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5 most common obstacles to writing your book

Our guest blogger on common obstacles to writing your book is my friend-in-real-life Kate Hanley, a New York Times-bestselling ghostwriter who helps authors get their message out and make a difference in the world. Her self-paced online class, “Write Your Book Like a Boss,” covers the nitty-gritty details of how to get a book written and published, as well as the squishier subjects, such as how to deal with your inner critic. (If you take the course, please select my name in the drop down menu — I will receive a small commission for the referral.) Kate is also the author of books under her own name. I received A Year of Daily Calm for Mother’s Day (my request!) and love it. Learn more about Kate on her website

5 most common obstacles to writing your book

By Kate Hanley

There’s a reason why 80 percent of Americans (that’s 200 million people) say they want to write a book, yet only .04 percent of them actually do it in any given year: Writing a book is no small undertaking.

Doable? Absolutely. Easy? Not so much.

Especially if you’re falling prey to one or some of the most common obstacles to actually getting a book out into the world.

obstacles to writing 2

Are you subjecting yourself to any of these common roadblock thoughts? I hope seeing them with more clarity—and learning their workarounds—will help you get going!

Roadblock thought #1: “I don’t have the time.”

Of course getting all those words and thoughts down seems like it will take up mountains of time—and who has those lying around?

Detour: Rather than trying to “find” the time, presume it’s already there, and then go about claiming it.

Small chunks add up to big progress. You could resolve to spend 20 minutes a day working on your book, and in a month you’d have ten hours under your belt—enough to write about 10,000 words. If the average book is 75,000 words, you could have a complete first draft by Valentine’s Day.

Or, maybe you’re not a daily person; you really need to do a deep dive. You could carve out one four-hour period each week (Sunday morning?), or one full weekend a month, for 16 hours a month and be done by Christmas.

Roadblock thought #2: “I don’t know where to start.”

Writing a book is a big project, and there’s no one right way to do it. You could spend months, even years, thinking through all your options. In fact, many people do.

Detour: Use a two-page book proposal to distill your idea, set your intentions, and create a roadmap for yourself.

Here’s what it includes:

  • The gist of what your book is about
  • Who it’s for
  • The problem it solves (for nonfiction books)
  • The benefits it offers (for nonfiction books)
  • Why you’re the perfect person to write it
  • A down-and-dirty table of contents

Keep it concise and don’t overthink. Anyone can write two pages. And then you’ll have started!

Roadblock thought #3: “Who am I to write this book?”

Compiling all your best thoughts, slapping your name on the cover, and putting it “out there” is a great recipe for kicking off a swirl of self-doubt.

“I don’t have a degree.”

“I’m no expert.”

“People will see I’m a fraud.”

Detour: Go back to your two-page book proposal, and flesh out why you are the right person to right this book. Include everything that relates to your book’s subject—experiences from your personal life as well as the more quantifiable traits, such as training, clients, degrees, and writing experience.

Re-read it whenever you feel those doubts creeping back in.

Roadblock thought #4: “I need to focus on the work that pays the bills—there’s no energy left for anything else.”

At the root of this one is motivation, or a lack of it.

Detour: The best way to inspire yourself to take action is to remind yourself of the positive results you’re trying to create.

What do you want this book to do for you—build a fan base that will buy novels in your series or get you a promotion, better-paying or higher-profile clients, speaking gigs, media appearances, or increased credibility?

Then write out what’s at stake for your audience—how will they benefit from the ideas, entertainment, or the point of view that only you can present?

Write your answers down. Post them on the bulletin board above your desk. Don’t let yourself distract yourself from what’s really at stake.

Roadblock thought #5: “I just want to write the thing—I’m not good at marketing myself.”

If I had a quarter for every time I heard a writer say, “I’m just not good at marketing,” I’d be a rich woman. And yet, I get it. I had to get over this particular roadblock too.

Detour: What you need is a mindset shift.

If you believe that the information or entertainment you have to share can help people, it’s not an intrusion to tell them about it—it’s a service.

Also, it’s not really about you; it’s about the message inside it, and the potential of that message to help other people.

I say this with love: Get over yourself. The world needs what you’ve got, and you’re not helping anyone by keeping it corked up.

Which obstacle is keeping you from finishing your book? What are you going to do about it?

