A Writer’s Biggest Barrier to Success

Note: This is a guest post by Caz Makepeace who inspires others to travel and make their life a story to tell at y Travel Blog and owns Mojito Mother, where she shares her experiences as a mother following her own dreams. Follow her on Twitter @ytravelblog.

Your writing is crap, Caroline. No one will ever want to read it. Besides, Lonely Planet has the market, as if you could ever compete.

These were the words I heard as I sat at my kitchen table in 2008, dreaming and planning.

I had been living and traveling around the world as a teacher for 14 years and wanted to continue doing that. But this time, doing something I was passionate about.

Fence Photo
Photo credit: Spence Lawn (Creative Commons)

A life without wandering was not for me. I loved to write and share our stories on the road via email to family and friends. And they loved hearing from us. This inspired me, even though my writing was terrible.

I sat and dreamed and planned. A travel book, a travel blog, a community of travelers sharing and having fun — I saw it all in my mind’s eye. I was excited to create my vision.

But then, I listened to those words and shut the book on my dream.

If only I knew then what I know now.

Looking back

Those words that told me I couldn’t do it came from me. They were words of fear and insecurity, and they took me out of the game before I even gave myself a chance to start.

For the next two years, I went through pain as I tried other things that weren’t my passion and strayed further from my path.

The mistakes, the losses, the pain all caused me to turn and dig deep within myself. Dig deep to find out what was “wrong” with me and how I could fix it.

Through all the digging and introspection my mind set began to change as did the belief I had in myself. I learned that life is not about finding yourself, it is about creating yourself.

You can be, do, and have your heart’s desires — because they were meant for you.

Deciding to start

One day in April 2010, through a simple internet disconnect, I decided to start that travel book I thought of years ago. It fueled in me excitement and passion.

Then, I started the travel blog, because I believed I could do it and that I had a story that would help others.

Then came the community of like-minded travelers willing to share and have fun together. I was finally creating that vision from long ago after all. The only thing had been stopping me was me.

I loved what I was doing. It consumed every waking minute and kept me up during the sleeping ones. I read every day, took online writing courses, and learned from others. I wrote every single day.

And soon I began to find my voice.

Becoming a writer

Writing and being successful at it is not about being the next Ernest Hemingway. It’s about having a voice, and presenting it with passion in a way that inspires. It’s about being honest, raw, and real.

This is the stuff that draws people in and empowers them to believe they can do the unimaginable.

I had high goals for our travel blog, which my husband enthusiastically embraced with me. (You should see how he found his voice — a professional athlete, turned carpenter, turned travel writer. No one would have imagined it, let alone himself.)

Facing criticism

Your goals are unrealistic. You will never do it. I’ve been going for three years now and have just hit these goals.

I sat and cried as I read these words from another travel blogger.

The pages of the book of my dream began to close once again as the fear and doubt began to creep back in. But, just as quickly, the hand of my learning and courage jumped out to keep the book open.

Remember Yossi Ghinsberg, one of your mentors. Remember when someone tried to stop him. He turned and said, “Don’t ever stand between a man and his dreams.”

So I stood and said the same: “You don’t know me. You don’t know what I know. You don’t know what I’m capable of. Don’t ever stand in the way of my dreams.”

Breaking the barrier

It has been 18 months since we started. Our blog is now one of the most popular independent travel blogs in the world.

Last week, Tourism New Zealand flew us over to talk about travel blogging at the Australian Travel Writers Convention. Me — someone whose writing was amateurish and “crap” was now going to talk to professional and polished travel writers.

I was nervous and insecure. But I stood and shared my story, anyway.

The biggest barrier to anyone’s success is herself. We feed ourselves excuses bred from fear and insecurity. Then we listen to those around us who say it can’t be done. But what we believe and how we act is a choice.

Sometimes, I think of where I’d be now if back in 2008 I never listened to those words telling me I couldn’t do it. Then, I imagine if I never learned to shut them out at all. Imagine that.

What’s holding you back from finding your voice and telling your story? Imagine what life would be like if it didn’t. Share in the comments.

