By Sandy Vaile
We naturally shy away from anything that will hurt us (emotionally and physically). It’s a part of self-preservation that kicks in automatically when we feel threatened, afraid or stressed. But the truth is, challenging situations happen to all of us all the time and are often outside of our control and resilience will help us endure them.
Resilience is a valuable skill to practise in all parts of life, but it occurred to me recently that we often bandy the term about without actually understanding why it’s so important, especially to authors. You see, resilience isn’t only valuable during times of stress, it’s something that will benefit us on a daily basis.
Why authors need resilience
Authors have to deal with situations outside of their control from the moment they start dreaming of publishing a story. It starts with trying to tame the plethora of ideas and characters in your head and translate them into an entertaining tale. As you talk to other writers and investigate what makes a story enjoyable, you find an overwhelming amount of information telling you what you should and shouldn’t do. Then you get mixed feedback from critique partners, friends or competitions and start to doubt your ability to succeed.
When you finally submit your work to agents or publishers the rejections start rolling in. Even achieving your dream of publication isn’t the end of situations outside of your control. Being a part of the publishing industry is a continual cycle of determination, rejection, disappointment, celebration and self-doubt.
What exactly is resilience?
Resilience is having the capacity to recover quickly from difficult situations.
It’s being passionate about what you do, persevering through thick and thin, and being flexible when life throws you a curve ball.
Why is this important for writers?
Now, I’m not saying all of this to depress you, but to convey how vital resilience for authors.
With it, you can manage situations outside of your control to minimise their lasting impact, and cultivate a positive outlook that will enable your long-term success.
So much is outside of your control in the publishing industry, and the parameters are constantly changing, so you need to be able to adapt.
Applying the principles of resilience to life’s little challenges, builds our emotional elasticity and ability to cope with intense situations. It can take practise to get to a point where you automatically apply resilience to all situations, but the benefits are worth it, because they’re far reaching.
How can it help authors deal with writing set-backs?
No matter how much we love writing, it can be challenging for so many reasons, like:
Without resilience, feelings of anger, depression, guilt, fear, anxiety or embarrassment can seem insurmountable, but if we continually practise it then, even though we can’t avoid these emotions, we can reduce their severity and our perception of the situation.
In the long run, being able to take control of our reactions is what will enable us to persist with writing.” Sandy Vaile
There are plenty of opportunities to practise resilience with our writing, because we are faced with decisions and challenges frequently.
How to practise resilience
Here are some examples of how to practise resilience as part of your writing life, by taking action and maintaining a positive outlook.
1. You have a brilliant story idea and amazing characters, but no idea how to turn them into a book other people will want to read.
Remember that writing is a learned skill and you have the most important part, the desire to do it. So, all you have to do is brainstorm ways to acquire the knowledge you need. You could do a plotting course, read blogs and articles about it or join a writing group.
2. You have a brilliant story idea, amazing characters and have written 40,000 words, but are stuck with where the plot should go next.
Be proud, because 40,000 words is a huge effort and proves that you can get words down. All you need now is to figure out how to keep going to the end.
Think critically about what is causing the problem. Do you need help with generating ideas, developing the plot or figuring out realistic actions for your characters? Search for an appropriate course so you can study this topic more closely and receive personalised support, or a book about the subject.
3. You boldly joined a writing group and shared a chapter of your story, but three people liked the main character and three didn’t.
Don’t take it personally that not everyone likes your character, because it is their personal opinion and not a slight against you. Remember that feedback is limited by each person’s own writing skills, life experiences and personal tastes.
Analyse the comments to determine what each person liked or disliked, then try to dig down to the root cause of why that is the case. Perhaps you chose the wrong descriptive words or didn’t provide enough insight into the motivation for the character’s actions.
Now figure out what the real issue is and find a way to overcome it, e.g. gain knowledge and rewrite, and then see if it worked, e.g. test the rewrite on the people who disliked the character or a new group.
4. You have managed to write and self-publish a book, but you can’t manage to produce a book every three months and keep up with social media like everyone says you’re supposed to, because you have a full-time job and children too.
Remind yourself that you are not those other people. Your circumstances and desires are different, so there’s no way you’ll get the same outcome. They might not work full-time, or have children, or a partner, or a sick mother, or do volunteer work, or write slowly, or still be figuring out their process, or be a new writer.
Assess what it is you want to achieve and what you can realistically do while maintaining your lifestyle. Then make a plan to do those things: one step at a time. Moving forwards is the key.
5. Someone posts a negative book review that will affect your overall Amazon rating and hurts your feelings. Allow yourself a moment to feel disappointed, even angry, but remember that this is only one person’s opinion, which you have no control over.
Make a mental list of why this person wrote the review, e.g. they were having a bad day, they aren’t familiar with the genre, they enjoy eliciting a reaction, the subject matter triggered a personal pain for them, or the writing style just didn’t suit them. None of these are because they don’t like you personally, and you are the only one being hurt by worrying about something you can’t control.
So, what can you do? Do not respond to the review in any way. If there isn’t any valuable learning to be gained from the content of the review, then never read it again. Read other positive reviews/feedback about this story. Talk to other writers who have experienced a bad review (without identifying the reviewer).
6. A rejection email comes from the publisher you desperately wanted to get a contract with. Celebrate, because you would never have received a rejection if you hadn’t been brave enough to send a submission. You’re one step closer to being published.
If the publisher provided feedback, then assess it to see if you can improve your next submission or if it was due to circumstances outside of your control. Make a plan to move forwards, e.g. continue submitting.
These examples illustrate how important it is for authors to practise resilience in order to manage set-backs and move forwards, even when it might be scary to do so. We can’t control many parts of our author careers, so we need to focus on the things we can to recover from challenges and keep a positive outlook.
You are your own creative genius, so keep going!
More information about resilience
The publishing industry can be tough and changeable, and writing a book is more than just a personal challenge, it’s a journey of self-discovery. Believe me, I understand the challenges you’re facing, because I’ve faced them too. I’d like to share what I’ve learnt so you can stop feeling overwhelmed and map the most efficient route to your publication dreams.
‘A Shortcut To Your Author Career’ online workshop.
Other blogs in the Survive the Publishing Industry series:
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Empowering modern fiction writers