How to Break Through the Barriers That Hold Writers Back

Carol Tice

I needed to get out of the library, but the door was blocked. And I’m claustrophobic.

My kids were acting up and I really needed to get them out of there, increasing my sense of panic.

But a mom with a toddler and infant rolled up to the door of the children’s entrance just ahead of me, reached for the knob, and then lost focus. Her toddler wandered off to explore the book-sale area near the door.

And there this young mom stood, oblivious, for what seemed like eternity, blocking the way.

I felt trapped

There’s something that unleashes the animal in us when we feel cornered, hm?

I don’t know about you, but I can’t think straight.

I tried my usual tactics for avoiding a claustrophobic panic.

I looked somewhere else. I took deep breaths.

Finally, I covered my eyes with my hands to block out the sight of the blockade standing between me and freedom. I stayed that way a long time, breathing, praying my kids would keep it together until we could get outside.

I looked again, and she was still there.

It was time to act. I couldn’t stay where I was anymore.

“I’m claustrophobic!” I said, fighting to keep a whine of panic from creeping into my voice. “I need to get out the door.”

And like magic, she moved her stroller and belongings and children out of the way, and I opened the door and was gone.

How to have a breakthrough

This incident reminded me of all the barriers that stop freelance writers from having the career they want. All the fears that hold us back.

And what makes a breakthrough finally happen.

Here’s what does it:

When your discomfort at being stuck where you are becomes greater than your fear of what you must do to move forward, you jump to the next level in your career.

You become willing to do something potentially embarrassing — like announcing loudly in a quiet library that you’re freaking out because your way is blocked.

You take the risk, because you have to.

Your comfort zone is no longer comfortable.

You’ve got to move forward now, beyond this point, or you feel like you’ll bust.

So the question is:

Are you more scared of sending marketing emails, or more scared that you’ll never earn a decent hourly rate?

Are you more terrified of introducing yourself at networking events, or of never seeing your byline in a quality magazine?

If you have the burning desire to make your living with your writing, one day that tipping point arrives where you’re ready to put yourself out there.

We may not do it gracefully or perfectly at first, but we step forward and start to ask for what we need.

And then, the doors swing open.

What’s standing in your way? Leave a comment and tell us what you plan to do to break through.


  1. Kate O'Reilley

    Thank you so much for this post. I’m an anesthesiologist who desperately wants out of medicine. I endured an awful lawsuit recently, and it gave me the courage to start writing. My first novel is complete and ready to move forward. Sometimes, this new step forward seems formidable, but your words were just what I needed to here.

    Btw, if you’re interested in my ordeal, please check out “My Story,” at

  2. Valerie

    Carol, this post is full of simple, yet profound points. All I can say is wow. Especially love this statement:

    “When your discomfort at being stuck where you are becomes greater than your fear of what you must do to move forward, you jump to the next level in your career.”

    I think I’m there!

  3. Sheila Bergquist

    Carol, this is a terrific article. I have an anxiety disorder, so I could totally relate to your panic. I originally broke through my fears and doubt as a writer by just finally jumping in and doing it. I was shocked and so pleased when I actually got paid to write. It gave my confidence a huge boost. I still have my moments of fear and doubt but then I just say, “what have you got to lose?”

    I absolutely love the way you put it: “When your discomfort at being stuck where you are becomes greater than your fear of what you must do to move forward, you jump to the next level in your career.”

    Thanks for this article!

    • Carol Tice

      My claustrophobia arose from a period in my life when I was a severe asthmatic. Thankfully the asthma is long gone, but that feeling of being trapped when my way is blocked is still around!

      I always love when people write Dear Abby asking if they’re too old to start med school or some other long-dreamed-of career path. And she’d always say, “How old will you be in 7 years if you DON’T do it?”

      We really do have nothing to lose, when the alternative is being full of regrets later about the longed-for path we didn’t walk.

  4. Amanda

    I just sent this link to a friend! We have been planning to have a “tipping point” dinner, during which we’ll eat, laugh, eat, discuss our writing/entrepreneurial goals, eat, etc. And from the comments, it’s obvious this spoke to a lot of us. Like some of the others, the block for me is mainly time, as is finding clients. But your blog has been the biggest help in getting me on the path to where I hope to be as a freelancer. Thank you!

    • Carol Tice

      You’re welcome — and what a great idea for an event to spark everyone to move forward!

      Maybe I could organize something like that in a virtual way — love the idea of a tipping point dinner.

  5. Julia

    What’s standing in my way? Me. I used to blame the little ones, but now they’re in school and I have two free hours three days a week. So now I just need to get out of my own way, and prep myself to withstand the impending rejections.

    • Carol Tice

      Well, 6 work hours a week is still not a whole lot…so cut yourself a break and be realistic on how much you can accomplish in your limited work time. Working with Denizens I find it’s a common problem to have unrealistic expectations of how fast you can move it forward while you work full-time still, or only have a few hours around kid duties.

      You might want to read this post: How Writers Can Send Query Letters Without Experiencing Rejection

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