*Photo credit: Spence Lawn (Creative Commons)

87 thoughts on “A Writer’s Biggest Barrier to Success

  1. Awesome! I’m working on launching my own travel blog, and steering my writing towards travel. This is a great post; and you’re right. You can’t let someone stop you from living your dreams. You have to be the one to stand strong and push through it.

  2. Bah! Everything here, daily, is another nudge for me. I’m loving the content and the pursuit of passion. I think, for me, the need to shut off the personal criticism is insurmountable. Once I get over that hurdle and stay there – there’s no stopping me. It feels really good to know that.

    1.  You really have to learn to recognize that voice when it pops up and shut it down immediately. It can be very difficult to control, but it first starts with awareness

  3. I have 3 comments:  

    1)  This is so inspirational!  Thanks for sharing it with us.2)  I love that this was not an overnight success story, but one that took time, struggle, and perseverance.  Very encouraging.
    3)  It seems too simple to be true, but fear really is our greatest enemy, isn’t it?  I recently heard this definition of fear, and it rings true:  “Fear is the attempt to live the future today. To
    resolve prematurely the challenges of tomorrow.” (HT:@craigakrueger:twitter )

    1.  That is a great quote Jon, I’ve not heard it before. Fear really is our greatest enemy. The only time it is our friend is when our lives are truly in danger. Mostly fear is our head talking, we have to learn to listen to our gut. That will always speak the truth, and when fear speaks through there, then you better listen!!

  4. So thrilled you stopped listening to their unconstructive criticism and went for your dreams. When people are pushing you away from their dream it’s usually because they’re too afraid to pursue theirs. 

  5.  I listen to that self criticizing voice far too often.   And then I second guess myself and have to remind myself why I started down this path to begin with.  I can beat myself up far more easily than any critic.  Thanks for the encouragement to stop.

    1.  I think having a very strong why is essential. That why is going to hold you accountable and keep you moving through those challenging times, which are always going to be there.

  6. Sorry but I have to admit this. I find it very hard reading stories about how success just seemed to fall in people’s lap, and we have to do is find a formula. I work hard, I read, I write every day about things I care about and I’m a pretty good writer.

    But this doesn’t all fall into place quite so simply, it is tremendously frustrating because I essentially sacrifice my spare time – I have to pay the rent somehow – to do
    this. I can’t just quit my job or I will be homeless.

    What is holding me back or stopping me? Is it my inner voice saying I can’t do it, or just bad luck?I know this sounds bitter, that’s not my intent though.

    It is a genuine question. Sometimes it does feel like the doors won’t open no matter what I do or how much I work. Any words of encouragement?

    1. James, I think you’re picking up on something. I loved this story, but on the surface it seems to be saying “Build it and they will come” or maybe “build it well and they will come” but many build it, and no one comes.

      There is something more to the story on how to go from “I can’t” to one of the most popular travel blogs in the world.

      I liked this article because frankly, there are many successful bloggers out there telling new bloggers that they won’t make it. I always dismiss this mentality because there are always up-and-coming creatives. Stories like this one remind everyone that they CAN do it. 

      So “can” isn’t the question, rather “how” is the question.

      1.  Not at all. The story was about taking control of your own demons. See the response to James above. Sure, we built it, but the building didn’t start in 2010 when I finally started the blog.

        I went through two years of hell first. That is where the real building began. First the working on myself. Success is 95% mindset period. Most of the time I would say that is when the building and they don’t come doesn’t work.

        I love how you say the “How” is the question. That is a very powerful question to ask yourself. But you do have to believe that you can do it.

    2.  Sometimes, it’s just a matter of timing. Keep writing, James. And don’t compare your journey to someone else’s. We all have to figure this out as we go. What I love about Caz’s story is that there is struggle and self-doubt. In fact, she kind of gave up at one point. I also love the perseverance and faith exhibited.

      I know you have those characteristics, James. Keep writing.

      1. Thanks for the encouragement and support Jeff. It’s so easy to compare ourselves with others and I’ve been very guilty of it at times – it can really hold us back. 

