why every story you write is a guaranteed failure

Why Every Story You Write Is a Guaranteed Failure

Why is depression so often associated with writers? I mean, seriously, it’s become a morbid joke how many classic authors were alcoholics and committed suicide. But it’s really no joke. Very few of you are going to escape those bouts of frustrated depression in which you’re sure every story you write is a guaranteed failure.

You know how it goes. One minute you’re flying high and having fun. Your story is a delight; your characters are your best friends. The words are zipping from your fingers to your keyboard and into immortality. With everything in you, you genuinely believe agents, editors, and readers are going to eat this thing up.

Then you come back to the story to read it a few weeks later, perhaps after someone has gently suggested some improvements. And, suddenly, the joy has fizzed right out of you. This story isn’t beautiful. It’s a big fat mess. No reader is going to enjoy this. In fact, anyone who reads this is going to immediately know the author is a hopeless wannabe hack with shallow, silly daydreams.

Sound sorta familiar? In How to Write Science Fiction & Fantasy, Orson Scott Card comments on this ubiquitous phenomenon:

Writers have to simultaneously believe the following two things:

The story I am now working on is the greatest work of genius ever written in English.

The story I am now working on is worthless drivel.

Writing Lows Are Not Logical

Over the years, I’ve learned a lot about, not just improving my writing, but dealing with the highs and lows of the writing life. I’m happy to tell you, they do get better. There comes a point in your career when you can look at what you’ve accomplished and take comfort that there’s a body of proof to counterbalance your doubts of your writing worthlessness.

But that doesn’t mean the lows go away.

Feelings of insecurity hit writers of every personality type and skill level. In general, I’m pretty even-keeled. I’m a fix it or forget it kind of person, not a wallower. I don’t usually freak out over problems, even catastrophic ones. But writing lows are about the only thing in my life that truly knocks the wind out of me. As someone who, in general, is pretty unemotional, this great big swirl of emotion always leaves me groping for logical answers.

But as someone who’s been around this merry go-round more times than I like to count, I’m here to tell you writing lows are not logical. In the first place, the subjectivity of art makes it darned hard to dig down to any kind of solid truth about the quality of your writing. And even if you can objectively say your writing is awesome, you’re never going to get around the fact that some readers are still going to hate it. (But, as I’ve discussed elsewhere, having readers dislike your work doesn’t actually make your writing a failure.)

No matter how many great facts you may come up with to prove your latest story isn’t a failure, you’re never going to kill the demon of doubt. Know why?

Because your latest story is a failure.

Why Every Story You Write Is a Guaranteed Failure

Writing isn’t like baking a cake. You can’t just grab the chocolate mix off the pantry shelf, throw in some eggs and milk, stick it in the oven for the required amount of time, and—voila!—another perfect cake. Unlike appreciative gourmands, readers are never (let me say that again: NEVER!) going to smack their lips, roll their eyes in bliss, and say, “I don’t believe it! Another perfect book! How do you do it every single time?”

They’re not going to say that because you’re never going to write a perfect book. There’s no such thing. The fallibility of humankind aside, the very subjectivity of art denies any hope of perfection.

No wonder we get all “woe is me” on occasion. No wonder we’re never 100% happy with our stories. We’re drinking ourselves into early graves because we’re mad at ourselves for not being able to accomplish the impossible.

And you know what’s really ridiculous? Readers don’t care. Aside from a few inevitable jerks (who, inevitably, have their own problems at the core of their behavior), readers will not think the less of you as a person for writing a book they don’t like. In fact, they might not even think the less of your book! Just a few minutes before writing this post, Marie Hogebrandt on Twitter commented,

I’ve been reading two of my favourite authors. One of them is prone to info dumps, the other likes “you probably won’t know …”

These authors messed up. They committed what many of us consider flagrant “newbie” mistakes. And, yet, did you catch the key word there? These authors are still her “favorites”! Readers are rarely going to be harder on us than we are on ourselves. And they’re certainly not going to melt into depressed puddles just because a story isn’t spot-on. They leave that to us, while they go on with their happy lives, probably not giving us a second thought.

The Guide to Guaranteed Authorial Happiness

The next time you’re feeling depressed about a story and convinced you’re never going to be the next William Faulkner, ask yourself the following question:

Question: Why do you believe your story is terrible?

