When You Hit the Wall of Discouragement

by Steve Laube


I recently received the following question from a client (an award winning author):
Is it common for an author to hit a wall of discouragement? To feel as though they’re working so hard for so little? To question why they’re doing this?

Unfortunately it is quite common. Doesn’t mean it aches any less. Sort of like getting old…everyone does and it aches, but it is a common malady.

I recently read a blog by a writer in the general market who wrote, “Why am I doing this? I work so hard for so little money only to have critics tell me I have no talent at all.”

It truly comes down to whether your calling is stronger than the frustration and anguish of the writing process. I will never forget reading Charles Spurgeon’s Lectures to My Students (in particular chapter two starting on page 19 of the linked PDF). I read it in college while trying to decide whether to pursue becoming a pastor or a teacher with my Bible degree. Spurgeon, in essence, said the only reason you should become a pastor is if you cannot do anything else…the call is that strong. I realized I was making the pastorate one of a number of options, which immediately revealed where I placed it in my passions. So I began changing directions immediately. I set a goal to be a professor of Theology after going to Seminary and Graduate School (my wife would be a professor of Old Testament). But in my last college semester I began working part-time in the Christian bookstore one block off campus….and a rather different journey to my profession began. If I had not consciously made a life-decision regarding my calling I may not be where I am today.

In some ways it is like the life of the writer. If you cannot not write then you know where your passions lay. If you can put it aside and write when the inspiration strikes, then you are a hobbyist and should treat writing as such. I find this separates many in this profession rather quickly.

The author replied a day later with this:

“I had two dark days, for whatever reason. But yesterday afternoon, wouldn’t you know, those dark hours translated into my writing in just the way the manuscript needed. I’m learning that the work of writing and the love of writing are a bit different. I love having written! And I could step away from it for a time, but writing will always woo me. I fought for 17 years to follow what I believed was a call from God, so throwing in the towel now would be silly.”

Your Turn:
What do you do when discouragement strikes in your writing career?


29 Responses to When You Hit the Wall of Discouragement

  1. Ron Estrada February 18, 2013 at 3:57 am #

    This is a constant question in my mind as well. After all, I make a good living as an engineer, I’m 46, and I could easily relax and enjoy my free time with pursuits that involve a little more sunshine. But whenever I’ve tried to throw in the towel, it feels like part of me has been cut off. I don’t know what God has planned for me or why it involves writing, but I know I can’t stop. I no longer see it as a path to an “easy” career, but just something I need to do. To give up and say I failed would be far worse than the lousy return on investment writing seems to brings. Well timed post. I needed a little boost today. Probably will tomorrow, too.

  2. Diana Harkness February 18, 2013 at 5:44 am #

    I know very few good writers who don’t have some other means of support. I don’t see discouragement as a wall, but a hill. You are not permanently blocked; you can get to the other side. What will you find there? Perhaps more discouragement–but there’s always another hill to climb. I’ve already had 3 careers (AV production, law, and computer consulting with side spurts into landscaping and sales), so what’s one more? The biggest bonus to discouragement and continuing to write is learning. Thare’s always something new to learn whether it’s in the area of geography or psychology or engineering or writing technique.

  3. Carol McClain February 18, 2013 at 5:58 am #

    When discouragement hits, I generally take a day or two to mourn. Usually I pray, “Lord, is this what I’m supposed to be doing?” I then reassess. Encouragement follows, and I start again as I incorporate the changes I think I need.

    I suppose I’m close to that point. If my life as a novelist doesn’t work out, maybe I’ll write for magazines and edit and…

  4. Olivia Stocum February 18, 2013 at 6:01 am #

    Thanks for this post. I’ve run against this wall several times. Chocolate helps! Then after I make myself sick with double chocolate ice-cream, I get back to work, because by then, my characters are in the back of my head, nagging me to finish their story.

  5. Anne Mateer February 18, 2013 at 6:07 am #

    I needed this post so much this morning! Thank you!

  6. Debby Mayne February 18, 2013 at 6:41 am #

    Good timing on this post, Steve! Thanks!

  7. Lisa February 18, 2013 at 6:59 am #

    Thanks so much. I must write. Still, discouragement does arrive. Your calling can help smash through that wall each time it arrives. Believe God is doing a bigger work through you.

