Down with Discouragement!

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(Thanks to Dave and morguefile for this picture!)pro_author.jpg

Do you ever get discouraged about your writing and/or illustrating? I do. Sometimes it's after reading a fantastic book and I think, I'll never be able to do that well. Or it might be after another rejection, or when I'm struggling with my work in progress. Or even seeing a published book I think is terrible.

I remember asked another writer if they knew about Madeleine L'Engel's experience with A Wrinkle in Time. They didn't. She got rejected, rejected, rejected. When the book finally got sold and published, it won a Newbery Medal (1963). I heard her tell how one editor told her, "I wish that had come across my desk." Madeleine answered that it did. Read A Circle of Quiet to learn about her ten year dry spell!

In the early 90s a friend and critique group partner of mine sold a book. We were all excited with her. She got her advance. An illustrator illustrated the text. Then, the book was cancelled! Can you imagine her disappointment? Suzanne Williams went on to resell Library Lil (published in 1997) and Steven Kellogg illustrated it!

Susan Patron talked to her husband about giving up . . . the night before she got the call about her Newbery Medal (2007) for The Higher Power of Lucky.

I know I could find many other examples. Instead, let's talk about what you can do when discouraged. Here's what works for me.

Hang out with your writing peeps! I have a group of writers who meet with me to write. We aren't collaborating per se, we're just holding each other accountable to show up and be productive. It's helpful to know someone else is struggling with a chapter or scene or query letter. We share, ask questions, encourage each other. I started out with only one writing partner, so all you need is one person to do this with you.

Make sure you are in a critique group. I know, you probably think I'm playing a broken record (kind of like a CD for you younger folk). I mention critique groups a lot. It's because I believe they are so important. My writing grows because of my critique group. My work in progress deepens because of suggestions from my critiquers.

Attend a workshop or conference or writer's talk. I'm usually inspired when I hear others talk about writing. Sometimes a magical thing happens and I suddenly "get it"--that thing I've been puzzling about for months or years. I meet and connect with fun people, which is encouraging.

Go on a writing retreat. Organized ones are great, but they can be expensive. A writing retreat can simply be a casual get together with others of like mind where you get to work and/ or critique. I went on one several summers ago. I met with ten other writers at a northern Missouri farmhouse. Our hostess, Patricia, provided beds, places to sit, and the internet. The rest of us provided the food and it was a very productive two days. Not only for us as writers, but for the cows as well--two calves were born while we were there.

Meet other writers online. Find your tribe wherever you can, whether it be list serves, writers' blogs and websites, twitter, facebook, or google+. I use all of these, plus reading writing newsletters. Often I get encouragement from them. A recent post on Shannon Whitney's blog was about the importance of "writing like me!" http://ramblingsofawannabescribe.blogspot.com/2011/11/writing-like-me.html

Try something new. Go somewhere you've never been before. Try a hobby or sport you've never tried. Read a book in a genre you don't usually read. Let new experiences stir your mind.

Write something. It doesn't even have to be on your work in progress. It could be something new such as trying a different genre, or writing a "how to" on something you've learned. It doesn't have to be intended for paid publication. Write an article for a newsletter, or write a blog entry. All writing is good practice. And you get the immediate reward of a sense of accomplishment.

Eat some chocolate. My preference is dark. Or I drink a cup of tea. Do whatever little thing lifts your spirit - a bubble bath, a silly movie, playing with a kid.

Give yourself some grace. I often feel discouraged when there are too many other things going on in my life, when I'm missing sleep, or I'm not feeling well. Don't expect too much when you are overwhelmed or stressed. Don't make a decision about your writing when you are discouraged--that's when you're apt to make the wrong one.

Keep going. Here's a quote I heard at a conference years ago: "In the end you can Give Up or Keep Going. Those are your only choices. The only good thing about giving up is that there's less competition for those who keep going." -Bruce Balan

I'm going to stay in the running. What about you?

4 Comments

Nice article and good advice, Sue! Every writer I know, even the most successful writers, have faced discouragement. And today's defeat makes tomorrow's victory even sweeter.

After reading your blog, I think I'll keep going.

This was very timely for me. Thankfully I have met some wonderful people through Heartland Writers.

I really needed this after a rough week. I loved the part about finding your tribe and not expecting too much when you're overwhelmed or stressed. Advice that is spot on. Thank you.

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