What is the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome to be a writer?

by | Sep 17, 2014 | The Writing Life | 34 comments

Writing can be tough. And that’s even without those external obstacles that can get in the way of achieving writerly dreams.

What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve overcome to be a writer?

Mine was failure to believe that I could actually be a creative person who could actually write a novel. I don’t know what I thought a “creative person” was per se, but I did think it wasn’t me. That is, until I got over that and decided instead to just go for it.

What about you?

Art: The Bullfight by Auguste-Francois Bonheur


  1. M K-Santiago

    I think I'm still fighting my biggest obstacle and that is self-doubt. This is not an easy business and after a crap ton of rejections on several different novels,and watching from the sidelines as many of my writer friends snag agents, go on sub, get deals, and have their books published, it's hard sometimes to keep believing in myself and my skills as a writer. Luckily, the feeling comes and goes because I'm still writing and still trying and still believe that one day it could happen. In the meantime, I can't stay away from writing because I love writing stories too damn much. Plus, it's my main gateway to escapism from the throngs of life.

  2. stacylsteele

    Self doubt definitely. But maybe bigger than that is the ability to not care what people think. I have my story at three places, as I'm finishing it off. One place is where my friends, coworkers, and family can view it—and there are many chapters that are pretty racy–very, very, very detailed. So going into a meeting, with a few faces looking at me, is pretty strange. I would've kept it a secret, but I thought, it's 'fight or flight' time, now or never. They're going to know I'm deranged and twisted sooner or later.

  3. Jason Bougger

    Mine is just making sure I'm "doing it right." When I was just starting out, I made so many mistakes that I thought were brilliant. Things like opening with a dream sequence (or even including one), over-use of flashbacks and back story, stereotypes and cliches, short stories with no defined plot or conflict, that type of thing.

  4. Jaimie Teekell

    I can definitely identify with that one, Nathan. I come from a family that is baffled by my creativity so it took me getting away from them and around other people for me to notice it.

    I would say my biggest obstacle is fear of failure. I have ideas that I'm afraid I'll fall terribly short of.

  5. abc

    I won't call myself a writer until actually published, but I'll say the biggest obstacle I had to overcome to finish my book was just plain old procrastination (which is probably a symptom of self-doubt, fear, and laziness).

  6. Stephanie Bittner

    I'm torn between saying my biggest obstacle has been depression (which I am still battling today) and the belief that the things I was interested in writing weren't good enough. It took me a long time to realize I love the things I love for a good reason and it's okay to write about them.

  7. John Holton

    I had a stroke seven years ago that disabled my right hand. I was so depressed that I chucked it all temporarily, but as I felt better I decided I couldn't live without it. I've taught myself to type with one hand and am learning to write left-handed (something I probably should have done when I was much younger). I have Dragon NaturallySpeaking installed on my computer, and may get back to it one of these days, but it's not a priority.

  8. G. B. Miller

    Some self-doubt but mostly a lot of naysayers who told me unequivocally that I couldn't string enough words together to make a coherent sentence, let alone a book.

    Father Nature's Corner

  9. Simple

    I identify with all of these responses. Mine is just daily persisting in this endeavor even while knowing that the odds are not in my favor and are utterly beyond my control save for my simple act of trying.

    As Steve Jobs once said, "…you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future. … Because believing that the dots will connect down the road will give you the confidence to follow your heart, even when it leads you off the well worn path."

    I believe that as writers we must maintain that belief.

  10. Marion

    All the cliches: fear depression anxiety. Plus I'm working on a mainstream novel, which I think is the hardest genre to sell. Or maybe it's YA?

  11. Marion

    the cliches: fear anxiety depression. Plus my WIP is mainstream, which I think is the hardest genre to sell. Or could it be YA? (seriously)

  12. Bruce Bonafede

    Lots of obstacles but probably the biggest one has been my day jobs, and the resulting lack of time. I wanted a nice, steady 40-hour a week job so I could come home after and write, and instead to make money I got into corporate jobs and have spent most of the last 35+ years working 60-80 hours a week and coming home so exhausted I had nothing left. It's only through extreme efforts I've managed to produce anything at all over the years. Now that I work for myself I get to manage my time, and I'm being much more productive writing than I ever was.

