This Product Prevents Literary Wedgies. Good for Multiple Uses.

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?

Yes. Sorry.


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 




About Jan O'Hara

Jan O'Hara left her writing dreams behind for years to practice family medicine, but has found her way back to the world of fiction. Currently the voice of the Unpublished Writer here at Writer Unboxed, she hopes one day soon to become unqualified for the position.


  1. says

    I don’t have any sort of formal kit, but I do keep three things around which give me a push from time to time.

    1. A folder for successful submissions. Every time an article of mine gets accepted somewhere, it goes in the folder. There’s around a dozen pieces in there now, which gives me confidence that more will join them.

    2. A list of published books filled with terrible writing. Whenever I read a book put out by the Big Six and think “I know my stuff is better than this,” I write it down. I think we’ve all had these moments, and they’re a great motivator.

    3. A project I keep for myself. I have a novel on my hard drive which I poke at from time to time, especially when I feel off my game. I’m not writing it for publication, or any other person: it’s mine, and mine alone. Having a project I can work on without any external pressure to be good gives me a great way to take a break and still keep writing.

    • says

      Excellent additions, Jeff. Thank you. Interestingly, I have parallel processes, though I hadn’t thought to identify them as part of my kit.

      That’s quite the hooky blog title, BTW. From one veg to another trying it on for size, well done. If you’re going to experiment and want cookbook references, let me know.

  2. says

    Sitting on the base of my HP monitor is a personal talisman and inspirational token. It’s a sea shell about the size of a quarter, an opalescent spiral that cost about 20 cents. I look at it and say, ‘If you can do it, maybe I can.’ Remember, pearls are enlargements of a speck of sand in a grisley-looking package.

  3. says

    So I guess self-recognition increases one’s amusement, because this really had me laughing. Self-doubt monster has had me in his clutches for a few weeks now. Several conversations with a mentor and a couple of long headphones walks over the weekend just may have given my me the wherewithal to give my muse the upper hand again.

    I think about my file of positive stuff, and how so much of it ties right back to WU. Even the aforementioned mentor was met through WU. The people I’ve met here and at the FB group page have enriched my writerly world betyond description, both directly and indirectly. I can’t imagine the power self-doubt monster would have over me right now without WU and friends like you, Jan!

    • says

      V, we are as one in the value gleaned through WU. I wonder if Therese and Kathleen have any clue about how much difference they make.

      As for your struggles, glad you’re out the other side. Someday, when you’re published, you’ll remember that long, self-doubting walk and know you can’t trust your own judgment–that’s supposed to be inspiring, in case you can’t tell. ;)

  4. says


    The foods that make me feel abundant also make me feel fat. Maybe a workout?

    Seriously, great ideas. I expecially need to remember the times when looming disaster turned into triumph. This pretty much describes my bike ride to work through the streets of New York City. I wheel into the office–alive! How bad can the rest of the day be?

    I’ll add this: Remember that those stone-hearted agents in New York don’t really want to reject you. What use is that? What they want is to open a manuscript, be sucked in by the opening and look up only hours later. That’s a good day, one worth braving death on the streets.

    Laught at your doubts. Write on.

    • says

      Don as Daredevil, huh? I sincerely hope you wear a helmet.

      /nagging moment

      Your point about the foods is well-taken, which is why I had to put in the healthful corollary. May I kindly suggest you haven’t tried my lentil soup? ;)

      Lastly, I love that you’re the human face of agents on this blog, because in all the online rhetoric, I think writers can forget agents and authors have more in common than not. Thanks for being so positive, Don.

  5. says

    I keep WU in my hope kit! Thanks Jan for the ideas. When I was a journalist, I had to keep a “nice” note file. Otherwise, I gave the “nasty” note file too much space in my head.

    • says

      It’s not a fair fight unless we arm our Muse.

      Do you still have your “nice” file, Stacy? (Just curious.) I have letters and photos from my practice. I might not look at them for years, but I still treasure them.

  6. says

    This is fantastic advice. We have breakfast at a local coffee house every Sunday and have come to know one of the regulars, who’s about the age of my parents. It’s always, “How are you today, George?” and his response is always. “I woke up. I’m here. Can’t complain: what good would it do?”


  7. says

    My hope chest is stocked full: blogs like yours, daily e-mails from the likes of Seth Godin and Jane Friedman, an inspiration board, and a bookcase with my favorite authors’ books setting next to mine, reminding me I can do it again if I get to it.

  8. says

    I’m still having trouble shaking the image of my muse in tighty-whities! ‘Tis true, I need past accolades now and then, one reason I go to Amazon and reread reviews of my books. But I think my basic philosophy is what gets me through–expect failure and plan for success. There’s nothing much to do about the failure part, but plenty of fun in visualizing the results of success, so I focus on that. Thanks, Jan.

    • says

      A true fact that might interest you, Ray: pessimists make better clinicians, likely because they’re prepared for worst-case scenarios.

      Sorry about the imagery. I invite you to imagine a Victoria Secret model in its place. Better now?

