Fighting Discouragement

You want to be a writer. Daily you work hard putting words on the page, good words. You strive to improve your writer’s craft. You toil to transmit the wonders of your imagination into prose that others can enjoy. You submit your work to publishers, and wait. And wait. And wait. Or you self-publish electronically, planning for all the readers in the world to flock to your story. And you wait. And wait. And wait.

I don’t have to tell you how difficult the writing life is. We love it, but it’s not easy. Perhaps the biggest challenge is the isolation. We need to be alone in order to focus on our work. But we can’t help but crave feedback and response to what we’ve done.

Hard work and isolation can lead to discouragement. Writing is not for those who must have instant gratification. And so discouragement happens from time to time.

Here are a few tips for combatting it:

1) You are not alone.
Remember that every writer suffers. It’s part of the job description.

2) There is no such thing as an overnight success.
All popular writers endure a long apprenticeship. The ones that appear to be overnight successes either wrote obscure books for a long time, or wrote under pseudonyms, or may be a one-hit wonder unable to repeat that initial success sufficiently to establish much of a long-term career.

3) There are no shortcuts.
You learn your craft. You believe in your ideas. You nurture your talent. It takes as long as it takes, and you can’t measure your progress by anyone else.

4) You make your own luck.
I’ve always believed this. But just last week, I found it expressed better in a fortune-cookie proverb:
Luck happens when hard work and opportunity meet.

Bestselling author Jim Butcher waited for three long years for editors to read what would become his first published novel. Three years! But during that interminable wait, he went on believing in his concept and writing the second and third manuscripts in the series he envisioned. When an editor finally read the first manuscript and wanted to offer a multi-book deal, Jim was ready to seize the opportunity.

5) Find litanies that encourage you.
If you’re into positive thinking and affirmations, then post them on your bathroom mirror, your computer monitor, anywhere you’ll see them frequently.
Here are a few samples:
“Publishers are looking for new writers, like me.”
“My next story will be better.”
“Persistence wins.”
“The struggle is worth making.”
“I do have enough talent.
“Anything I still need to know can be learned.”

6) Continue to write.
I’m repeating this point because it’s important. If you don’t work through your dark moments and find ways to continue, then writing isn’t what you really want to do.

7) Finish every writing project that you start.
I don’t mean you’re committed to writing every scrap of idea that floats through your mind. But if you’ve plotted a story, developed its characters, and written the opening scenes, then finish it, even if you get stuck along the way. Solving the writing problems you’ll encounter is how you grow as a writer.

8) Continue to submit your work.
Rejection is part of the job. Everyone gets turned down by agents and editors at some point. You might have initial success and then hit a dry hole where it seems that no one wants your work. Keep at it. After Danielle Steel sold her first two or three books, she was rejected again and again and again. Finally, she got past that roadblock and went on to produce a string of number-one bestselling books.

9) Be flexible.
Maybe the genre you love best has died, and public taste has shifted elsewhere. Do you quit or do you adapt? Be willing to switch your focus to a different type of story, a different genre of fiction, a different length, or a different style. Flexibility is part of survival.

Author Janet Evanovich was writing romance novels when her publisher dumped her. Forced to janitorial work in order to make ends meet, Janet didn’t give up. She created a new kind of mystery sleuth–Stephanie Plum, the zany bounty hunter–and now Janet laughs all the way to the bank.

10) Not all stories are the same.
Perhaps your last project went like a breeze. You were able to think of a plot quickly. The characters seemed to fall into place with little effort. You enjoyed the writing, and it was a marvelous experience.

Now, however, the new project isn’t going smoothly at all. The plot keeps hitting dead ends. You can’t figure out your protagonist’s motivation. The characters seem artificial. Their dialogue is worse. You hate the story, and you’re certain that you’re washed up as a writer.

Not at all! Either you’re challenging yourself with a more ambitious story that’s a little outside your comfort zone, or you’ve made some fundamental errors with plot or character design. Solutions can always be found.


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4 responses to “Fighting Discouragement

  1. Wonderful! This is very timely since I was just in the hot seat in my writer’s group and I often don’t feel like they get me at all. Love your list of Litanies, my fave: “Anything I still need to know can be learned.”

    Thank you, great pep talk for me today!

  2. I was an impatient writer who can’t wait to get publish and made the wrong choice by publishing through a self publishing company. It was very costly and I regretted it. I got discouraged and almost gave up on writing. But I can’t help myself from throwing away my notebook which is filled with characters and plot for my next novel. So thank you for posting this. Your words have truly have encouraged me 🙂

    • Until recently, self-publishing (or vanity publishing, as it’s sometimes called) was a costly trap for the impatient and unwary writer. Even now, all sorts of scams and traps are out there.

      Remember this: authors should never pay money to put their work into print.

      Agreements with reputable electronic publishers, such as Nook and Kindle, set up a contract where the author and company split the income. Authors may choose to hire a cover artist or pay someone to design a Web site or a book-trailer video, but that is an expense, like buying ink for your printer.

      Otherwise, authors should never pay money to put their work into print.

      I’m sorry you’ve gone through this discouraging experience, but you must learn and grow from it and go forward with your writing. Don’t give up!


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