Last week, an amazing and fairly rare thing happened to me – I received a wonderful email from the lovely Lorna Howarth of The Write Factor, a publishing company I hope to partner with soon, saying how much she loved my novel, Welcome to Sharonville, and likening it to Donna Tartt’s The Goldfinch! That is one of my favourite books and the type of thing I dream of being able to write one day! However, the point of today’s post isn’t to blow my own trumpet, as it were, but to express my renewed sense, after receiving Lorna’s kind email, of how much all writers need encouragement.
It’s lovely if we can get positive responses from readers of all kinds, but the reality is that we often have to write for long stretches without any heartwarming feedback – indeed, we can sometimes get rejection after rejection which can leave us feeling disheartened or maybe even hamper our creativity.
Because of this, we need to find ways to encourage ourselves when the world isn’t praising our work or even when criticism is coming our way. Here are four strategies I’ve found useful in keeping me going as a writer, no matter what.
1. KEEP WRITING AND PUBLISHING AS SEPARATE AS POSSIBLE: By this, I mean trying to put emotional distance between the joy of writing itself and what becomes of your work in terms of publications and prizes. Yes, most of us write to be read, but if we put too much emphasis on being published, being paid for our writing or winning prizes (or whatever our particular creative dream is), we give too much power to the outside world – and that way lies madness, writer friends!
All writers face rejection and failure (see my interview with Beatrice Colin last week – she’s had work adapted by Disney and yet still faced the big fat ‘no’!), but if we set our heart too firmly on these external goals, we make ourselves very vulnerable to discouragement – some authors have even derailed their literary careers over such disappointments.
Buddhists refer to the ‘winds of praise and blame’, stressing how our responses to both good and bad feedback can drive us crazy and, although rejections and criticism certainly hurt more than the lovely comments on our work, I agree that there’s a danger in living for other people’s approval, creative or otherwise.
I know that, as a newbie writer, I became paralysed by contradictory feedback on Welcome to Sharonville from editors and agents when it was still just a manuscript and that was a major reason why it took over a decade to get that novel published.
But how do we pull off this magic trick of wanting to achieve our goals, but without getting overly attached to the outcome of our writing? With great difficulty and a lot of back and forth! Just stay mindful of the writing process itself by remaining in the present and relishing whatever stage you are at. Be grateful for the great things writing brings you, with or without the book deal (or whatever it is you are pursuing).
I am all for creating and holding onto a vision of your Ideal Writing Life as we need clear goals in order to succeed, but we also need to hold our creative dreams lightly, so we don’t crush them!
2. FEED YOUR CREATIVE HEART: Encouragement is, of course, like courage, linked to ‘coeur‘, ‘heart’ in French, and, indeed, a key way I feed my creativity and ‘take heart’ for my art is by following Julia Cameron‘s wise advice to ‘fill the well’ and go on Artist’s Dates.
If you’ve not encountered Cameron’s work before, I highly recommend you have a mooch around her masterpieces on the creative process, such as The Artist’s Way, and my favourites for writers, The Right to Write and The Sound of Paper.
Cameron’s work focussses on the emotional elements of the creative life, as well as the practical ones involved in maintaining a regular artistic practice, and I love her notion of us needing to romance our creative selves in order to stay encouraged – I take myself off to galleries to fill my creative well or go and see my favourite musicians play live. Nothing feeds my creative heart more than other creatives’ work!
You could even try reading biographies of your favourite creative figures as I wager all of them will have faced big trials on the way to finding success and thus they’ll show you how to get back up again after any setbacks.
What feeds your creative heart? It could be you’re inspired by taking yourself to the cinema or just browsing in a stationery store. Cameron prefers us to go on Artist’s Dates solo so we can really seep in inspiration, but I think just taking time to bring others’ creative energies into our hearts always revives us.
3. TREAT YOURSELF LIKE A PRECIOUS OBJECT: Cameron also says that treating ourselves as a precious object makes us stronger and I heartily agree.
Western culture seems to promote the idea that thrashing ourselves physically and mentally is how we become powerful. In my case, chronic workaholism caused me to become chronically ill and I do not recommend it! However, even just in terms of our creative life, I don’t think harsh self-criticism and forcing ourselves to make art when we’re tired, ill or just flagging in inspiration is a good idea.
I do believe in passionately pursuing our craft as that the only way we can grow better as authors and produce major projects, but I believe love is a better force than discipline in this and all things. Sometimes, yes, we do need to push through our fears and past our limitations to create great things – but we should do those things with a sense of the pleasure of achievement and exploration, not pain.
Indeed, if we are feeling discouraged or are confronted by painful rejections and criticism, it’s important to
acknowledge and process our feelings or we can get stuck in depression or begin to procrastinate and even become embittered. Self-care is, in my experience, a sometimes tough thing to learn to do, but I feel it’s crucial for sustaining courage as a creative.
When you’re feeling discouraged, what can you do to comfort yourself? I’d advocate, literally, cocooning yourself as much as possible, literally with blankets, if it helps, and treating yourself with the utmost kindness. Hot baths, warm milk, hugs, cats … whatever makes you feel safe, secure and loved. Because, no matter how your writing life went today, you are that.
4. CELEBRATE EVERYTHING: The wonderful Monica Wood says in The Pocket Muse that it’s possible to live a writer’s life and be constantly miserable as it comes with many challenges, so she advocates celebrating everything, recounting the story of saving a bottle of wine for when her first short story was published and then finding it had gone bad as it took her five years to reach that point!
This is a poignant example of the way we can easily put off celebrating our creative achievements – we’ll only party when we get the book deal, our novel becomes a bestseller or we win a competition.
One thing that helped me stay resilient during my first novel’s bumpy road to publication was the fact that every single time I had any sort of success, I would acknowledge it and usually go out for dinner with friends to celebrate! Shortlisted in a competition? Party! A publishing industry bod said they enjoyed my work? Boom, party! Finished another draft? Yesss, party!!!
The truth is, I’m a pretty introverted gal and not the wildest of the bunch, but even I knew that, as a writer, I needed a ritual expression of my successes, of the signs, no matter how small, that showed I was doing the right thing by being creative, and I truly hope you will embrace any positive feedback or progress in the same way.
How can you celebrate the good stuff in your writing life? Maybe you can host a dinner party, head to the pub, buy yourself flowers or just have a romantic dinner with the one you hold dear. Whatever you do, don’t forget to toast your writing!
I hope these strategies help you remain encouraged as a writer. And, as Siri Hustvedt once told me, persistence is key if we want to succeed and we can only attain that, if we take heart.
If you want support to remain inspired and productive, no matter what, you can grab a free copy of The Hectic Writer’s Handy Workbook or you can have a complimentary 30 minute ‘Writing Breakthrough’ session with me if you are feeling discouraged about your writing and want some help to get going again. In fact, my ‘Get Your Writing Mojo Back’ coaching package was created precisely to support writers who feel a bit flat or fed up.
Indeed, I am also running a writing challenge called #writingmojomarch from March 6th, providing ten inspiring emails over two weeks, and you can sign up for free via the box at the top of the page!