A Writer’s Biggest Struggle

Most writers struggle with the same thing. It’s one little thought that threatens to destroy their message before it ever leaves their fingertips:

What I say doesn’t matter.

Struggling kid
Photo Credit: JosephGilbert.org via Compfight cc

“What difference do my words make?” you ask.

This is what holds you back, what keeps you from your potential as an artist.

It’s the doubt that plagues you, the apparition that looms over you, filling you with insecurity and fear. And it’s preventing your words from reaching the audience they were meant to reach.

How I saw this happen first-hand

A couple years ago, when I was still working for a nonprofit organization, I shared on this blog a story about an orphanage in Haiti that had a dire need.

Action was required, and people responded.

In fact, so many people raised their voices in a week that the Haitian government had to do something. 10,000 people banded together via social media, with no other tools to work with than their words — and they made a difference.

A virtual mob of people who wouldn’t keep quiet about injustice shut down a corrupt orphanage that was trafficking little children, selling them into slavery. It made national and international news.

And it made me believe in the power of words again.

Friends who worked for aid groups in the developing world all told me the same thing: “This doesn’t happen.” Not in a week. Not even in a month.

What made the difference was the fact that so many spoke up, saying this was not okay.

The conclusion we all should make

Words make a difference. Talk isn’t cheap. Your message matters. And something terrible happens when you don’t speak up. That’s what I’m trying to say here.

Many of us have heard this quote by Edmund Burke:

All that is necessary for evil to triumph is for good men to do nothing.

So if you want evil to continue in the world, if you want to see the status quo spread, shut up. Don’t say a word. And don’t give your writing the significance it deserves.

Continue apologizing for your work and downplaying your gifts, but whatever you do, don’t speak. Because when you do, things change.

And who wants, or needs, that?

May you, in spite of your fears and apprehensions, believe that your words do matter. And that someone, somewhere, needs to hear them.

By the way, remember that trip I took to Africa earlier this year? One of the goals for it was to raise sponsorships for children in Uganda. I received word not too long ago that we exceeded our goal, raising over 430. Thanks to all who read, shared, and sponsored! I hope this encourages you that your words do, indeed, matter.

What’s your biggest writing struggle? Share in the comments.

113 thoughts on “A Writer’s Biggest Struggle

  1. This was such a great post and exactly what I have been struggling with. I have stories to tell but in allow myself to compare my story to others and question if there is anything I can add to all that is already out there. This was very challenging and a great reminder to keep going!

  2. You’re so right. Doubt is a terrible thing. It creeps in when we’re vulnerable and robs us of the ability to reach our goals and even achieve our dreams.Much of the time, it isn’t other people thinking we’re not good enough that stands in our way – it’s us thinking we’re not good enough. Your post has helped me to soldier on with my writing, thanks.

  3. You pretty much covered it, that what I say doesn’t matter. I feel like my words are just lost in the myriad. Oh, and that there’s nothing unique about what I say anyway. Battle those daily.

  4. While I did read your entire post, I couldn’t emotionally get past the initial sentence:

    “Most writers struggle with the same thing, one little thought that threatens to destroy their message before it ever leaves their fingertips: what I say doesn’t matter.”

    I recently launched a new blog, one that promised to be unfiltered. While I’m doing my best with it, there’s not day go by that I don’t wonder if it’s worth it — if my time spent writing and sharing my story actually makes a difference.

    Thanks for the reassurance that it does.

    1. Ah, yes. Welcome to being a writer. An artist, really. It’s a pursuit rife with self-doubt. I think that’s what makes it so valuable. Art is important, because it’s so hard to tell what’s good. And yet, that self-questioning is often what leads to great hard. Interesting.

  5. Thanks for this encouragement, Jeff! My biggest struggle in writing has always been feelings of worthiness/unworthiness in raising my voice.

    The kind of thing that used to keep me from asking questions in class is the same kind of thing that keeps me from offering a word of encouragement in a note, comment, letter, or blog post. Self-protection is ridiculous, but it’s real.

    Thanks for throwing the emphasis back onto the worthiness of the words we speak, and the people we serve!

  6. I absolutely agree that writing matters and that words can make an impact. However, most of us are not writing work that rescues children or truly improves the condition of people’s lives, and I think this is really the source of the struggle. It’s much harder to measure the impact of a murder mystery or category romance or in-depth study of a little-known nineteenth century political sect. So what do you do when you believe in the power of words, but you’re not sure that the specific ones you’re creating actually make a difference?

