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Not to make this a post complaining about my inability to write, but I'd like to understand the universal challenges people face when writing and overcome some of these common challenges. Maybe understanding how others approach these barriers to write will help me develop as a better writer.

A little bit of context: Science, as in actual science, is what I want to write personally, but I am more interested in how people overcome challenges in writing in general.

Background: I am a university student, and I have written a few papers, but I found the process always to be a struggle. I couldn't start easily, and I always took criticisms personally; my writing is quite verbose. How do people deal with these sorts of challenges?

Thanks a lot for sharing your experiences.

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  • Can you be specific on what barriers?
    – Leila
    Oct 22, 2020 at 15:51
  • Writing anxiety, procrastination, perfectionism, lack of motivation, treating criticism as a personal attack are some of the challenges I am facing. I am more interested in some of the other common challenges others face and how they overcome those. Oct 22, 2020 at 15:55
  • Why did you put the scientific writing tag on this question?
    – Leila
    Oct 22, 2020 at 16:19
  • I am more interested in writing scientific papers but I think some of these barriers are universal and do not only apply to science writing. Oct 22, 2020 at 16:27
  • Science as in Sci fi or actual science?
    – Leila
    Oct 22, 2020 at 16:28

4 Answers 4

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There are hundreds of books about writing. There are very few that really tell you how to write.

I will tell you the secret: organize! Do not just sit down and start writing.

Scientific writing is easier as there is often a template that is expected so you already have the hard work done for you. After that you will need to know your specific material and organize it. There may be some general-ish templates that might guide that part for you.

After that it is knowing your tools and getting practice with actually writing. Procrastination comes from fear. Doing it shows you that you can do it and will get past that issue. Also the organization will help you the first time by showing you that you can do it if you just finish the writing.

The tools you need to look at are brainstorming and cluster mapping to create and sort out your potential content. Word processors and Excel would be good to learn to use effectively. Also learn to touch type. With the right system you can do 40wpm in a week of practice spread out over a couple of months.

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I think that for a lot of people (including me), it's procrastination and fear that makes it harder than it is..

According to a recent survey, 81 percent of Americans feel they have a book in them -- and that they should write it

This means that a little over 4/5 of the U.S population feels as if they have a story worth telling. Now, assuming all 81% actually get into the stages of writing a book, most of them don't go the distance because of the difficulty..

Why?

1. They don't think they can write. People have an 'I'm not a writer' mentality. This basically means that they feel as if they would not be able to write something that other people can sell. They believe that, since they don't write much, they are destined to never write a book.

If you don't think you can write, it will be extremely difficult for you to power through. Thinking too much about your "skill level" and "natural ability" can make it hard for the writer. Being too harsh on yourself will make the writing process a nightmare.

New's flash: Every person can write. You, the person reading this, can write. I can write. My best friend can write. It's just up to you to see whether or not you can use the techniques developed by writing. A lot of the time this enhances the writing, but you don't HAVE to do it. There is no 'right' way to write, even grammar is ever-changing in the English language and isn't even taught in many English classes in the U.S.

2. A break can make or break the difficulty. For many people, taking a break from their novel helps them regain interest in it. For me (and I'm sure other people), it may be difficult to get into the groove as you did before. This can make writing it confusing, as you may forget specific details or just can't pick something else for a plot.

3. It's difficult to stick to one idea

Similarly, what makes writing a novel so difficult is sticking with one overall idea. Sure, you can change minor things, but making a complete 360 in a novel's plot or genre (for the most part) will be difficult to explain to readers. There is this thing where writers will have an amazing idea, write a few chapters, and then lose complete interest in the story that they're telling. It's very difficult to write something if your heart isn't in it. It'll feel more like a chore than something you want to do.

There are other reasons it may be difficult, too. These are just some of the most common ones I could think of that may explain why you feel like writing is hard.

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I know this seems weird, but I only ever had one barrier. My arch nemesis. Evil on paper. Worse than my antagonist.

Dialogue.

I was reviewing my paper when I noticed that all my characters sounded exactly the same, and spoke to each other really weird. The guy who lived on the farm spoke without an accent. The girl who lived homeless and uneducated in Washington spoke sophisticated. My main character who had been through many traumatic experiences spoke... cleaner. The characters who didn’t know English well spoke it well. It was a big problem.

So I jumped online for answers. And came to this website. I asked a few questions, got a few answers, and started editing my characters voices. The farm guy got an accent. The homeless girl didn’t know a few words and needed help with them. The main character was mean and cussed. The elves spoke choppy and weird.

Problem solved! The end.

That’s the short version of the story. Actually it took me a while to research how different people spoke in different areas. For the homeless girl, I had to decide when she ran away and what level of education she received, in what area. Then I had to look up what people with that education level had learned, and had to be careful not to make her say something beyond what she knew. This was very difficult because sometimes I needed to make my characters say something and they couldn’t. Especially with farm guy. I hated giving him an accent because it made him sound stupid, when he was the sparkling jewel of my cast beside the main character. But the accent was him. I couldn’t take it away just because I didn’t like it. You have to be consistent with your rules in whatever you’re writing.

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Oh man. Writing research papers is my biggest weakness. I always did poorly in English and History because of research papers.

One common problem people face with academic writing is verboseness. This is often caused by the word count minimum most teachers use for papers. It's intended to force students to put more content in their papers and search deeper into their topic, but what it actually encourages is writing long, verbose, fluffy sentences. It incentivizes adding extra words and sentences that don't contribute to the overall structure of the paper.

My English teacher senior year in high school had a brilliant solution. Instead of a word minimum, she assigned us a paper with a 500 word maximum. All of us fluffers struggled getting all of our analysis into that tight 500 word limit. Dealing with that kind of limit really makes you crack down on fluffy writing and only write what is necessary.

About not starting easily, I got nothing. All I can say is that I snacked on candy a lot while trying to write research papers and it actually severely hindered my ability to concentrate. Sugary foods and critical thinking don't mix.

One option is to set aside an hour or so to work, or give yourself a daily goal, and when the time is up or the goal is met, reward yourself with a sugary treat. I can't say this has worked for me, but it sounds good on paper.

I get it, it's hard not to take criticism personally, especially if it's not delivered in a polite way. I find criticism is more helpful if it includes steps to improve. Ask your advisor or critic how your work can be improved, and then you'll have actionable advice instead of just negative comments. Optionally, you can look at critique of others' works. On paper, this would help you see that the criticism isn't personal to you, but idk if it would work or not.

In summary:

  • Practice anti-fluff by writing papers with a word maximum
  • Don't eat sugary foods while writing the paper
  • Ask your critics for steps to improve

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