Blogger: Mary Keeley
Authors who achieve their dream of publication share certain habits and traits that bolster their endurance for the long journey to publication and then throughout their publishing career. Negative criticism, discouraging news in the industry, and frustrating delays can erode the most positive spirit, but these authors have learned ways to persevere.
Realize that negative criticism will happen. In what area of your real life have you never experienced criticism? It’s part of the learning, growing, performing process of life. Two facts about negative criticism: It is never comfortable, and no one will ever be entirely free from it on this earth. When it happens to you—and it will, more than once in your writing journey—it’s the most productive advice you can receive when it’s delivered with understanding meant to encourage you to stay the course.
Successful authors have developed habits to respond positively to negative comments. Consider it a free professional critique when the agent or editor you submitted to offers generous feedback on your work. Train yourself to respond this way: He or she took considerable time to read, evaluate, and point out areas for improvement. I’ve been given a gift to help me make my book better. Successful writers take the advice seriously, read books on the recommended areas for improvement, and apply their growing craft to their manuscript. You may experience multiple such successes on your road to publication.
Look for positive news in the industry. More than once last year news in the industry was discouraging. Successful writers respond by continuing to improve their writing and to recognize positives in industry news. Results of a recent study, “The Evolution of the Book Industry: Implications for U.S. Book Manufacturers and Printers,” were released in December. Some surprising results have positive nuances if you are looking for them. Quoting from the report:
- Almost 70 percent of consumers feel it is unlikely they will give up on printed books by 2016. Lack of eye strain, the look and feel of paper, and the ability to add it to a library or bookshelf were the top reasons.
- College students prefer printed textbooks to eBooks as they help students to concentrate on the subject matter at hand.
- Even the largest publishers derive revenues of no more than 20-30 percent from eBook sales. This means 70-80 percent continues to come from printed books.
This is good news for bookstores. It also is good news for publishers, and for the industry in general because these findings show that reading habits aren’t evolving as quickly as once anticipated. And the longer this is the case, the more time publishers have to adjust to changes. Read the complete report here.
Patience will always be needed for the writing journey. Waiting mode doesn’t end when you finally get your first contract. In the case of one client her manuscript had been on hold for several months awaiting final acceptance by the publisher. The two editors involved gave conflicting direction to my client about the elements to include in her devotionals. Her patience through that episode fueled her endurance to maintain a willing do-whatever-it-takes attitude.
How vibrant is your endurance for the writing journey? Which area do you need to develop most? How do you actively train yourself for endurance in the process?
Successful authors share several habits that foster endurance for the journey. Click to Tweet.
Negative criticism will happen in your writing career. Three habits will give you the endurance you need. Click to Tweet.
I was trained to remain motionless, yet highly alert and ‘coiled’, for periods of up to a couple of days, in places replete with unmentionable sensations, smells, and bugs.
The trick was in developing a mental compartmentalization. Having to be ‘eyes-on’ with attention to detail took precedence, while the centipede crawling up your sleeve had to be ignored.
How do you ignore a centipede? The only way I can describe it is that it’s analogous to blocking out a bad smell by subconsciously bypassing your nose when you breathe. You ‘turn off’ the part of your brain that is susceptible to irritation.
That’s the key – the things we find hard to endure in this line of work tend to be irritants, and not critical nodes.
It’s also important to consider that we will often want to hold onto our irritations and obstacles – at best, they give us a perceived battle in which we can prove ourselves. At worst, they’re a good excuse for failure.
We can dial down the sensitivity to irritation, perhaps by consciously placing them in perspective (at least no one is likely to shoot me today) or by putting them out of consciousness (“I’ll think about that tomorrow…tomorrow IS another day!”).
In the end, the best thing is to simply place the things that try our endurance in the hands of the Almighty, but not many can give them too Him and not be tempted to take them back. Perhaps the exercises above can help weaken them, so we won’t WANT them back!