  9. says

    Great ideas here, thank you! I love Alex Wilson’s comment about the seashell he has (awesome!). I also have a folder of inspirational quotes, many of them on writing and writers … but my favorite is a picture I cut out from a greeting card my best friend sent me years ago – it’s a picture of Snoopy at his typewriter (caption is: “Here’s the world-famous author at work”!) – I love it!

    • says

      I love that Snoopy cartoon.

      If you’re strongly visual, one thing that might appeal to you is a formal collection of writerly-hope pictures. The Hope Foundation did this with patients and the results were fascinating. (They armed people with disposable cameras and asked them to take pictures of hope and explain their choices.)

  10. says

    A list is a great idea with some fabulous starter ideas! It’s hell sometimes to “just write.” While that works most of the time, when the emotional well runs dry it’s good to have a back up plan. Thanks for the funny and super-useful post!

    Oh, and you’re not alone about the raising kids to be sociopaths or ruining them thing. ;) I’m right there with you.

    • says

      Mine are 16 and almost 20, so I’m almost certain I haven’t scarred them for life. ;)

      Glad to hear this might help, and that you were entertained. Objectives met.

  11. says

    You are sooo funny! Your gift for blending humor with a serious topic kept me engaged. I laughed and nodded while absorbing this much needed wisdom– your toolbox of hope are lessons for life as well.

    I’ve been procrastinating too much lately, filled with self-doubt that grows with the length of my unwritten days. Thanks for a good kick in the pants. I needed this.

    Your post is the first link in my hope scrapbook (a scrivener file) as per #2. :D

    • says

      Scrivener would be an excellent tool, D. Thank you for that.

      I’m delighted if my zaniness appeals, even more if it’s helpful. Appreciate the feedback! I hope you’ll be able to get fresh words–even 50.

  12. says

    Thanks for the fun mixed with the good suggestions. I have never thought of an Emergency Hope Kit but I think it’s a fabulous idea, not only for writers but in every field. Great post!

    • says

      Indeed, Shirley. The Hope Foundation has taught these principles to school-aged children, seniors in long-term care, and those coping with mental and physical challenges. It’s a tool that can be used anywhere.

      Glad you found it helpful.

  13. says

    Hi Jan: I love the idea of a Writer’s Emergency Hope Kit.

    Your article was really timely for me because this morning I was having an unproductive spurt, topped off with losing 3 hours worth of work on a draft blog post. I scanned my files for those funny, inspirational things that make it all better. I went to:

    1. Chuck Wendig’s article that still makes me laugh after 25 reads:

    2. Ze Frank’s YouTube video, An Invocation for Beginnings at:

    and the RWA-WF loop, where I found your blog post.

    Thanks for the idea!

    • says

      Oh, yes, Kristi! That Ze Frank video clip is a must-see. Thanks for bringing it up. (You already know I’m a Wendig fan.)

      Peeps, it’s a 3-minute clip and the best quote’s toward the end. I’d encourage you to watch it.

  14. says

    This post is going in my computer’s Encouragement and Inspiration folder! I have one for writing and one for life but there’s a lot of overlap. :)

    I also keep notes and comments from people who took the time to tell me they enjoyed some of my stories.

    And I alway keep the notes and cards from my husband – every NaNo, every finished ms, every published story, his words cheer me on. :)

    • says

      Sounds to me like your Kit is well underway, Madeline. Is that something you discovered on your own, or did you have a role model? (Don’t feel obliged to answer. I’m always curious about where people glean particular habits.)

      • says

        I really don’t remember why or when I started doing it. I used to rip inspiring articles from magazines and keep them in a binder but now I find myself bookmarking ones from online more so. And my husband was always after me to keep the nice comments I received about my writing – I think he just wanted to have something to point me to when I stared to moan and whine about rejection etc. :)

  15. Bernadette Phipps-Lincke says

    I have had many an exhausting battle with my self-doubt. I used to try to appease it with little kindnesses (coffee, soy BLT’s, dark chocolate) but although at times this made it comfortably numb-it refused to go away. I have since decided that as my self-doubt refuses to leave, it must go from being treated like a house guest to being treated like a working household member. My self-doubt has an entire chore list of it quirks to infuse into the characters of my current WIP. This way it stays too busy to give me too many literary wedgies. (BTW I love that “literary wedgies”).

    Thanks for the inspiring post. You rock as always.

    • says

      Great attitude, Bernadette! And if you take my advice, you won’t hand out a penny of allowance without first inspecting his work.

      On a serious note, it’s easier when we know and accept the Self-Doubt Monster is here to stay. Then its presence doesn’t have to cause alarm.

  16. Leslie R. says

    Such wonderful ideas! I used to have an e-mail folder called “Boosters to me” that had all kinds of positive comments people had sent me. It was unfortunately lost in some kind of computer disaster, and I never started a new one. Not sure why.

    I’m excited to start my Writer’s Emergency Hope Kit – and to share this idea with my writing group. I’ll try not to let it become a procrastination activity. :)

    • says

      I’m delighted you’d think this of enough value to share.

      One thing I didn’t mention is that I don’t often open my file. It’s odd, but knowing I have one to read can be sufficient to recover. (Well, and the exercise and being outdoor or with people. Those usually do the trick.) Perhaps you haven’t replaced your file because you’ve internalized it, and that might be even better.

