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Staying connected: You’re not alone

When you’re writing in the zone, you feel confident and creative, ready for prime time, readers, agents, and publishers, right?

But it doesn’t always come that easily.  When writers get stuck, those good feelings can drop away quickly.

A lonely occupation

Writing is a solitary business for the most part, with hours spent alone, day after day. You zip forward, then maybe you stall, so you start over, you revise, revise again… It’s not easy. It can take years to write a book you’re proud of.

Feelings of isolation and self-doubt are occasionally part of the bargain for any author. They can be intrusive and debilitating, sapping your creative energy. That’s why it’s so important to have people in your orbit who provide unconditional personal support when you need it. It’s essential – like food and water.

The solution: stay connected

Maintain contact with other people, loved ones, family, friends, and colleagues. You don’t have to ask for help, just engage as much as possible in satisfying human relationships. Look for people who can make you laugh out loud. Get out of your head, get out of the house, go and talk to another person. You don’t have to be alone. Repeat: you are not alone.

Where to find support

• Look close to home

Are you lucky enough to have a loving partner, a parent or adult child who’s sensitive to your creative ups and downs? This may seem obvious, but some authors shut out these family members. They’re reluctant to burden their loved ones or they get so deeply mired in their own funk that it’s hard for them to make that stretch.

Be sure you let these very important folks inside!

In an excellent book about the creative process titled Art & Fear, authors David Bayles and Ted Orland observe that:

“Until your ship comes in, the only people who will really care about your work are those who care about you personally. Those close to you know that making the work is essential to your wellbeing. They will always care about your work, if not because it is great, then because it is yours – and this something to be genuinely thankful for.”

• Check in with a good friend or colleague

Choose someone you’ve known and trusted for a long time with shared experiences and mutual regard. Such a friend will be there when you need one and may also provide an opportunity to reciprocate, which can put your own problems in perspective.

• Seek out other writers

You may meet an experienced author at a reading or conference who’s happy to form a mentoring relationship. Such author friends can help you get through periods of worry or writer’s fatigue. They have visceral experience with whatever you’re going through and can tell you how they’ve handled it.

Writer’s groups can also provide wonderful humor and collegial fun with shared war stories, pet peeves, heroes and villains in the world of writing and book publishing.

Connect online with other writers seeking support and know how. There are more venues than ever — please pass along your favorites in comments below.

Appreciate yourself

One of the most profound sources for an author’s emotional comfort can be what emerges from within. I’ve seen authors with major accomplishments who rally their energy and renew their work by appreciating how far their talent has taken them so far.

Think of it. You’ve made an enormous commitment of time and energy. You’ve stayed with it this far. But the world of literary art and commerce can be tough going. There will probably come a time when you feel discouraged and dissatisfied with what you’ve written.

So dig yourself. You’re human, not perfect.

How a developmental editor can help

Family, friends and other writers can be wonderful sources for emotional support. But they might not be the best authorities for creative ideas or editorial solutions. Focus on close comfort and warm distraction, not help with words on the page.

As Bayles and Orland say, “However much they love you, it still remains as true for them as for the rest of the world: learning to make your work is not their problem.”

When it comes to finding specific solutions to problems with your characters, story, or style — that’s a job for your editor.

Some of the biggest names in literature have depended on their editors for creative literary support. Frank Kafka struggled for years with depression and hypochondria that eroded his confidence and productivity. His literary executor and friend Max Brod encouraged and advised his writing. After Kafka’s death, he refused to follow his instructions to burn his life’s work, arranging instead for their publication and subsequent fame.

Thomas Wolfe relied on his editor Maxwell Perkins to cut out hundreds of pages of his draft novels, reorganize, shape, and focus the best-selling books Look Homeward Angel and Of Time and the River.

Perkins did the same kind of close editorial work for F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, as did Albert Erskine for Cormac McCarthy.

I’ve tried to emulate this model of author-editor relationship in my own work with Toni Morrison, Hunter Thompson, Tom Robbins and many others, including the writers I work with now.

