What is stopping you from writing your novel?


Have you always wanted to write a novel (or any other type of book) but found that you just can’t get around to it? Maybe you’ve made a start only to find that your writing has come to a stop and you can’t seem to get back into it. If either of these apply to you then you have probably joined millions of people around the world who have come up against one of five common obstacles that get in the way of completing your project.

Obstacles are not dead-ends, you just need to find a way around them. Sometimes you can find your own course but there are times when you just need a little help. I want to show you some simple ways past these blockages to get you back on course again.

It has been said that everyone has a book inside them. I have also heard it said, perhaps uncharitably, that for most people that is exactly where they should stay.  I think that’s unfair and that it was probably said by a publisher or agent after a bad day of sifting through their ‘slush pile,’ but you won’t know if your book was worth writing unless you go ahead and write it.

In truth, the vast majority of people will never tell their story.  Let’s look at some diminishing figures:

  • Of all the people in the world, only a small percentage will even think about writing.
  • Of those who think about it, only a fraction of them will start to write.
  • Of those who start, only a very few will finish a story.
  • Of those who finish, only a minuscule number will be published.
  • Of those who are published, hardly any will be best-sellers or household names.

It sounds depressing doesn’t it.  We started with a number of around 7 billion and in five steps we’ve whittled it down to possibly no more than a few hundred.  But before you get too discouraged, let me remind you that everyone who is on the international Best-Seller list started in the 7 billion and if they can do it, so can you.

You may have read that list and decided that the hardest parts are the fourth and fifth stages but for most people the real difficulty is getting past steps two and three.

I’ve lost count of the number of would-be authors that I’ve spoken to over the years who say either that they are planning to write a book but can’t quite get around to it, or that they’ve written a few lines/pages/chapters but can’t get any further. If this sounds like you, don’t worry, you are not alone.

So what is stopping you from writing your book? Here are five common obstacles:

  1. Life is getting in the way.
  2. You are trying to run before you can walk.
  3. You have too many distractions.
  4. You think that your writing isn’t good enough.
  5. You worry that no one will like it.

It’s time to look at these barriers  in detail and work out how to get past them.


  1. Life is getting in the way.

Unless you are in the fortunate position of not having to work for a living and having very few other commitments then life is always going to get in the way of writing. There is no getting away from the fact that writing is a time consuming process.  If you have a job and a family then taking time away from either or both is going to feel like an indulgence and will bring an associated level of guilt.

You need to work out how much time you can allow each day, or more importantly how much time your work or your family will allow you each day, for your writing.  Don’t worry if that turns out to be not very much time at all.  Even a small amount of writing on a daily basis soon adds up.

The important thing is to enjoy your writing, so don’t turn it into a chore.  If you set yourself a rigid timetable you will quickly come to resent it and soon after that you will stop altogether.

Let’s say that you have decided that you can allow an hour each day to write and that hour will be in the evening after you have finished all your other commitments.  If you make a firm decision to start at say 8pm each evening you will have turned writing into work and I can almost guarantee that you will only keep it up for a few days.

It won’t be long before life gets in the way.  There will be something that you absolutely need to watch on TV, you may need to do some extra work for your ‘proper’ job, you may have to do something with your family that can’t be put off or a host of other reasons to stop you writing at your set time.  Each time it happens you have to decide whether to skip writing for that day and whether to try and make up by doing double the next day. Either way you will have lost some of the enjoyment of writing and that can easily lead to stopping altogether.

Instead of that, why not make that hour as flexible as possible.  Tell yourself that you will write for an hour but it doesn’t matter what time you start. Some days you may find that you can begin much earlier than you planned and on other days you may not start until very late. Even if you find that on some days that hour has disappeared completely it’s okay, you don’t have to make up for it. As long as you do some the next day you will still be making progress.

Remember that writing should be fun, not work.


  1. You are trying to run before you can walk.

There is an ancient Chinese proverb which says, “A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step.”  This of course is true, you will never get anywhere if you don’t take the first step and then keep putting one foot in front of the other.  What it doesn’t tell you is that first you have to learn to walk and then prepare for a long journey.

