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

 We're getting close to the halfway point of NaNoWriMo, and this is where it gets hard to keep going. To give you a little inspiration for the weekend, here's a repost with some writerly encouragement.

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 waiting 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. Excellent advice, and so true. Thanks for sharing. Sue Grafton is an expert in the field and her advice is some of the best in the business.

  2. I love coming here. I really needed to hear what Sue Grafton had to say. "Writing is hard work." Sometimes I think that there is something wrong with me because I have to work so hard on a scene, or I draw a blank. Push! Keep working. Work is the definitive word.
    Great post Debbie!

  3. Lots of wisdom here. Thanks, Debbie,for sharing. This has been my year of "learning new things." I'm glad I was open to it all and want this next new year to hold more of the same...

  4. Thanks for stopping by, Terri, Leah, and Kenda! I need a daily dose of writing encouragement like this. This month has been especially hard to get myself writing, but my crit group gave me a great pep talk yesterday!




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