Kath here. Please welcome Boston-based poet and novelist L.J. Cohen to Writer Unboxed. L.J. was a finalist in our quest to find an unpublished contributor. She’s been a part of the WU community for years, having contributed a two-part guest post for us in 2008 on using a wiki to organize a novel (see part one and part two). L.J. has been actively blogging at Once in a Blue Muse since 2005. She’s also the head moderator of a large internet based poetry workshop, Wild Poetry Forum. She’s been writing fiction for the past 5 ½ years, and has completed six novels. She is represented by Nephele Tempest of The Knight Agency and has a YA novel out on submission.
Accentuate the Positive: Hope and the Aspiring Writer
As a yet-to-be-published writer, I have learned the necessity of keeping hope alive. Since writers are first and foremost daydreamers, it shouldn’t be difficult to hold to an image of my book shelved at the book store, or of a reader on the “T” looking up from one of my novels to recognize me from the back cover. Those are the dreams that keep me typing, writing scraps of ideas on scraps of paper, and pushing myself to do the umpteenth revision for my critique group.
And yet, hope can seem impossible, especially in a culture so obsessed with harsh realities and negativity.
So in the face of all the difficulties on the road to publication, how does a writer keep hope alive?
1. Know Thyself
As paradoxical as it may seem, I work hard at staying honest with myself in terms of strengths and weaknesses. I know that I use language well–decades of writing poetry has taught me much about word choice and the musicality of language. I also am able to create real characters that readers attach to. I struggle with setting the scene strongly enough and ensuring the emotions in my head make it to the page. My first drafts often feel ‘thin’ to my first readers.
Knowing my specific pattern of skills makes it easier to deal with the negative self talk that would have me believe that I am a loser, that no one will read/like/publish/buy my books.
2. Keep Moving
When I used to live in New York City, I walked nearly everywhere I needed to go. Instead of being trapped waiting for each signal to show a walk sign, I always chose to keep walking in the general direction I wanted to go, even if that meant zigging or zagging across streets.
In my writing life, I keep moving in an analogous way. If I’m blocked on a current project, I write something else. It could be a poem, a journal entry, world building, or a free write. Any words on the page count, even if it doesn’t add to the WIP. The important thing is to keep moving. Keep writing.
3. Accentuate the Positive
Numerous scientific studies have reported a positive impact on mood and outlook through a daily gratitude practice. Turns out that old 1940’s Bing Crosby hit song was right: accentuate the positive. According to a 2003 experimental study by Emmons and McCullough, individuals who kept a gratitude journal:
“. . . exhibited heightened well-being across several, though not all, of the outcome measures across the 3 studies, relative to the comparison groups. The effect on positive affect appeared to be the most robust finding. Results suggest that a conscious focus on blessings may have emotional and interpersonal benefits.”
While I may not always translate this practice into journaling, I do reflect consciously on the many aspects of my life I am grateful for. They include the incredible support of my family, the unconditional love I get from my dog (and the fact that she makes me walk every day, whether I want to or not!), and the companionship and encouragement I receive from my writing community.
Aside from writing the best stories we can, nurturing hope and banishing despair may be some of the only things we have control over in this crazy process.
So share your strategies. How do you keep hope alive?