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  1. This article nails it. One thing I would add though is that most authors don’t know how to do a book proposal because they don’t understand how to do a marketing and visibility study, which they will need as part of the proposal. It’s a smaller piece than tackling the whole thing so it isn’t as overwhelming, so I tell authors to start there.

    And I have seen some spend thousands of dollars on books that don’t sell because they didn’t do the study OR the book proposal.
    So, it’s important to look at the marketing before you write a single word if you want to write a book people will buy.

    1. Thanks, Ellen! I think most nonfiction authors who plan to self-publish don’t even consider writing a book proposal, yet it’s a smart move because it will not only help you clarify what will go in the book, it will also help you shape what will make yours different from others on the topic — which you’ve referred to here.

      So, as you’re suggesting, starting with a proposal might make the rest of the process less daunting, right?


    2. Hi Ellen,
      Thanks for your comment and for sharing your perspective. You’re absolutely right — many aspiring or actual authors don’t understand that they will have to do the majority of the marketing of their books.
      I think it can depend on the author’s goals, where they start. Some folks just want to get their stories down.
      But for the majority of us, who want the book to do well for itself and for us, then yes, absolutely, marketing is every bit as important to consider as the table of contents. Luckily, we have numerous options and generous and knowing guides, such as Sandy, to guide us through and keep us on track.

      1. I agree with both of you. I ask my clients planning to self-publish to write a book proposal, however rough their draft is, for two reasons. First, it forces them to think like a publisher–which is what they are! Second, it allows them to convey to others what the book is about. Your overview and chapter descriptions can help you write descriptive copy that hits all the important points. Your comparative books list can give you a clear sense of where your book fits in with others out there already, so you can distinguish yourself when you need to market your book.

  2. Very good advice, and most appreciated.

    Another obstacle is the significant time and expense needed to promote a book. You spend the money to publish, but more is required. Since many authors don’t break even, and most lose money, what motivating factor can you suggest to get past this commons sense blockage? My concern is less with what it costs me, as is my expectation for a good return. Your thoughts? Thank you.

    1. Howard, there’s SO MUCH you can to to promote a book without spending a penny. All of it takes time, for sure, but you don’t have to spend money on ads, etc., if you don’t have it to spend. And publicity in particular — news media attention — has far greater impact than advertising anyway because of the implied editorial endorsement.

      Thanks for stopping by and giving us something to think about!


    2. Hi Howard,
      You make an excellent point — it’s not just about writing the book, anymore than having a child is just about pregnancy. Once your ‘baby’ is born, you’ve got to take care of it in order for it to flourish.

      Sandy makes a great point about how much can be done to promote the book that doesn’t cost money and that can come to feel like part of your regular beat — not something ‘extra’.

      The money you can make from a book doesn’t just come from sales, though. The doors that having a written book can open is a significant piece of that equation–the bigger jobs, assignments or clients it helps you land, the speaking gigs it helps you book, the consulting it qualifies you for… Of course, you have to take the steps to the open doors for yourself, but they are absolutely possible and definitely something you want to focus your attention on. Otherwise, the couple of bucks a book likely won’t be that motivating.
      What other lucrative work might writing your book make possible?
      Good luck!

      1. Kate.. excellent advice and most helpful. Thanks to others for their constructive and creative input.. Learning more every day… just a bit slower.. lol.

  3. Good counsel, and generally valued.

    Another deterrent is the critical time and cost expected to advance a book. You spend the cash to distribute, however more is required. Since numerous creators don’t make back the initial investment, and most lose cash, what spurring variable would you be able to recommend to move beyond this center sense blockage? My worry is less with what it costs me, just like my desire for a decent return. Your considerations? Much obliged to you.

    1. Alan, as noted in a response to Howard, you don’t have to spend a lot of money to market a book. But it has to be a good book — it has to read and look like a traditionally published book — for it to really catch on. So focus first on quality content and packaging, then learn as much as you can about your target audience, and finally learn about the marketing tactics that will help you reach that audience.


      1. Excellent point as usual Sandy.. You have to start with a good product in anything you market to be successful.. Great input from you and others.