If we can do this, we’re standing sure where the waves break around us, secure in the knowledge that we won’t be washed off our feet.
Excellent word pictures and exercises, Andrew. Thanks for explaining your training. It provides most useful application for authors at any stage of their career. Thanks also for the reminder to give frustrations and disappointments over to God. And credit him when things go well.
“I’ll think about that tomorrow…tomorrow IS another day!” … is that Gone with the Wind, Andrew?
And thank you for always sharing your experiences.
Yep, GWTW. One of the best lines ever.
I use the word “spit-fire” occasionally from the movie. Grin!
And I’ve built parts for several Spitfires (the airplane of Battle of Britain fame)!
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
You are one of those people who I always know will tell me something that both un-nerves and impresses me.
But, brother, CENTIPEDES??
In the immortal words of teenage girls everywhere…
They do keep the tarantulas away.
I appreciate your thoughts, Andrew. There are areas in my life where I know I am too sensitive. It’s time to start numbing those. A little. And trusting God with them. Good words.
It’s important not to lose the sensitivity – you need it, but getting to the point where you control what it tells you – and the rate at which it says it – is the key.
It’s kind of like dealing with pain. Ignoring pain is stupid, but being able to use biofeedback to block the receptors for a given period can be the difference between life and death. Yours, or someone else’s.
This is completely brilliant, Andrew. May I quote you for an upcoming ACFW blog? Such a smart way of looking at the issue of irritations, aggravations, and other beasts.
Absolutely, Cynthia. If this can help someone else, I’d be delighted – and honored.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I know him.
Carol McAdams Moore
The idea of endurance in the writing process reminds me of the running habits of a man (forty something in age) in my community. As I thought about his example, I substituted writing for running.
The man trains with the high school cross country team. He coaches and encourages new (sometimes struggling) runners, but he is also challenged to keep up with the new, strong emerging talent on the team.
Most days, this gentleman can also be seen running alone. It is obvious that he loves what he is doing. He is dedicated and realizes that reaching his potential requires many additional hours of work.
He competes in marathons with other runners who have also trained over time. It gives him the opportunity to see how he compares to others like himself. I am sure he does not always finish in the place he hopes. There will always more to do as he trains for the next competition, but he can enjoy the success of his accomplishments.
Carol, your description of that coach in training paints a great word picture to keep in mind: forging on with successes along the way as he continues to improve and keep up. It reminds me of the last part of Hebrews 12:1 — “And let us run with endurance the race that God has set before us.”
My inner voice that speaks up first is usually heavy on noise and light on wisdom. I learned to listen to it, just like I listen to the criticism. The trick is to find the nuggets of truth in both–best done in private conversation with God. I express my frustration and outrage, God responds with some pointed questions, I reluctantly adjust my attitude and come away wiser.
Just wish I’d figured this out decades ago. It would have saved me some memorable moments of public embarrassment (“so soon old, so late smart yet”).
Wise, wise advice, Shirlee. Thanks for your important contribution to the discussion.
Anita Mae Draper
Although I see the benefits of ebooks, I agree with those college students.
As for waiting, I learned a long time ago that my writing career is on God’s timetable, so I do what I can and need to do to ensure I’m ready for whatever time He’s chosen for me.
Anita, that sums up the successful approach to riding the ups and downs of the writing life.
Some days, you just can’t think about the long road ahead. Sometimes, you can only focus on what you can do TODAY. I know for myself, if I get too focused on the loooooooong road, I’ll get overly discouraged. But today? I can do something to move forward today, even if it’s one small step.
Great advice, Lindsay. Knowing the approach that best fortifies a writer’s endurance is a boost toward success.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I read in yesterday’s Jesus Calling about tomorrow being a phantom.
The road ahead is only a visual, it hasn’t been tread upon, so we don’t know that it is stable. But today is stable. Today has foundation.
Today is where we’re standing, and we can see our feet.
What great advice. One small step every day is doable.
