7 Reasons Why Your Writing Dreams Aren’t Coming True

Editor’s note: This is a guest post from Ally Vesterfelt. Ally is a writer and speaker who lives in Nashville. Follow her blog and connect with her on Twitter @AllyVest.

I’ve wanted to write a book my whole life. But it wasn’t until exactly a year ago that I decided I was going to do it.

7 Reasons Why Your Writing Dreams Aren’t Coming True

At the coaxing of friends and family I realized I couldn’t keep waiting, hoping that my writing dreams would “happen” to me. I had to get out there and do something.

So my friend Sharaya and I quit our jobs, sold everything we owned, and decided to drive my Subaru across the country. Our goal was to visit all 50 States. She would play shows along the way, and I would keep a blog and write a book about the experience.

Six months later, we had finished the 48 continental states and returned to Portland. We still had two states to go: Alaska and Hawaii. But we were out of energy, ideas and money. Worse, I still had no idea how I was going to complete my book. There is nothing worse than pouring your heart and soul into a plan, looking at how far you’ve come and realize that you aren’t going to make it.

Maybe you you’ve always thought about writing a book, but you’ve never taken the leap. Or maybe you’ve reached a block, and it doesn’t seem like you are going to make it. Regardless of where you are, here are seven reasons I’ve learned the hard way for why you may not be seeing any progress.

1. You’re stuck in a boring routine

If you do the same things every day, you won’t ever write anything amazing. This is tough for me, because I find comfort in a routine.

Sometimes we get so attached to our routine that we forget that it hardly ever produces inspiration. Despite what Hollywood suggests, dreams almost never happen to us. We have to get out there and do something.

2. You’re trying to do too much too soon

The problem with getting out there and doing something is that you want to see fast results and you’re willing to do just about anything to make that happen.

You’ll wake up early, stay up late, skip meals, ignore phone calls, run 100 miles a day — whatever anyone tells you will work — but ultimately, you’ll burn out before you ever see the finish line.

If we want to see our writing dreams come true, we have to be willing to see progress as incremental and to celebrate small victories.

3. You aren’t willing to lose everything

If you want to pursue your writing goals, you have to be willing to abandon everything in order to accomplish them. That doesn’t mean you’ll have to sacrifice everything; it just means you have to be willing.

Don Miller said it best when he said,

It isn’t necessary to win for the story to be great; it’s only necessary to sacrifice everything.

4. You need to check your motivation

If I’m honest, I have to admit that at times my motivation can get a little crooked.

Sharaya and I encountered all kinds of obstacles while on the road (our car broke down in Wyoming, for example, and we had to buy a new one), but those obstacles fueled my writing.

The times when my writing felt the most flat or stilted were always when I felt dangerously selfish. Even though many good stories are “about” the author, the best stories work to serve and connect with others.

5. You don’t have a plan

Maybe you think your plan is failing, but when you look at it, you realize that you don’t actually have a plan. You have no idea what you want to accomplish or how.

Do you want to publish a book? Do you want to work for a magazine? A newspaper? It isn’t surprising that a lack of direction (in anything) would make us feel directionless. If you begin without a plan, you’ll end up writing a lot, but ultimately you won’t accomplish much.

6. You’re trying to do it alone

When I find myself trying to do something without any help, it’s because I’m trying to prove something to someone. The problem is that I usually end up proving that I’m prideful. And a failure.

The plans I try to execute all by myself almost never turn out as well as expected.

On the contrary, the most meaningful, satisfying, thrilling accomplishments of my life wouldn’t have been possible without help from experts around me, my family and friends, and ultimately God.

7. You’re giving up on the dream before it’s time

It’s been a year since I “gave up everything” to follow my dream. The most important lesson I’ve learned as I’ve traveled is that sometimes what feels like failure isn’t failure at all. It is just re-routing.

In fact, right now as I write this I’m sitting in Anchorage, Alaska — my 50th State.