  17. JennWalkup says

    Ugh, it ate my response. Let’s try this again.

    I lovvvveeed this post! What a great list and so timely as I’m waffling between endless non stop writing and stark empty save the crickets on the current WIP. As always, you really got right to the heart of it. I’m bookmarking this one!

    • says

      Sorry about the hungry comment system, Jenn. Thank you for persisting!

      You’ve touched on a whole ‘nother blog post–how some authors binge on writing from necessity while others maintain a steady pace. Bet you can guess which camp I’m in and which I wish I attended.

  18. says


    Thanks for sharing this post! When the Self-Doubt Monster decides to drag me out of bed on a gray overcast morning, I’ll remember to start with a bit of inspiration from my Emergency Kit. My boyfriend isn’t a writer, but I feel like this is something he would most definitely benefit from on one of those blah mornings.

    And for those really really stormy days, I think the most important thing in my emergency kit would be my amazing writers’ group. My Mugsters keep me going!


    • says

      There’s nothing like a hopeful community, Andrea. On that we’re agreed.

      You know, I can see couples sharing bits of their Hope Kit with one another, the idea being that we still take responsibility for ourselves, but others can remind us to look at our Kit if we forget. Might save a lot of years of discovery.

  19. Sheila Seabrook says

    Awesome list, Jan. I don’t have any sort of tools and just end up fumbling my way through the madness until I find sanity again. Your suggestions would be so much better than what I do now. Thanks! I’m going to start working on a toolkit tomorrow.

  20. says

    This is The Awesome, and I don’t just mean the needed dose of humor; this is fabulous advice. I especially appreciate this: “A list of what’s worked in the past—aka things to try first.” So true that you always think you’ll remember–of course you will–and then you never do, because you’re in deer-in-headlights mode and blind to sense.

    We should start a community hope worksheet on the WU FB page. Just saying.

    And I completely agree about that toilet paper roll. Of course it must be over the roll.

    • says

      “And I completely agree about that toilet paper roll. Of course it must be over the roll.”

      No wonder I enjoy working with you, Therese. You get all the important things right.

      I’d love to see that community worksheet. Bet it would offer a rich diversity of items.

      This post is a bit of an amalgam of sources. Do you know Thich Nhat Hahn? I heard an audiotape of his years ago in which he advocates writing down your family’s favorite recipes, because otherwise it might be years before one thinks to use such a simple source of pleasure. I thought it was brilliant at the time and still think it’s wise.

      • says

        I’ve never heard of Thich Nhat Hahn, but I like that idea. I did start something like that years ago — a collection of self-proclaimed wisdom and tips — to send off with my kids when they leave for college. Favorite recipes would be a good addition to that slim collection.

        And that community worksheet is very do-able. Let’s make it happen!

        • says

          TNH was nominated for the Novel Peace Prize by MLK. I think if you read him you’d love what he stands for.

          Love your idea of the wisdom book, Therese. Funnily, I began a book or recipes but haven’t done the other.

  21. says

    I love this, Jan. Thank you.

    I have also found mantras to be highly effective to me. Anne Lamott says that all prayers fall into two categories: “Thank you” or “Help me.”

    I love that because it simplifies prayer (something that can be, otherwise, confusing and overwhelming).

    Writing, too, is confusing and overwhelming so I find that having a simple, direct mantra keeps me focused. For my first book, my mantra was, “Just tell the damn story.”

    For book two, my mantra seems to be, “You can do this.”

    I like to write these on my whiteboard in my writing area. XO to you, Jan. I wish I had known your grandmother!

    • says

      I love Anne Lamott. Perhaps you’ve given me another person to quote from than the already-weary Pressfield…?

      Until recently, I was more of a quote girl. But I crafted a personalized mantra a few months ago and, you know, it works.

  22. Denise Willson says

    Good advice, Jan.

    I know it sounds corny, but when I’m feeling down about my writing, I watch my kids play. It reminds me of things bigger than myself, and that I’m more than a writer. I made these amazing little girls…I can do anything. :)

    Chin up. Always.

    Denise Willson
    Author of A Keeper’s Truth

  23. says

    What a wonderful idea! The self-doubt monster has had her claws in me for weeks. I turned away from writing and spent time working up a website for my other so-called career as genealogical researcher and speaker. Some of the people I met doing that read my blog posts and took time to email me and compliment my writing. I shrugged it off. Now I’m going to go back and reread those emails and copy them into a file.

    Maybe I’ll make scrapbook with the certificates from contests and the few clippings I have from sales. At least I’ll have something to look at when they finally haul me off to the old folks home.

    • says

      Carolyn, I hope you follow through on this! If we don’t take notice of and celebrate those moments of positive feedback, they tend to vanish. What’s great is that you so easily recalled them when prompted.

  24. Jessica Brockmole says

    Jan, I don’t know how I missed this when you first posted it, but thank you for this.

    Self-doubt never truly goes away for a writer. But having the tools to work through it can certainly keep us moving forward. Thank you for the inspiring suggestions!