Dealing with discouragement

Okay, I’ve heard enough. You’re discouraged. Is it all worth it? Is the writing life what it’s chalked up to be? Have you missed the boat?

If you don’t have time to read this post, here is the short verson:

  • Yes, it’s worth it.
  • No, it’s not what it’s advertised as.
  • There is no boat.

Now on to the details:

I’ve been hearing a lot from aspiring writers lately about fears and anxieties. If I really had answers, I’d be a rich therapist, of course. But from what I’ve seen over my fifteen year career, here are some of my truths about Discouragement.

1. Be realistic. Discouragement is like belly fat. You’ll fight it your whole life. Don’t beat yourself up over a little bit of muffin top. (You’re already discouraged, don’t add self-loathing.)

2. There is profound connection between discouragement and inflexibility. If you have to have what you expect, then you’re clearing a path for discouragement to find you.

3. Discouragement gets a toe-hold in you when you don’t have clear goals. How do you know if you’re failed if you didn’t have a goal? If you don’t meet a goal, what about your other goals?

4. Discouragement comes from a lack of faith and courage. I was shocked when I first realized this. But look at the root of the word: DIScourage. When we lack courage, we’re open to self-pity. Self-pity leads to the loss of friends. Loss of friends leads to being alone at Christmas… oh, wait, we’ve already seen that commercial.

5. You must battle discouragement directly. Have an attack plan. It’s not enough to say “I shouldn’t be discouraged.” That leads to being discouraged over not being able to overcome discouragement. Oh, you’re not that crazy? Good. (But you’re probably very young.)

Realism

The sooner you understand that the writing life is full of ups and downs, the sooner you can stop fretting. We all go through it (not much of a help, but still…) Your life as a published author is not going to look like your hero’s life. And even your hero is not as content as you might think. This is a tough, fascinating, rewarding, exasperating business. Welcome to the family reunion. But seriously, it will help so much for you to shed your idealism about writing and realize that it is a fine vocation, but it will not save you. What saves you is a good life, deeply lived.

Flexibility

Make a vow that you will always have one more project envisioned after the Work In Progress (WIP.) This keeps you from putting all your eggs in one basket. Perhaps you can have two projects going at once, such as a short story to spell you from the novel. The publishing world may or may not buy my WIP; but I can hardly wait to finish it so I can move on to another exciting project. Be driven by passion, not ambition. That is, don’t count on a “very nice” offer on the WIP, at least don’t count on it to the point where a non-sale is the source of Deep Discouragement. You write ‘em, take your knocks (or your money) and rush on to the next glorious chance to tell a story.

Set aside fifteen minutes a day to come up with a short story idea or the next novel idea. Can’t keep in mind two plots at once? Yes you can. Your own brain is the most under-utilized system on the planet (hey, mine too!) Few of us are working at a level of personal and creative mastery. Push yourself. But above all, be ready to punt if and when WIP falters.

Clear goals

In order to know if you’re heading in the right direction, you need your own personal, true goals. Not someone else’s goal. Yours. Write them down. You might think your goals are clear, but for most people, they are mushy. Write ‘em down. With deadlines. The goals can be things you can’t control and things you can (Publish WIP before my birthday in 2013. Sell short story to a magazine this year. Write 4 new pages every week.) If you don’t meet these goals, rewrite them. Look at them every day. A goal is not a must-have, it’s a want-to-have. Make a commitment to pursuing your goals with passion and integrity. This leads us to:

Faith and courage

I’m not a spiritual counselor, but I’m pretty sure if you don’t have a source of inspiration in your life, you are going to handicap yourself. Does your inspiration give you encouragement to dream and keep going? Does your inspiration, whether it is religion or humanism or core values, allow the power of the day to flow into you and show you joy? If not, start here. Find your meaning; assess what it’s all about. If you don’t know this, it will be about ego, and ego leads to discouragement.