I’m looking out the window at snow-covered mountains, thinking about how life is full of peaks and valleys, and about how sometimes we just have to be patient — or keep moving — when it feels like we’ve failed.

Sooner or later we’ll get to the good stuff.

What about you? What has kept you from accomplishing your writing goals? Any advice who those who are stuck right now? Share in the comments.

89 thoughts on “7 Reasons Why Your Writing Dreams Aren’t Coming True

  1. 4. You aren’t willing to lose everything.

    Such a great concept that spans both practicality of finding the story as well as Biblical truth. You have no idea how much this speaks to me right now. 

    As for me, I get caught up in doing too much too soon. I am constantly changing my blog, tweaking things, etc. Combing over analytics and getting disappointed when my readership doesn’t increase exponentially on a daily basis. I struggle with patience. I’m hoping as I finish my first book and get started on no. 2 that I can learn to slow down. 

    Thank you for sharing Ally!

    1. Thanks Chris! What kind of a book are you working on? It can be a daunting process, that’s for sure. Make sure to take care of yourself! Good luck to you.

      1. Thanks Ally!

        My first book is a 21-devotional guide on how to have a quiet time. It
        used to break my heart to baptize students then send them out in the
        world with no help.

        My second book is about the illusion of us being salt and light to the
        world when in reality we do things halfway and distort what it really
        means to follow Christ.

        1. I work with high school students who are desperate to know how to cultivate daily quiet times! Can’t wait to check out that devotional guide.

          The second one sounds convicting. I’ll prepare my heart and mind for action before I read it 🙂

  2. Awesome — Ally I hadn’t heard of you until a week ago, and this is now the 2nd time I have seen a guest post by you.  I am impressed.  A little hustler over here.

    I think you bring up a lot of good points, one of which I am pretty familiar with: number seven. I have quit on my writing dream too often, and believe me it was way before I should have.  Good thing for 2nd chances eh??

    You gotta keep pushing towards the goal, the dream.  Have people around you who will push you to keep going.  That is really important for me.

      1. Jeff, that’s great advice. Someone should write a post about what that looks like for a writer! I would do it… but I have no idea, so… 🙂

      2. Recently I was in a contest with my sister.  I lost.  I was shocked, because I had been certain that I was going to win.

        Afterward, someone boldly walked over  to us and pointed to me : “Worked harder.”  and then pointed to my sister and said “Worked smarter.”  I’ve had that phrase LOCKED into my head for a few weeks, now.  
        Here it is again- in reference to writing.

        I hear church bells singing:  “REVELATION!!”

    1. Darrell – thanks for the encouragement! I’ve been enjoying your thoughts lately too. Glad I found your site.

      What are your writing goals? Are you working on a book?

      1. My goals right now are you write good content, that will continue to build a community of people around This Is Me Thinking — 

        I haven’t thought about a real book yet, but I am in conversations about writing an e book that would resource churches in the social media and blogging world. 

  3. Looking forward to the book… love the Don Miller quote, “It isn’t necessary to win for the story to be great; it’s only necessary to sacrifice everything.” So true.

    Good luck!

    1. Thanks Rob! Have you read Don’s book A Million Miles in a Thousand Years?” That’s where the quote comes from. It’s an inspiring book that challenged me to live a new way.

      1. No I haven’t read A Million Miles yet… loved Blue Like Jazz. Once I finish these 20 books on my list I’ll attempt this one!

  4. Terrific advice.  I’m currently living out all SEVEN of those reasons, especially the one about doing too much too soon.  I am no stranger to burnout.  Way to drop everything and live out an adventure!

    1. Thanks Lizzie! Yeah, finding the balance between whole-hearted and not expecting too much too soon is complicated. For the person who gives up everything, each day feels like a lifetime. Any suggestions from your experience for how to fight against burnout?

