Tuesday, July 9, 2024

When the Writing Life Doesn’t Go As Planned We Learn to Roll with the Punches

by Cindy K. Sproles @CindyDevoted

Expectations! We all have them—from the newest writer to the most seasoned, we have expectations for our writing. But what happens when we’re thrown a few side punches that send us sailing off course?

It’s easy for writers to “buck up” and share that “buck up” attitude. You know how it is. You hit a roadblock, and your writer friends show you a moment of compassion and then say, “Just keep at it. Rejection is part of the plan. Buck up and get a thick skin.”

As much as I can see the reason behind the madness, I also know the frustration, fear, and loss of hope when you hit a rough patch in your writing. Forging ahead is always a suitable method. It’s like getting back on the bicycle after a raunchy wreck. Still, even though hopping back on the bike is good, there has to be that moment of assessment—that time when you put the kickstand down and walk around the bicycle checking out the damage (not to mention wiping the blood off your knees and palms). My point in the analogy is that you take a day or so to look at the damage when you are gut-punched in your writing. There’s usually a good reason. We have to take it in and adjust.

Stepping away doesn’t mean quitting. Never quit. But it does mean sometimes moving away for a few days (let me be clear, a few days, not years). Sometimes, our expectations of what we thought should happen collide with reality. It’s not always pretty, either. Reality can be harsh, but the point is we sometimes need to take a step back to clear our pallet. Take a breath. Regroup. This action is normal and necessary when you hit these times.

Tips to Regroup When the Writing Life Gets Hard

Stepping back allows you time to think: Sometimes, we become so invested in a project that we can’t, as my grandmomma used to say, “see the forest for the trees.” We have a plan for our work-in-progress, and we’re not up for a shift. When you’ve been headlong into a work-in-progress, it’s easy to write yourself into a corner, leaving you and your characters stuck with no way out of a situation. Stepping back for a few days lets you clear your head to see and correct the flaw when you return to the piece. It’s like proofreading your work. When you’re in the thick of the piece, your head overwrites what your eyes see. Walk away for a day, and suddenly, your mind is open again. Mistakes jump out. Rest for a day or two if you’ve had a significant setback. Do anything except write. Let your mind clear so you can start back to work with a new sense of vision.

Reassess your goal: What was your initial goal for your project? If it’s a non-fiction piece, it may be that you go over your expectations for what you want to teach or share. Reminding yourself of the original vision helps you see where your project should go. Jot down your original vision, and then go back and add the points you’ve already made. Did you take a few rabbit trails from the original desire that threw you off course? It’s easy to do. If it’s fiction, did you get lost in the backstory that dragged your manuscript to a halt, or did you fail to hit a plot point pivotal to the story? Again, all things that are easy to do. Take time to reassess where you are and where you want to go, then make the tweaks necessary to get back on track.

Rejections hurt: Oh my, we’ve all had them, and whether they are “good” rejections or bad, they still sting. After all, you’ve worked hard. I try to look at rejections as rungs on a ladder. I have to step on each one to reach the top. Sometimes, I slip on one, or one will break, and I fall, but ultimately, I learn from them. I have a friend who is the ultimate optimist. Every time he receives a rejection, he celebrates. He prints the rejection and tacks it on a bulletin board, sorting through them from time to time to see where he was when he received the rejection and where he is now. He almost always sees growth in his writing and his writing attitude. Though being an eternal optimist is difficult for most of us, my friend has a good point. The rejections are not something to look at as a failure. They are markers of growth. Yes, rejection hurts, but it’s also not the end of the world. They are stepping stones that teach us and keep our attitude humble. Allow yourself a day to mourn, then assess what you can learn. Adjust and rework.

Set realistic expectations: We all have expectations. The real challenge is to set our expectations at an attainable level. We set ourselves up for disappointment and failure when goals and expectations are too lofty. Be realistic about deadlines and understand that writing is a process that evolves as you work. Remember, no work is perfect. There is always room for improvement. Pray for a teachable heart and willing spirit to take them in stride when you face rough patches.

Work, rest, play: One crucial thing for every writer to remember is to move off that chair upon occasion. I’ve teased a friend over the years for her rigid work schedule. Her schedule was like clockwork. Every day out of bed at the same time, read, eat, work, rest, work, etc. Her work days were Monday through Friday. She started every morning at 8 a.m. and finished at 5 p.m. when her husband returned home. In the middle of the day, she took a 45-minute nap. She walked every day—the point—consistency and priorities. My friend kept them both in line. Though she worked hard, she closed up shop at 5 p.m., and her husband became the priority. 

I remember the amazing Cecil Murphey saying in a class that he got up every morning, ate, put on his suit jacket, and went to work in his office. He denoted his work day with his suit jacket—he put it on when the work day began and removed it at the end of the day. As writers, we tend to lose sight of the importance of variety. We either work too hard or not hard enough. Our flexibility sometimes allows us to fudge on what we need to accomplish. Still, there is something about balance in our workday. Consistency is important. But how does that work into this post on “When Writing Doesn’t Go as Planned?” Very seldom does life go as we plan it. There’s always someone or something waiting around the corner to throw a wrench in our waterworks. When we work with a plan and with consistency, we build time for interruptions in our day. We build in rest and exercise, which also helps us process, work, and become flexible so that when those rough spots hit, we can work through them more easily.

Learning to roll with the punches of a writing career can be challenging. Those punches can sometimes take our breath, but we cannot allow them to take our feet out from under us. Yes, sometimes you’ll want to throw up your hands and quit. But don’t. Step back. Take a breath and allow yourself time to process. There is more joy in the work of writing than you realize. Completing a project gives us a sense of creative accomplishment. We’ve used our gifts and skills to make something viable. When you run into a few setbacks, be like Paul—rejoice in every circumstance. Before long, you’ll be back on track.


Cindy K. Sproles is an author, speaker, and conference teacher. Having served for a number of years as a managing editor for Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas and Ironstream Media, Cindy now works as a mentor, coach, and freelance editor. She is the co-founder of Writing Right Author Mentoring Services with Lori Marett and she is the director of the Asheville Christian Writers Conference. Cindy is also the co-founder of Christian Devotions Ministries and WWW.CHRISTIANDEVOTIONS.US, as well as WWW.INSPIREAFIRE.COM. Her devotions are in newspapers and magazines nationwide, and her novels have become award-winning best-selling works. She is a popular speaker at conferences and a natural encourager. Cindy is a mountain girl, born and raised in the Appalachian mountains, where she and her husband still reside. She has raised four sons and now resorts to raising chickens where the pecking order is easier to manage. You can visit Cindy at WWW.CINDYSPROLES.COM or www.wramsforwriters.com.


  1. Thank you for the encouragement today, Cindy, and the reminder, "There is more joy in the work of writing than you realize."

    1. Thanks, Beth. It's easy to lose sight of the goal at times.

  2. Wait…I’m supposed to have a bicycle?