  13. Susan Carpenter Sims

    Basically just inertia, a lack of focus. I've been a writer since I was a young kid, and I've often taken it for granted. To write regularly and with purpose as I do now has meant simply putting it on my "to do" list, giving it space in my schedule wherever I can fit it.

  14. Ann Noser

    Three obstacles come to mind:

    1) the limits of time (say what you will, but with a job, two small children, and a mother in a nursing home there really is a limit to what I can get done)

    2) confidence

    3) the steep learning curve of the publishing industry

    But I manage to overcome these obstacles, it just takes time (see number 1) and stubbornness. 🙂

  15. Elena

    The internet. It eats me for lunch.

  16. wendy

    What an original and interesting question with equally interesting answers.

    I think all these answers are written beautifully, each displaying writerly skills although many of their authors cite self-doubt. Kick out those self-doubts, because none of you have anything to worry about. I'd read a book by anyone of you – as long as the subject matter was within my realm of interests.

    Initially, one of my obstacles was self-doubt, too, especially after receiving rejections. Then I began looking after my elderly mother which left no free time or energy. And now I seem to have slipped into lethargy even while being close to self-publishing. I'm trying to get a story self-published through Kindle and Createspace for distribution with Amazon, but living in Australia I have to get an ITIN number for taxation purposes. But after ringing the IRS in the States a few times and given 30 minutes to an hour wait time, and while not having a fax, I've sort of put it into the too hard basket. However, this topic has galvanized me again, and I'll go into the nearest Post Office today and fax off the form we have to fill out in order to apply for an ITIN. As this novel has been worked on – for 15 years on and off – I'm expecting Tolkein results. ha I put out a draft onto a free review site earlier this year and got a four out of four star feedback so that's encouraging.

    Thanks for the great question, Nathan.

  17. Ernie J. Zelinski

    I overcame the obstacle of my constantly asking myself, "Who am I to write a book? I failed English three years in a row while I was taking my Engineering degree."

    And since I overcame the obstacle this quotation kinda applies to me:

    "It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up, because by that time I was too famous."
    — Robert Benchley

  18. thewriteedge

    One of my biggest obstacles comes in the form of my family. Not that they disapprove. In fact, I grew up in a tight-knit family with loving parents and a great little sister. I'm married to a wonderful man who loves me and has given me a free hand to pursue my writing dreams.

    But my family has always had a passe attitude toward my writing. I've never got an enthusiastic, "So what are you working on these days?" kind of reaction. I've had to remind myself many times through the years that their lack of interest doesn't mean a lack of support. It just means they don't fully understand what I do or why I love it so much. So I'll have to work that much harder to educate them.

    I understand this on an intellectual level, but it gets hard on those days when I'm craving some extra encouragement.

  19. Gwen Tolios

    Editing. I'm cool putting ideas down on paper, but the fortitude to take crits and put in the time and effort to redo something that you've already bleed on? Tough. You essentially have to torture yourself twice.

  20. K L romo

    K I D S, and then….more kids.

  21. AlanD

    I used to get exhausted and frustrated with my efforts at fitting words into chapters. Nowadays I write scene to scene just like in a screenplay. I'm careful to get the storyline up in the dialogue. Usually, I can write one scene per day. Works For Me!

  22. Jane Susann

    My entire life (until recently) I never felt I was "of sufficient consequence" to anyone or anything to ever consider myself a writer… a REAL writer (e.g. good enough to be traditionally published.) I was born low on moxie, high on insecurity. Always I put the needs and wants of others first. My sporadic, furtive attempts at novels were always cheerfully yet consistently rejected. However, in 2012 when two unrelated people mailed me hardcopies of the same TIME magazine article on self-publishing, I was infused suddenly with the will to persist. Finally… I could step past the publishing gatekeepers and actually DO it… and no one could tell me no. After self-publishing one novel (true, with mixed results), the sequel to that book will be traditionally published April 2015.

  23. Anonymous

    For me it was gatekeepers, and getting past them. Once I did figure out how to do that I started looking at writing and my work in a completely different way. As I look back now, prior to eight years ago when I was still querying with no results, I can't believe how much everything has changed since then. I wish I could say it was something deep inside of me that kept me from writing. But in all honesty it was the old publishing system that hurt me the most.