        I remember a talk by Rob Bell once where he said that the question we’ll get asked when we meet our maker won’t be ‘Why weren’t you more like Ghandi, MLK etc?’ but ‘Why weren’t you more like you?’ That we need to be who we are, and stop trying to be someone else.

        It’s humbling to hear that you think I have perseverance and faith to see this through – and I know I will learn from this too. Thanks so much Jeff.

    3. James, sometimes success is fueled by the type of stories we tell ourselves for good morning and for good night. When I feel like every door is closing in front of me, I find courage to remind myself of my own past successes, because I am best motivated by my own doings. If you feel like you have no success story to tell yourself, purposely go out and create one short story. For example, I like connecting the dots between different areas of my life, past and present. So when I need encouragement in some aspect of my life where I am currently weak, I tell myself a story taken from my past from another area where I was successful.

      1. Thanks for this Visnja. The ridiculous thing is I do have success stories to tell – I’m just very good at dismissing or ignoring them, with the excuse that I don’t want to be arrogant, but that’s just my way of making sure I don’t take any of the positives from it. Whereas any failure I multiply a thousand times to make it worse.

        An example would be that one of my posts was published in a compliation book of reflections for each day of advent last year – and it actually did pretty well. Or being asked to write and record a podcast, or being asked to guest post on various other blogs.

        I have success stories to tell – I simply need to let myself believe them and take confidence from them, and use them to remind me of what I’m capable of. It’s a balance between using them to give us confidence and being too proud or arrogant with them, but I think I tip the balance too much the other way, so I will try to find that balance.

        Thanks again for sharing this, it’s really good advice. 

    4.  James, I understand your frustration, I have lived it and still continue to do so. Even though success has come to me in many ways there are still many goals I am yet to achieve and often wonder how I can’t and what am I doing wrong etc. These demons will always be there, you just have to learn how to control them.

      I would so love it if success just fell into my lap. I hope I haven’t put that across in this post because that is absolutely not the truth. My husband and I have worked our butts off, we’ve had to make sacrifices, take risks,work multiple jobs, network like crazy (I was out once until 2am, five months pregnant just to network).

      I do not believe success happens overnight, it might appear so, but when you look behind the person’s story you will find years of learning, relationship building, hard work and sacrifice.

      So the great thing for you James is that YES you can do it! It’s not a matter of good and bad luck. Keep asking yourself the right questions. How can I do better? Learn as much as you can from those who are where you want to be, play full out, take control of your mindset, and build relationships. The doors will open, believe in it and be patient.

      1. Thanks for the feedback, I really appreciate it. I think I have got to the end of the ‘romance’ period of my writing, and moved into the ‘dissolusionment’ phase, where I’m working hard but it’s not such a joy or excitement anymore, it’s just sheer work. I am questioning my motives for writing, what I should be writing about and everything. 

        I love the adrelanin rush of coming up with new ideas, and planning them – but actually writing a full piece now feels much more like work, like I’m doing it to meet what everyone else expects. I think I have stopped writing for myself – and that’s not good. I need to kind of get back my focus, and whilst I accept it’s work and I need to show up, I need to worry less about writing for anyone else, and write for myself, for the love of it, because I have to.

        Thanks for your encouragement – I think because you were trying to condense the story I may have read it like it happened all so quickly and suddenly, and I’m sure, and as you have shared so honestly, it took a lot of hard work and sacrifice to get where you are.

        This kind of discussion is really helpful for me. The thing is doors are opening creatively – not just in writing – but for some reason I’m worried my blog isn’t getting as many readers as I want it to have, and about the content of my post. I had someone who I submitted a guest post for – not Jeff by the way, to be clear – reject a post and tell me the thing I’d written wasn’t fresh, and that really hit me and knocked me, and I think that’s hurt me more than I realise, and made me anxious about writing, and over-thinking things, and i guess when I read your story I think all my frustrations and insecurities came to the surface.

        Thanks for being so understanding and helpful, I really appreciate it – and thanks for the encouragement too, it really means a lot. 

        1. Yes! I had to condense the story so it probably appeared to happen quick. I’d be selling the book on how to do it if it did!!