Bringing this idea up to date, lets imagine that you decide to run a marathon. If you just turn up on the day and set off as fast as you can then the chances are that you will not get very far and even with the most dogged determination you are very unlikely to complete the 26 miles.

The same is true for writing a novel. You may have spent months or even years thinking about your story, so when you finally get round to committing it to paper it’s very easy to get caught up in the enthusiasm of getting it done.  Many would be authors get caught in the trap of trying to write too much at once in order to finish quickly.  They soon find that they run out of steam and just like a marathon runner who sets off too fast, it’s almost impossible to start again if you’re exhausted.

You have to pace yourself.  Especially if you’re new to writing or if you’re starting your first novel.

I’ve already talked about deciding how much time you can spend each day on writing. The next step is to work out how much you can achieve in that amount of time.  The quickest way to do that is to give yourself something to write for an hour.  It can be anything; the start of a story, what you’ve been doing in the last few days or maybe write how you feel about something in the news.  It doesn’t matter what you write as long as it’s original, which means you will have to think as you write. Remember that it’s not a test of your typing  or writing speed, it’s a test of your creative speed so don’t expect it to be as fast as if you were just copying something that has already been written.

I’m going to use my own writing speed as an example but please don’t think that you have to do the same amount as me.

I’ve found that on average I can write about 500 words in an hour.  If you think that sounds slow then I should tell you that I’m a two-finger typist and that I spend a lot of time just thinking about what I’m going to write next.

It doesn’t make any difference if you find you can write more or less than me, it’s not a competition. We’re just determining how much you can achieve.  Having worked out your speed you can now set a target.  To start with you need to make this comfortable, so take your speed and reduce it by about one third and then round it to the nearest hundred.  For me, that takes it down to 300 words.

Now the next part is the most important:  When you start writing keep an eye on your word count. Most writing apps have a word count either in a corner of the screen or in a toolbar.  As soon as you reach your target, stop.  Even if you have only been writing for half an hour or even if you are in the middle of a sentence.  There are two advantages to doing this; first it always feels good to finish something before time and second you will be itching to get back to it the next day even if it’s only to finish that sentence. You will also get back into the flow of writing before you have to think about what comes next.

You may be thinking that 300 words a day is too little and that you will never finish at that rate but it’s surprising how quickly those words add up. If we assume that the average novel these days is about 100,000 words long (although you could get away with about 70,000) then it will take about a year to complete which is not a bad timescale for a part-time writer.

Of course, as you get practised at writing you will naturally get quicker, so if you find that you are consistently reaching your target very early then you can add another hundred words, which will soon reduce the total time for your novel. It didn’t take me too long before I could comfortably increase my target to 400 words in an hour. You will also find that there will be days when you have more time to write and that will help too. If you have two hours to write you should still stop when you reach your target for the first hour. Take a break, even if it’s only for ten minutes, before you go back to start towards your target for the next hour.

You will see articles and posts all over the web, telling you that you can write a novel in a month or less and it is perfectly possible to do that but there are no prizes for the fastest-written novel. Anyone can put words down on a page but the chances of writing anything worth reading in such a small amount of time are minuscule. If you care about what you are writing then it will take longer.

Let me put it another way: Leonardo da Vinci could easily have ‘knocked out’ the Mona Lisa in about 20 minutes if he’d wanted to. Using exactly the same amount of paint, his finished work would probably have been recognisable as a woman but it certainly wouldn’t be the masterpiece that is renowned throughout the world today.

The important thing with your writing is not to rush at it, especially at the beginning.  Take your time and enjoy the journey. That way you won’t be exhausted  and give up before you reach the end.


  1. You have too many distractions.

This is not the same as life getting in the way. Apart from  the everyday distractions, there are a number of other ways that would be authors put themselves off from writing their novel.

We all want to be the best writers we can be and there are many things you can do to improve your style. You could attend writing classes or take a course, you could join a writing group, or you could start a blog. That’s just a few of many examples, and all of these might be good things to do. They will all get you writing and help you to develop, but don’t do any of these things as a substitute for writing your novel.