If your answer is “I don’t knoooooww! It just iiiiiiissss!” then see Solution 2.a.

If your answer is “Because this and this and this aren’t working” then see Solution 2.b.

Solution 2.a: Chin up. You have no good reason to feel like a failure.

Solution 2.b: Chin up. You already know how to make your story un-terrible.

You’re never going to write a perfect story. Stop trying. Seriously. You’re just making yourself miserable.

But you can write a better story than you wrote last time. Keep learning about the craft, but, most of all, have fun. Make every story the best you know how to make it and don’t worry about the rest. Perfection isn’t the name of the game. Effectiveness is. And, believe me, many a broken story has charmed readers, earned millions, and even, on occasion, changed the world.

Tell me your opinion: What is discouraging you about your current story? How do you overcome that discouragement?

why every story you write is a guaranteed failure (1)_edited-1

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About K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland

K.M. Weiland is the award-winning and internationally-published author of the acclaimed writing guides Outlining Your Novel, Structuring Your Novel, and Creating Character Arcs. A native of western Nebraska, she writes historical and fantasy novels and mentors authors on her award-winning website Helping Writers Become Authors.


  1. Oh My I’m the first? Wow, cool. I have rarely read what I have published after It’s out there. I don’t read it not because I don’t believe in what I am saying (I write nonfiction /how to books) I don’t read them because I will almost every time find a change that should have been caught and wasn’t by me or the editors, and that frustrates me.

    But I will read what I have written the day before making changes over coffee and then continue on. It’s what those who have read my books say that matters and with the exception of one or two, my stuff is enjoyed and thats what my intent was when writing.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      The feedback of readers is important, since they can often give us advice that will help us refine our next stories. But I think it’s important to divorce the actual worth of the piece from the readers. Some readers will always dislike what we write. If we’re basing the worth of any story on the number of stars it’s getting on Amazon, then we’re only seeing one tiny aspect of its worth. The very fact that we enjoy writing something is tremendous in itself.

    • Jan Swanson says

      You have some wonderful, heartfelt, replies on the subject of writing. On the subject of rejection slips, or dismal critiques, envision this. On the wall of my writing room hangs the top sheet of a short story, written while I attended the University of Minnesota during a writing for publication course. Written on the top of the sheet is my first ghastly critique. Yes, written in red ink, no less; ‘This says nothing and says it badly’. There are no red marks on the text. In spite of that rejected story, I continued holding a high grade level.
      Below the framed, antiquated, critique are two filing cabinets filled with manuscripts which have bled over into boxes. I write stories for the sheer joy of writing for 40 years, starting at age 12. It was at an early age that I wrote a short story and won a contest. I have written manuscripts for children, teenagers, and adults, on numerous subjects. I am still writing, working on a novel, and contemplating whether I should seek an editor and an agent, with the possibility of having some of my work published. Nothing will equal my first dismal critique. The main thing is to lead with your heart and enjoy writing. Naysayers be¬…okay I will use the word, ‘gone’. I am an avid reader and there are so many wonderful books out there in the world. There are some books that fuel my fireplace also. (How is that for a critique?)
      I must also mention that you have helped me with the ‘hook’ for the novel I am presently revamping. You liked the ‘hook’ and mentioned to me about voice for the protagonist. I have a major problem on that and would like to contact you concerning it. It was through Writers Helping Writers that you contacted me as the person selected to help me. I remain thankful for your help. I have your books, enjoy your books, and your blog. I look forward to your unique insight in helping writers. Grace and peace to you.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Feel free to contact me! I’m not able to read manuscripts, but I’m always happy to answer specific questions.