  7. Great post Jeff. My biggest struggle is thinking about things that I have no control over.
    One thing that is helping me is viewing my writing as a gift. Iam simply giving people an opportunity to read it….the rest is up to them. This has helped me emensley.

  8. This is so true. Thank you for the encouragement! I’m in awe in what God has done in our fundraising for an orphanage in Haiti that we leave for on the 30th! We haven’t met our goal yet but we’re getting closer! Thank you for sharing this today. I needed to hear it as I struggle to even post another blog post and wonder if it matters. Clearly, it does. If we don’t speak up, who will?

    1. Amen Samantha. I’ve found the more I write, the more I write. I have to decide in advance to write regardless of how I feel at the moment.

  9. Oh, I wish I was following you sooner and would have helped with raising funds for kids in Uganda. I have just introduced a Good Karma Sunday where people get to pay what they want for artwork and where I donate 10% of each sale to different causes. Can you send me the link to the organization you are working with?

  10. Excellent word(s) Jeff!! This just reinforces things I have been reading that my words do matter. It’s easy to question if we matter, but this is a great example that says yes, I do. Let’s use our gifts to make a difference.

  11. This post was EXACTLY what I needed this morning, especially since Tribe Writers has been asking a lot of my faith in myself lately!! It’s so important to remember that we have to be true to the things we believe in, even if we’re the only ones who know we’ve spoken up. Perhaps more importantly, silence robs us of the chance to find out whether or not people care, so we’re only shooting ourselves in the foot. Thanks again for all that you do, Jeff.

    1. Excellent! Yes, Sarah, you have to believe in yourself (at least a little bit) to create something important. Don’t you? Or at least that there’s a higher power working through you.

  12. This is what I need to remember every day. Not just that my voice matters but to use it to help someone else!

  13. Thank you for your voice and for supporting writers the way you do. This made me cry this morning because this was the week I thought I needed to quit writing and get a “real” job, but you have once again inspired. I look forward to more words from you.

    1. Wow, Mandy. Thank you for sharing that. You make me realize how much my words matter, which is a gift. I hope this post in some way returned that favor.

  14. My biggest writing challenge is my lack of voice and crappy writing style. I have an MA in English and I am a voracious reader. I even help other writers with their drafts and they value my feedback. But when I write, I just see all of my mistakes – telling instead of showing, unnatural dialogue, etc. I know what I am doing wrong, but I don’t know how to fix it. I worry that writing is an innate ability – one that I don’t have. But despite this problem, my desire to write hasn’t wavered!

  15. You’re so right, Jeff. A writer’s #1 responsibility is to tell the truth. So our words MATTER. Art matters. Writing matters.

  16. You’re posts are always so inspirational, I love my daily updates from you.
    Writing does matter, especially when the words are used to promote a cause or bring attention to some injustice…But my words, my topics, don’t feel like they are important, I don’t know what my edge is that would make anyone care.

    1. Stupid wrong “your”!! I was going to write you’re right then decided to say you’re inspirational instead but didn’t fix the rest of my sentence!!

  17. This is a great post.

    It’s so important to remember the power of our words, and to stay true to the words we truly believe in.

    Sometimes it’s scary to speak the truth because of how vulnerable it leaves us to rejection and opposition, but with enough confidence in our own voice; our words can (and will) change the world!

  18. Hi Jeff. Thank you so much for ALL you do to help those of us who also feel like we have a God-given message to give to others! My biggest struggle is finding affordable help with the the technology. I am gifted in writing and speaking and want to be freed to spend my time there. I CAN put the blog on my wordpress website, and into an Icontact email, and sometimes on to Facebook, Twitter, etc. – but often it takes too much time and when I run into problems it becomes very frustrating. Any ideas? I have heard of Virtual assistants. Would that be a good option and do you have any suggestion as to whom?

  19. I have too much to say and my struggle is weeding out what is not relevant to my stories and books and organizing it all. Even on my blog I have the same issue. Lori from AfricaInside.org

  20. My struggles change on a regular basis, but today I found myself wondering if I was wasting my time with my writing. Surely there are other things I can do that would have a greater impact, like raising money to combat world hunger! Thanks for the words of encouragement.

  21. Boy Jeff, your timing is fantastic! I was just sitting here lamenting my writing career and wishing I could do more of something that helps people. Inspiration stikes.

  22. I struggle with feeling like I’m writing into a void or that my words/my voice aren’t really well thought out enough to listen to. I have people who encourage me and tell me I’m a gifted writer and though I really don’t want an elevation or celebration of self, I don’t really see the fruit of this in any type of following or dialogue.