If you have time for these activities as well as your writing then great, go ahead and do them, they will definitely help.  But if you have time for only one or the other, then make it your novel. After all, it doesn’t matter how fine or accomplished your writing is, if your novel doesn’t get written then it won’t get read and no-one will know what a brilliant wordsmith you are.

There is no point in being the very best writer ever who never actually wrote anything. In fact, the very best way to improve your writing is to get on and write. It’s a bit like exercising a muscle, the more you do it the stronger it will become.  Even if you don’t take classes or a course and just get on with your novel, you will still be a better writer at the end of it than you were at the start. The very act of writing on a daily basis will improve your writing.


  1. You think that your writing isn’t good enough.

I’m afraid that I have some bad news for you – your writing is not good enough and it never will be! To put it more accurately, you will think that your writing is not good enough and never will be, but that is a completely different issue.

In all the time that I’ve been writing, I’ve read books by people who are much better, smarter, more imaginative and with a far superior command of language than me, but I have never let that put me off and neither should you.  I can guarantee that all of those authors that I admire have similar feelings about writers that they admire.

Unfortunately, that won’t stop you being critical of your own work (just as it doesn’t stop me being critical of mine) but that doesn’t mean that there is nothing you can do about it.

The best piece of advice I can give you is not to read what you have written… not yet anyway. There will come a time when you will have to read your work, but that time is when it is finished. Reading what you’ve written before you get to the end is the path to true madness and heartbreak.

I’m not saying that you shouldn’t scan the last few sentences that you’ve completed for errors and typos. It’s good practice to do that and it will save you a lot of time later, but don’t go right back to the beginning until you’ve finished the last sentence.

There are a couple of good reasons for that. First, you are never going to be completely satisfied with your work, so if you’ve written the first chapter and you go back to read it, you will find a lot of stuff that you will want to correct or re-write. Once you’ve done that, you will read it again and still not be happy. You can end up in a loop of reading and correcting until you become completely disillusioned, and then chapter two will never get written.

Second, if you wait until you have finished before you read it back, you will have a lot more invested in time and creativity and no matter what you think of it, you will still have a completed novel.

You still won’t be satisfied but don’t worry, it’s called a first draft for a very good reason. The fact that you’ve written more will mean that your writing will have naturally improved which will make it easier to spot and correct the imperfections.

So, when will you get to the point that you’re completely satisfied with what you have written? The simple answer is that you never will. My first novel went through several drafts before it was published and even now I know there are many parts that I wish I could re-write again. On the plus side there are several parts that I can’t believe that I wrote and of which I am secretly very proud.

It’s just a question of knowing when to let it go. If you are not sure about a part but don’t know how to improve it, just ask yourself if you can live with it. If you can, then you don’t need to work it any further.


  1. You worry that no one will like it.

It’s good to be able to finish this article on a positive note and this really is the best news of all. The truth is that whatever you write and no matter how well or poorly it is written (although, please do try to make it the best you can) there will be plenty of people out there who will like it.

We live on a planet with seven billion people who all have different tastes, so even if only a small percentage of them like your work, that could still run to millions of people.

There will be plenty of people who hate your masterpiece but there will be just as many who love it. It just comes down to taste and opinion.  Along with the giants of literature there are some international bestsellers whose writing is considered to be appalling and some whose prose is so poor that they employ other writers to help. Yet these authors still manage to sell millions of books.

At this point, I need to make it clear that I’m talking about writing styles. There is no excuse for poor editing, uncorrected typos or bad grammar so please make sure that your work is thoroughly and professionally checked before you send it out into the world.

All that matters in the end is that people read your book. I promise you that there is no better feeling than receiving a royalty payment whether it is for one copy or one hundred thousand copies. Every time it happens it means that someone is reading your words and that is a real buzz.

There are millions of books in the world already but that doesn’t mean that there is no room for more. In fact the demand for new books will never go away so remember that the world needs your novel just as much as you need to write it. Take your time with it and don’t let it become a chore. The more you enjoy your writing, the more people will enjoy reading your work.

Of course, that won’t happen if you don’t write your novel. So stop thinking about it, work out how you can make writing part of your daily routine and get started. Today.

In fact, why not make a start right now. Just three hundred words. Go on, you know you want to.

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