  2. I just got started with a second try on my draft at the beginning of this month, and in between graduating college, moving out, and trying to get my license and a car, it’s been pretty busy. Now I’m working full time and I’m finding it hard to make time to write during the week. But that’s not the discouraging part. When I look back at the measly 2,000 or so words I’ve written since the beginning of June, I realize that while I typed those words over a couple of creativity-charged free days, they need a lot of work, and I also put the inciting event smack in the characteristic moment, instead of further into the 1st act where it should be. The sheer magnitude of all the work left to do constantly discourages me from working on it. All that being said, I’ve almost finished my 4-year-long ‘fun’ project, a fan fiction that I work on in my spare time just for kicks and giggles. The fact that I’ve written more words on it than I ever have on a draft for my actual novel is very discouraging, too. My mind keeps making excuses not to work on it, and many times it’s so subconscious that I don’t even realize it until it’s too late. *Sigh* So in my desperation to write, and my desperation *not* to work on my actual novel, I end up using all my writing time for side projects, and my low word count and high frustration level wit my novel remain the same.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Most of us have the tendency to look at our writing too darn seriously. Where has the joy gone? Art is tough, no question (and making a business out of it, even more so). But who says we can’t have fun? See if you can find the magic that made your fan fic fun and apply it to your other story. I often lie to myself that no one but me will ever read a story. It takes off the pressure, and I usually end up writing something much better than it would have been anyway.

  3. It makes me downright angry whenever I see the stuff going around on Facebook about writers should expect to be depressed and feel terrible and think they’re worth nothing and their writing is drivel.

    Why? Because it’s contrary to who GOD says I am. I reject that type of thinking as a lie straight from the pit of hell. Because it is a lie straight from the pit of hell.

    I’m self-publishing my first novel in September. I know there will be bad reviews and people who hate it and I’m already preparing myself for the first inevitable one-star review where my baby gets trashed. But it is NOT a reflection on me or the quality of my writing. Because I’m using the gift God gave me and following His leading on where to go with it.

    My self-worth and identity are not my in my words, or how I spend my time, or in what others think of the word I string together. My self-worth and identity are found in my Lord. So long as I keep my eyes on Him and on what He has planned for what I’ve written I can handle anything thr0wn at me. Without doubting myself or wanting to crawl into a hole or getting frustrated because I’m not where I think I should be.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Artists are held to high standards–strangely high standards when you think of the practical importance of our work compared to, say, even a restaurant. How much better to spend $5 on a book we don’t like rather than $50 on a bad meal?

      The reason is that stories are inherently emotional. And emotions aren’t always logical. When a reader reacts with high emotion–good or bad–to a story, they’re not necessarily speaking with their most logical selves. (And that’s why it’s always good to take radical reviews with a pinch of salt.)

      But neither does this excuse us from trying to present our best stories and our best selves. We’re going to make mistakes, and we’re going to learn from those mistakes. But those mistakes *don’t* mean we have any call to think less of ourselves for the effort we already are expending.

    • thomas h cullen says

      Rachel, what’s your story’s premise?

      You spoke with passion.

      • Thomas, it’s about being brave enough to stand up for yourself and claim your identity based on who you are inside, and not who everyone else says you have to be. Details are on my website, on the A’yen’s Legacy page.

        • thomas h cullen says

          I looked you up – thanks.

          Yours, is a very different fantasy from mine. The deal with The Representative, despite it technically being too neat to ever happen, is that it’s in fact just our future – exactly, Croyan and Mariel’s reality is ours.

          Claiming an identity – actually, this is literally what The Representative is about.

          I liked how you pitched your book – matched the character you spoke with in the first post.

          • Thank you.

            Funny thing is, I wrote this particular book two years. And I only figured out this is how I feel about all the writing memes and “you have no talent” stuff over the last three months or so.

  4. Oh my! You really got me here with the another perfect cake bit. I cook and I am always wondering why can´t people like my stories as much as they like my cakes? Now I will think of this every time :p

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I like writing *much* better than cooking. But I do wish sometimes that writing could be that easy. :p

      • Oh, yes, we are not like Agatha Christie who wrote because it paid better tan cooking. I orefr writing too. But just like you, I wish it could be that easy…

        • Miriam Harmon says

          But if it’s easy, where’s the fun in that?
          The struggle makes the story worth the effort. If writing was easy, there’d be too many trashy books and way too many writers for the world to handle.

  5. I’ve had this feeling. In fact, I won’t even look at my first novel any more because every time I do, I keep seeing ways to have made it better. Fortunately, I don’t have that with me second one.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I look back on early novels (and blog posts and videos and podcasts) and cringe. And yet I still get people who tell me they like those early novels best of all. We’re hardest on our own stuff, no question. And beauty is always in the eye of the beholder.

