A reader says, ” I’m so discouraged–I feel as if I’ve been given this writing gift, but then when my work is rejected, I question myself, wonder if I’m fooling myself. Maybe I’m just telling myself what I want to hear.” The standard reply to such a statement is that we all feel this way at times. Every writer I know feels like a fraud, questions his/her skill, hangs her/his head and laments, “Maybe I’ll just take up knitting!”
Writing Tip for Today: Most writers (indeed most all artists) can relate to this type of discouragement. To outsiders who may not understand our anguish, it may appear that we’re all having a giant pity party. But if you’ve been at this writing life for long, you know the particular hurt of rejection. You’re familiar with the sound of your heart hitting the floor when readers don’t connect with what you’ve written. You may even begin to believe those who urge you to take up a hobby less fraught with disappointment. Here are some things I do to pick myself up after a nasty fall:
- It’s not a Hobby! You are a pro. Act like one. Writers struggle with their loved ones’ views of them when we write. They patronize us (That’s nice, dear), scold us (when are you going to get paid for this?), and pressure us (Couldn’t you stop writing long enough to cook dinner?) into keeping writing at the very bottom of the priority list. Especially if we are writing but don’t yet have any published credits, our labors feel futile to our families and friends. Politely correct those who would only validate your writing if you hit the bestseller list: “Sorry, I’m writing until ___.” Writing is not our hobby, like knitting, as states the wonderful poem by Marge Piercy (“For The Young Who Want To”).
- Resistance Is Death. According to Steven Pressfield in his wonderful little book, The War of Art, anything that keeps you from showing up, keeping BIC (butt in chair) and producing word count is resistance. This extends to your own attitudes and feelings about your work. When you feel lower than a slug in the basement, remind yourself that this is only a form of resistance. Or blame it on the devil. Whatever you do, don’t let negative thoughts about your writing dominate your attitude.
- Writing Is a Roller Coaster. All creative pursuits tend to have mountaintop feelings, quickly replaced by that sinking feeling that your stuff will never be good enough, sell fast enough or whatever mean thing Resistance is serving. If you are still pre-published, you may think that if you can only get a book in print, you’ll never again doubt yourself. It doesn’t work that way. After about ten minutes of euphoric, “I am an author!” you start worrying about marketing, about the next book. It’s the journey not the destination that matters.
- Supporters or Assassins? Are the other writers in your life supporting you by giving positive feedback and constructive critiques? Or are your colleagues more interested in seeing themselves on the mountaintop, and only getting there by tearing you down? Yes, you need a thick skin–our egos are sensitive–but we need feedback that helps us grow and learn and hone those skills. My sense is that a person who has harsh words to say about your stuff but who doesn’t give you specific ways to improve, may be trying to feel better about their own writing by stomping on yours. If that sounds familiar, get different supporters.
- Get Back on the Horse. I’ve said before that I only give myself 24 hours to mope, feel sorry for me, throw a pity-party while eating a whole bag of chocolate. The next day, though, I’m back at it. Did you see that stuff above about Resistance? I may not ever make it big, but I’m determined not to allow my own attitude to scuttle whatever success I may have. The bigger the disappointment, the more important writing is. Specifically, I may write on a new project, do something for fun or explore a new form until the sting recedes.
- You Are a Pro Writer. Say this to yourself every time you doubt your abilities. If you are what you eat, then I think it’s also true that you are what you write. When discouragement lands on you (and it will) tell yourself you’re a professional even if you only half-way believe it. Act like one–don’t allow Resistance to win. Produce more word count, submit to yet another agent, editor or publisher, keep honing your skills. The right way to survive discouragement is the write way. Have you hugged a writer today?