  5. I like what you said about having a plan. Without a plan your dream will remain a dream, while the busyness of your life suffocates it. Plan to fit it in. Plan how to implement it. Plan how to fund it. A plan can make taking the next step easier.

    1. Jeremy, I’m glad for that! For me “abandoning everything” meant giving up a bunch of junk (really nice junk that I loved too much) to do something meaningful. But, yes, thank you. Please don’t abandon your relationship with God or the responsibilities He as entrusted to you. My perspective is quite one-sided! Ha.

  6. Definitely you need to have a plan… but it is also important to revise and adapt your plan as you go along! I’ll admit my story isn’t quite as thrilling as yours, but I took the plunge to write full-time about six months ago.  Since then I went from writing my books and getting an agent who is going to get me a publisher… to watching my savings account quickly dwindle and realizing that I need to find other sources of income to supplement me until the big dream happens! I make time to write my books everyday, but am dabbling in several other writing projects as well.  (Which of course runs the risk of burn-out… but it is all about balance!!)

    1. Heidi, you’re statement: “watching my savings account quickly dwindle” makes my stomach hurt a little, because I so closely identify 🙂

      I think you’re onto something with BALANCE. How do you think we accomplish that as writers?

  7. I recently read “The War of Art” by Steven Pressfield and it “left a mark.” He opens the book by stating that the hard part is not writing, it’s sitting down to write. He then explains resistance and why we have such a problem moving forward.

    It’s a powerful book. If we want to be a writer, then we must write – it’s that simple. It sounds so simple…yet, it is so hard!

    Great post!

  8. What a great story, Ally, and what a courageous woman you are! Congratulations on making it to your 50th state. I am definitely looking forward to reading your book.

    I’m living number 7, having given up everything to follow my dreams, but the planning bit is not so cut and dried for me. The saying, “Make plans and watch God laugh”, or something like that, is pretty much true. I don’t plan anymore, at least long term. I know, I know. I hear the collective gasp, but it’s all His anyway. Being one who has lived a lot of life stuck in the past or projecting into the future, I truly believe living in the present is what we’re meant to do.

    I’m sitting with number 6 right now. We’re having a conversation.
    “But I’m used to doing everything alone. That’s just the way life has gone.”
    “Yes, for a season, but things are different now. Hey, you’ve got a husband now, right?”
    “True. *grin* So who will help me figure out how to get unstuck and where to go with my book?”

    Okay, that was probably too much information, but I’m having fun. Thanks for the post!

    1. Lynn, thanks for sharing! There’s no such thing as too much information with me – I’m fascinated by others’ stories, especially as they pursue a dream similar to mine.

      I love Proverbs 16:9 that says, “In his heart a man plans his course, but God directs his steps.” There is a ton of value to making plans, I think, but I’m still learning to hold to them loosely so God can work. I find a ton of comfort in in knowing that I’m not the author of the story, and I don’t have to know how it ends. I just have to keep putting one foot in front of the other.

      Keep plodding along and be encouraged! He is writing our stories. We just put the words on paper 🙂

      1. Very wise, indeed, to hold our plans loosely.

        I love this chorus, from one of my favorite songs:

        Forever, you are the God of my story
        Write every line for your glory
        Breathe on me

        –Breathe on Me, by Todd Fields

  9. Okay…this will reveal just how neurotic I am (but I suspect this is common for novelists. Steinbeck battled this as well). 

    I can take failure. “No” from an agent or publisher is fine. I got that. I get that. I hate it, but I can deal with it. But my fear is the success. I fear the idea that this writing thing might just work out for me.

    Crazy? Yes. 

    1. I envy your confidence, which I think you’ll find to be an asset to you, both in writing and in life. One thing I’m learning is that writers have to have thick skin! I’m working on that 🙂 Best of luck to you as you pursue your goals.

      1. Thanks, Ally! After a whole bunch of rejections you get that thickness you need. 🙂 After awhile they become a badge of honor. 

        And thank you for wishing me well! 

