Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, You Are Not Alone

Down with Discouragement!

(Thanks to Dave and morguefile for this picture!)pro_author.jpg
Do you ever get discouraged about your writing and/or illustrating? I do. Sometimes it’s after reading a fantastic book and I think, I’ll never be able to do that well. Or it might be after another rejection, or when I’m struggling with my work in progress. Or even seeing a published book I think is terrible.

I remember asked another writer if they knew about Madeleine L’Engel‘s experience with A Wrinkle in Time. They didn’t. She got rejected, rejected, rejected. When the book finally got sold and published, it won a Newbery Medal (1963). I heard her tell how one editor told her, “I wish that had come across my desk.” Madeleine answered that it did. Read A Circle of Quiet to learn about her ten year dry spell!

In the early 90s a friend and critique group partner of mine sold a book. We were all excited with her. She got her advance. An illustrator illustrated the text. Then, the book was cancelled! Can you imagine her disappointment? Suzanne Williams went on to resell Library Lil (published in 1997) and Steven Kellogg illustrated it!

Susan Patron talked to her husband about giving up . . . the night before she got the call about her Newbery Medal (2007) for The Higher Power of Lucky.

I know I could find many other examples. Instead, let’s talk about what you can do when discouraged. Here’s what works for me.

Hang out with your writing peeps! I have a group of writers who meet with me to write. We aren’t collaborating per se, we’re just holding each other accountable to show up and be productive. It’s helpful to know someone else is struggling with a chapter or scene or query letter. We share, ask questions, encourage each other. I started out with only one writing partner, so all you need is one person to do this with you.

Make sure you are in a critique group. I know, you probably think I’m playing a broken record (kind of like a CD for you younger folk). I mention critique groups a lot. It’s because I believe they are so important. My writing grows because of my critique group. My work in progress deepens because of suggestions from my critiquers.

Attend a workshop or conference or writer’s talk. I’m usually inspired when I hear others talk about writing. Sometimes a magical thing happens and I suddenly “get it”–that thing I’ve been puzzling about for months or years. I meet and connect with fun people, which is encouraging.

Go on a writing retreat. Organized ones are great, but they can be expensive. A writing retreat can simply be a casual get together with others of like mind where you get to work and/ or critique. I went on one several summers ago. I met with ten other writers at a northern Missouri farmhouse. Our hostess, Patricia, provided beds, places to sit, and the internet. The rest of us provided the food and it was a very productive two days. Not only for us as writers, but for the cows as well–two calves were born while we were there.

Meet other writers online. Find your tribe wherever you can, whether it be list serves, writers’ blogs and websites, Twitter, or Facebook. I use all of these, plus reading writing newsletters. Often I get encouragement from them.

Try something new. Go somewhere you’ve never been before. Try a hobby or sport you’ve never tried. Read a book in a genre you don’t usually read. Let new experiences stir your mind.

Write something. It doesn’t even have to be on your work in progress. It could be something new such as trying a different genre, or writing a “how to” on something you’ve learned. It doesn’t have to be intended for paid publication. Write an article for a newsletter, or write a blog entry. All writing is good practice. And you get the immediate reward of a sense of accomplishment.

Eat some chocolate. My preference is dark. Or I drink a cup of tea. Do whatever little thing lifts your spirit – a bubble bath, a silly movie, playing with a kid.

Give yourself some grace. I often feel discouraged when there are too many other things going on in my life, when I’m missing sleep, or I’m not feeling well. Don’t expect too much when you are overwhelmed or stressed. Don’t make a decision about your writing when you are discouraged–that’s when you’re apt to make the wrong one.

Keep going. Here’s a quote I heard at a conference years ago: “In the end you can Give Up or Keep Going. Those are your only choices. The only good thing about giving up is that there’s less competition for those who keep going.” –Bruce Balan

I’m going to stay in the running. What about you?

Posted in The Nitty Gritty of Children's Writing, You Are Not Alone

Give up or press on?

I think everyone in the creative world struggles with this question at times. Every time I do, I always come down on the side of PRESS ON.
But that’s obviously not the case for everyone. I see this as an instructor for ICL. Students unexpectedly drop out of the course. Is their writing hopeless? No. Do they need to learn more? Yes. But they often aren’t the worst of my students. If they have trauma going on in their lives, they don’t communicate that. They don’t take the leave of absent option the Institute offers. They quit. I have many other students who don’t officially drop, but don’t turn in their next assignment either. Perhaps they need a reminder that anything worth doing is going to be work.
Those who don’t see that fact may be those who give up, drop out, fade out. I’m guessing if you’re reading this, you aren’t in that group. You know learning to play scales on the piano doesn’t make you a concert pianist. You know you have to work at craft. You know you have to persevere.
persevere.jpgWhen answering a student’s question about her typical workday, Harper Lee said:
“To be a serious writer requires discipline that is iron fisted. It’s sitting down and doing it whether you think you have it in you or not. Everyday. Alone. Without interruption. Contrary to what most people think, there is no glamour to writing. In fact, it’s heartbreak most of the time.”
Ouch. That’s reality. But we also need encouragement now and then. So here are some quotes from other writers I’ve come across recently. I hope they encourage you as they do me.
If one dream should fall and break into a thousand pieces, never be afraid to pick one of those pieces up and begin again. – Flavia Weedn
I would go to sleep at night feeling that I’d never be published. But I’d wake up in the morning convinced I would be. – Judy Blume
Talent is helpful in writing, but guts are absolutely essential. – Jessamyn West
Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. – Neil Gaiman
You are never too old to set another goal or to dream a new dream. – C.S. Lewis
“Now” is the operative word. . . . You don’t need endless time and perfect conditions. Do it now. Do it today. Do it for twenty minutes and watch your heart start beating. – Barbara Sher
So I’m lifting my cup to finishing, never too old, and never give up.