  6. thomas h cullen says

    Advice to anyone else: don’t overthink things. An answer, to minimising the capacity of falling foul of something is in not over-indulging it – don’t keep re-reading something you’ve written; don’t keep re-thinking it.

    The Representative was a real evolution (perhaps one the most evolved works of fiction ever written). Throughout its development, I filtered out a lot I realised I didn’t need (and wasn’t emotionally served by):

    Croyan, and Mariel. Croyan, and Mariel…….Croyan and Mariel.

    In the end – as far as the actual text was concerned – I realised to only go for emotional truth – as best I could, to only focus on what my emotions were gratified by.

    Paradise, not discouragement: that’s how I purely felt, doing my final run through of The Representative – that I was mentally living in paradise.

    And that’s how I’ll now continue to feel, knowing my defeat of the current world order to be mentally permanent.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Writing is all about balance – in just about every aspect. We can’t afford to underthink a story, but overthinking is a killer.

      • thomas h cullen says

        Because of the near two year duration, it was through no choice that I was forced to think the same story to excess:

        The weight of the plot however; the moral profoundness, of the story situation – it was these forces that enabled me to endure.

  7. Katie, this is one of the best and most personal posts you’ve written in awhile! Although all writers screw up badly at some point, I think the main thing to be distinguished is effort and honesty. It’s so easy to tell when authors cheat, use cliches or pander too much, but when an author puts time and heart into something, no matter how flawed, that is proof of having true passion. From following your blog and reading Dreamlander and Behold the Dawn, I would you certainly do.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Another one of those balances in the writing life is between writing for ourselves and writing for our readers. We can never dismiss our readers from the equation, even if we dared from a practical business standpoint. But if we’re not writing first and foremost for ourselves, then even our readers are ultimately going to be missing out on something.

      We’ve all heard the bit about “following your heart, not the market.” But it goes deeper than that. We can’t stop and second guess every story decision by measuring it against what we *think* our readers will want. We have to write what rings true to us and trust that the readers for whom it also rings true will find it.

      I’m so glad Dreamlander and Behold the Dawn rang true to you, to whatever extent. That’s always going to make me grin. 😀

  8. This is a reality I wrestle with day in and day out. It’s also why most of my older projects never got past that second draft because I had the same mentality as Animal Farm’s Boxer (I can do better!) I’ve since eased up on that a bit, but there are times when my inner Boxer wants to rear his head. Sometimes it’s good. Most times it’s just me being overly self-critical. It is a precarious balancing act.

    I think writers feel this pressure more nowadays not only because of how competitive the market has become, but they’ve seen people criticize the living daylights out of popular media. It’s like some unspoken rule to have a small legion of people take someone’s project and nitpick it to death. Sure, the subject matter is still loved by the majority. However, people tend to remember the bad over the good. For every twenty glowing reviews, that one negative one will stick in the creator’s throat and stay there. No one wants to be lumped into that category, so they do their best to cover every little detail.

    All in all, I’m in agreement about pegging everything I do as garbage. Helps me keep my focus, and to remind me why I write: for the sheer love of it. And fun. Never forget the fun.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Nothing wrong with always wanting to do better. In many ways, I view the internal editor as a good thing. It keeps me focused and keeps me from becoming complacent.

      But it can get out of hand way too quickly. Even our own criticism of ourselves will only be helpful insofar as it is constructive.

    • I’m coming back to read some of the later comments here because I got my first set of professional edits in yesterday.

      This particular manuscript is now in its fifth round of editing. I’ve approached each round with the mindset of this is the best I can do right now. Now that I have the objective third party professional opinion, I can see the approach worked for me, because overall it’s a very clean manuscript and the needed edits are adding missing layers of tension.

      I don’t know if this take on the internal editor might help anyone else, but I know it helped me.

      • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

        Congrats! That’s always exciting when an edit comes back clean from a source you respect.

  9. I wrote a novel. Then I learned just how little I knew about writing a novel. So I revised, and revised, and revised, and after a while forgot what the stupid story was about in the first place. So I went to an earlier draft, and it said “Hey, welcome back. Can we have some fun now?” I’m revising again, but this time will be the last. I will finish, and that is the real accomplishment. I wrote a freakin’ book! How about that?