  10. Wow! I am celebrating a small victory in my writing today, and it goes along with what you wrote here. Since I started blogging I have wanted to post at incourage.me, but I was waiting for someone there to recognize my talent and ask me. After months of fits and starts, I finally turned in a post to them, and it’s up today! The advice you shared here is so fantastic, and I’m taking it very much to heart! Congratulations on realizing a part of your goal, and good luck on seeing it to completion! 🙂

    1. Melissa, you should write a post about that process. More writers need to understand this — you can’t wait around to be discovered, but you have to wait for the right opportunity.

    2. Wow, congratulations Melissa! What a great feeling to hear no, no, no – and then yes! Hope you feel encouraged and inspired today and that it empowers you to move forward. I’m going to check out your post right now. Best of luck to you!

    3. congrats! I finally sent an article in to Relevant Magazine (which I’ve been wanting to write for for a couple years now) and got an email saying they’re going to use it. So I know the excitement! 

  11. Number 2 is HUGE. I’m the kind of guy that hears a sermon about bible reading and decides I’m gonna go home and read 100 chapters. 

    Slow down. Celebrate small victories. Great words Ally. Thanks for the reminder. 

    P:S- we meet again 🙂 

    1. You’re welcome! Glad you liked it. And the blogging world is even smaller than the actual one – right? Good to see you here.

  12. To be bluntly honest and slightly contrary, I don’t know that I wholly agree with number 3. And I don’t say that to be a hater. I enjoyed this post immensely.

    But as a father of two little girls and one beautiful wife (who all are a part of my everything), I find that there is a tension not being fully fleshed out here.

    Christ calls us to deny ourselves, pick up our crosses, and follow Him. That may lead to me losing my family, to be sure, but following Him doesn’t always equate to following my own writing goals. Just as a pastor cannot shepherd a church without first shepherding his or her own family, so a writer cannot pursue his or her own goals without first caring for his or her own family.

    It easier to say, “You must be willing to sacrifice everything,” when you only have to be concerned for yourself or even just yourself and your spouse. Once you throw your kids in the midst, then that which is calling you to sacrifice everything better be the voice of God.

    Sorry to get all “Jesus Juke-y” on you, but number 3 is a heavy, heavy statement.

    1. Hmmm… I’m interested in what Ally has to say to this, Nate. I hear what you’re saying, but I think you may be overlooking Ally’s main point: the importance of following a calling. To be fair to Ally, she included an illustration of the Rich Young Ruler below this point, and I cut it for brevity’s sake. That said, I think we all need to live in this tension of honoring our commitments without compromising our callings. Thoughts?

      1. In regards to writing and being a father, you nailed it by saying,

        “I think we all need to live in this tension of honoring our commitments without compromising our callings.”

        Amen to that because I committed to being a father before I felt a calling to be a writer. And it is a tricky but beautiful tension.

    2. Nathan, I think you’re totally right here. I think Jesus calls us to sacrifice everything to follow Him, not to pursue our writing goals. For me, in this particular instance, stepping out and letting go was an act of obedience, but sometimes the act of obedience is staying and committing to a family or a spouse, or finishing school or to a particular vocational calling.

      Great point. I’m so glad you added it.

  13. “You’re doing too much too soon” and “You’re trying to do it alone.” Two things that will probably plague me when I finally take on my writing projects.

    The idea of the self-made man/woman/writer provides beautiful mythology but is in the end a myth. Nobody does it by themself and nobody does it right the first time.

    Thanks for the encouraging and insightful post.

    1. “Nobody does it by themselves and nobody does it right the first time.” So true. Sometimes we get plagued by our own perfectionism, don’t we? Reminds me of Melissa’s post (she linked to it in her comment below). I bet you’d like that one too!

