You’ve been around a block or twenty in the writing world. You’ve read enough blog posts or inspirational books or how-to-put-butt-in-chair treatises to wallpaper the Guggenheim, and for the most part your strategies are working. Muse and Self-Doubt Monster might exist in uneasy alliance, but you’re getting work done.
Then something fractures detente.
Maybe Muse and Monster quarrel over the way the toilet paper drapes in the dispenser. (Over the roll is best. Clearly.) Maybe they can’t agree on tonight’s movie. Maybe one accidentally-on-purpose rolls over the line dividing the bed.
I don’t know. Point is, now the Self-Doubt Monster is smiling that yellow-fanged smile. He has a grip on your Muse’s tighty-whities. He’s creating the mother of all literary wedgies and you—dear aggrieved writer—are about to start singing soprano.
Before letting your voice goes up another register, here’s a tool you might try: your Writer’s Emergency Hope Kit, constructed in advance for just such an occasion.
A few quick notes first:
- The idea isn’t to create another means of procrastination by which to avoid writing. Rather, stitch this together over time as you stumble upon hope-inducing material or work on it when you’re stuck. When you can write, by all means write.
- The contents will be personal to you. If it’s healthy and enhances resilience, it’s worthy of inclusion.
- My list of suggestions will be incomplete. Some are multi-purpose hope-building items, as adept at helping you handle an ex’s wedding as moments of writerly doubt. Others will be more specific to your Muse’s vulnerabilities.
Contents of a Writer’s Emergency Hope Kit
1. An “accolades and compliments” file
Screen shots, emails, blog comments, reader feedback—in short, any feedback you’ve received which is positive and implies faith in your writing.
2. Links to particularly inspiring blog posts, books, Youtube clips, quotes, photos, lists of movies, even foods that when eaten make you feel abundant.
Really, you can include anything which has the capacity to open and warm your cockled heart.
3. A list of what’s worked in the past—aka things to try first.
For instance, I wear a pedometer and from experience I can pretty much guarantee that a 10,000-step walk to rousing music will dent the foulest of my moods. Do you think I’ll remember this, though, when the knowledge is most required? That’s why a written list can remind you of your best practices.
(You’ll probably find your support system knows these tricks too. Just yesterday, as I composed this post, it was the ToolMaster who handed me headphones and booted me out the door.)
4. Role models who embody or invite hope.
Who consistently makes you laugh? Who makes you think? Who gives you the gift of perspective? You can include living, dead, or fictional people and you needn’t limit yourself by geography. They might live on your block or only in your mind. Some hope-models might even be of the four-legged variety.
For instance, when feeling hopeless about your writing, you might think of a friend who lives large in the present. Maybe it’s time to place a call and catch up.
Me? I’m all over the map. I think often of my late grandmother, who was politically incorrect and owned property in a time and place when this wasn’t done by women.
Sometimes I’ll reread Steven Pressfield, whom I won’t link to in this post because by now he has to have branded me a psychotic fangirl. (Go read him anyway.)
Or I might turn to David Thorne’s blog, which I find hysterical. I figure that if an author can forge a career out of being pathologically passive-aggressive, nothing’s really out of bounds. (Missing Missy is a classic.)
5. List the times you anticipated disaster and it turned out better than expected. Include incidents in your larger life and ones particular to writing.
The idea here is to evaluate the Doubt Monster’s forecasting credentials. He’s been overly pessimistic in the past. What leads you to believe he’s changed?
(Side Note: A fun game you can play with yourself is to write a blog post or tweet, then before making it public, record the number of shares, retweets, and comments you anticipate receiving. As the data comes in, how far are you off? 200%? More? Notice your mind’s revisionist tendencies. We all want to believe we know what we’re doing even when we’re clueless!)
Cast the net broadly. For example:
- Parenting: When your kids were toddlers, did you ever worry you were raising a sociopath? Did you ever fear you were damaging them permanently? No? Just me? *coughs* *clears throat* *makes shifty eyes*
- What about that “oopsie” child who was going to cause terrible upheaval in your life, then became the best thing to happen to your family?
- Income: Remember the time you thought you were going to be fired and tipped into bankruptcy, but you only ended up with a reprimand?
- Writing: Maybe you garnered 1000 rejections for your fiction and quit, then discovered you rock at memoir.
When did it turn out better than expected?
6. Lastly, if you’ve experienced outright failures or disasters, and you can’t really see them as otherwise—yet—make a list of the positives which emerged in the aftermath.
You probably learned something which will guide future endeavors or which you can teach others as a cautionary tale. I.e. “Whatever you do, don’t _______.” (I’ve thought of several examples to fill in blank, but they involve Cheezies and inappropriate stain patterns and might easily have been written by Chuck Wendig, so we’ll leave them alone for now.)
At the very least, you’ve demonstrated you’re a survivor. Claim those grit credentials.
How do you store your Hope Kit?
I keep a simple digital file, but you might also consider:
- Maintaining your clippings as a virtual scrapbook in the cloud. (Evernote would be superb for this.)
- A PDF file you can upload to your ereader.
- Use beautiful paper and create a physical scrapbook.
- Frame the most notable bits and mount them in your office.
What if you can’t include personal encouragement because you haven’t received any yet? Are you doomed?
I can think of two hopeful possibilities here: Either you’re receiving recognition and discounting it—hello, Impostor Syndrome—or you’re playing it safe. You will have to risk a certain amount of public exposure to receive feedback.
In either case, work on your Kit. It should help.
Have you already started an Emergency Hope Kit, however informal? What material would you classify as essential? Have I missed any obvious categories?
*I’m indebted to Wendy Edey and Dr. Ronna Jevne of the Hope Foundation of Alberta for these principles. Years ago, when I was Director of the Grey Nuns Family Medicine Center, they helped that clinic bring a hope-focused approach to patient care and fostered a physical remodel. If you’re interested, the full story is on my website. Go to Part IV if you’re only want the pictures.)
Photocredit: Bigfoot in the woods by JNL on Wikimedia