    I do wonder why writers are so prone to the “I’ve fallen and can’t get up” syndrome. I know I’m not immune to it. I had a career before writing. Sometimes I rocked. Sometimes I sucked. Most of the time I did my job, imperfectly, but to the best of my ability, and that was enough. It had to be, because I had to get up the next day and do it all over again. Kind of like cooking dinner.

    Maybe it goes back to the old yarn “Our stories are not ourselves.” But then again, maybe our stories are ourselves, flawed and beautiful and individual. Thank god we don’t write amazon reviews for people. I want mine written by the dude who loves the banana slicer.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Yeah, you sometimes gotta envy writers before the days of Amazon. But then again, Amazon is awesome, so, you know. 😉

  10. You know, I didn’t know every story I wrote would be a guaranteed failure until after I got out of college. In grade school and high school, I was a straight A student who excelled in English and anything that had to do with writing. It carried over into college, too. Then I graduated college. Let me tell you–the real world SUCKS! It’s one thing to suffer a rough round of critiques in the safety of a classroom, it’s quite another to get one rejection letter after another when you have dreams of making some kind of living this way. Your self-esteem takes a swan dive from the highest building in town.

    I don’t allow myself to wallow for long, though. Three days to mourn or grouse over a rejection or a rough critique and then back at it. I also never stop studying the craft of writing to add to my toolbox of skills. Doing this makes me feel empowered. I read that Orson Scott Card book as well, some years ago. I quote it often. (I especially like his advice on how to guide your test readers so that they give you feedback you can actually use.)

    Plenty of great authors had their works rejected dozens of times. Some successful authors have suffered terrible reviews and critical rejection of subsequent works. It is what it is…. If I lived my life according to what other people thought, I’d be stuck at some job that I hate. Instead, I get to craft something out of the ether. How cool is that?! 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Being a writer is very possibly the most awesome job on the planet. It’s easy to lose sight of that in the midst of the occasional downers of the job. But we need to keep focusing on the good bits. Because there *are* a ton of them.

    • thomas h cullen says

      I don’t anymore have time for the process – agent hunting. The waiting is insulting; and, in my particular case, The Representative’s design excludes it from securing representation anyway – the very thing ironically which makes it exceedingly great.

      In case you’ve yet to, check out Literary Rejections. A fantastic site.

  11. Elizabeth C. Bauer says

    This was fantastic! I am an aspiring author, and I struggle with this often. Especially right now, as I send my work off to agents and receive no after no. With each no I think, “Well maybe I’m not as good as I thought.” It can get rather depressing, especially because as a writer we put our hearts and souls into our work, exposing ourselves to the world. Yet, with each no I get another push. I end up sending out two, three, or even five more query letters that same day, and I always ask myself, “Why?” It really doesn’t make sense, but I believe when someone is passionate enough, no matter how much it hurts, and how much you want to give up, you simply can’t.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Just the other day, someone sent me an article about beloved children’s author Kate DiCamillo was rejected something like 165 times before she was first published.

  12. Timely post as I wind up my first draft in my second book. I alternate between hating and somewhat liking the first book, and wondering what I am doing with the second. Good to know these feelings are normal even if they are not rational.

    And as you so well pointed out, we are imperfect and so will be our art, and yet, there is a sweetness to that imperfection if handled with honesty and humility. I had a very rough week at the day job, seeing every mistake floating up in plain view of all my co-workers. I was angry with myself and feeling overwhelmed. But, after some thought and a few very inspiring devotions, I decided to stop being so serious and introspective in regard to honest mistakes. The next time a mistake is thrown in my face, I have a response that will help my attitude and maybe my accuser’s as well. I plan to respond in this manner: “My,a wasn’t that creative.” If it is serious, I will add that I will try not to be quite so creative the next time.”

    Writing can be handled the same way. Yes it is serious business and we need to strive to do your best, but as you said, it will still be imperfect. I can acknowledge the flaws and errors, make an effort not to repeat the same ones and move on, with the purpose of intentionally being creative in this venue. When I get to heaven, all God will be concerned with is how hard I tried.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I actually love this approach. Imperfections are the stuff of greatness. Mistakes are where we often find our best ideas–if only we can blow off the ash and see what’s underneath all the mess.

