How To Write Through Discouragement

How To Write Through Discouragement

Some days you don’t write.

Some days even when the stories are planned out in your head, you can’t get the words to flow. You just sit staring at the screen, making notes in new documents. Collecting titles and gathering ideas.

I’m only happy when I write. If I don’t write, I feel empty.

I’ve started over fifteen times today.
My head feels thick with too much thought.
Coffee didn’t get me started this morning.
As the day has gone on, my discouragement has grown.

Discouraged should be the last thing I’m feeling right now.

I started this publishing streak on October 2nd, and it’s been a surprising fortnight. I’ve published 12 stories. Five have been curated, and 3 of those were accepted in publications.

I should be over the moon. Sure, I’m pleased. But that sense of satisfaction only lasts momentarily because I know I have to move on and write something else. And the next one might not do so well. So I don’t hold on too tightly to the wins.

I’m most inspired to begin again straight after I’ve hit publish.

If I can sit down and keep writing, the second story comes quite easily. But too often, that’s at midnight! Or when I need to help my teenage son with his homework. Or when it’s time to walk the dog — who’s been waiting patiently beside my desk for hours.

What I realize is that it’s the process that brings satisfaction, not applause. I’m only happy when I’m writing. If I can’t write, I feel empty. It seems so fragile, and I wonder if it will always be like this.

On days like this, I go back to the advice of Julia Cameron.

  • Do I need to journal? Have I kept my morning pages lately?
  • Do I need an Artist’s Date? What would help me fill the well?
  • Do I need to rest, to read, to see a friend or go for a walk?

Her books have always inspired me. Sometimes I just need to drink tea and sit down to read her for a while.

This is what I find:

“Write from where you actually are, not from where you wish you were.”

If I truly did this, heaven knows what would come out! That’s what I think. But I admire how Julia writes with such honesty, so I decide to try.

Where I am today — I’m not the wise teacher or coach, so I don’t pretend to be. I won’t write to be curated. I’ll just write to get some words out. To fulfill my practice for the day. It makes me feel naked.


“I have put off writing today because I am in the beginning of knowing something I do not want to know, and writing will make that clearer to me.”

The frenzied immersion in work is a distraction from the things that are not going well in my life. But it’s not writing that reveals that to me, it’s the pausing. While I’m producing output, at least I feel I’m doing something.

If I can’t write, what if I’m not making progress at all?

I remind myself that I’ve just entered the second year of my plan to reinvent myself and remember Shaunta’s post about the advice from James Altucher. Year One: You’re flailing. Year Two: You’re doing every day. You finally know what the Monopoly board looks like in your new endeavors. But you’re not really making money yet. Not real money.

Most of the time, I feel there aren’t enough hours to do all the things I need to do to make headway with my goals. But I believe that it will get easier. I just can’t pull 60 hour weeks anymore. Lately, I’ve pulled too much of that. All I can do is offer myself compassion.


“Invention demands that we expand our creative horizons. This is not always comfortable.”

I may be allowing myself to stagnate. I need a fresh creative challenge, and I need to ask more of my creativity. I believe I’ve more to give.

With all the busyness lately, my fiction writing has been neglected. I have stories on my desk that I’d like to see through. What will it take to get them done?

It feels ironic that I’ve just finished teaching my beginners creative writing course but this always happens when I teach. I’ve yet to find the key that lets me do both parts of what I love, but I know I will.

One of the women on my course has signed up for NaNoWriMo, and so I decide to join in too. The discipline will be good for me.


“Just as a marathon runner considers his running career as a whole, training and pacing himself accordingly, so we must approach our art at a temperate rate.”

I’m not sure doing NaNoWriMo is ‘temperate,’ but I know I’ve spent too many late nights writing, recently, and neglected the things that keep me balanced and well. I need to go to the gym and lift heavy weights to remind myself that I am strong. I need to go to the pool and put in some lengths to get back into the flow of life and deepen my physical connection to my being.

Hemingway wrote 500 words a day, then stopped. This is a reminder that a slow, steady output of work is what I should try to achieve.


“In order to do something well, we must first be willing to do it badly. We must have the humility to be once again a beginner, to admit what we don’t know and admit that we wish to know more.”

I come back to this, again and again. A little bit of satisfaction with what I’ve achieved sets me up for a fall. I think I will forever be a recovering perfectionist. I am great at helping my students work through this! But it’s a gift I’m rarely able to extend to myself.

Julia reminds me, “We must first learn progress, not perfection.” That her philosophy of creative recovery is based on the 12-Step Program is really clear with a statement such as this. So I remember others, like, one day at a time.

Discouragement always comes from our notions of perfection, or tightly-held expectations of ourselves. The only way to write through discouragement is to allow yourself to write badly, to write freely. As you begin to move in a forward direction, the words feel good, even when they’re not backed by your brightest or most spectacular thoughts.


Quotes from Julia Cameron, which formed the basis of this essay and my inspiration for writing, come from her book, ‘The Sound of Paper: Inspiration and Practical Guidance for Starting the Creative Process.’

First published at Taking Tea With The Tao, October 18, 2019

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