Now, to courage. Don’t be the skinny kid on the block. Develop your mental muscles. Learn an attitude of courage. Act like it even when you don’t feel like it. Call on your courage during the day in whatever visualization works for you.

Hey, it’s a mind game. And one day, after years of practicing courage, you will face a really dread demon, and guess what, you’ve got the right stuff. You learned courage one day at a time.

For more help on this one, here is my post on the subject. Scroll down to the subhead Courage.

Attack plan

If you are feeling discouraged, get organized. Have a plan. Actually, you should have a plan whether or not you feel discouraged. Set goals for your career, your personal life and your mental health. List them. Follow up with integrity and energy. Put your list out where you can see it. Rewrite your list frequently, even if it doesn’t change. Become goal-oriented, and value oriented. Remember that if you aren’t following your list, you aren’t being true to yourself, or your list isn’t true. Keep tweaking it. This is not a pointless exercise, it is a process to go deeper into your life and spend your time wisely.

In the midst of all this, you will find Discouragement slinking away, waiting for you to forget what you’re all about. It is waiting in the corner and will inevitably watch for weakness and days when the baby has been up all night or another rejection letter shows up. Acknowledge the creature. Firmly suggest that he go feed on someone who is a push-over. He will respect you for it. And though he will never entirely go away, he will grow smaller.

Sailing on

And the boat? (As in missing the boat.) This one has to do with feeling like one is too old to aspire to the writing life. Talk about a discouraging premise! You aren’t as old as you will be next year or a decade from now. Did you start late? So what? If writing is your passion, you have the rest of your life to immerse yourself in a fascinating pursuit that no one can deny to you and that will immeasurably sweeten your life with stories and writing friends. The boat has not left the dock. There is no boat full of successful authors that has sailed without you. Every day has the same chances as any other day. There is no boat.

Please share me

6 Responses

  1. Thanks, Kay.
    What a great post. Yours is my favorite blog for writers and I keep recommending it. I’m finishing my first novel (I’ve been writing it for 2 years now), and you’ve helped me A LOT.
    Besides, I’m reading The Entire and the Rose (I’m starting the second one) and I love it. I’m looking forward your new novel.

  2. Kay says:

    Thanks, Carlos, for the kind words and for telling others. Nice way to start out my day.

  3. I’m a big fan of overlapping projects. One of my strategies is to set aside daydreaming (or falling asleep) time to indulge in wish-fulfillment fantasies. I’ve usually got a few that, when brought into the light of day and subjected to writerly process (hard, disciplined work), can evolve into the seeds of stories. They form a storehouse of pleasures — guilty or not — that is also a bulwark against external disappointment. No matter what reviewers think of my published work, I’ve got a library of stuff that’s appeals to me, delights me. I am my own favorite storyteller, and I know I’ll never run out of ideas.

  4. Kay says:

    I love this. Keep the ideas churning–it’s such a simple premise, and yet often aspiring writers are too afraid of losing focus. Keep dreaming those stories. Good advice.

  5. Hello and a massive thank you from Antarctica! (Really. I live and work at McMurdo Station, just so you know you’re being read on the Dead Continent.)

    A friend of mine who is a big fan of yours emailed me today to tell me to check out your site. What serendipity! He had no idea that I had just received some withering comments from a reviewer about my novel, which had made it to the quarterfinals of an online contest. In previous rounds of the contest, I had received one glowing review after another. This review, which stopped me from advancing to the semifinals, seemed not just negative but, well, mean. Thank you, thank you, thank you for reminding me of the big picture. I’m sailing on, plan intact!

    And thank you, too, for your outstanding posts about introverts. I just shared one on Facebook because it was the best explanation of what an introvert is, and how we work, that I have ever read.

    Thanks again from a new fan!

  6. Kay says:

    Gemma, you are so welcome. The industry if full of marvelous people who will make writing worth it all to you. Except when someone like that comes along.
    Onward!

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