  13. Thanks for this post – I needed to read it. I’m not usually a wallower though I can so identify with Orson Scott Card’s quote. After receiving many favorable critiques on one of my WIPs, I got a very hard hitting one along the lines of some brilliant writing but basically flawed. For a while there I felt like giving up. After all there are so many books out there already – whose going to miss my scribblings? No one.

    But I was just thinking that maybe trying to be the ‘perfect author’ is a bit like trying to be the ‘perfect mother’. I gave up trying to be a perfect mother about 12-13 years ago – now I just endeavor to be the best mother I can be, faults and all – knowing that at times I’ll mess up (hopefully not too badly) – and so far my kids have turned out oaky. I just checked out a book on Good Reads of a well known author that supposedly bombed out and chuckled a little when I saw it on both the Disappointing Books list and the Best Books of the Decade list.

    I’ve put the critique on the back burner, mulling over it in snatches – but I’ll give it another read soon and work out what I agree with, what I don’t and whether I can ‘fix’ things (or need to). I’m not giving up yet. Even if no one else (apart from a handful of faithful beta readers) enjoy my books – I still love writing them.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Whenever your feeling down, go look at the (hordes of) one-star reviews for mega-popular stories. The many people who disliked these stories (and who have every right to) in no way take away from the joy of the thousands (even millions) of people who *did* enjoy them.

  14. I’ve blown off my fanfiction for a year after losing interest, being lazy, and getting annoyed by how many times I rewrote my first few pages. I was trying to make it like a perfect trilogy and was mad at my inability to do so. The characters were too hard to create, the plot wasn’t perfectly in place, nothing went right.
    But then I remembered that I’m only 15 (14 at the time) and that my writing skills haven’t even begun to develop. I guess I could write it with okay writing skills for a teenager, but I still don’t know…

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Especially when you’re young, don’t put too much pressure on yourself. You’ve got absolutely zero to prove. Write for the sheer love of it. Growth will come without your even trying for it.

      • How was your writing at this age? Did you write for the sheer love of writing?

        • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

          Oh, yes. At that age, I wasn’t even interesting in being a “writer.” I just wanted to capture my stories on paper so I would never lose them.

  15. pamelacreese says

    Length. I write long. It does not wander aimlessly. I have and will continue to edit and tighten, but I simply write long complex works. I am thankful fantasy tends to embrace those of us who need time (and words) to tell our tales, but it still niggles endlessly at me.

    I am not a wallower, and I dislike getting the legs kicked out from under me, so I really appreciate your post and the knowledge that most, if not all, of us have something we fret over as we pursue the goal of writing works ‘worthy’ of publication.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Stories need the space to be as long as they need to be (just ask Patrick Rothfuss). As long as you’re not getting negative feedback from critiquers, you’re probably fine.

  16. My late uncle was an artist and I recall his response when I complained about my work. He said, “A true artist will never be totally satisfied with what he creates.” His rationale was that someone serious about his craft will continually be studying and learning, and thus from today’s perspective yesterday’s work will always look inferior. My head believes what he said; my heart still wavers with insecurities. 🙂

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      I think that dichotomy between head-talk and heart-talk is what often causes our lows. In our heads, we *know* imperfection is par for the course. We know we’ll never get past it. And we *know* that’s perfectly okay. But our hearts get all overwrought and ashamed for no good reason. It’s hard to logic away our emotions. :p

  17. This article really spoke to where I have been for the last couple of years: struggling to remember the fun and passion of writing. It became too easy to be put down by every “How To” book’s do’s and do not’s. Thankfully, there is light at the end of the tunnel as I began to get back to basics and the root of why I write in the first place. Other than the obvious reason that I cannot imagine NOT writing, there is the passion for my characters and their waiting story. They have so much left to teach me about myself and others that I simply cannot give up penning their adventures.

    I need to re-read this article, pick out some choice/key phrases, and create a big poster to hang on my writing corner wall.

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s tragically ironic that in pursuing the thing we love, we sometimes kill it. Writing is such a personal and intimate thing, and yet we’re almost continuously hearing the raucous voices of others while we’re doing it. We need to drown out the world and focus on the voices *inside.* Our characters and ideas hold no condemnation. They just want expression.

