When Writing Gets Difficult: 5 Things I Learned From Sue Grafton

If you love mysteries, you already know about Sue Grafton. A prolific writer, she is currently on book twenty-one of a twenty-six book series, each titled with a letter of the alphabet. Her first novel was A is for Alibi in 1982. With a career that spans almost three decades, an author is bound to develop some sound advice. I ran across a Writer's Digest interview with Grafton, and made a list of what I learned.

Writing is hard work.

Aspiring authors often think that if you're a "true writer", the words just pour onto the page. That happens sometimes, but the fact is, writing is hard work. Like any other job, there are days when you can't wait to get to work, and at other times you have to force yourself into it. Combined with the fact that new writers must have a finished product before they have even a shred of hope of getting paid, it can be difficult to spend time and energy on a dream.

Even successful writers fear they've lost their edge.

Novice writers wonder all the time if they're any good. They crave feedback. Positive comments keep them writing, while negative ones often shut them down--somtimes for good. We imagine that if we can just get an agent, or get published, or sell so many copies, that we'd have all the assurance we need. Not so. Even bestselling authors, with piles of awards and accolades, wonder if this next book will prove they've come to the end of their talent.

Don't let your ego get in the way.

Sue Grafton believes that while her ego thinks it has the ability to write, it's actually the still, small voice inside her that really has the skill. So even if you have received some great feedback--a contest win, an article published in a magazine--don't let the heady scent of success derail you from the work of writing. 

Be ready to learn new things.

Your characters will need skills that you don't presently have. Take lessons, ask experts, and keep your eyes open. Whether it's self-defense, spinning wool, or bussing tables, your readers will be able to tell if you're making it up or you've really tried it.

Give yourself time to get better.

I was thrilled beyond belief to finish my first novel. Though it might never see the light of day, it proved to me that I was capable of completing something that made sense and was 100,000 words long. Now, several projects later, I am only beginning to see how much I need to learn. Being a writer means being in it for the long haul. There is no instant success.

If you'd like to read the entire interview with Sue Grafton, go here. We've all got a lot to learn.


  1. Thanks for telling it like it is: Writing is hard work.
    And I also like the point: Be ready to learn new things. It adds a twist to "Write what you know."

  2. I struggle with the "give yourself time to get better".

    I want to be good now. It's not that I don't want to put in the effort, but I want results now. I know it doesn't work that way, and yet, I struggle to wait.

  3. Great post, Debbie! I needed the reminder that it's natural to have to force myself to write sometimes, and that even seasoned pros have doubts. It brings things into perspective. ;)


  4. Wow! How cool to hear some of this from such a success. I really enjoyed this post!

  5. Great post today, Debbie! I can't count the number of aspirants who, after writing their first novel, just expected everything to fall in place.

    Needless to say, they were sorely disappointed. Writing is very hard work, and it never stops with the actual act of writing.

  6. It is hard work. One thing that helps me is to read wonderful books. Sometimes I get discouraged at the abilities of other authors, but mostly I'm inspired to write a novel that will stay with someone long after they've closed the book.




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