  14. Great guest post and equally good discussion happening in the comments! Clearly you practice what you preach like your #4 “the best stories work to serve and connect with others.” Writers like you inspire me to take more chances. I’m a total creature of habit and always armed with a plan for the next 5 years of my life. While planning helps get the ball rolling it deters me from truly letting the creative side of myself loose.

    1. Lindsey – that is me too! I feel like I have multiple personalities. My type-A is always at war with my creativity. Glad I’m not the only one.

  15. Interesting post.  I just found this blog a few days ago, and am loving the content (even though this is a guest post).  I have decided that this is the year that I finally get focused on pursuing my dream of being a writer. 
    I have a couple of comments about the post above.  Namely points 1 and 3.  I guess by saying “You’re stuck in a boring routine”, you mean that you’ll never have anything interesting to write about unless you get out there and do some new things?  But I think in order to sit down and write routine is essential.  My problem is that I can find a thousand distractions and at heart I am not very good at routine.  But without forcing myself into regular habits of both reading and writing, I don’t get much done.
    As for the point about not being willing to lose everything, I think that sometimes pursuing your dream doesn’t have to be all or nothing.  Not everyone has the luxury in terms of time, money, and resources just to quit everything.  But that doesn’t necessarily mean you can’t pursue your dreams, especially to be writer, while also paying the bills and keeping whatever other commitments you may have in your life. 

    1. Kamsin, you’re right that this is all about finding balance. We discussed that in some of the comments below – check that out.

      And while abandoning everything was something that I had the luxury to do because of my particular season of life, it definitely didn’t feel like luxury at the time. I learned to live without all kinds of things (at times including food) that I was used to having at my disposal.

      I guess what I mean is that chasing your dreams is really hard. The process inevitably means losing things that are important to us. And if our dream isn’t worth losing some things, then it might not be as important as we thought it was.

  16. What a FANTASTIC post!  “You Don’t Have A Plan” 
    You nailed it!  As a ‘creative type’, I have to say this might be on of the most challenging.  I tend to dream big, think big, start big and then completely stop.  
    This post is so encouraging, and a perfect kick-in-the-rump for writers!  Thanks, ALLY!

  17. Wow. I just needed to read this, on this very night, at this very moment. You are right, it is incremental and while I wait for hodays from my nine to hell, my book remains unfinished. So thank you. I am no longer waiting.

  18. #2 hits home for me.  It is easy for me to put my nose to the ground and ‘do whatever it takes’ for a season… but inevitably burnout does hit.  So very true… I’m just now returning from a period of burnout and I’m really hoping to find a sustainable pace.  Great post!

  19. One of the big issues for me, is telling other people what I’m going to do. I’ve found that this can cause real problems down the road. While it’s good to be accountable to someone, it’s best to leave the “going to’s” behind. For example, if I tell someone I’m going to write a book and it will be finished in August, I’ve just set myself up for a setback if I don’t have it done on time. My “want to” write, then becomes a “have to” write. As a creative, when I HAVE to do something, my outlook changes. My writing becomes tedious and laborious. For some people having to do something may be a motivation… For me it can be a game stopper.

  20. Follow that dream and make it happen! Dedication, thick skin, stickability, confidence – you are a writer – believe it! Have faith in yourself!

  21. Ally–good advice. Patience and persistence seem to be key to moving ahead in developing a genuine dream. Plans and perspiration (had to keep the P’s going there) figure into the formula as well. Jon Acuff in his book “Quitter” calls the latter “hustle.” At some point, you have to put in the work.–Tom

  22. Abby (and Jeff!), I love that your motivation to write is not about you. It’s about others. Cool thing is that when you help others somewhere, somehow, someway, it’s gonna come back to you! That reaping and sowing principle NEVER goes undone! Thanks to both of you for pouring into othhers and reminding me…it’s not about me!

  23. Something that kept me in limbo for years was not giving myself permission to share my work. I have had to accept that it isn’t going to be perfect, that I have to make mistakes in addition to having successes.

