Keli Gwyn
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Three Tips for Writing When the Words Won’t Come

One of the first things I learned about life post-contract is that waiting is part of the publishing world no matter where we are in the process. Selling a book doesn’t magically change things. We still wait.

And we wonder. Since each step in the process is new, we deal with the unknown on a regular basis. Even though I have friends who’ve gone through the process before, each publisher does things differently. No two situations are alike.

I wish I could say I took the waiting in stride and forged ahead, but I didn’t. I battled a severe case of Second Book Syndrome.

I don’t like to admit it, but the truth is that I duke it out with doubt on a daily basis. Having a contract hasn’t changed that. If anything, the pressure I feel and the doubts I experience have intensified.

For more months than I like to admit, getting any words written was a struggle. The voices in my head shouted messages like, “So what if you sold one book. Do you really think you can write another one?” or “You’re nothing but a One Book Wonder.”

Three things helped me get through the tough time when I tweezed out words.

1. I wrote even when doubts plagued me.

Many days I sat at the computer, plunked words on the page, and felt sure they were lousy. I didn’t allow myself to edit them, though. Instead, I forced myself to finish the story. I told myself I could fix what was wrong once the story was done. Since I had to rewrite three-quarters of the book that sold, I learned that I can make a story better. I just have to get the first draft written.

2. I reported my daily word counts to my accountability partners.

My critique partners offered to serve as my accountability partners. Each evening I’d report my word count. Knowing that I’d be checking in with them gave me the push I needed to write even when the doubts messed with my head.

3. I asked the Lord to go before me and help me tell the story He’d given me.

Since I’m a Christian, I find prayer to be a tremendous source of encouragement. The Lord has been my writing partner from the day I wrote the first word of my first story, and I know He’s there for me. Admitting to Him how scared I was and seeking His comfort and guidance helped.

I’m happy to say I survived Second Book Syndrome and completed my new story. What makes me more excited is that I think it may even be better than my debut novel. In spite of my doubts, I have the satisfaction of knowing I did my best.

• • •

If you’ve yet to sell a book, how do you envision life on the other side of the contract?

If you’ve sold a book, did you battle Second Book Syndrome?

How do you persevere in the face of debilitating doubts?

Image from istockphoto
Keli Gwyn


  • bethkvogt says:

    I’ve battled the “Where the heck did all the words disappear to?” problem more than once.
    The biggest help for me?
    Crit group members who said, “When are you sending us something? Like now, right? We’re waiting …. still waiting.STILL WAITING.”
    Of course, all this was said with love … and intense pressure to produce something. Anything.
    Even my husband, non-writer that he is, has helped with this. He’s locked me in my office (in the nicest possible way) and taken our 10 year old out for the day with this instruction: Write!
    And then he’s disappeared.

  • Wow, Keli. Congrats on the second book completion. I’m still waiting on the words to come for my second picture book in my series The Veggie Chronicles . I think my mind is still too preoccupied with getting the first one “out the door.” Plus I keep getting a pull toward writing a nonfiction health book about my journey conquering cancer with diet.

  • Great advice Keli! We all need encouraging accountability, both human and divine to keep us moving in the direction of our dreams and goals. I’m excited about your debut novel and look forward to celebrating its launch. Keep writing!

  • Great words of advice for getting another book written, Keli. It must be something we all struggle with. It’s been months and I finally am writing another novel. I was idea-less and floundering in the “I don’t have anything to write” world. Now I’m at about 35,000 words and STILL I’m telling myself I don’t know if I can finish this thing. It’s been a struggle.

  • Gillian says:

    What a great post. Congratulations on the completion of your second book! What a wonderful feeling that must be–I hope you treated yourself to a little something special. 🙂

    Have you ever addressed how you tackled re-writing three/quarters of the first book? I haven’t made it through all of your past posts yet, but I’d very much value any words of wisdom. I’ve basically been asked to do the same thing by a couple of agents, and I feel like I don’t know what I’m doing….

    I envision life on the other side of the contract as needing to get the words done–no excuses!–by never ending deadlines, and I know I need to get my family obligations better organized to do that without living in a state of constant panic. 🙂

    • Keli Gwyn says:


      Thanks for your kind words. They mean a great deal to me.

      It sounds like you have a realistic picture of life post-contract. I’m in that learning to juggle phase. I just completed what I hope will become book 2, am awaiting edits on book 1, and am brainstorming book 3.

      You asked about my rewriting process. If you look in my blog’s sidebar and click on the revisions link in the categories section, you’ll find several posts about the how I dealt with the news that I had to ditch 3/4ths of my story and completely rewrite it. Even though it was tough, I learned heaps and shared much of it in my posts.

  • I have yet to publish, but I think I have an idea about the reality of post contract. I developed programs and wrote proposals to fund children and family services. I did this for almost twenty-years. I’d think I had it nailed and the rewrite into the actual working programs would be a lark. Not. I can only believe that with so many things in life, what we imagine something to be is far frm what we find when we live the reality. As I wait for that moment, I continue to write, rewrite, edit and perfect. Still I know that when that moment comes, I will be faced with yet more write, rewrite and edits.

