Blogger: Mary Keeley
Writing is an interesting journey of delays and successes, good and not so good feedback, more work, and then hurry up and wait. All are intrinsic to this career. Combine these factors with the attributes of a typical writer, a creative sensitive, thoughtful person who has a story to tell or a topic he or she is passionate about influencing, and you have a recipe for emotional mood swings. Today, I’m going to offer some suggestions for maintaining balance and perspective to avoid the deep doldrums of self-doubt or an over-confident attitude that you have at last “arrived.”
Rejection and discouragement are a part of the journey. Jack London struggled for years to get published. His first story received 600 rejections! But he must have found a way to maintain balance and keep his dream alive. That first story was finally accepted, and he went on to become famous for his stories White Fang and Call of the Wild.
Louisa May Alcott’s family encouraged her to give up writing and find work as a servant to make a living. But her nursing experiences during the Civil War provided fodder for stories. Readers continue to love Little Women and the rest of her books.
At the other extreme Phil Vischer, co-creator of Veggie Tales, is transparent about his company’s quick success, followed by quick disaster at its peak, in his book Me, Myself, & Bob. Pride and unbalanced priorities.
Here are some suggestions for maintaining peak writing and a balanced, positive outlook:
- Go back to the drawing board. Spend time in humble worship, Bible reading, and prayer. Reflect on the fact that since God blessed you with the desire and ability to write, he has a purpose in mind for you. I recommend this as a daily habit.
- Don’t look at manuscript rejections as dismissals of you the writer. When you are feeling insecure, repeat that statement to yourself. It’s hard to be vulnerable, to put yourself out there for professionals’ scrutiny. When you receive a rejection, recognize it as a delay, not a final verdict of your ability and career. Request constructive feedback, learn how to correct the flaws, and the rejection will turn into a long-term blessing for your writing.
- Stay focused on the mission. Take time to think back to your first vision for the story or your initial sense of urgency for writing on the topic. Recall your initial excitement as the story took shape in your mind or the passion you felt toward influencing change in your audience. Reread what you’ve written at regular intervals. Evaluate if the narrative maintains the level of interest that reflects this energy. If not, it’s easier to refocus along the way than to wait until after the manuscript is complete, or after a quick rejection.
- Play appropriate background music as you write. By appropriate I mean an upbeat tune or march when you are bogged down or gentle inspirational while writing heartfelt dialogue between the hero and heroine. You get the idea—whatever fits the mood of the moment in your work. It really does help to inspire the passion and to find the perfect words.
- Continue to grow in craft. Read books, attend writers conferences, take a class, join a critique group in which you are challenged by your partners, yet feel comfortable with them. I wrote a blog about choosing a critique group here. The growing process never ends.
- Journal and write. One of the best ways to find your voice is by journaling. When you’re writing from your heart for your eyes only, your unique voice shows through. Rachelle Gardner wrote on the importance of voice in last week’s blog here. Write, write, and write. There are no shortcuts. As you practice using your voice confidence will build, along with hope that its freshness will attract agents and editors.
- Never think you have “arrived.” Not even Stephen King and James Patterson have the luxury of that attitude. How many sub-standard books do you think they need to publish before their audiences dwindle and move on to a different author? Maybe two? Successful authors need to submit professional proposals along with everyone else. Stay humble.
What is your area of greatest struggle in maintaining a positive balance? What constructive feedback have you received that resulted in a blessing for your writing?
The first tip is especially close to my heart. When I “go back to the drawing board” by spending time with God, I am always blessed.
I am assured that God has a plan for me. A passion for writing is a strong indication of His calling. It is impossible, just impossible, to stop writing when you are called.
I am refreshed. When I spend time with God, I have new energy and focus in my writing.
I am reminded that God’s plan is amazing, and I am privileged to take part in His work. It is fascinating to see the direction that His plan takes. Watching and obeying God’s direction is exciting, but humbling.
I am encouraged and at peace. Yes, there are discouragements and postponements. Sure, I feel disappointed sometimes, but staying close to God always results in peace and a new encouragement to sit down and write.
Jesus explained it beautifully with the vine and branches. I pray that I do not become a random writer-vine that is not bearing fruit.
Beautifully stated, Lynn. Thank you.
This is a beautiful post, Mary. I love the points you’ve made.
When I first began writing, I read a blog by an author who encouraged other writers to keep God as their first priority. Only then would they be able to write the story He had given them (my words, not hers). I’ve kept that reminder. Once my day is started, I always spend time in the Word before writing words. I believe spending time with God enables me to be more sensitive to his promptings for “my” writings.
I think my greatest struggle in maintaining balance comes with my internal thought life. Rejection is my “life” issue, my thorn that keeps me seeking God. I see how He’s using writing to keep me dependent on Him, but also using it to teach me to find my identity in Him. My value doesn’t come from being a great writer, it is found in being one of His kids. I just have to remember that when something I’ve written isn’t well received. It’s not me being rejected, it’s the opportunity to improve my writing. I hope I explained my thoughts clearly.
