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Thursday, November 14

Writers, Don't Get Discouraged: Have Stepping Stones, Not Setbacks

By Shanna Swendson, @ShannaSwendson

Part of The Writer’s Life Series 


JH: Writing is a tough business, and once in a while, it can really bring you down. Shanna Swendson visits the lecture hall today to share tips on dealing with discouragement as a writer. 

Shanna Swendson earned a journalism degree from the University of Texas but decided it was more fun to make up the people she wrote about and became a novelist. She’s written a number of fantasy novels for teens and adults, including the Enchanted, Inc. series and the Rebel Mechanics series. She devotes her spare time to reading, knitting, and music.

Website | Twitter Facebook | Goodreads

Take it away Shanna…

No matter how well your writing or your writing career goes, there’s bound to be a time when you get discouraged. Whether it’s because you can’t think of what happens next, the book you’re writing doesn’t match up to the book in your head, you can’t get anything but a form rejection when you submit, or you get bad reviews on a published book, discouragement can come at any stage of a writing career. Whether that discouragement ends your career or serves as a stepping stone to better things depends on how you deal with it.

The important thing to remember about dealing with discouragement is not to be self-destructive, whether physically or career-wise. 

What are some of the healthy and not-so-healthy ways to deal with discouragement?

Do acknowledge your feelings. 


It’s okay to feel bad when things don’t go well. Trying to deny or bottle up the emotions doesn’t help. It may just allow those emotions to fester. Let yourself cry, rant, be angry, feel hurt, and complain. You’ll feel better after getting it out of your system. Talk to a friend or your critique group. Write a journal entry. Pour out your feelings to your pets. Write a hypothetical rebuttal letter to the person who rejected you or gave your book a bad review.

(Here's  more on Psychological Trump Cards That Cripple Us)

Don’t vent publicly. 


Don’t mail that hypothetical letter. Crumple and burn it, run it through the shredder, or file it away, but don’t respond to a rejection or a bad review, whether directly or on social media. The publishing industry is a small world, so blasting someone who rejected or criticized you can come back to haunt you. 

There’s probably no harm in griping when you’re struggling with writing, but if you’re a published author using social media for promotion, you probably don’t want your feed to be all griping and negativity. You don’t want to look like someone who can’t take criticism or who might be difficult to work with. 

If you’re looking for an agent or if you have a book on submission, it’s best to not go public with each rejection. Agents and editors may look up your social media feed to make sure you’re not a potential public relations nightmare and to see what kind of platform you have, and you can lose leverage if you’ve let everyone know about each rejection. 

Make your public discussions vague or save them until you’ve landed an agent or book deal. Arguing with reviewers, whether they’re readers or pros, is also a bad idea that can backfire horribly.

Staying off social media when you’re particularly emotional about your work is a good idea. 

Write out any posts you plan to make and take another look at them after you’ve calmed down before you post them.

(Here's  more on Pain, The Brain, Why Rejection Hurts and What You Can Do About It)

Do find healthy ways to console yourself. 


Eat chocolate. Have a cup of tea or a glass of wine – in moderation. Better yet, take a walk or turn on some cheerful music and dance. I have a designated “encouragement” playlist full of songs that either make me feel better or make me want to conquer the world. 

Have a rejection ritual of things you do to lift yourself up. That can include a meal you like, your favorite movie or an episode of your favorite series, a ritual burning of the rejection letter (or printed e-mail). You’ll never feel good about having your work rejected, but if you attach good things to it, it may sting less.

(Here's  more on Unleashing Creative Flow: Nurturing Your Body, Mind, and Spirit)

Don’t sabotage your body as a way of dealing with rejection. 


A glass of wine or a treat to cheer yourself up when things aren’t going well is perfectly okay. Making such a habit of overindulging that it harms you isn’t good. If you find that you can’t cope with discouragement without relying on alcohol or other substances, you may need to seek help.

(Here's more on Stress and the Indie Author)

Do lift yourself up when you’re feeling down about your work. 


I like to go back to the things that made me want to write in the first place, those favorite books that sparked the desire to tell stories. Reading my favorite parts again reminds me why I’m doing this. 

Keep a file of positive things about your work, such as good reviews and reader mail. 

Even if you’re unpublished, you may have encouraging comments in rejection letters. One of the things I keep coming back to when I’m struggling with my writing is a comment from a rejection that is exactly what I want people to get out of my work. The editor didn’t want that story, but I felt like he “got” me. 

You may also have positive comments from critique partners or even lines or sentences from your work that you’re really proud of. Re-read these things when you need a boost. Think of things to be grateful for about your writing. 

Focusing on gratitude on a regular basis can rewire your brain to notice positives instead of dwelling on negatives.

(Here's more on The Emotionally Healthy Publishing Career)

Do know when to step away for a moment.


It can hurt to feel like everyone else is having success when you’re struggling. It’s okay to trim your social media feeds or mute the people whose posts are making you feel bad, even if they’re not doing anything wrong or mean. 

If your writers’ group is making you feel bad rather than good about yourself or your work, take a break. The important thing is your work and how you feel about it, not all the other activities that arise around writing.

Don’t isolate yourself from your writer friends. 


Your real friends will understand when you need some time to yourself, but separating yourself from your support network won’t help you in the long run. Other writers are the ones most likely to understand what you’re going through. 

Try to feel good for your friends’ successes. 

Their good news isn’t really taking anything away from you. There may be times when you don’t want to hear it, but once the worst of the sting from your latest setback has eased, you can go back to cheering for your friends.

Writing is an emotional activity, so we feel struggles from writing deeply. Using healthy coping mechanisms makes the struggles and setbacks easier to face.

What do you do when you feel discouraged?

About Enchanted Ever After

Katie Chandler’s wedding day is coming soon, and that makes this a very bad time for rumors about magic to be stirring among the general public. As Katie delves deeper into an online anti-magic underground movement, she starts to suspect that there’s something more going on. Katie’s got to track down and stop a dire plot—and fast. Otherwise, society will be forever altered, and Katie’s wedding day could be ruined in this conclusion to the Enchanted, Inc. series.

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