When I was just starting on my writing journey, I attended a workshop where a children’s book writer and illustrator said something along the lines of, “If you like to do anything besides writing, do that.”
Writing is hard.
Writing takes grit.
But this is the case for lots of things in life. Parenting? Check. Marriage? Check. Quality friendships? Check.
And yet, there is something about creative endeavors that make them seem harder. I saw this when I was teaching high school English – students were much more comfortable writing research papers than writing about themselves. Why? Because that is a creation of self. I’ve never taken it personally when someone has told me I did a math problem wrong. Yes, I tried to reason through it, but my self-worth was not connected to my ability to solve that problem.
This doesn’t tend to be the case with writing though. Sure, a discussion of the nuances of grammar feels safe and logical and non-threatening. But if someone mentions not liking a character I made – one who I wanted to be likable? I must be a hack, a fraud, what-the-heck-am-I-thinking-trying-to-be-a-writer?
When the waves of self-doubt settle, then comes the berating of letting myself talk to myself that way. I know better. Mind over matter. And other self-love jazz.
The reality of reality is that we are programmed with a psychological and physiological predisposition toward negativity bias. Daniel Kahneman explains that “The brains of humans and other animals contain a mechanism that is designed to give priority to bad news. By shaving a few hundredths of a second from the time needed to detect a predator, this circuit improves the animal’s odds of living long enough to reproduce.”
That bad review that you got? It’s going to linger longer than the good. Your fear of someone hating your book before it even comes out? Not all the way your fault.
But that doesn’t necessarily mean that you will be able to dismiss this lingering evolutionary trait just because you know it’s there. And if you have a long-lasting memory like me, even things from DECADES ago and creep back in, agitating the flight-or-flight response and derailing productivity.
So what’s a writer to do?
A couple things.
1. Take some time to really get to know yourself.
How do YOU deal with the stress of negative feedback? Is it there and gone? Do you have physical side effects? Does it provide motivation for you to do even more and prove all the idiots wrong or will that one whisper of dislike send you in a spiral of fear-based procrastination?
Just like the ice cream in the freezer at ten o’clock at night might be kryptonite for some and a non-factor to others, keeping accessibility to these things that might trigger you IS something you can control. You don’t have to open the freezer for a midnight snack, and you don’t have to open review sites to read what people say about your book.
2. Get yourself a support team.
Ideally, your support team will develop into three groups: people who are working toward the same thing as you, people who are ahead of you on the publishing journey, and people who are behind you on the path toward publication.
You need someone to commiserate with when you get the rejection. And the next one. And the next one. You need someone who you can send a screen shot to when the rejection comes back as:
I’m not interested in this story.
Send from my iPad
(true story from my querying experience)
You need someone who is ahead of you so they can be the voice of keep going, and that is normal, and it’s worth it, I promise. You need someone who can send you pictures of their ARC and promotional material to remind you of the goal and the victory following the trenches.
You need someone behind you so you can see how far you’ve come. I have attended the same writing conference every year for five years, but about two years ago, I realized I had shifted from a person there to pull in as much knowledge and advice as I could to someone who could give some.
3. Keep track of the good.
I still have the emails from my beta readers. Why? They start like this:
“Wow. Just… wow, Tasha. What a beautiful story! And your writing style. Sigh. I was enraptured from the first word.”
“TAAAAASHAAAAA! I loved your book! Like, loved it so much I kinda went through sections where I didn't offer much crit because I got so sucked in!”
You’d better believe after the “Send from my iPad” rejection, I went back to these. I needed to remind myself that other people HAD liked my writing, that these other people were further on the path than me, knew more than me, and believed in me.
I recently did a “mock reading” where I pretended like my book was out and I read from it for five minutes to a captive audience also charged with critiquing. The comments I got back were strong, good, encouraging, and I’m putting all of them in an Evernote file for future reference.
I think we’re all aware of the amount of positive it takes to overcome negative. It is up to us to acknowledge when negativity is creeping in, and it is up to us to work toward defeating it. Because chances are decent, when you thought if there was anything you’d rather do besides writing, in the back of your mind, you answered no.
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Tasha Seegmiller is a mom to three kids and coordinator of the project-based learning center (EDGE) at Southern Utah University. She writes contemporary women’s fiction with a hint of magic, and thrives on Diet Coke, chocolate and cinnamon bears.
She is a co-founder and the managing editor for the Thinking Through Our Fingers blog as well as the Women's Fiction Writers Association quarterly magazine (Write On!), where she also serves as a board member. Tasha is represented by Annelise Robey of the Jane Rotrosen Agency.