Mary, thanks for this post today. I watched American Idol tonight. This is the first year I’ve really been excited about it because of the great Harry Connick Jr. I’ve noticed the good contestants have worked years to prepare for their chance to be on Idol. There are many inspiring stories there. So I’ll be patient and take one day at a time as I continue on this writing journey.
I can endure this because I love what I’m writing.
Taking criticism is something I’ve always had to work at. And I think that your blog, your encouragement, and the contributors’ encouragement, has and will continue to help me endure. Without a doubt, giving all glory to God.
Recently, I received a critique from a lady on my book. She started with extreme positive, ended with extreme positive, and wrote one slight negative in the middle. My nature is to let the good fall to the wayside and let the negative devastate me. But because of this website and training of how to take criticism, I focused on the positive surrounding the negative. And I took that one negative and purposed to not let that happen in this new work.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
I royal tank at taking criticism. I’m as needy as a fish on the grass, gasping for a lung full of water. I have learned to re-read every email and purposefully look for the good, because I live in Not Sally Field World. I’m always thinking “You loathe me, you really loathe me!”
One thing I learned was that whoever it was that disliked my *work*, yet wrote a nice email, did NOT dislike *ME*.
If we can all remember that? We’ll endure the hard stuff.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
See? A natural aversion to LY words. Yeah. That’s it.
Jennifer … I really have to watch those LY words! “She wants to so bad … badly!!” It just doesn’t come natural-LY!! Grin!
Only a rare few naturally focus primarily on the positives and toss aside the negative feedback. Which is great as long as they go to do as you have learned to do, Shelli. Negative feedback can be just what a writer needs to make a manuscript shine.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
Without sounding too maudlin, or doing as Jon Acuff says and “humblebrag”, I have learned that I can take a lot of pain. When I was pregnant with #3, I sneezed and the soft tissue between L2 and L3 split open. Needless to say, it HURT.
That was 17 years ago. It still hurts, although nowhere near as bad, and not as often.
What are my choices? Endure it, or whine and drive everyone insane.
When things get bad, when someone snorts and sneers at my work, or just stays indifferent, that bothers me.
BUT, I CAN walk.
When I was told by this certain agent that I REALLY wanted to impress, that my work was not ready for publication, I allowed myself a crying jag, then I thought, “Oh maybe not now, but it will be!”
One does not osmote knowledge, one has to learn it. One has to read, study, apply, try, get rejected again, learn more, study more and never give up.
Because when you give up? You let mediocrity win. You let the people you don’t like or respect have a weapon with which to spear your heart. And they will use it. Over and over.
But when you find that sweet spot between pain and perseverance? Give it a name. Endurance.
Get comfortable with it. It will be your companion for years.
That was encouraging, Jennifer! I’m on board!
Been reading a Harry Potter book to see how on earth Rowling described some of the scenes. I watched the movies for the first time just last week … Ha! My daughter said, “You’re reading that just to see how she writes?” I said, “Yes!”
Loved this, Jenn!
Amen, Jennifer. Recapping the important tips for success in the writing life:
1. Do–and continue to do–the hard work of learning and growing in craft.
2. If you give up or cease learning, mediocrity wins.
3. Endurance is your companion. Feed it.
Your endurance was obviously a large part of why the agent eventually said “Yes!”
Most of the time, my endurance and positive attitude are strong. I’ve been blessed with some wonderful writing friends who spur me on and hold my hand when I need it. 🙂
Every now and then, a negative hits on the wrong day and takes me down. Hard. When that most recently happened, I made the mistake of giving into the lies in my head for awhile. I had myself a good cry. And then I began to journal out my pain and questions to the Lord. Through that time of journaling, He spoke to me through a couple blogs and some worship music. He realigned my focus and stilled my hurting heart. I took that day off of writing.