    1. Keep writing Joshua. I know we all want to impact others, you often have to learn to write just to write and not care about who sees it. Eventually the readers will come. Some sooner and some later.

  23. Finding the time! After that, it’s the recurring fear that someone’s going to judge my writing as poorly done. The times I’ve asked for feedback and really wanted it, I still had to psych myself up to open the email. The mere thought of them saying, “this stinks,” hurt so much.

    1. It’s good you have the courage to ask for feedback. And yes, hearing something you created is bad hurts. I hate when everyone says, “Don’t take it personally,” no matter how true the statement. It’s hard not to take it personally. But, remember that when you asked for a critique, the assumption is that he/she is honest. The best we can do is to remember that there is always room for improvement.

      1. True enough, George. Thanks for the comment. I did learn I’m not a natural at fiction from a teacher who’s great at it. Now when my nonfiction need going over, even though people have told me my work is high quality in the past, it still takes courage to open the email and check things out.
        Our writing is personal. It takes a strong mind to remember grammar and flow isn’t “me”, the ideas are.

  24. My biggest writing struggle is my need to please people all the time. I have low self-esteem toward myself and my ability as a writer. I feel that if someone pays me a compliment for my work, or anything I do, that they’re just being nice and that they don’t mean it. Maybe it’s because I’m not choosing the right people to critique my work. Maybe it’s because I’m seeking validation. (Read a post on The Write Practice about the subject.)

    I know it shouldn’t matter what other people think about my work. I want to be complimented for what I do and my skills as a writer. I also know that I can improve, and that the only way is to seek out honest and objective critiques. I am afraid that someone will say that I shouldn’t pursue the one thing I love to do. Perhaps, they’re right, but it shouldn’t mean I give up on it.

    1. Hey George! It looks like you already know what your “weak spot” is. I believe each one of us has a longing to be known and validated. As a person of faith I celebrate that I am already known and am enough by my Creator.

      If you have the desire to write that is there for a reason. Someone will be moved by your words.

      Those that dare to step up to live extraordinaily will be met with great resistance. That’s OK. Keep shining brightly for those that want what you have.

      My grammer totally stinks as a writer. But that doesn’t stop me from writing.

      1. Thank you for the words of encouragement, Stephanie. You are right. I believe I’ve been given this talent for a reason. I just need to put it to good use.

  25. I need to hear this. Often. I know others do, too. We think we’re alone in feeling like each of us doesn’t matter when in reality, we all do. Thank you.

    1. Hey Larry! The beauty and Strength in Jeff’s words are his ability to be transparent and honest. The more you show that you are not a super hero, the better it is for your readers.

        1. Just take it bit by bit. Just reveal one small thing about yourself that stretches you only a little. You don’t have to broadcast to the world every dirty dark secret about yourself or your past. There is a way to be transparent without getting into all the details. Kent Julian does a great job with this.

    2. I agree with Stephanie. You don’t have to share everything all at once. Take it one step at a time.

  26. Once again Jeff, you connect with my heart with your words! My heart has this huge urgency to encourage people to get out there with their message and change the world. One life at a time.

  27. My writing struggle is definitely self-doubt. When I read people’s writings and think that it’s good, I feel overwhelmed and discount my abilities.

    It doesn’t matter if you are a good or bad writer in terms of skill. What matters is your message.

  28. I struggle with thinking my content isn’t unique enough. I once mentioned this to a famous author and he told me not to worry because he’s never had a truly original idea in his career. He’s just fused a lot of other people’s good ideas together. That helps me when I begin to doubt my words will make an impact.

    1. I can relate Adam! None of us are original. We are not the original creator. I only know one Creator. We are the co-creators. We are a collection of what we read, the experiences we have and the relationships we keep (and left).
      Our voice is developed the more we offer our unique spin on it.

    2. Someone said that there are no original stories; just different ways to tell it. What makes a story original is how you tell it.

  29. Jeff’ Thank you for the respond to my doubts.Trying to rectify my running out of words. I decided to read Danielle Steei Novel;which I came across when doing my house spring cleaning.It put some sense in me,.I go over it word by word; Danielle Steel is a great writer.even if I see what am reading is fiction,but all the same it is an open brainer.Thank you again.

  30. Jeff, this is another home run and timely encouragement to me. Beyond writing, I have realized that I have an even greater calling. This is to use the power of words and composition to inspire others to shun the evil that is ignorance. Developing my new leadership coaching program is my way of not keeping quiet. There is a dirth of real leadership, beginning with the individual and traversing our communities and workplaces. It’s a monumental task. But I can’t afford to be silent no more!