          I think you have to accept that rejection is a part of what you do. You can’t succeed without failing. The best thing to do is to see how you can learn from it and then apply to make it better next time. You really have to remove yourself from what you do a lot. Take a step back and don’t involve your emotions. Easier said than done I know but it is all a process. Small steps.

          And always watch your inner dialogue. What you say to yourself you end up creating. Let go and trust in yourself

  7. Yes, I think this is a timely post. Thanks for the reminder. I have a desire to create something right now, but the prospects of going up against a big entity, along with others saying, “You’re wasting your time,” is a big problem for me too. David took out Goliath, and though that may not be your sole aim (to take down the giant) the story reminds us that our dreams are not impossible either.

    1.  They are not impossible. You really have to learn to shut out the voices of others, and the negative voice of yourself. It’s not easy, but once you do, you’ll start to see the dream come true

  8. I want to add to that I genuinely love hearing stories like this and am delighted at your succes, but it can sometimes remind me of all the struggles I have when I work so hard. I hope you appreciate that, and again, congratulations on your success. 🙂

  9. What an inspiring post. I’m in the exact place now that you describe yourself in 2008. It’s so good to hear that others have gone through the same things and come out on the other side of those doubts and fears. Your post also reminds me of a saying that goes something like this, “The world will knock you down over and over again, so don’t knock yourself down.” Congratulations on making your dream come true!  

  10. Very inspiring story and congrats on all your success. It had to be awesome for someone to fly you out to talk about your passion, I can’t wait for that day to arrive for me! Thanks so much, this post was just what I needed.

  11. Congrats Caz on your success! Like the others, it’s inspiring to hear someone’s story that it didn’t just happen in three days because someone saw your Facebook post. I like to think that we all are on our own path and there is no set schedule for when these little victories would show up in our lives.

    I admit that I find myself getting frustrated if I try to force myself into some schedule of ‘this has to happen’ at this time. It’s my own battle and I’m learning to accept the fact that life is unfolding as it should.

    Also love the part about finding your voice. I’m finally starting to find my voice and it feels good to be in this place. I use to think that if I just touched on the surface stuff then it would look like I know what I’m talking about and people would hire me. WRONG – I didn’t start to get traffic and followers until my true personality came out (quirks, weirdness and all!) and I really shared my own point of view.
    Thank you so much for sharing your story! 

    1.  You have to let your true personality come out, this is what will make people stick to you! That is why they read blogs- for the person behind the words.

      I am not good with schedules either and often don’t put dates on when my goals should be achieved. I found that this frustrated me more than helped me. I think everyone is different and you have to find your mojo and make it work for you.

  12. I completely agree: I am my own biggest obstacle. How will I know what I can do unless I try? How can any of us? I’m reminded of the Marianne Williamson quote: “Your playing small does not serve the world.” How true. Thanks for sharing the inspirational story of your journey. 

    1.  That is one of my favourite quotes and I use it every day to help inspire and motivate me to keep moving forward and to be the best I can- because I can

  13. What’s holding me back is that I have to do a teaching job to earn money to live while I try and write. If I could write all the time (and do the all important marketing) I might have got somewhere by now.

    I feel I am at a place where I know what I want and what to do, I’m just waiting for pieces to fall into place. I spent a lot of time being dissuaded from my dreams and finding what I needed to do so now I am doing it, even if it is only a little every day. I’ll get their eventually. Such a shame, because I wanted to be successful before I got old.

    1.  You are not old yet Matthew!! You have to do what you have to do. If it means teaching until you can turn your passion into full time work then this is okay.
      You are working full time on your income and part time on your fortune!!

      As you say, do a little each day. It all adds up

  14. This was me yesterday (and other days)!

    I told myself my writing was awful, that I could never learn enough to master the craft and no one would want to read what I write anyhow. Thankfully, prayer and a talk with a good friend lifted most of my doubt, but I know the battle for my confidence is still on!

    1.  It’s a never ending battle. I still have the same negative self-talk going on, I know now to just shut it up by taking action. The more you do the better you become. I had a friend tell me today that she thought my writing had improved so much and was so great. That little voice jumped write out to say that she was being ridiculous to even think that, that my writing was so bad!! You learn to live with the voices.