  4. I enjoyed the articles and comments. My challenge is I have writer’s diarrohea!!! At the moment I am finishing four books because I want to launch these together. Why? The books are for parenting and have a different approach in each book. The books will assist parents to enable their children/teenagers to manage their lives, especially their unwanted emotions, thoughts and beliefs. Parents cannot keep them safe, so my approach is training c/t to know how to recognise dangers and know how to respond. Yes, marketing will be my under-belly, however I shall start in South Africa and slowly reach out. Thanks.

    1. What an interesting situation, Sheila! Launching 4 related books at once brings challenges, but I can see why you are doing it this way. You’ll be just fine with a good marketing plan. Enjoy!


  5. I have self-published novel, Man and the Gods, that can be seen on Amazon.com. Unfortunately, I am frustrated with its marketing. Now I wish to publish the same in an Indian edition to reduce its price to make it easily available to the readers in India. I have no money to spend. Can you guide me in my venture?

    I have another non-fiction : “Mahatma Gandhi: as I Understand Him”. Besides others as well.

    Yours response please.

  6. Children’s books are not really any different to any other self-starter project, where one of the biggest issues is firing yourself up each day.

    Personally, I’m a morning person and do the creative work from breakfast to lunch, come rain or shine.

    Afternoons are then free for public activities (including marketing as needed) and prepping for the following morning – in other words, never start a day wondering, “What do I do today?”

    1. Sounds like it’s not much of a struggle for you, David. You’ve got a rhythm that works for you. It also sounds like you do this full time. Many try to squeeze writing into their “free” time outside a non-writing job, and that might make it a little harder for them.


  7. Since late January 2016, I have been dealing with an injury involving my ability to stand and walk so most of my days are spent either lying on the bed or sitting in a recliner trying to keep up with social media, my site, and a newsletter.

    My manuscript draft is languishing in the corner where I tossed it back in November following an episode of PTSD related to abuses from my mother and first husband brought on by a dispute with our son over our aging and moving from our home.

    Finally, with a clear diagnosis in hand and the assistance of someone who understands the injury and my problems, I have begun rehabilitation just this week. I have been thinking of shutting down my blog and newsletter for a period of time during which I could work on my manuscript reworking and rewriting it. Would the blog and newsletter create a problem in your opinions?

    1. Sherrey, it doesn’t sound like you have a lot of options here, but rather than shut them down, just put them on hiatus. Why not put a message on your blog explaining that you’re working on your book and will return later and send a similar message to your newsletter list? Depending on how much time it takes you to finish your manuscript, you can probably find time to write an occasional post or newsletter issue here and there, right?


      1. Sandra, I agree with your suggestions and had considered something similar. However, it is always helpful to hear someone else weigh in on your proposed methodology. It is my hope that rehab will offer me improved strength, not only physically but mentally, to proceed in such a way the occasional post/newsletter will work out. This has been a year of feeling as if nothing would ever improve, and yesterday’s appointment shed hope on an ever-dimming lifestyle. Thanks for your input and your blog!

        1. I’m sorry it’s been so awful, Sherrey. I can completely understand that sense that there is no light at the end of the tunnel, but I’m so glad to hear that you are finally seeing one. Yay! I hope you don’t push yourself too hard going forward, though. Rehab is going to take energy and you’ll need to recharge, so make sure you’re kind to yourself!


  8. I write non fiction ebooks about spirits and the after life. I write to help people who are skeptical about spirits and the after life. I have inner peace now knowing that we don’t just die. I have thousands of photos of spirits and I use the photos in my ebooks. Sometimes I need time to rest. It is very intense to write my books. So I take a break and rest. I am starting to work on my third book shortly.

    1. Thanks,Janice. It sounds like your obstacle is low energy, but that you know how to deal with it. That’s important.


  9. The one I hear the most is the one you’ve put at the top. I’ve never heard it from myself, though. If you need to write that book because you can’t not write it, you always find the time. Otherwise, well, maybe you don’t really want to write the book after all. And that’s fine. To invest at least a year into a project, you’ve got to really be in love with it.

    1. It’s definitely hard to find the time and as you’ve noted Michael, if you aren’t really in love with it, maybe you shouldn’t make the time for it. Good point.


  10. Really good points. I also try to have regular appointments for writing my own work, and I log my hours just as if I were working for someone else. That makes me less likely to say, “Oh, my book isn’t that important–I ought to just focus on my day job.”

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