Writer Restraint: Stop Kicking Yourself When You’re Down
As writers, we frequently produce material that we beat ourselves up for later – or we fail to produce at all! We make a myriad of choices and mistakes we later regret. We understand that we are imperfect creatures, but find it more difficult to accept our own shortcomings than the imperfections of others.
Being hard on yourself is not inherently a “writer’s problem,” but with deadline hoops to jump through, the expectation of expert writing on demand, and persnickety editors, the profession certainly presents opportunities for self-doubt.
Every writer has an inner voice alternately driving them to put pen to paper, or to crumple the paper and toss it in the bin. When rejection looms, it is hard not to let negative inner chatter fray your nerves. Perseverance is everything. Kathryn Stockett took five years to write and edit The Help, only to see it rejected by 60 agents over the next three-and-a-half years. She had at least 60 good reasons to kick herself and admit defeat, but she didn’t. Her expert writing isn’t what anchored her success (though it didn’t hurt) – it was her determination to fight on that led her to Agent 61.
When that niggling doubt starts creeping up behind you, it is tempting to try to analyze why you yourself should be so harsh and judgmental. Not everyone has the confidence of Roman Payne, who said, “If you love my work, you are a good critic. If you do not love my work, you are a ‘not good’ critic.” The best approach is to stop thinking and start doing. Obsessive negative thinking is what keeps us focused on perceived failure or rejection. Instead, follow successful writers’ habits:
Actively seek feedback. Scribes who actually sell books take feedback to heart. They welcome hearing the opinions of editors, objective friends and critique groups they trust will tell them whether they have produced paragons of expert writing, or mere dreck.
Review yesterday’s writing. Peruse your previous work to quickly snap you back into the flow of your story, article or project. Fix minor hiccups and move on. As Jay Ponteri states in How to Write in the Face of Rejection, “And I learned, as all writers must, how to write in the face of rejection. I received a rejection from an editor I admired, and the next day I wrote.”
Learn from criticism. Review letters of rejection, spurned manuscripts and redlined articles, and attempt to draw out any lesson the criticism brings. When you are told you write like a dyslexic squirrel, wallow for a bit, and then attempt to write with your nuts in order.
Instead of dwelling in the past, which is immutable, create a realistic forward-thinking writing plan for your present and future. Set achievable goals, and when you meet them, practice giving yourself a well-deserved high-five or pat on the back, instead of the proverbial punch below the belt.
Patrice R is a freelance writer available on WriterAccess, a marketplace where clients and expert writers connect for assignments.