  18. Well said…and just what I needed to hear today. Thank you!

  19. Thank you! This is some great advice and much needed encouragement. It was very reassuring to read my own doubts written down by another person. Not that they won’t persist but at least now you have given me a step-by-step crisis plan : )

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Writing is a lonely lifestyle. And yet, there are so many of us sharing the same experiences. The online writing community is such a wonderful place of mutual sharing and encouragement.

  20. I REALLY needed to hear that today. Coming back into editing after a week off, and all I can think of is how pointless this all is. Who’s going to care? I suck, this will never be perfect. But then it doesn’t have to be, like you said, and that helps. Thanks for writing this. It’s going in the bookmarks for when this doubt inevitably hits again (darn writerly-ness).

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Writing can turn the best of us into neurotic messes. At least, we know there’s a support group for that. 😉

  21. Right now, I’m deep in the drudges of editing my sequel, and I often feel discouraged. I’m a huge perfectionist, and though I LOVE my story, I often feel like my writing isn’t good enough…even when proofreaders say it is – with their helpful critiques, of course. I get discouraged that no one will like the book…that it isn’t worth it…etc. This post was absolutely wonderful! It is so comforting to know that other authors feel this way as well.


    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Being a writer is kind of like being a Jedi in a galaxy where there is no Force. We’re always trying to using our feelings to figure out the truth about our writings. But feelings aren’t objective. People subjectively love less-than-perfect things all the time. They might love something we write that really isn’t that good, while not loving something that *is* really good. We can’t control that. All we can control is the objective worth, and that, really, is a comparatively simple thing to fix–if only because it’s much more black and white.

  22. Excellent advice. I’ve been told that when I get down in the dumps, I just need to go read a few reviews from people who absolutely loved my work. It’s enough to get me motivated to make the next thing even better. Here’s to improving with every endeavor, eh?

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      It’s also strangely cathartic to go read the bad reviews of authors *you* love. Reminds you that beauty really is in the eye of the beholder.

  23. Ankoku Teion says

    i write poetry as opposed to books so my stints are shorter, i can only write in certain moods so im spared the merry go round as you call it, however that mood is slightly miserable so…

  24. I get depressed about my books a lot, but I also have a lot of good, high times with them as well. I worry that I’m not experienced enough or that my writing is terrible or my main character is bland or the plot line is cliche, etc. etc. but usually I get over it.

    I always have my worries, but most of the time if I can think of something unique and fresh about my book I can get over it. I try to think of the details (adding more little things about my characters to develop them, looking at individual scenes and the more intricate twists instead of the big picture, acknowledging that first drafts are usually not all that great, and taking things one individual step at a time).

    Another things that I find helps me is calming down and taking a break from my writing and thinking about other things for a day or two. It clears my head and I can come back with a fresh perspective on my worries.

    Thanks for the simple, but amazingly effective advice!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      This is a good approach. The only way to fix the big problems is to start with the little ones.

  25. I just discovered you and have been absolutely loving your pod casts. Its so great to listen while I do other things, dishes, chase my 2 yr old daughter around the house etc 🙂 But I had to stop, take a moment, and say THANK YOU for this particular pod cast, it really hit home for me. Very uplifting! I love your no nonsense, logical approach. It really helps weed through the emotions that take over at times while writing a book. This is my first book, and I absolutely love your website and blog entries.
    Thank you for the inspiration!

    • K.M. Weiland | @KMWeiland says

      Thanks for listening! Emotion and logic work best when we can harness them together. Definitely makes our lives as writers easier!

  26. This is another great post KM Weiland. You’re right. Writing is not like baking a cake (although I’m sure some bakers experience failure even though they’ve followed the recipe).

    But as long as we write for ourselves and not try to be somebody else, then perhaps the judgement of failure will only be borne by ourselves

  27. Christy Moceri says

    After three years slogging through my first novel with no real clue what I was doing, I’m so used to the mental highs and lows (mostly lows) that I barely acknowledge them anymore. Yup, another day where I feel like my writing is crap. On we go. I found Stephen Pressfield’s Book “The War of Art” to be helpful in accepting that the only real duty of a writer is to write. As I’ve opened my works to critique by other writers, I try to take the attitude that my only goal is to be a better writer. Probably one of the hardest parts about sharing my work is figuring out what to take and what to leave, but it’s always the same motivation: get better. I’d rather have a spot-on, harsh critique, painful as it is, than bland words of encouragement.