     I am grateful for every tiny milestone I reach. In the past year, I have achieved many more goals than I ever thought possible. I started sending my more personal creative work out about a year ago and it’s been a grand adventure with many little successes.

    I’m learning to just be myself. I love writing because I get to explore this world I live in, examine it and meet interesting people along the way. I meet nice and not so nice people out there, but regardless, I’m still kicking. 

    Two words: dogged persistence. 

  24. Hi Jeff/Ally, hope you both are well. Hmmm, very interesting article. I self-published a mystery/thriller novel last year called A Cause For Concern. It’s selling on Amazon and Barnes & Noble online, but it’s not in bookstores. Hence, nobody except a few close friends and relatives even know it exists. I have no idea how to publicise this book. The few people who have read it tell me it’s fantastic, but are they biased? After all, they know me. I would love to find a way to get my book out on the world stage and get some recognition. I have no idea how to go about it. Any advice that you could offer would be wonderful. I’m currently living in South Korea, teaching English in an elementary school for one year, so every day is an adventure and I blog about it daily at http://www.waegooksdiary.wordpress.com.

    I’ll be reading your articles regularly from now on. Thanks for your time.

    Michael Hollin.

  25. Ally,

    I love the comment you made in saying that the best stories work to serve and connect with others.
    I think you managed to put what we all love to do as writers into one sentence.

    Thanks for sharing, and congrats on reaching all 50!

  26. Wow, these are all so true.  I can think of times when I’ve wafted over or through each of these mindsets.  Hopefully I’m past them, but thanks for the reminder.

  27. Great post Ally. Relevant and inspiring. Me – trying to … find my voice, aspire to create a content site for writers/clients built on truth/honesty and fair writer’s/client’s payment, earn for my family by writing, avoid traps for time wasting, scams for money and personal info, care for & support a disabled spouse and recover from a failed franchise biz while trying to forge on in a confusing, mixed up internet and physical crazy world.  I want to make a difference, write with clarity, find & engage readers and make a living from home. I know I am going about too many things at once, but I am attempting to focus. I’ll keep trying. Enjoy your gentle reminders via – FB, Twitter, email, etc. Jeff. Most of all, I’m trusting God to show me the path.

  28. I like to write I’ve been obsess with that idea since I was young, because I believe my parent’s story is the best love story ever to be told. But as I grow-up my fear of everything keeps from writing or telling true stories. Fear that this passion will lead to bankruptcy and hunger. I don’t have good stories to tell, or what I think is good might not be good enough for the general public. I give so much time thinking of what other people will say. But now I reach the point of let things be, after discovering how much healing I got from writing. Now my perception is how I can transcend that healing effect I got from writing to heal others, or help them find there way through this life. I’m thankful for all these encouraging articles! God bless!

  29. What you said in number 6: “When I find myself trying to do something without any help, it’s because
    I’m trying to prove something to someone. The problem is that I usually
    end up proving that I’m prideful. And a failure.”
    This was me when I graduated from high school in 2009. Everyone expected me to go to college because that’s what all the quiet, smart kids do. By that time, though, I was completely done doing what everyone expected of me. I finally got up the courage to tell people I was going to get a job and write my novel. I did get a job, I did work on my novel, but it never went anywhere beyond first draft because I was trying to prove to people I could do this. I wasn’t even doing it for myself at that point. And now here I am five years later: ready to write for myself, ready to be who I am supposed to be: Tracy Erler, Writer 🙂

  30. Great post. This sentence was so powerful to me: “There is nothing worse than pouring your heart and
    soul into a plan, looking at how far you’ve come and realize that you aren’t
    going to make it.” I think that’s a big reason why people hesitate to
    create and begin acting on a plan to pursue their goals; they assume that’s
    what will happen. I know I’ve let that fear get to me too, but I know that
    pursuing a goal is worth it no matter what — never give up too soon, as you
    said so well in step seven! I so agree; thank you for this motivating post, and
    good luck with your last state!

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