Thursday, November 21, 2013

Discouragement in Writers

The days are getting short and cold here in New Hampshire, and that's got me thinking about moods. I've known some people with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). Apparently people who suffer from this become depressed if they don't see enough sunlight. The treatment seems to be to get away from me - they move far away to some place I've never been, like Arizona, and feel much better.

We writers, of course, tend to be very moody people. Not all of us have a disorder like SAD, but I think most of us have times when we get very discouraged for one reason or another. In a tough world economy, people tend to feel like art of any type is unimportant, and it's hard to take an objective look at your own work and know if it's any good or not. Add to that the fact that writing tends to be a rather solitary job, and compound it with the reality that most of us are at least a little bit reclusive, and you've got a fertile environment for discouragement.

I'm not here to dole out some kind of cure, or try to make you feel guilty if you're discouraged. I have to admit that I don't even know whether your writing is any good or not. But if you're feeling discouraged, I can tell you I've been there. And I'll probably be there again, since moods tend to go in cycles.

Right now I'm feeling energized and seeing nothing but possibilities. So since I seem to be the one standing on a rock at the moment, I'd like to offer a hand to anyone struggling in the mud. Another day it will be my turn to slog through the mud, and someone else's turn to reach out a hand to me.

Here are some thoughts that have helped me when I've been discouraged:

  • All the great writers were once just ordinary people who wrote something without knowing if anyone was going to like it or not. Probably every single one of them got discouraged sometimes, and if they had quit, the world would be without so much great literature.
  • Easy writing is like airplane crashes. It happens so rarely that when it does, we remember it. The vast majority of flights are uneventful and the vast majority of writing takes work. It's extremely rewarding work, but it's sometimes hard. Because of that, I have a right to feel proud of what I've written. If it were easy, it would be like turning on a water faucet. The water may be delicious, but I can't take the credit.
  • Feelings and facts are two different things. They're both real, and they're both important. If I feel discouraged or lonely, or just don't feel anything at all, then that's my reality at the moment. But those feelings don't necessarily line up with any facts. If I feel discouraged, that doesn't mean my work isn't worth something. If I feel lonely, that doesn't mean I'm alone. And if I don't feel anything, that doesn't mean there isn't still a lot of great stuff in my future.
  • I don't have to follow someone else's rules. One of the most wonderful things about creative writing is that each author's work is unique. That's because it's an expression of a unique individual, produced in a unique way. But when I see what works for another writer (wordcount quotas, for example), I'm tempted to feel like I'm not a 'real' writer unless I do it, too. Trying to fit into someone else's mold can be extremely discouraging. I think it's important to find what works for your own unique style and situation, and not worry about the rest.

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