Overcoming obstacles in order to reach your writing goals

A problem-solving outline for writers

Lifestyle issues

If you are working five days a week, raising children, nurturing a relationship, maintaining your place in society through participation in voluntary social groups, being a good parent and family member, there is often no time left for writing. I counsel people on finding ways within their existing lifestyles to carve out time for creative pursuits.

Emotional issues

Writing is all about emotion. It requires us to confront powerful emotions in order to truthfully explore important topics. We may turn away from this challenge for fear the emotions will be unbearable or will reveal things about ourselves we do not wish to see. But those are the very emotions which can provide the motivation and energy needed to complete creative works, and to keep those creative works coherent and alive. Besides, the subjects that evoke intense emotions are often the most interesting subjects to write about.

Lack of knowledge about the business

Nothing extinguishes motivation like the lack of reinforcement. No response can be just as bad or worse than out-and-out rejection.  No matter how committed we are, being ignored and rejected over and over can sap our motivation. Knowing how the business of publishing works can therefore help you avoid costly, time-consuming, soul-killing mistakes, and amplify your chances of finding publication. Creative strategies for self-management can help keep you on track, overcoming your fears and staying focused.

Structure and pacing issues

Creative work does not arrive in an orderly fashion; a novel may begin in the writer’s mind with a single image, or a phrase, or a scent. At a certain point, purely instinctive storytelling must be supplemented with hard thinking and strategic organization. I can help you identify structural opportunities and ways to vary the pace to match the emotional intensity of the story.

Style and grammar

We were not all educated in the same way, nor were our parents and grandparents. Because we acquire language first from our caregivers, talented writers who are not native English speakers face unique challenges. These challenges arise from circumstances of birth and upbringing, and are often class-based. But the energy of a truly authentic voice can trump centuries of linguistic practice. The Amherst Writers and Artists method helps writers from all backgrounds find their authentic voices. At the same time, as a native speaker from several centuries of literate, native English speakers, I have a deep well of English, an intuitive feel for it and an academic knowledge of English. I can help writers learn the finer points of grammar. Knowing these things makes it easier to ignore them.


A literary work has a structure, as surely as a building does. It is a cognitive construct. In the heat of inspiration, it often happens that we write interesting material that does not belong in the work. If we do not know what the structure is, though, it is hard to figure out if the material really belongs or not. So we must know what the structure of our work is. We will talk about ways to quickly sketch out what the structure of our story is, in order to determine what writing belongs in it and what writing belongs in a different story, or perhaps in a poem or song or play.

Thinking in outline form

Thinking in outline form in the beginning can free up time that would otherwise be spent later editing out material that does not belong.

Inability to get it done

Sometimes we will find that we just don’t want to complete something. This seemingly perverse motivation can be traced to a fear of rejection or a fear of a work being seen as not as good as it could be. But time is short. There is a point at which we must make crucial cuts and bring a work to the market. If Fear of Finishing is part of your behavioral pattern, we will identify methods to ensure completion.

Do you find it hard to find the time to write?

If so, the progress you need to make is not about your style of writing; it’s about your style of living. You can’t perfect your style if you can’t first establish a pattern of daily living that supports your writing. I have used many methods to carve out time to write, including sitting down with a timer and taking it in five-minute pieces. If time is your issue, we will write down and commit to some concrete activities to overcome that.

Are you supporting your writing?

Or are you asking your writing to support you? Your writing is a hungry child. It is not your servant. It is not your meal ticket. This is a problem I came across when I was making a living as a freelancer: My writing became increasingly deadened and inauthentic as I tried to tailor it for editors. I became unhappy with my own writing, and it seemed increasingly not to represent me. Eventually I saw that my relationship with my writing had been skewed. I was treating it as my servant, and the servant of my ego. When I decided to be the servant of my writing, rather than its master, a new ease came to my work.

Normalizing your writing in the family and the community

Make sure others know that you are writing. Don’t do it in secret and don’t apologize. Give it the time it needs.