Saturday, June 4, 2022

When Writing Hurts

by Debb Hackett @Debb_Hackett

“I’ve been thinking I should write a book.” “I’ve always thought I’d write a book one day.”

I’ve lost count of the number of times I’ve heard these remarks, from people who have never tried to write, much less revise or edit a full manuscript. To many who haven’t written a book, doing so seems easy. You just sit down and write, right?
Wrong. Unless you’re some crazy talented prodigy-type. In which case, don’t tell me because I want to genuinely like all my writing colleagues. And if writing comes easily, I might struggle to like you. The actual writing is obviously the biggest component of the process but it’s far from the only one. There’s learning how to do it well, researching, editing, revising, publishing, marketing and on and on it goes.

Writing is hard, (said every writer, ever). And writing well can be excruciating.

So, what do we do when writing hurts? Because, truthfully, there have been times when the last thing (as in I’d rather get a root canal then move along to the proctologist) I want to do is sit at my laptop and pour my heart onto the white screen. But that’s what I’m called to do. And let’s be honest. Called is an aspirational word for commanded. God commands writers to write for Him. To His glory. And who in their right mind wants to ignore a command from God?

What if you’ve just had a rejection that stings, you’re stuck in the middle of a chapter and frustrated, or you’re discouraged by a bad review? Not exactly things that make you excited to craft another thousand words. Writing when it hurts can put your faith under pressure it doesn’t need. I have some steps to protect your soul, triage your heart and get your butt back in the chair.

Tips for When Writing Hurts

Protect Your Soul: Prayer, praise, and people

When writing hurts, the first place I look for a diagnosis is the enemy. Is the one who seeks to kill and destroy messing with me? If so, that’s okay, I know how to handle that. Because friends, this battle is long over. Satan has no hold on me. First of all, pray. Ask Jesus’ truth to fill your ears, for His power to protect you, for the freedom He paid so dearly for, to repel the liar far away. Then, for added fortification, crank up the worship tunes. Whether you love old hymns, Toby Mac, or Bethel/Hillsong/Chris Tomlin type acoustic music, get your praise on. I firmly believe a worshiping soul shines brightly enough to blind death. And finally, surround yourself with the community of writers. I’ve been working with refugees fleeing Ukraine. The power of empathy, that shared experience is everything.

Triage Your Heart: Rest, read, reconnect

When writing hurts, it goes deep into the core of who we are. Nurture yourself. Take some time, hours, or days (but not too long) to rest your mind from the tiring work of creating. Go for walks, sit outside and breathe fresh air. Watch movies, eat well. Do that thing that nourishes your body. Then read someone who inspires you. Find a writer whose voice you admire. Remind yourself of why we sometimes torture ourselves. Because when the words are flowing, when the chapter or story comes together, it is amazing. Then finally, reconnect with other writers who are actively working. Ask someone to hold you accountable as you get back to the task set before you. Knowing I will have to explain myself if I haven’t written anything often motivates me to get on with it. Whether I feel like it or not.

Return Your Butt: Plan, prepare, prayer

When writing hurts but you know you need to get back to it, structure, even if you’re a pantster, can be helpful. So, plan for what you’ll write (doesn’t need to be a plot, just decide which chapter or scene or section). Set aside time in the day, just for writing. Then prepare your return. Have good snacks lined up ready to reach for (peanut M&Ms and a skinny latte please). Make sure your laptop is charged. Review what you’ve already written or get a fresh document ready to receive your shiny new words. Maybe look at a pertinent section in a craft book. And finally, because we began this whole process with prayer, end cap it the same way. Ask the Lord to guide your hands over the keys, to overlay your fingers with His, and to be glorified in every word. At that point, you can’ t lose.

When we have a physical or emotional wound, the sensible thing to do is tend it, and writing is no different. Take the time to recover and then jump right back in.

How about you? What advice do you have for writers who are hurting? How do you handle that?

When Writing Hurts, insight from @Debb_Hackett on @EdieMelson (Click to Tweet)

Writer, broadcaster and speaker Debb Hackett has been a radio journalist for more than twenty years. Married to a test pilot, Debb writes for military wives and lives just outside London, England, with her husband and two daughters. Her first work of fiction won the Foundation Award at the Blue Ridge Mountains Christian Writers Conference and was an ACFW Genesis Award finalist. When she’s not writing, Debb can be found leading worship, cheering for Green Bay or skiing. If you can swing by her house while she’s making scones, that would also be a win. She blogs at:

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  1. Debb,

    Thank you for these insights about writing when it hurts. I've published a number of personal experience stories about my life which were hard to write--like when we taught our three-year-old son about death through the death of his brother. It was an article that appeared in Decision (when the circulation was 1.8 million) called Schooled in Death. The best tip I can give other writers to make little notes when things happen just to capture the dialogue and feelings so you have this raw material when you are ready to write the article or chapter for the book. Otherwise our memories quickly fade and we lose valuable detail.

    author of Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success (Revised Edition)

    1. I love this advice, Terry. And I’m so sorry for your loss. Debbx.

  2. Your message is so helpful, Debb. We've all been through these challenges, but sometimes all that "practice" dealing with the hurt just makes it worse. Thank you for sharing actions which assist us in getting through those hard times.