We all need a healthy dose of reality. But what happens when the cold, hard facts of disappointment and failure start to overshadow the moments of happiness and victory? Can you make your own silver linings? This week’s guest blogger, author, professor, and psychotherapist Bryan Robinson, has known considerable success, but even his past triumphs and accolades weren’t enough to defeat debilitating self-doubt. He had to develop an entirely new set of tactics to get him through, and he’s here to teach you how to soldier on.
When you started writing on a regular basis, did you think being an author would answer all your prayers, and you’d live happily ever after? Did you dream your book would be on bookstore shelves beside Lee Child, James Patterson, or Heather Graham? That it would hit number one on the bestsellers list and garner all the literary awards? That Steven Spielberg would beat down your door to sign your screenplay?
Were you perplexed to discover that nightmares come with the territory? Did an agent’s bludgeoning rejection, a publisher’s blast of disparagement, blistering reviews, no-shows at bookstore signings, deadline pressures, agonizing writer’s block, zero award nominations, and your own seismic rumble of self-doubt besiege you? And are you still waiting for Hollywood to call?
After dashed dreams, do you still love to write? If you have ink in your blood like me, you have to write. That’s what successful writers do. We persevere through literary storms, albeit bruised, bereft, and beleaguered. I’ve seen them: writers frazzled from publishing’s frenetic pace, spirits dead from unfulfilled hopes and stressful career demands. Empty shells, comatose, like zombies moving among the living.
I was one of them.
In the still and lonely hours before dawn, I plopped into the armchair, elbows digging into the knees of my ripped jeans. I dropped my head into my hands, grabbed a fistful of hair, and wept. That’s right. This grown man cried. After finishing my best mystery yet, or so I had thought, an editor I’d hired tore the plot to shreds. Rewrite after rewrite, dead-end after dead-end, confusion and frustration mired me. I wailed at the clock and shook my fist at the heavens, cursing, slamming things. Still, at every turn, I met one roadblock after another. Distraught, I didn’t know what else to do.
Keep in mind, this wasn’t my first book. I had written thirty-five nonfiction and fiction books, tons of magazine and journal articles, blogs, and book chapters. I even won a few writing awards along the way. But I had never encountered that degree of writer’s hell. Those of us who are aspiring scribes know the publishing world is brutal—full of meteoric challenges, constant negativity, major setbacks, and devastating letdowns. Agents say the number one key to writing success—even more important than good writing—is perseverance, dogged determination in the face of disappointment.
One cruel fact of becoming a published author is that the mind’s negativity has a longer shelf life than positivity. I’ll bet you remember where you were on 9/11 but not the following week. Scientists say the brain is like Velcro for negative experiences and Teflon for positive ones to keep us out of harm’s way. It takes three positive thoughts to offset one negative thought. No wonder it’s difficult to remain hopeful and persevere in a publishing career bombarded with the same bad-news bias that keeps us safe.
But here’s the good news: Grass grows through concrete. When negativity strikes, you can bounce back by overriding your negative knee-jerk reactions and stacking your positivity deck. You can underestimate writing threats and overestimate writing possibilities with the same tried-and-true tips that have helped me navigate the ups-and-downs of a tumultuous publishing world, break free from the clutches of writing woes, and finish that murder mystery from hell:
1. Focus on the upside of downside situations. “I’ve hit a wall with my novel’s ending” becomes “Other than the ending, I’ve completed my novel and gotten promising feedback.”
2. Pinpoint opportunities contained in negative writing events. Ask, “How can I make this situation work to my advantage? Can I find something positive in it? What can I manage or overcome in this instance?”
3. Frame setbacks as lessons to learn, not failures to endure. Ask what you can learn from difficult writing outcomes and use them as stepping-stones, instead of roadblocks.
4. Broaden your scope. Look beyond rejection, put on your wide-angle lens, and let your love of writing steer you beyond the gloom.
5. Be chancy. Take small risks in new situations instead of predicting negative outcomes before giving them a try. “If I agree to be on a panel at Killer Nashville, I might fall flat on my face” becomes “If I participate on a panel, I might get to network with other writers and promote my murder mystery.”
6. Avoid blowing situations out of proportion. Don’t let one negative experience rule your whole life pattern: “I didn’t sell my novel, so now I’ll never be a published author” becomes “I didn’t sell the novel, but there are many more pathways to getting it published.”
7. Focus on the solution, not the problem. You’ll feel more empowered to cope with writing’s curveballs when you step away from the problem and brainstorm a wide range of possibilities.
8. Practice positive self-talk. After big writing letdowns, underscore your triumphs and high-five your “tallcomings” instead of bludgeoning yourself with your “shortcomings.”
9. Hang out with positive people. Optimism is contagious. When you surround yourself with optimistic people, positivity rubs off.
10. Strive to see the fresh starts contained in your losses. Every time you get up just one more time than you fall, your perseverance increases the likelihood of propelling your mystery to the top of the charts.
Bryan E. Robinson is a novelist, psychotherapist, and Professor Emeritus at the University of North Carolina at Charlotte. He has authored thirty-five nonfiction books that have been translated into thirteen languages. His debut novel, Limestone Gumption: A Brad Pope and Sisterfriends Mystery won multiple awards, and his work has been featured on every major television network. He maintains a private clinical practice in Asheville, North Carolina, and resides in the Blue Ridge Mountains. He has completed the sequel to Limestone Gumption, She’ll Be KILLING Round the Mountain, and is working on the third installment, Michael Row the BODY Ashore. Visit his website: www.bryanrobinsonnovels.com or email him at firstname.lastname@example.org
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