A few days ago, on a writing thread I frequent, a young writer jumped the gun and started querying too early in her manuscript’s life to find much chance of success. Her choice prompted a fascinating discussion, and became a showcase about the many ways to handle the prospect of failure.
Some people leaped in with clear desire to protect her from unnecessary pain and choices that might limit her career. Others were annoyed that she’d waste an agent’s valuable time, thereby making their own climb to publication more lengthy. Still others yet took the philosophy, “Eh, let the kid try. Maybe she’ll learn some valuable life lessons.”
Then today, on a personal level, my own gentle-souled man-child began a new year of junior high. Let me just say the world is not always a kind place for insightful boys. Nor is it easy on their mothers, who must watch.
So all that got me to thinking about failure, and how each person’s perceptions and beliefs about rejection or set-back, determine the effectiveness of their response.
We’re all told, in the writing biz, that one must grow a thick skin and develop the ability to bounce back. What’s seldom said afterword is exactly how. So I’d love to have a conversation about what helps you keep going, even on days where your in-box radiates hostility and your writing is greeted by shattering reader silence.
How do you do it? Where did you learn your resilience? I’d love to know, so that I can increase my own repertoire. And while I’m waiting for your response, I’ll list a few things that help me:
The understanding that it’s not necessarily what happens to us, but the story we tell ourselves about its meaning, that determines our reaction:
For example, I can’t imagine anything more devastating than losing a child. I think I’d probably curl up in the fetal position for a long time, then go on to carve out a limp half-existence.
But some people don’t go that way. Some people, after a decent mourning period, even thrive. Others, still, transmute their suffering into purpose and start agencies that serve the greater world. (I’m thinking of MADD, and America’s Most Wanted.)
I so admire this, because I can slip into victim-hood all too easily.
But I’m learning to question my underlying beliefs, and whenever rejection feels deeply personal, to ensure I’m not committing obvious errors in thinking. (Eg. Thinking that because one person found one character unsympathetic, all people will; and that I suck as a writer, and always will.)
To that end, this post here lists some resources I’ve found helpful.
Finding or Building, if Necessary, a Community of Hope around Writing:
In the past two years, I’ve logged a lot of computer time on this endeavour. Let’s be clear: by a community of hope, I don’t mean finding a group of sycophants who’ll blow smoke up my ass on bad days, in the understanding that I’ll return the favour. (I think we’ve all seen enough bad auditions on American Idol to make the point that self-esteem, in the absence of competency, is meaningless, and possibly even harmful.)
No, I mean those who’ll tell me, to my face, kindly, both what I do well as a writer, and how I can improve.
I didn’t realize how crucial this community had become to me until just this last week, when a new critique partner challenged everything I thought I understood about one of my manuscripts. It was hard to hear her words; harder yet to acknowledge she might be right — that I haven’t done a character I absolutely love justice.
Had this occurred two years ago, when I was without a community of writing friends, I might have committed suicide by office stapler.
Not this week!
No, this week I had others to fall back on. They calmed me, helped me understand what a golden opportunity I’d just been given to learn, and best of all, they conveyed a quiet certainty I can do what’s required. Wow! Unbelievable. I’m still kind of dazed with gratitude.
So if you haven’t got one yet, please find your community. I’ve found mine at Absolute Write, in the Cherry Forums and the Cherry Tarts, and now, with some local writers.
Lastly, the Victor Frankl’s quote: “Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how.’”
I figure that any philosophy that can help a man endure a Nazi concentration camp, without evidence of tremendous bitterness, is likely to help me with my concerns. To that end, I’m showing you a partial list of “why’s” that I keep in my computer. As you’ll see, many of the entries have less to do with writing itself, and have more to do with the kind of person I’d like to be in the world.
Reasons to Write with the Imposter Syndrome Raging:
1. Because the cure for writing problems is to write.
2. If you don’t write these stories, then no one else ever will.
3. You invested the damn money on the damn laptop and courses. It behooves you to ensure that wasn’t a complete waste.
4. Malcolm Gladwell says it’ll take 10,000 hours of practice to achieve mastery of any kind of skill-set. Writing excrement is not only your right, but necessary.
5. You’re modeling strength and self-actualization for your children.
6. When you conquer fear of rejection and perfectionism in one arena of your life, you’ll be bolder in the other areas. The ones that matter. (Yeah, my subconscious doesn’t quite buy that writing doesn’t matter either, but it’s the principle, right?)
7. Intellectual challenge wards off Alzheimer’s, which is an incredibly nasty disease. A diaper will never touch you nether regions, if you continue to write!
8. Because it makes you a more appreciative reader.
9. When it works, the feeling is like no other, except possibly an expansive bout of [edited for sensitive eyes] with P.
10. When you follow your bliss, it gives others implicit permission to do the same. And you know how to support them. For instance, when P comes home, with this model airplane looking like this —
— you know now to just shrug and push him out the door to the hobby shop, instead of cringing and wondering how much this is gonna cost.
So, that’s my list. What would make yours? What keeps you going on the bad days?