Essays, Misc

When You Are Discouraged

I haven’t posted many articles about my ‘writer’s experience’ lately, mostly because I figured a series of depressing posts featuring my rants and raves wouldn’t be very interesting. Okay, maybe interesting but not very useful.  We all face moments of frustration and disappointment when we strive to succeed at something we are passionate about. The challenge becomes how to get out of that black hole and what to do with ourselves once we do. 

Months ago, when the first phase of this downward spiral hit, I was coming to grips with reality: finding success as a writer is extremely hard. Not to mention that no matter how good our writing might be, that is no guarantee that an agent or publisher will want to work with us.   

Reality check number two: wanting to reclaim control of my book, I cancelled the contract with the company that published it, but now I had the monumental job of doing everything myself: republishing the book, marketing and promoting it, figuring out the numbers and following stats and purchases, if there were any. I felt like I had made a huge mistake. The burden is massive. Fact is, I just don’t have the financial or time resources necessary to sell my books the way the experts say I should. And, I’m not an island. I have kids, a household to maintain and a fulltime job. No matter how much I wish otherwise, I can’t just dump my job to write fulltime. In order to maintain balance in my life, I had to sacrifice writing time to be present elsewhere. It was that, or burn out. 

Still, this current phase was different. I wasn’t feeling good about my writing. I’d produce something I thought was good, but the comments I got back all seemed negative to me. Then the doubts set in. Had I lost my touch? Were people just not into what I was writing? Did they not get it? And so on. And on…and on.

image from youthvoices.net
image from youthvoices.net

Part of this comes from the writing group I joined. The group itself is great. I love the social aspect. And chatting about the art-form we are passionate about while working together to improve our pieces is wonderful. However, we each have our individual styles, most often skewing towards literary fiction. I have often felt a little like a fish out of water. Sometimes I wondered if I would be better off in a genre-oriented group. But a big part of the reason I joined was to benefit from the lit-oriented environment. 

Anyway, I finally broke. And it was this breaking that led to getting out of that black hole. Below are two of the main things I learned: 

  1. Talk to the right people. I have a small circle of internet writing friends I trust, and they gave me a place to vent. I’m sure I tried their patience, but I appreciate their concern and the time they gave me. Then someone in the writing group mentioned an upcoming writing retreat, so I took a chance and contacted the host. Her name is Lise Weil, professor, founder of literary magazines, and award-winning writer, though I didn’t know this when we spoke. (Thank goodness because I would felt intimidated otherwise). Mrs. Weil ‘got’ my problem right away. When she voiced my own suspicion that my writing world had been ‘shaken up’, I immediately relaxed. The tension seeped out of me, like someone had just sucked the poison from a snake bite. Just having someone name your problem and empathize with you can get you back on track. Needless to say, I will be attending the retreat and I will be blogging about that. 🙂
  2. Always come back to your centre. Exploring new writing styles led me away from my own Voice. This insecurity caused me to seek approval and validation from others and to concluding my work was bad when things didn’t go as smoothly as I had hoped. I forgot that failure doesn’t mean the work itself is bad, or that I suck. It just means I need to work harder. And I must be patient. Two weeks ago, I wrote a blog post about how I was feeling and inspiration led me to bang out a flash fiction piece to accompany it. It was raw and fuelled by angst, but it felt great to put my feelings in prose. The piece even won a flash fiction contest I was encouraged to participate in. Last weekend, I went for breakfast with Sharon from my group again, and we wrote short pieces based on paintings hanging in the restaurant. I had no idea what to write, but I shut out my doubts and let my fingers do the work. I was thrilled with the result.  The point is, these experiences reminded me that writing from the heart is what makes me happy, and that I most enjoy writing when I don’t always know where the story is going to go.  I feel alive when I’m not trying to be this or that kind of writer. When the most important critic of anything I write is me because what is on paper is my truth. 

And that is what I learned. I’m going back to basics, back to what makes me love writing in the first place—pure self-expression. Some will get on board and some won’t. I may never become famous, and people might not ‘get’ or like my work. But at least every piece will be me.

Picture by Amanda Staley
Picture by Amanda Staley
Essays, Misc

Finding Your Way Through the Writer’s Black Hole

Welcome back! It’s been ages since I’ve posted but that doesn’t mean I’ve been idle. A lot has happened these last few months but whether or not they’re worth writing about…eh, I’ll let you decide.