  31. I’m always amazed at the power of words. As a playwright for youth, it’s amazing what words are considered off bounds by administrators (and they’re often not the ones you might think.) I’ve also seen the power of words in students, how words can change their life. It makes me consider what I do quite carefully with great pride.

  32. My biggest writing struggle is organising my ideas. Too many, not enough time… the usual suspects of a sometimes confused and self-doubting mind. But, when the confidence is restored, it all comes together , the words flow and Mr Doubt is sent packing..

  33. I really enjoyed this post. My biggest writing struggle is not believing what others tell me. I’ve been told it’s good, I’ve been told it’s excellent and to keep working hard. But I still sit in my critique groups and read the work of others and think…wow…I’ll never be that good.

    1. When I first started in the writer’s group that I am in, I wanted to express myself as Tozer and C.S. Lewis because I really enjoyed their style. I felt they used words just the right way and people read what they wrote. Then, I began to realize, I am not either one of them. I am Sandi. I have been given the unique way of expressing ideas that was put into my soul. I have eyes to see things in a way that they did not see. I have a way to combine ideas in a way that expresses my heart. Set yourself free. If you have a gift, if you have a desire to write, then write. Do not compare. No one will ever write as well as you do. 🙂

  34. That has been a running argument in my mind at various times. Some of it can be a reflection of past fears. Fears of something that I was excited about when growing up, but not getting the encouragement to pursue that dream. I have an arena now. I have God behind me encouraging me. I look at the dreams that are exciting me now. What is the genre, expression, creative mode that says it best. I need to get it out,

  35. My biggest struggle lately has been procrastination. I’ve been pushing my boundaries as a writer, and procrastinating seems to be my push-back. I haven’t wanted to outline and it’s been a struggle to write more words each day. I’ve upped my daily writing goal by 1/3 and probably should have chosen smaller increments, but it is what it is. I’ll be a better writer for it, so I’m going to keep going! Thanks for another inspiring post, Jeff.

  36. Sometimes, for me, it’s doing something meaningful with the words afterwards. Writers need readers. Sometimes just blogging isn’t enough and bills have to be paid!

  37. You hit my greatest fear in this post. I fear that my action is all for naught. I am learning that if even one person responds to my words, it is enough to make me try again. Thank you, Jeff, for all the encouragement you give to writers.

  38. Thanks Jeff! I have definitely struggled with this and I often struggle with comparing myself to others, which puts me in a tailspin of doubt. However, I always try to remind myself that when we are hitting resistance and fear, we are getting close to something important and meaningful for ourselves and others.

  39. Hi Jeff! I struggle constantly with self-confidence and self doubt. On bad days, I just can’t get over it and get things done. It’s so frustrating. Thanks for this article BTW.

  40. Great post Jeff. All of us struggle with this. My experience as a combat surgeon in Iraq produced havoc in my life, and writing about it helped me heal. But until a famous writer friend of mine told me that others could benefit from my emotional journey, I was afraid to share it with the world. I thought, ‘Who cares about what I went through?’ But the truth is, everything we pass through can be used to help others survive a similar experience or avoid that path in their life.

    So, if as writers we’re courageous enough to really tell the world what we’re about and what we’ve gone through, we will naturally help more people and then find the group of people who need to hear what we have to say. The thing to really be afraid of is letting our message die within us.

    In my case, it took another writer to help me overcome my fears and put myself out there.

    I love how you’re serving other writers in a similar way: once we’ve overcome our fears, we have a responsibility to help others do so also.

  41. I start to read your site and couldn’t stop! I’ve wanted to write a memoir for a while but each time my thoughts came together, I thought to myself and said the same thing, “what I say doesn’t matter”. This article gave me the confidence finally I need to start writing…Kudos for not being afraid to help others who feel their stories are worth sharing.

  42. Great post. I struggle with a combination of procrastination and the nagging thought that my words don’t matter. One feeds the other. This was a great reminder that what I have to say does matter – even if it is to just one person – it matters. Thanks for the reminder.

  43. I really enjoyed reading this post. It’s given a bit of a confidence boost that my writing, and what I have to say does matter to someone somewhere. Thanks Jeff, keep up the excellent work!

  44. I recently had to read a book for an “honest” review, but the book was so awful, filled with crude and degrading references, that my gut reaction was to react to the filth. The review organizers ask me to temper my review and not mention that I didn’t like the genre and only comment on content. The content was the problem. They wouldn’t allow me to be true to myself. You’re right, Jeff. We need to let our words have significance.