  15. I have been facing this fear lately. I really connected with the statement, “the only thing holding me back is me.” This is so true; no one else is making me do anything. I am the only one who can make the choice to keep going even when the voices tell me not to.

    1.  Exactly. You have the power to decide which way your life is going to go. It is all a choice. Sometimes things happen in your life that you can’t control, but you can control how you respond to it.

  16. Caz is spot on with her encouragements, and her story is inspirational because she stuck at believing in her dream, then “working her  butt off”. I think sometimes the hardest thing is first to be able to define your dream. Once you know what you want, what you really really want (and be careful what you wish for, because it may come true) then you will almost fire towards it like a guided missile. It’s all to do with intent, followed by hard work.

    1. Thanks so much Jo! I think you are spot on about the hardest thing is being able to define your dream and then give yourself permission to live it. You certainly will fire towards it once you combine that with action.

  17. Thrilled to see you here Caz, and loved hearing this side of your story. You’re an inspiration and I really appreciated the reminder that we have everything we need to chase our dreams.

    It’s interesting what you said about the criticism you received because as an “outsider” it comes across like a projection of that person’s own insecurities or fears of not being good enough… but I’m guessing at the time, if there was any part of you that was looking for a sign that you WERE making a wrong move, that could have been it.

    When I’ve thrown up the topic of going freelance in the past, the people I know who have big issues with money or who have stayed in jobs they hate because they’re scared of what they’d be without that job, have always been the ones with the doomsday advice (“You’d be stupid to do that” etc). 

    Makes me really happy to hear that you had the courage to follow your heart regardless of what other people were saying. Bravo. x 

    1. I think this is so true Rach. You have to be so careful what you listen to from other people, because their hidden insecurities are what lie beneath their words.

      A lot of people also don’t want you to follow your dreams or be successful as they are afraid of what that means for them. They become frightened by your light when really they should understand that it is permission for them to do the same thing.

  18. Thanks for this post Caz, and Jeff for posting it. I sabotage myself before I get anywhere by deciding my work isn’t good enough all the time. 

    A great book on this is The Frustrated Songwriters’ Handbook. Non-musicians might ignore it because of the title, but I feel the opening chapters are worth reading for any creative person.

    1. Thanks for the share Jonny! There is not one person who will sabotage your dreams more than yourself. Once you learn to get out the way, you’ll discover how much easier it is to move others out of the way who then try to stop you.

  19. Amazing article. Thanks for sharing. So true! Don’t ever let anyone stand between you and your dreams! This is a book I’ve written, well part of it anyway – a fundamental key to life!

  20. Thank you for this post … I am struggling with the opinions of others and working against myself, trying to be acceptable to everyone ~

    1. This statement by Dr Wayne Dyer has always helped me:
      “Other people’s opinion of me is none of my business”

      You have to stop caring what other’s think of you. Your life, your dreams- that is all that matters.

    2. I may have a quote for you from Mahatma Ghandi: “I should love to satisfy all, if I possibly can; but in trying to
      satisfy all, I may be able to satisfy none. I have, therefore, arrived
      at the conclusion that the best course is to satisfy one’s own
      conscience and leave the world to form its own judgment, favorable or
      otherwise.” Don’t try to be acceptable to all, yet  in doing so, be polite, but firm in your own belief. I hope this helps, Sabrina. Peace.

  21. Very inspiring post. Everyone has doubts, but it’s those who chose pursue their dreams despite all of the negativity that often end up the happiest and most successful. I’m glad that you didn’t give up!

    1. Thank you Lindsay. Once you chose to pursue your dreams you know there is no turning back so you have to learn to deal with the negativity. 
      Onwards and upwards

  22. Hey, Caz, those quotes of self-doubt are very familiar to me, too. So familiar that I decided to give up talking badly about people for Lent. The hardest part isn’t other people, nah, I try not to talk badly about others in general, but it’s more to stop speaking badly about myself. It isn’t flattering and it isn’t going to get me anywhere. In fact, it’s annoying even me. It’s hard; I still say things harshly (out loud and in my head) but it’s a conscious effort to move forward past that annoying voice. As someone who loves to travel, I can’t wait to go read some of your blog!


