So much about having a writing career, whether it’s your main career or a supplemental career, can seem as if it’s about failure. Not finishing stories, rejection, years of writing without finding commercial success. It can be difficult to remain committed, enthusiastic.
Yes, a career in writing can be difficult. But so much of it is about mindset. It’s about how you frame the things that happen.
Last week, we talked about achieving goals. But what happens when you don’t achieve the goal? How do you manage when the story idea you thought was awesome turns out not to work as well as you’d expected? Or how do you keep writing when that short story has been rejected for the 28th time?
In an industry that is marked by hard work — yes, writing is hard — and rejection, how do we take those “failures” and keep going?
Framing, Reframing, and Mindset
The first thing I try to do is reframe my “failure.” You might notice I keep putting that word in quotes. It’s because I’ve discovered that failure isn’t concrete. It isn’t universal. I get to decide what is a success and what is a failure. If I decide that something isn’t a failure, then guess what? It isn’t.
My favorite thing to de-failure is rejections.
I know, that sounds weird, right? How can a rejection not be a failure? I could tell you that it’s because not all rejection is about the work. Sometimes agents or editors will reject because they just contracted a similar piece. Or because they have enough of that genre. Or maybe just because they’re feeling overloaded and don’t want to take anything new on unless it *really* grabs them. None of that is an indictment on the work.
I could tell you those things. But really, it’s because when I finally started sending my work out, I decided that there are a certain number of rejections between me and the acceptance. And every time I get one, that’s another one out of the way. I get to mark it off the list. So, in this case, rejection is actually success.
I’m very good at mind games on myself! 🙂
And why not? So much of writing is perseverance. If I have a chance to choose whether something is positive or negative, how does it serve me to choose the negative, the thing that hurts my feelings and makes me sad or upset? I suppose if I responded to negative with renewed vigor in that “I’ll show you!” sort of way, choosing the negative would serve me. And for some people, that’s an awesome way to do things! For me, though, the negative is truly that. It can freeze me in my tracks. So why should I choose to do that to myself?
Instead, I choose the positive and use that to create momentum for my life. There are so many instances where we can choose the positive spin rather than the negative spin, but we tend to default to the negative. I don’t know whether that’s because we’re human or because of the way we’re socialized. Regardless, we don’t have to do that in our writing!
Mindset isn’t just about playing these mind games with yourself, though. What happens when you don’t reach a goal, like a daily word count? Say you’ve decided that you’re writing 500 words per day. And then you miss a day. Not for a valid reason, but just because you decided not to write that day.
Are you the type of person who then decides not to write the next day too, because you’re already behind and so what’s the point? Are you the type that will beat yourself up for missing so much that you make yourself too miserable to write the next day? Do you make legitimate-sounding excuses for why you didn’t write (which, in turn, makes it easier to make excuses in the future for not writing)?
As you might imagine, none of those are particularly productive. What can you do instead?
5 Tips for Overcoming Failure
Getting rejected or struggling with a story — or any other thing that you feel didn’t happen the way you felt it should have — is not a reflection of your worth. Forgive yourself. It’s very important not to spend a lot of time reprimanding yourself or feeling bad for missing your goal. All you do is make yourself miserable and then how much good work will you get done? Not much, more likely.
Why be defeated twice, once by our mistakes and again by our attitude toward them?
~~ Lowell L. Bennion
Assess why you didn’t make your goal
One of the first steps to fixing a problem is to figure out what went wrong. So what went wrong? Did you not have enough time to write? Or did you not manage your day well enough to get your writing done? Were you just being lazy? Were you too stressed out to write? Be really honest with yourself here. If you were just being lazy, then admit that. No one else is going to judge you and you’ve already forgiven yourself. So be honest with yourself about the real reason, because knowing that is the only way you’re going to be able to address it.
Brainstorm ways to avoid whatever problem caused you not to make your goal
This can be something as simple as putting aside fifteen minutes at a set time each day to write. Or something more complex, such as creating a punishment if you don’t do your writing. Perhaps every time you don’t write, you must donate $5 to a charity, cause, or organization you would never support. If you’re not writing because you’re stuck, consider working on a different project. Or creating a big brain dump of all the things you *could* do in your stuck story.
Make a list of all the things you’ve brainstormed here. They’re all tools in your writers’ toolbox.
Hang out with writers
Writing is solitary. Even when we collaborate, the actual writing is solitary. If you’re in a rut, go find your tribe. Let the enthusiasm and excitement of other writers rub off on you! You might go to a writers conference, a Meetup group in your area, or even just find a Facebook group for writers. Let your tribe invigorate you!
BICHOK – Butt In Chair, Hands On Keyboard
Sit your butt down and start writing. Even if you’re writing, “I hate writing” over and over again. Even if you’re writing about how you’re having trouble writing. It doesn’t matter. Just get back on that damn bike and pedal!