The next day dawned much more brightly and with renewed optimism. I’m learning that, for me, sometimes the ticket to endurance is to take a baby step back from the norm of writing and rest. Do real life things. Like clean my house. 😉 But seriously, When the negatives come, I’m learning not to give into them. At least not for long. And to always, ALWAYS take them tot the throne and ask God to speak His truth into my thoughts and heart. He’s good to do this.
Great post today, Mary.
Jeanne, I’m visualizing many heads nodding as writers relate to your experience. What you’re learning–to step back briefly and take the negatives to the Lord to breathe truth back to you–is a sure way to refresh endurance.
Those ‘real life’ things still give you fodder for story, since all your senses are engaged whilst cleaning. 😉
Yep, my house was happy, Jenni. It was clean. Until the kids got home from school. 😉
There are days when writing seems like parenting. Hearing criticism is about as appealing and almost as hurtful as when your child screams, “I hate you” or “You’re the worst mom ever.” You cry a little, you pout, and then you get back at it. Giving up just isn’t an option.
One thing that always lifts me up is helping other writers. I was in a bit of a slump as far as productivity was concerned this past fall, so I started off this year by critiquing someone’s manuscript. Not only was she thrilled with the feedback, I got pumped up by her excitement and started in on my own manuscript again.
Cheryl, being more outward focused is a surefire way to put our own concerns in perspective.
Good point, Cheryl. Giving up is not an option for writers who gifted and called to do so. It’s interesting how God blessed you in return for the blessing you gave someone. So like him.
Reshape. Change. Edit. Revise. Rinse and repeat. 🙂
Alterations have a way of making us squirm, but down deep, we know the pin pricks give us thicker skin.
I feel better equipped than I did last year and the year before because I’ve received constructive criticism and encouragement that I’ve applied to my stories. Still so much to learn…
The learning will never end, Jenni. But there is joy in the journey.
Mary, I’m late to the party (but SAM’S sure loved me this morning…and I purposely avoided the chocolate aisle. That counts as endurance doesn’t it???)
Thank you for the dose of encouragement!
Great to hear the printed book is still alive and well! Yep, endurance.
Now–off to pound a few keys. 🙂
I assume your chocolate stash at home is at the ready. You can’t pound keys for long without chocolate.
Jennifer Zarifeh Major
All I read was ‘chocolate’.
And you avoided the chocolate aisle?
How many times? Cuz I only avoid it once, then I go back an apologize for my rudeness.
Oh, criticism. We have a love-hate relationship! The initial criticism hurts and I always have to take some time to digest it. But the love part comes in when I’ve had time to pull my emotions together and look at the comments from a learning perspective. I’ve had the most phenomenal criticism from editors, because they’ve taken the time to give me amazing feedback, and that in itself is a compliment. It tells me they believe in me as a writer and are truly interested in seeing my craft improve. As for the industry news, I’ve learned there’s little I can do to change the trends, I can only work at doing the best I can do and leave the rest to God.
Those are the ingredients for endurance, Gabrielle. You’re in a good place.
. . . in my writing endeavors, I move fast, travel light, and take no literary prisoners.
If you put in the TIME, you will succeed. It seems to work for me and my dog.
A lot of wisdom is delivered in those succinct statements, Donnie.
Mary, what a refreshing post on the topic of perseverance.
The writing journey is one of promises. Some have been fulfilled, others are on their way. I’ve had a season of frustrations with things that came up that were beyond my control. I figure I should be on one timetable for my book, but God’s timing is quite another.
The area I’m growing in is in receiving constructive criticism for my writing. Others’ input almost always improves my writing. I want the attitude of acceptance and eagerness for those changes to come more readily in my emotions. My head gets how much they help. My heart needs to catch up.
And, yes, patience is the key. Glad it’s a fruit of the Spirit. Couldn’t grow that on my own! Apples are peachy. But patience is peachier.
Lynn, that’s an interesting way to describe the two-dimensional process in accepting criticism. Comments from others concur that emotions always seem to take a little longer to catch up. It’s probably because writers invest so much emotional energy into their work.