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

This post is especially true for me today. For the last two weeks my head has been immersed in researching and making food safe for my son, who has been diagnosed with over 50 food allergies. For the moment, it's really hard for me to relax my brain enough to write, but hopefully I'll see the light at the end of the tunnel soon!

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.

What are the biggest things that keep you from writing?


  1. Sorry to hear that, Debbie! I can relate. My daughter and I have extreme food intolerances which require not only certain foods, but only brands which have been tested. I can honestly say it's worth the work at the beginning. He will feel so much better, and I'm sure, so will you. The allergies run in families...
    Sue, it's comforting to know even the experts have brain freeze!

  2. I'm sorry to hear that, Debbie. We know all about food allergies in my house, with two little ones highly allergic to peanuts and tree nuts. We have no idea why our kids are allergic to nuts, as no one on my husband's or my side is allergic. FYI, I like this site for food allergy info, recipes and shopping tips: http://www.foodallergy.org.

    BTW, it's nice to know even award-winning authors have doubts about their abilities. It's proof that one can never stop learning and growing.

    Hugs to you...

  3. Thank you, Jarm & Janette! It helps to hear from others who have walked through it. I thought the gluten free stuff was hard six years ago, but this is taxing my brain. Hopefully, I'll get a handle on it soon!


  4. This was really helpful Debbie. Thank you so much. Love and best wishes to both you and your son.

    Write The Way To The Top -->> http://lauraashleywrite.blogspot.com

  5. Thank you so much, Laura! Glad you stopped by.




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