Jennifer Major @Jjumping
Oh my, yes you did explain your thoughts clearly, and very well.
I think rejection is one of the enemy’s favourite tools to kick back against the King. Speaking as someone who was rejected as a small child, I don’t have a memory of the event, but I live the repercussions of one man’s selfishness.
Our value IS, and always shall be, as His children. We do not need to be born into a royal family by chance, we are given our titles as gifts, which make them all the more valuable.
Jeanne, you explained your thoughts very clearly. Common struggle, profoundly powerful antidote.
Love this, I feel this in every way.
Jennifer Major @Jjumping
Balance? What is this “balance” of which you speak?
My life is set by my kid’s school and sports schedules. Thank the Lord we have one less in competitive hockey this year!! Woo!! Red meat once a month!!
Balance for me is pre-set by others. I have a problem with stealing away from what needs to be done and spending it in what wants to distract me.
All week, most of the blog posts I’ve read involve time with the Lord and balance.
I mean, heh, I don’t know about you, but maaaaaaaybe someone is tapping my shoulder?
“Wooohoooo? Jennifer? Helllooooo?”
I get it, Lord.
As for blessingsin my writing? Yesterday I got an email from a friend who told me that my MS was great and I had a “great Native American voice”.
Being a white Canadian, I took that as a compliment and was proud of my accomplishment to sound like someone I’m so clearly not.
ANother friend told me when she finished the bok, she worried about teh characters for 5 days before she could focus on real people.
Jennifer, congratulations on the encouraging feedback, including your getting the Native American voice down.
For we type A, task driven people, your statement, “I have a problem with stealing away from what needs to be done and spending it in what wants to distract me.” hits home. Yes, back to #1.
Heather Day Gilbert
Thank you so much for this timely post, Mary. I definitely think the writerly life makes you a little bipolar–with the joyous highs of acceptance buoying you along to the next rejection…only to hang on for the next high. My book proposal is still out to publishers, and I am trying to keep my mind occupied with my Beth Moore Bible study. Thats not to say Im not praying about it practically every minute of my days, but I love finding some insights to get me through what is going on externally (my hubby is looking for a job, too!).
As a writer, it is so hard not to know what your next project is. I am like a racehorse, just chomping at the bit for that go-ahead!
Heather, I’m glad to hear this post comes at a good time for you. I wish you and your husband well. Great simile, using a racehorse so anxious for the starting bell. That’s why #1 is listed first.
Thank you, Mary (and others who posted). I needed this. I’ve been sidelined by rejections, and I agree. It’s a favorite taunt of the enemy for a writer to blow a rejection way out of proportion. Thanks for the reminder to listen to God’s call on this, because there have been wonderful, exciting moments of acceptance as well. Journaling has especially helped me.
You’re welcome, Deb. Thankfully, God gives us balance in our emotions when we seek it.
Cindy R. Wilson
Thank you so much for this post! Overall, I think I find patience is one of the most difficult challenges. Moving on is a struggle, but when you have a clear answer, even if it is a rejection, then it’s easier to get going again. It’s when you’re still waiting, kind of hanging in the balance, that makes the whole thing harder.
The cool thing is that all this waiting, even dealing with rejections, builds character and truly helps us grow as writers (or in other areas of our lives). Now I just need to keep telling myself that 🙂
Great perspective, Cindy. Waiting is hard, but reminding yourself of that perspective will surely help to keep balanced.
Awesome post, Mary. Really good stuff here. And great reminders to focus on the reason we write, and to spend time with the Lord daily in prayer. I’ve been realizing that’s what is missing in my life lately, and that’s why I’ve been so frazzled, allowing worry to steal my joy. It’s so, so easy for me to fall into the trap of go-go-go, instead of a gentler rhythm of seek Him, write, seek Him, get feedback, seek Him, revise…repeat. 🙂
Happy Friday to you!
I like that “gentler rhythm” you describe, Lindsay. It’s tough to find, and tough to maintain. Always Jesus first, yes?
So true, Lindsay. Well spoken, well advised.
Happy Friday to you too.
Mary, this is a wonderful post and a great way to end the week. Thank you!
A tremendous blessing for me has been connecting with new critique partners. They’re kind and loving in a very truthful, tell-it-like-it-is kind of way. We’re free to drop the facades and put ourselves and our work out there because we pray God’s best for each other. I love how our Heavenly Father brings about those connections!
You are blessed, Cynthia. So glad you found your critique group.
Thanks for this! I was literally just things, “this is all up and down and it takes so long,” then I saw your post 🙂
Tonya, I hope the suggestions continue to help keep your emotions and expectations balanced.
Wonderfully said, Mary! What are your thoughts on ego, though? Since we deal in an industry that is notorious for “strong personalities”, to put it politely, much of the innovation of the industry seems held up by ego, and relationships between writers and agents, writers and publishers, and publishers and readers are tested by ego.