  8. Sandy February 18, 2013 at 7:08 am #

    Step 1: Gather all the positive words from editors, friends, and readers who recognize the absolute brilliance of my writing.
    Step 2: Recognize them as pure gold.
    Step 3: Revisit those words when discouragement is heavy.
    Step 4: Repeat. Often.

  9. Grace Fox February 18, 2013 at 8:34 am #

    I’ve hit that wall a few times. The last was about four years ago. One morning, in desperation, I prayed, “God, if you want me to continue writing, then I’m okay with that. If you want me to change direction/ministry focus, then I’m okay with that. I just need clear direction so I don’t waste time and energy doing something that may not be what I should be doing any longer. Give me confirmation today, please.”

    A stranger phoned five hours later. She said, “I’ve never phoned an author before. Please don’t think I’m a whacko. I just want to tell you that I read your book, “Moving from Fear to Freedom,” and it changed my life. Today, for some reason, I feel compelled to tell you to keep writing. Please keep writing. Women need to hear truth.”

    That moment taught me this–I know God’s called me to write, and I’m to keep writing until He makes it abundantly clear that I’m to stop. Have I felt discouraged since? Yes, but that doesn’t mean it’s time to stop. It means it’s time to persevere.

    Write on, writing friends!

  10. Michelle Ule February 18, 2013 at 8:53 am #

    The Lord has always been good to encourage me, somehow, on days when I’m throwing in the towel and going off to do something easier–which for me always seems to be a PhD in American History!

    There is joy in serving the King and he has put us in a particular time and place for his glory. My job is to do the task he has given me to do and enjoy the blessings that come along the (often rocky) way.

    Maybe my spiritual memoir will never be published, but I’ve shared it with enough hurting people, or folks along the way who are in it and encouraged by it, that I know God’s hand is on the project–no matter what ultimately happens to it.

  11. Meghan Carver February 18, 2013 at 9:29 am #

    Chocolate. Prayer. A day off to spend with my family. Then back to brainstorming new ideas and looking for fresh opportunities.

    Thanks, Steve, for the encouragement today.

  12. Janet Hanson February 18, 2013 at 10:30 am #

    This is a powerful word for the discouraged within any calling. Your pastoral heart comes through! Thank you.

  13. Stephen Myers February 18, 2013 at 10:46 am #

    I’ve hit that wall recently. After three years of re or continuing education and after a successful ACFW Conference in Dallas I received feedback my WIP is 50% spot on and yet 50% problematic with concepts I’ve either not fully grasped or must go back and attempt to learn again.

    I plowed at the time in to Jeff Gerke’s ‘The Art and Craft of Writing Christian Fiction,’ specifically Part III Cluster 2 ‘Show vs Tell,’ and Cluster 3 ‘Point of View’ only to bog down wondering if I will ever get the concepts integrated into my writing where it is a natural (basic) core of what I write.

    Granted, the time of year is difficult for me (winter to spring always is), there are constant illnesses making the rounds on top of seasonal allergies, aches and pains that do not help the process. In some ways an old laundry room embroidered quote of my mother comes to mind with ‘the hurrier I go the behinder I get.’ It is discouraging to feel so close and yet so far away from the goal of manuscript worth being seen and shopped.

    I tend to buy books on writing and read books of my favorite authors to help nudge me from ‘I’m not sure I can’ to ‘I think I can,’ once more. Just yesterday I was reading from Gerke’s FICTION ATTACK of Arlington Texas neighbor Sandra Brown and her process of writing. (Reminded me of a letter and post I read written by Colleen Coble before I lost all my yahoo e-mail to a hacker). My career story parallels Sandra Brown from broadcast media (and being fired or becoming obsolete too young in our careers) to writing for a living. This is what has encouraged me most from this present darkness so to speak of depression, discouragement and despair. Gerke writes interviewing Brown:

    ‘Brown’s work ethic has not flagged over the years. “I owe my publisher one book a year. It takes me about nine months of writing to fulfill that contract, and that’s a good pace for me. (The other three months, not sequentially, I live my life, do promotion, travel, etc.) I do four drafts of each book. The first two take two to three months apiece. The third about a month. The final read-through a couple of weeks.’

    Source: Bell, James Scott (2013-01-03). Fiction Attack! Insider Secrets for Writing and Selling Your Novels & Stories — For Self-Published and Traditional Authors (pp. 169-170). Compendium Press. Kindle Edition.