  45. Like so many down here in this comment section, whenever I need inspiration to write, your blog somehow provide that extra push that I need and each time after leaving this site, I can write much faster because I’m in an inspired form.

    Cannot say thank you enough!


    1. If inspiration-seeking becomes a habit, the seeker becomes less perspiring and less and less perspiration will deprive him of his ability to create at all in the long run!

  46. I agree with you here, Jeff. Our words can and do make a difference. It’s making a widesweeping difference that many are wishing for. When it doesn’t happen they think about giving up. However, if one’s a true writer they write to write so they never give up.

  47. Being the change we want to see in the world has great positive consequences. It is hard at times to stand up and make a difference but when we do we don’t regret it. Thanks for standing up and making a difference in our lives!

  48. I think great writing is about getting ourselves out of the way… Taking all of our energy off ourselves and placing it on an intended reader. I have read beautiful words written and spoken by seemingly almost illiterate people who were moved to communicate and write from their hearts. The more we make it about others and less we make it about our own writing… the more impact we will have on the world.

    1. I think it’s even less about the intended reader than about the message. Jeff said “Words make a difference. Talk isn’t cheap. Your message matters.” I’ve experienced a number of times when I THOUGHT I was writing for a particular reader, only to find that my message resonated with someone else entirely. I agree that we need to get ourselves out of the way, though. When we’re all in our head, the story gets muddled and the message gets lost. Our ego does more to trip us up than it does to help us express what the message is really all about.

  49. hi jeff; thanks for all you hav done to support the poor in africa and the poor of spirit on this list. You ar right, we have to find our voice and speak up. My posts are commercial, so sometimes I think I can put it off because my work isn’t important enough. but then i remember that to my clients who need to sell their equipment products or services my work is critical to them. thanks again and take care, Max

  50. My biggest writing struggle is that I don’t find words when I sit to write. Before writing, say, 2 days before I come up with so many new words but when I sit to write I forget everything. And sometimes the topic, which I see every other expert has written about it & I don’t find the courage to write something new. How do i overcome this habit?

  51. To be a writer is to wield power with words. The writer motivates, goads, entertains, affirms, brings solace, and much more. Jeff, you personify all that’s good about a writer and a human being.

  52. You know, I’m very happy writing and find it easy to write, but the moment I consider my message or significance, I freeze up. It’s hard for me to imagine how my words are going to make a difference to anyone.

  53. I write because I can’t help it. I write because my head frequently spins at something approaching the speed of light and if I don’t then I can become overwhelmed to the point where I cannot function. But do I have something to say? Most days I don’t know that I do. I grew up telling myself stories to pass the time whilst waiting for my Dad to finish in-processing at whatever air base we were going to call home for the next 2 and a half years. But are they stories that would entertain anyone else? Probably not. It isn’t so much that I don’t think my words would make a difference, it’s that I don’t know if I have any words to share.

  54. I think I believe in the things I must say, but maybe I don’t.
    I know the words matter, but do not believe in the power of the words, alone, to make any difference, really. So I strive as I write, to add power to the words, with my voice, but only come off forceful. And therefore, unfun and uninviting to read.
    I have obtained a sunny drawing to boost my remembering to shine the truth, not try to force it.

  55. Thank you for another excellent post (I am starting to sound like a broken record). Our thoughts, our words, our existence matters. We have to speak up at times even when we are afraid. Thank you for speaking up and being a change agent.

  56. I do believe that words are powerful enough to destroy or to fix everything. Bad or good. Honest or not. The words you say will affect not just you but also other people around you. Being a writer, we must be true with whatever we write, and I know that we don’t have to sugarcoat the words we made to please other people but we must learn to consider other peoples feeling also. And yes, honesty is the best policy and we must choose a smart comments and words to make readers understand your side and that your intention is good.

  57. I often think no one is listening, so why bother writing. At the end of the day, the words won’t stay down and holding them in can almost cause anxiety. Thanks for the permission to share, even if no one is hearing.

  58. That the material I am working on is so far above my skis that I will have real issues with readers’ cognitive dissonance, given my lack of authority or reputation. And, in the dark hours, whether I really am delusional, despite every test I’ve applied, informed opinion I’ve sought, and generally knowing the difference between when I’m cogent and when it’s time to let the cuckoos out for a spell.

  59. ♥️ As a young human rights activist, I studied international relations in hopes of working for an NGO. But now that I’ve finished my degree, I realise that the biggest changes are inspired by media and words.

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