I am a notorious brightsider. On Writer Unboxed and elsewhere, I have advocated for persistence and positivity, for not letting artistic or career setbacks get you down, for not being jealous of other writers’ success. I have talked about my own long road to publication, and advised other writers “don’t give up, and don’t go it alone”, because sticking with it doesn’t guarantee that you’ll get published, but giving up guarantees that you won’t.
However. I have bad days just like anyone else. And on those days, my “Someone else’s book is doing so much better than mine, waaah” self kind of wants to punch my “Don’t worry about it! All you can do is write the best book you can!” self in the throat.
So when platitudes of positivity aren’t enough, what happens? What’s the practical, rubber-meets-the-road advice that will get you through the inevitable setbacks? What do you actually do?
There are three ways to address any setback. Pick one.
1. Head-on. I don’t mean that if you’re jealous of another writer you should write them a long email detailing all your jealousies, but you should work hard, that very minute, on whatever you can control. If you’re depressed about queries getting rejected, send out more queries. If you feel like your upcoming book doesn’t have enough blurbs, write to authors you love and ask (politely) for blurbs. If you’re worried that another book out in the market is too similar to your work in progress, go buy a copy of that other book and read it. For every way that you can possibly flip out (believe me, they are nearly infinite) there is some way that you can address that flip-out. You probably can’t dissolve it entirely, but you can make it smaller.
2. Off to the side. Does the head-on strategy seem too daunting? That’s okay. Work, but work on something else. If your first book has just gone out into the world and you’re worried about bad reviews and/or low sales numbers, get cracking on book #2. If your work-in-progress hits a snag and you just can’t make yourself unsnarl it, go off in another direction — brainstorm another concept, research Facebook ads, look at agent blogs, whatever. Do something that’s related to your writing in some other way. It may not solve the current problem, but it keeps you from stagnating, and that’s a powerful thing. Progress is progress.
3. Not at all. This is a perfectly valid reaction, but there’s a trick to it. If you get a rejection from your dream agent, for example, you don’t have to send out a huge batch of queries that same day. You can say, “Today, I am doing nothing about this.” The trick is, decide it for just that day, and the next day, decide again. The trick is that you choose anew, every day, intentionally. And if you decide to do nothing, do nothing writing-related. Watch movies or play with kittens or polish the silver or focus on your family. That way, if you can’t make progress, you can at least get some time away from the stress and the worry. And it just might make it easier for you to come back the next day, renewed and ready to strike.
It almost doesn’t matter which of these methods you choose, in the long run. But choose something. Because thinking positive is great — I highly recommend it — but what you think also has to mesh with what you do.
(Photo via Flickr Creative Commons by Alaskan Dude)