Without trying to make us sound like martyrs, writers, like many artists, live with angst. There is angst in working daily to artistically express one’s inner thoughts, feelings and conflicts, share them with others, and then be judged after the work is complete. It is this same angst that can often drag us down the rabbit hole into a sadness that only artists can understand.
Maybe reviewers are particularly cruel today. Maybe your agent has exhausted all of his connections for your latest work. Or your editor has decided that the requested changes you’ve made over the course of months aren’t working. It could even be that you are just tired of the grind; tired of trying to please others with the work you create; tired of spending time and energy writing, marketing, falling down, getting back up.
Hey. You are not alone. We have all been there. Some of us are there right now.
It can be especially difficult for a writer, since writing is mostly a solitary act. We are alone a LOT. Abnormally so. We sit in front of our laptop or notebook and we create by ourselves, hoping that our words will somehow string together in a way that pleases us, and ultimately, others.
But the most prolific writers have a drive deep within to keep going, even if the hill is always up, the self-doubt is always looming, and the crash is often paralyzing.
So what can a writer do to avoid that crash and burn? Here are a few things that may help you on the days when you are so close to quitting, you can smell it, feel it, taste it, and smother your skin with it:
1. Give yourself a mantra, write it out, and hang it up in your writing space. I have two:
This book ain’t gonna write itself and Butt in chair. The first mantra I use after my husband and I have our coffee clutch Monday through Thursday. We chat about what we are going to do with our day (he is a designer) and then I say, “Okay, babe. This book ain’t gonna write itself.” We kiss one another and head off to our creative spaces (his is a shop, mine is an office). Once in my writing space, I put my “butt in chair” and get writing. Period. No excuses. Even if the writing sucks. Even if my characters are acting particularly stubborn.
2. Speaking of excuses…procrastination is not just a time waster and a companion to our fears, but it can also lead to crippling sadness. The second you get to your writing space, you have made a commitment to yourself, your characters, and your story, so TURN OFF EVERYTHING EXCEPT YOUR WORK. This includes, but is not limited to Facebook, Twitter, cell phone, Amazon, Goodreads, Instagram, newsfeeds, and anything else that distracts you from YOUR WORK. Sometimes writers tell me they feel angst at not having written enough words or pages in a sitting. Upon further probing, I find out that they have been spending most of their time on the Internet. And if you tell me that you have to do marketing, well, that is not writing. And while we all need to do marketing, do it at a different time than your actual writing. Don’t complain you didn’t have time to write when you stared at fifteen Youtube videos of cute kittens and Crock pot recipes. You are only hurting your writing, and therefore yourself. Make a solid schedule and stick to it religiously. What could make a person sadder than knowing they had a golden opportunity to create, and they threw it away in favor of mindless drivel?
3. This may sound counter-productive, but hear me out: Go ahead. Be sad. Wallow in self-pity. I’m serious about this. Allow yourself a certain amount of time to dwell on the negative. Say, five minutes, or twenty. Set your alarm if you have to. Pretend it is part of your creative process. Then get off your ass and move forward. Cry into your pillow but then get out of bed. You do not have the right to do nothing all day. That is where the downward spiral begins. Nip it quickly. Negativity wants you to be sad. Let it visit for a moment, and then tell it to eff-off.
4. Need others to feel your pain? Since misery really does enjoy company, find writers’ groups, either online or locally, that you can share these feelings with. Find a creative friend/entrepreneur and meet for coffee once a week. Listen to him vent, and then vent as well. Sometimes knowing you are not alone can make all the difference. And sharing angst can lead to sharing ideas, which can sometimes lead to real breakthroughs.
5. Remind yourself, even if you have to write it down, the blessings you have compared to other folks in the world. If you are reading this blog, then you are probably in the top .05 percent of the world in healthcare, education, safety, housing, financial means, food, transportation and so on. You probably have freedoms unheard of in many countries today. Chances are you are living in a world that has possibilities; a world where you get to choose what your life will be like tomorrow. So as cliché as it is, count your blessings. Thank the universe for all that you have. And mean it.
6. I did not make up this saying, and although it sounds corny, here it is: “When it gets too quiet, make some noise.” In other words, when you haven’t heard from your agent in months, or it seems as though your editor has taken your book on an extended holiday, or reviews have seemed to hit a brick wall, make something happen. Locate new reviewers and send them emails. Send a friendly email to your agent. Respond to your editor’s posts on Twitter. In my opinion, proactivity is the antitheses of reactivity. Because energy begets energy (just ask any physicist) you need to stir the pot to get things going. It may take some time, but believe in the magic of it. DO SOMETHING and THINGS WILL HAPPEN. I promise. I cannot tell you the timeframe, and I cannot tell you how. Just trust that it will.
7. “The best way to get even with others is to succeed.” Some may disagree on this point, but I don’t care as it works for me. I have had friends, acquaintances, family members, and even strangers try to knock what I do. Luckily for me, this is a rare occurrence. But some writers care so deeply about what their social connections have to say about their writing that they allow the words to dictate what happens next. Look, some people are jealous that you have a talent they may not have. Others say things without thinking. Still others are just jerks. So, aside from getting rid of the jerks in your life, take every negative comment and turn it around. If someone says, “It must be nice to write all day,” tell them, “Yes. It is. Thank you for acknowledging that I’m a serious writer.” If someone says, “I don’t like the kinds of books you write,” just tell them, “Oh, that’s okay. I write for a specific audience and the reviews are stellar.” And if someone says, “You probably don’t sell too many books because there is so much competition, huh?” To which you can reply, “Actually, it’s just the opposite! I’m thrilled that my books are selling really well. I guess I’ve found my niche!” Remember to smile, make your eyes sparkle, and say it like you mean it. If you start telling others how well you are doing, they will pass it along, and you will feel empowered. It’s a win-win!
8. Read your positive reviews, complimentary rejection letters, or any correspondence that lifts you up. Cut out the best parts. Hang them up. Make a collage. I have had over 100 rejections over the course of 20 years and 13 novels. But there are only certain words I take to heart: “Elegant writing.” “Incredible characterization.” “Unique plot line.” “Beautiful metaphors.” “Send me more of her work.” And you know how those blurbs on the backs of books all sound so amazing? Well, go online and read the entire review. Most pro reviewers offer both positive and negative remarks. But does the writer put the whole review on the book or in their social media? Of course not. “The book, although a bit sappy in places, will appeal to women across the globe.” Here’s what you will find on the book: “Will appeal to women across the globe.” You see? So re-read all your positive remarks or display them in your writing space. It is one of the nicest things a writer can do for him/herself.
9. And finally, do something from time to time that makes you happy aside from writing. I am burned out right now. I have been working on requested changes on a YA for my agent. It has taken me a year. Yes, a whole year. On top of that, I am marketing my new Adult book that just came out, including intense book touring, getting ready to re-work another YA, and getting ready to prep another Adult for self-publication in late 2018. If I make it. And did I mention I have a job? I tutor four nights a week. So. I try to do things from time to time that completely take me away from anything that has to do with reading or writing. I go antiquing. Work on my 1910 house. Take walks around the river. See a play. Take a short road trip with the hubby. Enjoy a Yoga class. Getting away from your writing is just as important as writing, because we all need to recharge. And you will find that after a bit of relaxation, when you get back to your story (don’t worry, your characters will still be there!) you may even see your writing with a fresh eye and a happier attitude.
So, that is my take on things.
What do you do to stop the crash and burn? What are some tricks that help you continue, even when you aren’t sure what tomorrow will bring? If you have advice for other writers, I’d appreciate the share. After all, we are all in this together.