(Not to mention when an author gets 600 ! rejections, something has to make them strive forward: can ego be a force for good?)
Larry, the word “ego” has positive and negative or self-focused connotations attached to it. The words “confident” or “assured” are better choices because they suggest the secondary thought, “In whom or what do you base your confidence and assurance?” And of course that’s God. Writers should be assertive in doing everything within their power and ability to promote themselves and their books. Those who keep in mind the source of their abilities maintain balance.
Meadow Rue Merrill
In the early days of writing about my daughter, Ruth, I was really discouraged when agents didn’t think the story was ready to publish. But I kept writing–and journaling–and now I’m on the final chapter of what I see as a much more compelling and complete story. So many times, I wanted to quit! But as I kept going my writing improved, and I began to see how God’s timing was better than mine. As for the importance of journaling, the last chapter is entirely based on the journal I kept in the year after Ruth died. I could have never written it without these small, daily reminders of the pain we felt and the healing God brought to our lives.
I am so sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine how much of your heart you poured into your story. I pray God will keep holding you close.
I feel the same way. What I once thought was the end product was actually just the beginning, and what I have learned in between, totally priceless:)
Meadow Rue Merrill
Thank you, Lisa. That’s very sweet. It has been a hard journey. One I still don’t fully understand, but through it all God has been faithful.
Meadow, thanks for sharing your compelling case for the value and worth of what we often want to view as delays. I’m glad to hear the writing is going well.
Many thanks Mary. This is a topic I needed today.
You’re welcome, Lisa.
Wonderful post Mary…especially good to ponder over a cuppa tea this weekend. Since I often feel like Peter…stepping out of the boat and then crying out for help…I’m working on practicing a more balanced approach to life. 🙂
Nothing like a soothing cup of tea and a comfortable chair to ponder balance, Kate. Sounds like a blessed time.
Thank you, Martha.
Mary, I loved this post! How did you know what I was thinking and feeling today? The best part for me was knowing I’m not alone! Thanks.
You definitely are not alone, Sherry. Being human, we all can use some encouragement and eternal perspective from time to time. I’m glad it was timely for you.
Thank you for a words of comfort today. It was like a spot place to land.
And thank you to all those who comment here. I am greatly encouraged to feel this writing journey is not one taken in solitude.
You’re welcome, Lisa. I hope you are encouraged. Yes, there is a sense of community among those who comment. Nice.
Thanks, Mary for a great post! Writers have to love the roller coaster of publishing. The slow accent up the first peak, to the crashing below. As with roller coasters, it helps to remember there are always peaks. There are always dives. Always adventure.
For me, sometimes I struggle with confidence in my voice and writing craft. I have high standards for myself, so sometimes I have to remember to lighten up.
I have a great support team of excellent writers that encourage me and give reality checks, too. What a blessing. They make sure I’ve fastened my seat belt for the roller coaster ride. They scream with me. They laugh with me. They celebrate with me. And the best part of all, they are sitting in the car next to me.
Thanks for the encouraging thoughts going into the weekend!
You’re welcome, Michelle. You are blessed to have that support team that helps to keep you balanced.
If I don’t ask, someone else will… You weren’t the one driving when you typed this comment, were you? 🙂
LOL! No, alas that is the roller coaster car next to me. I am safely at home, watching my boys drive their toy cars all over the living room.
Thanks, Mary. That post is a keeper.
You’re welcome, Jenny. Thanks for stopping by.
Perfect timing with this post! God’s timing. 🙂 My book just went live – I won a writing contest with a self-publisher and got to publish for no charge – and there’s lots of strange emotions I’m dealing with. This post hit home. Thank you for the ancouragement! 🙂
Congratulations on winning the contest. Enjoy the blessing. I can imagine a multitude of emotions you could be feeling at this time. I’m glad the timing was good for you.
Your first point resonates with me! As a young writer and aspiring author, I feel God’s calling on my talent to write for His glory, but there is so much pride and selfish ambition that clouds my vision. I want to be so satisfied in Him that I will be content even if I never get published.
Grace, thanks for sharing. you are already ahead by recognizing these potential stumbling blocks. Making the first point a daily habit will help to balance your perspective.
What a great post! Encouraging and realistic. The balance. Thanks!
You’re welcome, Connie.
I think I missed the party, having to be away from my computer most of yesterday. But I wanted to let you know how much this encouraged me, and I’m keeping it in my Encouragement folder for those days when I need something to lift my spirits. Thank you.
An encouragement folder . . . great idea, Meghan. I’m glad to add to it.
Absolutely outstanding blog. I didn’t have time to read this when it came in, filed it away because the topic struck a nerve.
I hadn’t thought about using music as a writing tool to stir passion. Music itself might add pleasure to my writing experience, too. I’ve always chosen silence. Will try this.
Thanks for taking time to share your knowledge and give us writers who have experienced both ups and downs a boost.
You’re welcome, Judith. Glad it gave you a boost. Enjoy the music!