    Anyone catch that? I did. Four drafts of each book. The first two take 2-3 months each. My first draft came to me in a week from a few days prior to Christmas 2012 to January 2, 2013. And this review with my paid editor in the ACFW has only been in process for a few weeks. Grateful to know my strengths I thought I was so close to sending my agent of choice the manuscript that would launch my career with a publisher and editor there (met through the DFW ACFW Conference). I thought I was close and yet I’m still halfway there.

    The depression is actually the fear I’ll not grasp the concepts and translate that to my second draft. Not that my BA and MA in the 1990s was not also fraught with challenges or any in my media production years in producing and editing. But the fact these things are ‘basics’ I cannot yet seem to automatically write through the first time is the foe. The negative self talk none of us wants to hear but suggest we ‘don’t have it’ and ‘will never get it,’ is perhaps the enemy of our Christian lives and/or our own self worth doubts that can get in the way. Mine multiplied in the season and physical illnesses that are a part of it. But if I’m to get anywhere as a writer I’ve got to push through one page at a time from Gerke’s manual and with my editor when the reading is digested to where I want to be, in MS Word on the pages of my first draft WIP fixing what is wrong with what is right.

    The other things that help are devotional books, Harlequin Love Inspired novels by mentors and friends who also persevere through, and audiobooks when I can no longer read or focus on anything to break the silence. A Hallmark film the other night chipped away at it. THE CANDLES OF BAY STREET is still a favorite (closest to what I like/prefer to write).

    Colleen Coble talked about it taking her 7 years to finally become published after learning hard lessons on her journey. I’m seriously only 2 years into this intensive journey after starting in 1992 with my first novels. I’ve come this far by faith and stepping out of the boat to walk on the water. Yes, I sink from time to time but I’m still here. (Laughing) I must be wearing inflatable water-wings and with Jesus as my instructor he must have the patience I lack so at present. At times I think I’m swimming towards the deep end and at others I find I need a life preserver, time out to rest, and then enter again from the wading end of the pool to attempt to swim again.

    I also come to Steve Laube’s blog often as the well of living water. Thanks Steve for another target rich post and to your associates of Karen and Tamela. These are reinforcements to the things God seems to be using to encourage me onward.

  14. Jennifer Major February 18, 2013 at 1:01 pm #

    Sure I get discouraged. But as someone who lives in pain 24/7, discouragement is part of the game.
    I struggle and wrestle with whatever has tried to take me down, but then I get back up. God has placed some amazing people along my path, and I am so thankful.
    But if He ever gave me a choice, to be pain and injury free, or to be a published author who will make a difference in my little corner of the fiction world?
    Well, it’s a good thing Advil is cheap.

  15. Diana Lesire Brandmeyer February 18, 2013 at 2:18 pm #

    I can’t quit. I’ve tried. When I do I’m unpleasant to be around–cranky, don’t want to get out of bed or answer the phone.

    That said I think discouragement happens-the evil one loves that. So either you can wallow in it or find something to do to get past it. It might mean riding 5 miles on a bike or soaking in a tub, the important thing is to find the thing that works for you. For me it’s movement–be it on foot, car or walking through a fabric store one of those things works to get me to a better place where I can write.

  16. Pat Jaeger February 18, 2013 at 3:10 pm #

    Thanks, Steve. What a timely post. Discouragement is inevitable, and when it does come, I stop trying to force the scene or the characters to behave as I want them to, and go bake bread, read a good novel, take a walk to the creek…. Then God drops a blessing into my life and away I go! If I never published another poem or story, I’d still write. It’s the voice of my heart.

  17. J.D February 18, 2013 at 3:51 pm #

    Easy peasy:
    1) Lay it down at the cross
    2) Wait
    3) Wait more
    4) Listen
    5) Listen more
    6) Act on what I heard and tackle the blasted obstacle.

  18. Sheila Haemmerle February 18, 2013 at 8:26 pm #

    More than once I’ve read too much, compared too much, reasoned too much and managed to twist myself into a knot, all in a desperate attempt to decode the writing rules for an art where we’re told there really are no rules. Go figure.

    Thankfully, the Lord is kind and loving, watching me make a mess of myself and the gift He placed in my heart, patiently waiting for my hand back in His along with my surrender, allowing Him to show me the way.

    His presence unravels me. The knots go away.

    It works every time.

    Thanks for the post, Steve. It was great to read the other comments and know we’re not alone.