    I am not suggesting it’s easy. It’s one of the hardest things I’ve ever faced.

    My current stress is the marketability of my work. It’s science fiction but only marginally. The emphasis is really on a relationship between two people. And it deals with some dark themes — which isn’t to say it’s pointlessly depressing, but at least in part, it’s an attempt to capture the reality of experiencing, and learning to cope with, severe trauma. It’s gritty, violent, unapologetically sexual, but with a strong undercurrent of hope. It feels like a misfit in the cutthroat world of publishing.

    But I am going to start pitching it despite my doubts. First at the Detroit Writer’s Workshop in March. I have writer friends who believe in the work, and it helps. I can only comfort myself with the knowledge that I couldn’t write anything else. I wrote it because I had to. I wrote it because I love writing. That has to be enough.

  28. Batmansbestfriend says

    I made peace long ago with never writing a perfect story…whatever the **** that would be if anyone ever did. Anyway, the point is not to write a story that is universally seen as the glowing light of perfection here on earth. The point is to write a story that you believe is perfect regardless of what anyone else says. You want to be able to stand confident knowing that for you the story you wrote is as close to perfection as you can get.

    If you’re proofreading and saying “whatever, no story is perfect,” then you know you have a spot to fix, you know it’s fixable, and you’re just going to leave it? You want your story so well done that you cannot find anything to fix (this comes after the beta reader and editing stages). Sure, readers will point out things they don’t like, but that’s personal opinion. If a reader finds a misspelling or a blatant plot hole…oops. There’s a definite skill to work on for your next book. However, if a reader says an scene moves to slow and it’s just s single, or possibly some readers, while others love the writing, then who cares? Maybe work on your pacing, sure by all means, because selfimprovement isn’t a bad thing, but hey, don’t stress over a few bad reviews. No matter what you do, if enough people have an opinion about it a minimum of one will be negative.

    If you’re unsure about a scene or word choice, run it by a few readers, nothing wrong with that. I had a scene where I thought the subtext was too subtile. Then someone asked me why it was important that the woman (a secondary character) was a lesbian…they didn’t even question whether opr not that was the subtext…they took it for granted that it was what I (the author) intended. Oh, the reader got it. I worried that it would go unnoticed, it didn’t. Sometimes , as readers, we’re so close to our work that we’re the absolute worst critics. Our critical skills are necessary to determine what things we should let flow from out brains, through our fingers, and out into the world…but once they are out in the world it’s up to others to let us know if it’s any good. Sure, we’ll know crap when we see it, but sometimes we’re not looking at crap and we STILL see it, you know?

  29. What if God doesn’t give us the gift to write but we enjoy doing it anyways? What happens if you truly suck at something you have loved to do all your life? Like you love to paint or write fiction but your work appeals to no one, no matter how hard you try? Right now I am facing this reality. I’ve finished a novel and all my readers are giving me pretty negative feedback, even on the revisions. All agents have turned me down. I just love writing for fun, but it looks like being published is not going to be a reality, unfortunatly.

  30. I came across this post this morning and I love it—thank you! I’ve been vigorously writing since I was able to quit my job a few years ago and have had plenty of those “Why am I doing this? No one’s going to be interested in my silly little story” moments/days/weeks. I have this page bookmarked to refer to as necessary.

    I found your blog about a year ago and cannot put into words how helpful and inspirational it is for me. I’ve learned vast amounts about structure and craft from you (your books and outline software program are terrific). You offer such practical and motivational information and advice. Thanks for what you do.


  1. […] expect perfection from themselves before they get submitting. Well, hate to say it, friends, but nothing is ever perfected. You can only do your best, and the rest comes down to the reader, and every story you ever put out […]

  2. […] easy, you guys.  Readers should read this as well, so you know what we go through as authors. 😉  Here is the link to the original post on her site.  Without further ado, K.M. Weiland’s […]

  3. […] Despite the title, K.M. Weiland offers writers some comfort: Why every story you write is a guaranteed failure. […]

  4. […] Why Every Story You Write Is a Guaranteed Failure K.M. Weiland on Helping Writers Become Authors blog about how to get past writing lows. […]

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