    1. Thanks Katie! The voice is so annoying. It’s great to notice just how much negative self talk you have. You have to be first aware of it to learn how to shut it down. I love your idea of banning your negative talk

  23. I love this message! Sometimes we think that only ourselves have that kind of feelings, but the reality is, for our whole lives, everybody face an inner voice of fear and doubt. The challenge is to be stronger than that voice, confront it and overcome it; so we can be happy, complete and have, finally, inner peace! Thanks for this beautiful writing!!! I love it!

    1. Thank you Monserrat! I absolutely agree that you have to find a way to be stronger than that voice. I don’t think you can ever make the voice go away completely.

      I love writing posts like this and blogging because it shows us that we are all so similar and go through the same thoughts and feelings.

  24. I just discovered this blog and it is very interesting and insightful. I must say that I have also faced criticism from myself and people close to me (although theirs is silent and they have learned to accept my decision) because I am going to be a writer. At first, I got used to this idea that I couldn’t just be a writer and that I needed something more “normal”, but after spending a semester in a career that didn’t fulfill me,  I promised myself that I am going to do what I feel passionate about and that’s that.

  25. I’ve been watching your success grow over the last 2 years that I’ve been reading travel blogs. One of these days I’ll have to corner you for your secrets! Congratulations. Thanks for sharing. Good to know even successful bloggers face their inner critics.

  26. Great stuff Caz…You have always been inspiration for me. I think I read earlier one of those inspirational pics that said “Don’t let someone who gave up on their dreams stop you from chasing yours.”…

  27. People stand in their own way far too often. I admit that I’ve done it myself. It’s hard not to listen to the whispers of insecurities and fears that come from inside of you. Too many times I think to myself that my novel sucks, nobody cares, it’s not good enough, etc. In the end I always work past it and push on and that’s what matters: not letting yourself or anyone else get in the way of your passion and your dreams. Great post and very inspirational!

  28. Caz is right on! For years I stowed the dream of becoming an author away as sheer fantasy. It was due to equal parts self doubt, and people mocking the idea. Still, I told close friends my story ideas, but I had writers block…twenty years of it. In 2010 my best friend said to sit down and write just one sentence a day for a week–I did and the walls came down in a rush. In just a bit over an hour I wrote  ideas & plot for a  whole novel. Only my best friend knew for a while, until finally, I faced my fear of ridicule. I ousted the non-believers and announced to the Universe at large,” I’m writing a novel.” Not long after, I changed my mantra to, “I’m going to be a published Author!” Now, I’m pages away from completing the first novel, and have a writers blog to help others achieve their goals. Best of all, my short story, “Stealing Time”  is getting published in August 2012! I’m finally an Author, writing the sequel to my short story, and the best is yet to come. So, write your own rules about how to achieve your dreams. Tackle your own inner fears in small steps. Risk. Create your own truth, and ignore the nay-sayers. You know what and who you are; you already carry everything needed to achieve your dreams.

    1. Great story and advice! I love how you tackled your own inner fears. And you are right, it starts with small steps and everything you need is within you- if only they drummed that into us from birth

  29. Oh yea, I can relate. I’m trying not to cry but I can’t help it. I’ve never wanted to sell books worldwide or have my face plastered on bill broads. I just want to reach others on a personal conscious level and have them enjoy what I write. I received the meanest critique I hope I will ever get, but it wont stop me. Why? Because there has been nothing I’ve ever been more passionate about than writing. Sometimes I can’t sleep unless I get words out of my head, it drives me mad. So, not the harshest critique can stop me from doing what I love.

  30. I love hearing stories of people who refuse to give up.  This helps encourage me to keep pressing on toward my personal dreams.

    Sometimes I’m afraid of receiving praise for overcoming various obstacles if I were to share my story in more detail.

  31. Most of the time I faced obstacles to reach my dreams in the form of time, people, wrong choices I have made, but now I don’t care about anything because I have to leave a signature before I leave this world.

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