Tuesday, August 11, 2015

Writing: Getting Back On Your Feet

A writing colleague asked me: "How do you pick yourself back up after a setback? How do you keep on keeping on?"

At first, you don't. You fall, sometimes flat on your face, sometimes you break a figurative bone. The fall can be from a short height or from a seemingly high mountain, depending on what you have at stake. It hurts. Usually our pride smarts the most and longest.

I don't think there is one definite way to get back on your feet. Your character, personality, and circumstances all play big roles in the fight to endure.

For myself, I've been broadsided, sometimes knowing beforehand that I might be (which is akin to watching a tragedy unfold before your eyes while you're helpless to prevent it). After a really big blow to my ego in regards to my writing, I withdrew for a long time. I didn't feel like I had a leg to stand on, and that every word aimed against me and my story had to be true. I had no self-confidence left. Emotions were so bad and so high that it affected me physically. The last thing I wanted to do was continue writing, or even communicate with anyone in the writing community. I felt like a fraud, a leper, that everyone was laughing at me behind my back.

In other words, I had to take time off. Partly because of how self-destructive I was feeling, but mostly because I couldn't see or think clearly about the situation. A few months later I started to see. I wasn't a terrible writer or a hack, but I did have areas I needed to work on and improve. I realized that some people weren't going to like my story no matter how I rewrote it or packaged it, and that's okay. I certainly don't like some things I read. We're subjective creatures.

There came a critical point where I had to ask myself if I wanted to sacrifice the integrity of my story in order to please one or two people, or even a collected body of people who shared the same mindset. Bearing in mind, that yes, I wanted to please an audience, I wanted to sell my story, I wanted to make it as reader friendly as I could and that I could change some aspects to meet those goals. But I had to really think about who my target audience was and what their expectations were. Who was I writing for?

I had a life outside of writing to fall back on. I couldn't just lock up and stay hidden from the world. I have a family and a community of people relying on me. They made it possible for me to get up in the morning each day, to even smile. Focusing on the other parts of what makes me, me rekindled my drive to write.

I think it's easy to lose yourself when you dive fully into the writing community. We're affected by personalities and hit with a constant barrage of opinions. While writers collectively are viewed as great individualists, we really tend to act as sheep like most people do. We want public approval, sometimes so badly we're willing to write what we think the collective wants us to write and how they expect us to write it. We try to fit into some mysterious, mythical mold and grope around in the dark to find the magic elixir or key to unlock the doorway to opportunity. Admit it, we've all taken a turn doing it. Don't belligerently deny it.

My solution to overcoming a writing setback? Get to know yourself again. Get away from the writing community. Read what you really love to read. Fantasize to the length and breadth of your imagination regarding your story because no one is going to be standing at your shoulder judging you. Write with abandon again; turn off the internal editor that was primed and set by your desire to appease and supplicate. What makes you, you? How does that reflect in the way you write and express yourself? Look at your story. Do you love every aspect of it? Does it excite you to read any passage over and over again, or are there places you skim over or get bored with? Fix them.

Is your life well-rounded? If it just revolves around your writing, you won't have anything else to fall back on when the writing life gets tough. Writer friends are great and fine for support, but people who are actually around you are even better. People you can see and touch and laugh with, who will hug you and love you whether or not your story is going to make waves in the literary world. People who know there is more to you than being a writer.

And sometimes, even though we never want to admit it, sometimes our story isn't reader-worthy. It's a story just for ourselves that only we can truly visualize and love. If we're beating our heads relentlessly against a brick wall of rejection from everyone (and I mean everyone), no matter how many times we've revised, maybe it's time to set that story aside. I have a few stories like that. Oh, I never bothered trying to get them published because I already knew they were special only to me. I still pull them out and get a thrill when I read them. Their purpose is realized right there. And that's okay.

So, you look at your other stories and ideas and visualize your target audience. Is it a broad audience or a small one? Set your expectations based on that. If your goal is to break into the publishing side of the writing world, then pick your brightest, best idea and work on it.

Sometimes stepping back from the novel you care so much about can help you see if there are really problems in it or not. Kind of like cleansing your palette between courses during a meal so that the taste of one dish doesn't intermingle with the taste of the next. Maybe you've been locked into one story world for too long and need a vacation. Working on a story that is totally different can be refreshing to your creative side.

Another good way to help bounce back is to write in a journal regularly. There you are free to express your grief, angst, and worries uncensored. Don't do it online. Most people don't care and don't want to hear about your problems. Vent your spleen privately. I've found that journal writing helps me get refocused and lets out all the negative energy so that I can think more clearly and objectively.

Sometimes the problem is we have a very clear goal and know exactly how we want to achieve it. So when we don't reach our desired milestones or can't continue on the road we've picked, we get frustrated and angry. We blame the road, other people, the universe at large. The thing is, who says there is only one road to reach your destination? Who says you have to meet every milestone on a generalized checklist to get there? There are other roads. Getting up from a major setback could be as simple as picking a new route, or even a new destination.

In a nutshell:
1) Be humbled so you can think clearly.
2) Get to know yourself again.
3) Vent in private not in public.
4) Have a well-rounded life so that other aspects can keep you afloat.
5) Take a vacation from the writing community. As long as you need. Don't feel pressured to make appearances or submit your work if you're not ready to.
6) Get realistic about your novel, your target audience, and your goals. Make changes based on your clearer perspective.

Above everything else, remember you are an individual and you are worthwhile. You have talents you're trying to develop and that's wonderful. Having goals and dreams helps make life meaningful, but don't let them crush or blockade you from living. And remember that popularity and acceptance are both fleeting and illusions. You are neither. Don't give up on yourself.


  1. In some ways this was me this summer. I worked my butt off on my novel and finished it in January. I sent it out to beta readers way too early, and so the feedback was harsh. I didn't realize till after I had already hit the send button, that I should have waited. So I took the feedback in stride, even visited my CP.

    All of it caused me to hit that brick wall. I knew where I wanted to go with my story, I knew how to fix it. but what I NEEDED was a time out.

    So I took a vacation from writing major parts, I went back to it every now and again. Fixing little things, but I didn't push to begin revisions till this month. Now everything is flowing so much better.

    This summer was for me and my kids. I enjoyed as much as I could of it, and I'm grateful for every second.

    Great post!

    1. A break sounds lovely. Glad to hear revisions are going well. =)

      It always bugs me when prominent writers insist you have to write every day. There is such a thing as burn out. A vacation focused on real life can re-ignite your creativity too, especially when you're facing writer's block.