If you’re like most writers, after long writing jags at the computer, you start to feel soreness in your joints: aching back, stiff shoulders, or numb legs. You know what to do. Stretch. Walk around the block. Hop on the treadmill. Pop ibuprofen. Our natural tendency is to deal with physical pain, but what about psychological pain? Chances are, whether you’re a seasoned author or an aspiring scribe, you’ve grappled with your share of self-doubt, meteoric challenges, repeated letdowns, major setbacks, and devastating heartbreak.
Writing rejections and disappointments can nibble away at us like death from half a million cuts. After a while, it feels as if we’re bleeding to death and can’t tolerate one more slash. Statistics say more of us have the stamina to continue to take safety risks after a car crash than to continue after a series of psychological defeats. After repeated failure, along with a bad mood, writers often throw in the towel so they don’t have to keep feeling disappointment. Attempts to bring quick relief to the misery of defeat by running from the bad mood rob us of knowing what missed opportunities lay beyond the barrier. This impulsive reaction—scientists call it the “what-the-hell effect”—is a way out: permission to give up. Adding insult to injury, we seek comfort in the very thing we’re trying to conquer: writing failure.
Although growth as a writer can be painful, it can be even more painful to remain tight in our little security holes. Craft alone won’t carry you through the massive writing hurdles. Literary agents agree that the number one key to writing success—even more important than good writing—is resilience, dogged determination in the face of disappointment. The phrase “tremor of truth” is used in physical fitness circles when we push ourselves to the max. Lifting weights, we grimace as a tremor of unease shoots through the body. Our muscles tremble during pushups. Our legs quiver with exhaustion running a marathon. The brain says we can’t do it, but just as grass grows through concrete, we persevere—a true sign that we’re giving ourselves an optimal workout.
A similar thing happens with writing when we push ourselves until we discover our “tremor of truth.” Meteoric writing obstacles and setbacks seem too great, as if we’re pushing through relentless steel, a vein of encased ore: an impossible deadline, a heartbreaking rejection, impassible writer’s block, a lousy review, sounds of crickets at book signings, or the rumble of our own self-doubt. After constant disillusionment, just before giving up, we get a second wind. We push, tremble, and shake. Then a sudden jolt of electricity sizzles through us, and we’re filled with renewed determination. With one extra push, inner reserves kick in, and we plough through the smackdown moments that had brought us to our knees, moving us over the finish line.
You can build writing resilience by asking if you’re pushing hard and far enough through the gray mist of uncertainty. Or do you need to step up your efforts? And how far do you stretch before reaching your breaking point? The term “springback” refers to a process when metal returns to its original shape after undergoing compression and tension (stretching). Like metals, we have an elastic limit to which we can stretch to a certain point before returning to our original shape. Springbacks happen only in smackdown moments after failure, mistakes, or hopelessness over seemingly impossible odds. Springbacks prevent us from giving up on our writing dreams, no matter how improbable they seem. They fuel wordsmiths, like Olympian champions, to reach the top.
Here are some tips on how to develop faith in your “tremor of truth” and find the hidden mental reserves you didn’t know you had— resources that enable you to push forward through writing hardships.
- Grow thick skin and expect writing rejections and setbacks. Commit yourself in advance not only to learning the craft of writing but also to facing the many smackdowns you will encounter like all successful writers before you.
- Ditch the desire for comfort and step into writing’s growth pains. Be willing to go to the edge of your emotional pain so you can be fully present with what lays beyond the barrier.
- Cultivate creative sustainability. Think of yourself as an elastic band that bends and stretches to a certain point before you spring back higher than you fall.
- Develop a growth mindset. Make it a goal to use negative writing challenges—no matter how painful, frustrating, big or small—as lessons from which to learn. Ask, “What can I manage or overcome here?” or, “How can I turn this matter around to my advantage?”
- Reflect on the writing obstacles you’ve overcome in the past. Point to lessons learned and underscore ways you have grown stronger through writing’s hard knocks.
- Take risks. Find that one place in your writing where you’ve been hiding, then stick your neck out from your comfort zone. Ask what edge you can go to in your writing. Seek out risky writing experiences that help you bloom instead of low-risk situations that keep you safe in a bud.
- Identify self-doubts that have cramped your writing style or crippled you from growing fully as a writer. Harness them—instead of running from them—and channel them into useful writing so they don’t paralyze you.
- Stay off the roller coaster. Manage the ups-and-downs of your writing practice by treating highs and lows equally. Celebrate the highs but don’t take them anymore seriously than the lows, and don’t take downturns anymore seriously than upswings.
- Eschew the “what-the-hell effect.” This attitude only adds insult to injury. Face writing letdowns by taking the towel you want to throw in and use it to wipe the sweat off your face then get back into the saddle of writing.
- Stop throwing the book at yourself and catch yourself when you fall. After a setback or discouraging situation, we bounce back to our writing quicker when we support ourselves with loving-kindness and compassionate pep talks. Instead of kicking yourself when you’re down, be on your own side, wish yourself well, and be your best advocate as you progress on your writing journey.
Reproduced with the kind permission of Llewellyn Worldwide.
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