    Keli, you are not only a woman of true faith, you are a gentle soul and I know you will write a great second, third and whatever number of books you wish 🙂

  • Erica Vetsch says:

    Writer’s Doubt gets me in a choke-hold from time to time. Nasty old thing.

  • i think i’d have an aneurysm if i had to give a daily tally of my words to an accountability person. whoa! i’m uber impressed that you do this!

  • Hopefully, NaNoWriMo will cure that for me. This is the first time all year I’ve had to write without a deadline from my publisher.

  • Marji Laine says:

    Congrats on your completion! Woohoo! *pompoms*

    I so needed your post today, though. “Give up” has flitted through my brain, and I’m not prone to negatives. Thanks so much for the redirection and refocus on the big picture and who’s really putting those ugly whispers in my ear!

  • Truth? I already had a second book written, had to make revisions and have sent to critique partners and my fear over this book being good enough or as good as the one before that gained me an agent terrifies me. Every day I’m wondering if they’ll like it. Naturally, it won’t be perfect and it’ll need work just like the first, but the fear is worse than the first go-round. I suppose it’s like you said, the fear of a one book wonder. But God is good and He’s been faithful to calm my nerves, which is a lot. I needed this post today. 🙂

  • Susan Mason says:

    Congrats, Keli! Especially the part about your second being even better than your first! Awesome! I think all writers struggle with doubt constantly – well, maybe Nora Roberts doesn’t, LOL!!

    Hope your publisher/editor LOVES it!!

  • Wendy says:

    That #3 has been huge for me lately. Thanks for the encouragement & your time yesterday!
    ~ Wendy

  • the writ and the wrote says:

    For me, I envision life on the other side of the contract (or self-publishing hurdle) as more motivation to write. I’m motivated now to make it as a writer, but I have a feeling even more motivation will come once I publish. I got a swift kick in the pants today that has spurred me on even further to make this writing thing happen for myself.

  • Oh, Keli, I’ve heard this a lot, that life as a write just intensifies once you get a contract. I can certainly believe it so. Glad you got that second one done! Congratulations!

  • I so appreciate your honesty, Keli. I’ve battled a lot of doubts lately as I tackle rewrites. I’ve often wondered if they’ll ever end (which I’ve heard they don’t :)) and if I’ll ever get my book up to snuff (which may be questionable, at least by the end of the year :)). Your advice is exactly what I need this week. Thank you!

  • Thanks for your honesty, Keli! It’s good to hear that even published authors struggle occasionally! Love the fact that you lean heavily on the Lord and seek His guidance as you write. God bless you!

  • I think the biggest thing is to continue pushing through–just like you said.

    One thing I do when the words or the ideas aren’t “blooming” is to take a break and read or watch TV. It’s amazing what taking in a story can do for stimulating your own imagination. I’ve been inspired and have come up with some great twists and/or ideas by watching a movie.

  • I can’t imagine not having words to write. I don’t ‘do’ writer’s block! Sometimes I worry about being able to revise my stories to adequately meet a publishing house’s expectations, but since I haven’t reached that point yet I don’t dwell there. I enjoy revising, so I keep at it until I’m sick of the story. About that point I can no longer ignore other stories beating at the door to be let in, so I put the old one aside and begin anew. I’m absorbing all I can from published writers like you so when my time comes I hope I’ll be reasonably prepared for the new challenges.

  • Donna Pyle says:

    I really love that you reported your daily word count to your accountability partners. With my deadline looming, I’ve adopted your excellent advice to keep me from procrastinating. Thanks so much for this great post!!

  • Gina Conroy says:

    I was in this place yesterday after taking a whole month off on my WIP to go to conference and fine tune my proposal after I got back. The thing that helped me get back into it was reading a craft book. I focused on characterization and what needs to be happening and found the direction I needed. I also found a little mess I need to clean up before I move on, so I think you’re #3 is definitely in order!

  • WOW! Once again the Lord has shown me the exact words I needed to read – – and He used YOUR words this time, Keli – – so thank you for this post! 🙂 Lately I’ve been plagued with doubts–and (I detest using this word – FEAR *gulp*). It’s as if I’ve been hesitant to go ahead and complete my manuscript (requested at the ACFW conference, which thrilled me!) because those nagging thoughts keep hovering: what if this editor doesn’t want to read past the 1st page? (or worse yet—the 1st paragraph). ~ So, I keep praying and reading Scriptures that encourage me, and reading posts such as this one help immensely too (thank you again!). ~ This sounds silly, I know….but I used to have a kind of “fairy tale” image of published authors – – That once you all became contracted, everything just flowed along. After reading numerous articles by published authors, I see that what I used to think was definitely a Fairy Tale! 😉 Okay, now I must get back to work—and am feeling much better ( and renewed) after reading YOUR post! Hugs, Patti Jo

  • p.s. CONGRATULATIONS on completing that 2nd book – – You need to go celebrate with some Taco Bell !!! 🙂