  19. Peter DeHaan February 19, 2013 at 3:30 pm #

    Prayer, rest, and setting aside distractions of lessor importance (that is, becoming less busy).

  20. Julia Denton February 20, 2013 at 3:32 pm #

    For me, the most discouraging thing is not being able to devote MORE time to writing. This was already a problem for me because we have an adult son with disabilities, and managing his medical needs and his life (even with some supports) takes a huge amount of time. Then my husband was diagnosed with Stage IV metastatic cancer and everything got even more stressful, with medical stuff taking up seemingly most of our lives. Despite all these obstacles, I can’t NOT write. When I get discouraged,I remind myself that my primary goal in writing is connecting with others, and I am now managing to do that daily through my blog. My novel and other writing may be pushed to the back burner due to circumstances beyond my control, but writing is still essential, in one form or another. Those who are able to write full time, remember that it’s a blessing to be able to do so, and no career is without discouraging moments.

    • J.D February 20, 2013 at 10:37 pm #

      Juila, your post really spoke to me and tonight when I was praying the Lord put you on my heart to pray for you. I don’t have much time to write daily either and like you, I must write! So awhile back I asked the Lord to help make every minute count when I’m able to sneak in some time and, wow, how He’s answered my prayer. What a good and faithful God! Keep up the optimism 🙂 Oh, your blog is pretty sweet and your pictures are stunning.

      • Julia Denton February 21, 2013 at 4:40 am #

        JD, thanks so much for your kind word about my blog, and especially for your prayer, and for your excellent idea about the prayer. Believe it or not, I have not prayed that particular prayer in a long time (if ever)– for obvious reasons, my prayers have been focused elsewhere — but I intend to begin praying that way myself. Thanks again for your thoughts and prayers. We are surviving on prayer right now.

    • J.D February 21, 2013 at 1:58 pm #

      Julia, you’re so welcome! What a comfort to know that the Lord knows our hearts so well that we can simply shout “Help!” or “Ah!” and He knows what we’re talking about. Such joy and freedom in that! Your blog screams ‘genuine’ and you have a new follower 🙂

  21. Lynn Johnston February 20, 2013 at 4:34 pm #

    It is hard not to be discouraged when a publisher tells you, “you will hear back from me within the month,” and you never hear back. You check your email only to find more standard rejection letters. You find yourself asking, “if this is how these agents feel, will all agents feel the same way?” As I start to wonder if it will ever work out, I read an encouraging blog or hear an uplifting song. Then, God leads me to a writer’s group that is close-by that I never knew about. Now I meet others who have battled with similar struggles and offer great advice. I must keep in mind that all great writers have been discouraged. If God put me on the path of writing, he will surely allow me to find my way.

  22. Kimberly E. Lepins February 21, 2013 at 9:37 am #

    Yes, separating the rejection from the reason…. The more I write, the more I discover this passion and its source. Life pours into me situations and circumstances that evoke a myriad of emotions, questions, mysteries and He pours out of me through writing, no matter the depth of darkness, the height of happiness, I am learning I can write in many situations, many moods, as long as I don’t focus on rejection . . .
    Thanks again, Steve, for a splash of perspective!

  23. Christine Lindsay February 21, 2013 at 10:05 am #

    This is so true. Early on I realized I must write. As far as monetary reward, there is none so far. I still work in the red. But I receive other compensations–the Lord’s constant encouragement, and those responses from readers that tell me they were encouraged spiritually by my books.

  24. Stacey Johnson February 21, 2013 at 10:06 am #

    Wow! I needed to hear this right now. Thank you!

  25. Gail Hayes February 21, 2013 at 1:46 pm #


    Loved this post. I can usually “feel” the wall before I hit it so I stop. I stop and watch a movie that moves me. I stop and encourage other writers. They include my teen age daughter and other children I mentor in the public schools. I just stop! I’ve learned that if I stop when the fog tries to overtake me, it will pass me by if I don’t try and outrun it. Fog usually moves with the tide and the tide ALWAYS changes. Thanks again for the inspiration!

  26. Rebecca DeMarino February 21, 2013 at 7:18 pm #

    Thank you for the encouragement! Janet is right about your pastoral heart. God has led me to such a good place in my life that I know when I’m discouraged I need only to turn it over to Him and hold tightly to His hand. He doesn’t promise an easy path, but He does promise to walk with us if we ask!

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