Having a good developmental editor in your corner, therefore, can provide a renewed sense of confidence about solving the literary problems you’re having, whatever they might be. For more information check out this earlier post on what to expect from a developmental editor.

What about you?

Have you ever experienced a break in self-confidence or writer’s fatigue of a different stripe? How have you dealt with it? What’s worked for you, or hasn’t? Please share your valuable suggestions here with fellow writers. I’ll watch for any questions.


  1. says

    During the 1970s I experienced a couple major rejections that shook up my confidence. I regrouped by writing short pieces and regained my confidence when I got them published in newspapers and magazines. It helped me get back to writing the longer forms of work. I also attended writers conferences. Creative people are great to be around. They are always helpful, including the writing instructors of the seminars and workshops. I went on to publish my novels and nonfiction and my self-esteem grew stronger and my confidence grew as well. Without confidence, I don’t see how a creative person can persevere during the low periods of his/her writing life, and I’m not talking about writer’s block. That’s another kind of problem, which, thankfully, I’ve never experienced. It was the rejections during the early years that I found troubling and confusing. It’s interesting now that rejections don’t bother me. I just keep on trying to do better and interesting work to satisfy me, the writer, and, hopefully, the reader, eventually. And today’s opportunities are myriad, which are really great for the new and less experienced writer. So, in my estimation, there is no reason to ever give up on yourself. Also, get yourself an editor. You’re worth the investment.

  2. says

    I suffer from PPD: Post-publishing Depression.

    When I put a new book on Amazon I feel a little empty and listless and it’s hard to get motivated to start on the next thing.

    Having other projects already started helps, as I can usually jump in and get a little done. Typically I’m not crossing as many items off my daily to-do lists and my word counts go down.

    Thankfully it seems to fade after a few days.

  3. says

    “When writers get stuck, those good feelings can drop away quickly.”

    It’s like you read my mind, Alan. After you helped me get my first-ever manuscript into shape, I got stuck in What’s-Next-ville and was quite discouraged. But just recently, I made myself vulnerable to inspiration, revisited why I wrote this memoir in the first place, and vowed to finish what I started. I even wrote a recommitment vow, which you can read here: (I also credit your counsel.)

    And while I’ve not been the best with writers groups in the past, my new home of Denver has an incredible resource in Lighthouse Writers Workshop, and I’m a new member.

    Thank you for this post and helpful suggestions!

  4. says


    Thanks for the kind words and positive news. You’re an inspiration for all authors. I checked out your Recommitment Vow and think it’s so good, I hope you don’t mind if I reproduce it here:

    The 7-Year Hitch Manuscript Recommitment Vow

    I, writer, swear (frequently) to take you, Manuscript, 8+ hours a week to a desk, table or couch with a malbec or Nutella chaser,
    To love you, guide you and not get mad when you call during Downton Abbey or while I’m engrossed in that dream where Javier Bardem is braiding my hair,
    To build a platform for you,
    For better or even better,
    In articles, posts and tweets,
    For traditional or self-publishing,
    From this day forward, until you’re in the hands of readers or I check into a facility.

  5. says


    I’m at a stage with three active kids, a wife and a new dog and cat so my dream at the moment is some occasional isolation. It’s hectic but fulfilling and I try to appreciate each day because I know it’s temporary. My motto is I’m going to miss these days but I’m not going to miss these days. Each day we get is a gift



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  7. Georgette Todd says

    Alan, thank you so much for this posting. My question is: when should a writer just give up, use all that time and energy on something else? Please try to avoid the blanket, safe response of “it’s up to the individual.” I really would like to know what you think, especially based on your experience as I’m sure you’ve seen it all at this point.


  8. says


    If you get rejected or ignored by more agents than you can tolerate, then by all means move to another writing project. Something completely different in content and style would be ideal.

    Spend six months or so on that, then see if you’re still interested in pursuing the first project. If you are, first consult with a professional developmental editor before starting in again. You may get a new idea that will rejuvenate your work.


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