So, for a while I wrote about the writer’s life, noting its ups and downs and the lessons learned along the way. You can read about them in the Essays menu but some of the most popular are: My Real Writing Life and The Real, REAL Writer’s Life and Final Thoughts on a Writer’s Life. During my time away from blogging I continued to learn writing’s tough lessons, ultimately surviving what I now refer to as the Writer’s Black Hole.

image from youthvoices.net
image from youthvoices.net

In the posts mentioned above, I was very honest about my struggles. I had thrown myself into writing, trying to learn the craft and the business aspect at the same time. Like most, I sacrificed a lot–money, family time, energy and sanity to move the mountains necessary to succeed at this thing. The more I pushed to ‘make it’, running around like a possessed chicken without its head, two things were happening: 1) I was burning out, and 2) I was beginning to accept that success doesn’t happen overnight, no matter how hard I wished it to. Notice I said accept. See, I’d already realized that truth on a brain level but not at an emotional one, and the latter is where the magic happened this time around. Both points were excruciating to swallow.

But that’s the great thing about life experience. You can learn from it and grow stronger…if you allow it. I hated being in that Black Hole. It happened during a rough personal time (I was recovering from surgery which kept me off work for 3 months) and when I felt I needed support and encouragement the most, nothing happened. My blog seemed to lose steam, some good writer friends had gone in different directions, and I just didn’t have the energy to actively pursue promoting my book and maintaining social media, are some examples. After going so hard for so long, it felt like I’d been cruising along in a manual transmission car that had suddenly broken down and was now stuck in idle.

image from stylebizz.com
image from stylebizz.com

It sucked. I hated every minute of it. But as the walk through the Black Hole continued, I started to see the benefits. With the frenetic pace slowed to a crawl, I had time to think. I had time to assess my journey. I was able to make choices about what was really important to me and what wasn’t. And best of all, I finally felt free of social media’s yoke. Don’t get me wrong. I love using it to stay in touch and it’s a great resource, but for a long time I felt like it was mastering me rather than the other way around. I almost did a happy dance once its reign of terror was over.

So, how did I spend those quiet months? I got busy in other, more effective ways. I revised Wolf’s Bane, the sequel to The Purple Morrow, twice—once before sending it to beta-readers and then again afterwards; I beta-read my friend’s manuscript; worked on the final book in the Papilion trilogy and finally named it (Berserker); launched my writer’s website, and a whole lot more. I did all that on my time and because I wanted to.

image from www.saiadolugar.com.br
image from http://www.saiadolugar.com.br

Last thing: when I used to watch Dr. Phil, something he often said stood out in my mind and it relates to how we define success. Before I descended into the Black Hole, I thought the only way to feel I’d ‘made it’ was to have sold tons of books, to be featured here and there, or to have the words, “best-selling” after my name. The Black Hole experience caused me to confront the biggest demon of all, answering the one question I’d been trying to avoid: “What happens if I fail?” After all the work I’d put in over the years failure simply wasn’t an option.

The beauty is that facing that question is what led to making it out of the Black Hole. Once I was able to say, “So what if I fail?” the anxiety drained away and I was able to see and appreciate the things that were working. Like, there are certain online friends who just seem to know when I need a boost because that’s when I’ll get an encouraging email, or a Like on FB or a Share on Google or a surprise mention on some other social media platform. Or, I’d remember the people who told me how much they were moved by one of my stories. Last night, my aunt left me a FB message thanking me for pursuing my dreams. It’s not the first time someone has said that to me, which reminded me how privileged I am to do what I love to do. Last week, I posted an interview featuring local writer Su Sokol, and later that same week we met for coffee and talked for two hours about writing.

And last Friday, I visited my daughter’s class to talk about writing. It was fantastic! For the activity, they broke into groups and wrote a story based on writing prompts they came up with (I will be blogging about this soon). I’ve written it before and I’ll do it again: something magical happens when we take writing out of cyberspace and into the real world. Try it and you’ll see what I mean.

Success? We define it for ourselves, not the world. And if we keep looking ‘out there’ for it, we’ll miss the ways we are successful close to home, which, in most cases, are the most important. My daughter was proud that I came to her class. How do I know? Because she confirmed that I hadn’t embarrassed her. For anyone who has an 8 year old, you know how much that speaks!

Anyway, more on this line of thought to come as it has totally changed my outlook on what I write and why, as well as what I hope to achieve. But in the end, I just hope that anyone who is wandering through their own Black Hole will take heart and see that it’s not all bad. In fact, in can launch you to places you never could have gotten to otherwise.

How about you? Have you walked through a similar journey through the Black Hole? Share your story below!