  24. Megan

    Haters. You know them. I know them. We all do. I have confidence until a person will say, "writing is not a career." "You shouldn't waste your time." Even telling someone I'm writing novels will cause an increase of heart rate & sweaty palms.

  25. Kentish Janner

    My biggest obstacle was (mistakenly) believing I had to match the likes of Stephen King, note for note, in terms of career success before I was 'allowed' to consider myself a 'proper' writer.

    From my earliest days – at school, when I told people I wanted to be a writer when I grew up and got the response "Yeah, but what do you want to actually DO for a LIVING?" – to even recently, when I had to give up work when my son was born and told certain people I would use the time to concentrate on writing my novel and the response was "Oh, so you're just going to be a housewife then?" the popular consensus seemed to be that anyone who wasn't already rich and famous for their written works was a just pathetic and delusional layabout who had no right to call themselves a 'real' writer.

    And even though I desperately didn't want to buy into that, it gets sold so hard by all the non-writing 'rest of 'em' that I couldn't help but think they might be right. So every moment I spent writing felt like a guilty, sinful indulgence – silly, delusional little me, scribbling my daft little stories that no-one would ever want to read anyway. Why would they? I wasn't a FAMOUS writer like J.K. Rowling, after all…

    When you feel like that about writing, it's hard to claim that time to write – to 'own' your right to be a writer. Now I'm older and crankier (and much more aware of how much time I spend running around after my family in the average day) I've acquired the ability to be more assertive about 'me-time' – and 'me-time' is now Writing Time! And with the advent of Amazon and e-publishing, the old-school mentality of 'if you're not a Best-Selling Author, you're not an author at all' is fading into myth.

    I don't yet know how I'll fare. I write my stories to the very best standard I can – and for all I know that may still not be all that great. But at least now I can do it minus the guilt of 'self-indulgence' AND the pressure of having to live up to impossible expectations.

  26. Magdalena Munro

    I haven't overcome the obstacle and that beast is money. I happen to think that I'll never make enough money as a writer and I need money to live the life I live in LA. It sucks. Alas, I do my thing "9-5" and endeavor to write every night after my little one sleeps. "Every night" translates into maybe 1-2 nights per week. It's disheartening to say the least.

  27. jongibbs

    Honestly? I think the biggest obstacle I've overcome (and seem to have to keep overcoming) is my ego.

    I need to constantly remind myself that good writing doesn't happen by accident. It takes planning, and a lot of revision to write something people might want to pat money for.

  28. Liz Mallory

    My biggest obstacle was thinking I was too young. I thought good writers were made by years doing other stuff. I believed I had to "make it" in a Real Job first. But here I write full-time for nonprofits and get plenty of time to work on my fiction, and I'm still young.

  29. Mickey Housley

    I pray that we all get published. My obstacle is an overall lack of focus and fear of not getting published because my book isn't good enough. The one thing I will come in my cell phone is that I haven't quit. I lost my work for this bug twice already. So this is the third time I'm writing the work. In the past I would have just quit. But I read a book by Stephen Pressfield called The War of Art. And it talks about resistance. Resistance wants to stop you from doing the work. Beat resistance and you can accomplish anything.

  30. Jérémie

    Hi Nathan,
    To me, the biggest obstacle to become a writer was thinking my stories couldn't be enough good to interest some people…
    Now it has changed and I'm about to write a novel at the NaNoWriMo ! (I've found your website this way)

    PS : I'm french, I've done my best to correctly write this message 😉

  31. Jaysonc

    The long journey of trial and error on the way to find a method of writing that works for you and you alone.


Submit a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *


Hi, I’m Nathan. I’m the author of How to Write a Novel and the Jacob Wonderbar series, which was published by Penguin. I used to be a literary agent at Curtis Brown Ltd. and I’m dedicated to helping authors chase their dreams. Let me help you with your book!

My blog has everything you need to know to write, edit, and publish a book. Can’t find what you need or want personalized help? Reach out.


I’m available for consultations, edits, query critiques, brainstorming, and more.



Need help with your query? Want to talk books? Check out the Nathan Bransford Forums!