate monetary or numerical success with literary success or craftsmanship is disheartening to those of us that cherish storytelling and writing as one of our most important art forms.

P.S. (I apologize for being so harsh on "Twilight", it's just the case foremost in my mind right now.)

PurpleClover said...

Learning humility through constructive critisism.

BarbS. said...

The hardest part about being a writer?

Going forward when you hit THE MOMENT when you think, "Oh, this sucks...This sucks greatly..."

Nathan Bransford said...


I take all of your well-reasoned points, but I think there's some difference between hit movies and hit novels, simply because the elements are different and the reasons for success are much more disparate. Some successful movies might be nothing more than one actor's drawing power at that particular time rather than having anything to do with filmmaking.

For a novel to really catch on though, it has to catch on in a way that is exceedingly rare in the movie business, and the factors behind its success are almost single-handedly due to the author's abilities. It is all on the page. Marketing can help, but let's face it, it's nothing like how a movie is marketed.

And yes, I do think it's possible to draw too heavy a line between commercial success and retrospective literary merit, as this article makes very clear. We tend to overexplain the reasons behind random success rather than recognizing randomness.

But still, I do think there's merit in books like THE DA VINCI CODE and TWILIGHT. Even if neither might be my favorite book of all time, I can still recognize and appreciate what the authors have done well. There has to be something that is working and that the author did well, even if it is more in the realm of plot and theme rather than very clearly on the page.

And of course, there's also the matter of some of yesterday's potboiler's being today's classics. But we'll leave that to the academics.

Greenleaf said...

The "you missed it by that much" personalized rejection letter is the thing most likely to drive me to tears.

Not sure I'd want to be Stephanie Meyer. Our local independent book seller had a "Twilight" prom night for the release of Eclipse and Ms. Meyer came for a book signing. Hundreds of fans showed up. The buyer for the store said that they had to sneak Ms. Meyer in the back door in disguise for her own safety.

Colorado Writer said...


On using lain and laid...

The past tense of lay is laid.
"I laid the test on the table."

The past participle of lie is lain.
"The dog has lain in the mud."

Sarah said...

First drafts. I love revising, but the first go-round just sits there as you write it, looking ugly.

Now I see the first draft as a block of stone I've blasted from a quarry. I hate pulling it out, but I can't shape something that isn't there.

I'm not complaining. Every worthwhile endeavor is difficult- dismayingly so- at times. Besides, I never imagined myself making a living off books I authored. I love working with kids and will continue to do so. (Education is where all the money is, anyway.)

Anonymous said...

The submission process. It's like sending your children out into a dark and stormy night for a carton of eggs. Sure, one or two make it back, but at what cost?

Ann Victor said...

It's been said numerous times above, and in different ways, so I'll keep it short.

The hardest part of writing for me is the self-doubt and the spin-off from that: continueing to write without external validation (where validation = publication). I spend more energy motivating myself to continue writing than I do actually writing.

I've found a lot of inner peace on writing blogs because I don't feel so alone in my struggle.

Hilary said...

For me there is no hard part about being a writer. The hardest part about being a writer is all the time I can't spend writing! Instead I have to do other crappy stuff like work or eat or sleep. Even submitting is ok; I would write whether I got published or not so rejections just maintain the status quo.

Jo said...

The hardest part is whatever you're doing at the moment.

Constantine K said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Ann Victor said...

Sorry. Haven't had my early morning rooibos tea yet, that should be "continuing" and NOT "continueing". :(

Constantine K said...

For me, it's knowing that the words on the page will never be as cool as the scene in my head.

Lupina said...

Ooh, ooh, one more.
The other hardest thing about being a writer is when my better half speculates out loud on how much money I'd be making by now had I only stuck with my former vocation. That's the hardest thing for him, anyway, not me.

Maniac Scribbler said...

Kind of the fact that right now I'm an English major at a university, and I'm scared to take out many student loans because I don't want to have to pay them back based off of what my day job/writing career will be like.
For actually writing, I would say that the hardest part for me is getting the setting in...Which I am working on. That and getting published (which is likely redundant to say, but I will say it nonetheless because it is hard).
ManiacScribbler =^..^=

Scott Jones said...

Let's face it. We all want to write, and we all want to be published. The two goals suck valuable time from each other. Cormac McCarthey spent years in solitude before he could become the icon, and stop devoting time to selling. Imagine trying to sell the Stone Mason, before you had written All The Pretty Horses. Writing is not publishing, writing is of the self, but publishing is family.

Newbee said...

When I am one, I'll tell you. I don't consider myself a writer. I look at myself more as a story teller, not a writer. I feel that self doubt tells you the truth; Your book lacks something and you need to figure out what that "something" is. Many are commenting here about not wanting to do much unless there is a deadline. This troubles me somewhat. Don't you have any passion for your story?

I am like Scott (Thinking Man), I have three kids, work fulltime, and work everyday out of state. My day starts waking at 6:00am and ends at 2:00am after a night of writing or preparing myself for being baptized into the waters of publishing. Self doubt is not an option. I believe that through this process I will educate myself and indoctrinate myself into this business.

Maybe others might think I'm just way... too positive? They can think anything they want to. For me, the hardest part of being a writer is calling myself "a writer". Once I am published and have sold my book I will be able to say that I per say, am a writer. But, the title of "writer" isn't really my goal. I see this as much more than writing.

StrugglingToMakeIt said...

For me, it's the same that's the hardest part about anything else--not feeling like I'm good enough. This is why I'd rather get my query rejected than my full MS. When I get a full MS rejected, it's hard not to take it personally. If the full isn't requested, I don't start questioning everything about my writing capabilities (regardless of whether this questioning is rational, I compulsively do it).

Feelings of inadequacy always burn. They did when I started getting last semester's grades back. And when I get rejected from numerous summer associate positions I interviewed for last fall.

But it's all about onward and upward movement, right? Just gotta keep going. And since I'm always going to write - even if I never get close to being published - I might as well keep submitting what I write, right?

Kim Kasch said...

”Waiting is the Hardest Part”

Ali Katz said...

The hardest thing about writing is doing it even though you know every word is drivel and every character a zombie walking across the page. And then doing it again and again and again until you're so disgusted you toss it into a corner to rot.

The best part is picking it up a week later and thinking, "I wrote this?"

lovemotherhood said...

People's personal definitions of a writer.

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