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Writers don’t tend to
be tough people—but unfortunately, we’re in a tough business. We’re by nature a
sensitive lot. We’re more tuned-in than
most people—a necessary quality for our craft. But being open to stimuli also means we’re
more open to hurt. How do we cope?
It’s a lot like learning
to play guitar. You’ve got to build up some callouses in order to play in the
band. The callouses are as important as learning to play the right notes. And you have to build them slowly--there are no shortcuts. That’s one of the reasons a first time
writer shouldn’t immediately jump into the publishing fray.
6 NO-FAIL STRATEGIES FOR HEALING THE HURT & ACHIEVING MENTAL TOUGHNESS: HOW WRITERS CAN LEARN TO COPE WITH REVERSES, SETBACKS & EFFING CATASTROPHES
These are a few of the everyday, predictable set-backs that
each and every writer is guaranteed to face:
- You ARE going to get terrible reviews.
- You WILL be rejected by the editor who “loves” you and your work.
- Agents WILL diss you.
- The book of your heart—the one you worked on for ten years—won’t find any takers.
- Not even if you buy it a gorgeous cover, get lavish praise from famous writers and celebrities, self-pub it and give it away free.
- No one wants it, no one “gets” it, no one—except you—gives a damn.
- Yes, it can be lonely out there. Not to mention miserable. And depressing.
Unfortunately, it’s part of the job. Comes with the territory. Better get used
to it and better figure out How To Snap Back.
That’s where mental toughness comes in. Not tough like Clint Eastwood packing
heat and snarling, “You feeling lucky,
But tough like the Yankees’ Mariano Rivera, the best
reliever in baseball.
The New York Times
“If a thick skin is the most important
attribute a baseball closer can have, then Rivera is made out of leather. He
holds the record for most career saves, has won five World Series titles and is
thought by many to be among the most mentally tough athletes in baseball
history. Nothing sticks to Rivera. Poor pitches are forgotten immediately,
crushing losses go out with that day’s sweaty jersey. Rivera, long the Yankees’
safety net, is a master — the master — at moving on.”
The mental toughness that makes Rivera “the best” is a necessary quality for
relievers—and for writers. If you get blocked or stymied at rejection, if you
melt into a tearful/incoherent puddle at every bump and bruise, you need to
develop a much tougher attitude.
The qualities I’m talking about include:
1) THE ABILITY TO “SHRUG IT OFF”
whatever the it is: your editor
leaves & your book is stranded/orphaned, your agent fires you, your
publisher goes bankrupt and everything you looked forward to—the ads, the TV
appearances, the reviews, the copies in stores—ain’t gonna happen. No way Jose.
Solution: Think like Mariano. You blew the save? You gave up
the game-winning home run? You walked in the winning run? In Game Seven of the
Remember the old Bud ad: Let it go, Louie.
One way or another, you need to regain your focus and move
on: write the next book, think of a new ending for the old book, revise,
rewrite, redouble your efforts.
2) TENACITY & FLEXIBILITY.
Call it stubbornness or stick-to-itiveness but, if you think you’ve got a good
idea, don’t give up. If your book doesn’t work as a mystery, maybe it will if
you write it as a comedy. If your screen play doesn’t find a home in the movies
or tv, maybe you should turn it into a novel—which is exactly what Lee Goldberg
did. (He's the creator of the great TV series Monk
In his essay about the writing of KING CITY, recently published by Thomas &
Mercer, Lee, details the long, obstacle-strewn path that led—finally—to
“KING CITY began as a TV series pitch that I took all over Hollywood four or
five years ago. It generated some interest but ultimately didn't lead to
anything. So I put it in a drawer and moved on.”
But the idea nagged at him and Lee didn’t give up. He rewrote, revised, cut,
expanded, outlined—and then he did it all over again. You can read his detailed
account of the process here.
toughness also means the ability to concentrate and to lay down rules.
Mariano Rivera did not allow himself to be distracted by crowd noise, an
umpire’s bad call, shouted advice from leather-lunged fans or all the
woulda’s-coulda’s-shoulda’s. Laser-like, he concentrated on the next pitch, the
third strike and the last out.
takes a similar approach: She was quoted as saying that her family
knows that when she’s working, there are only two reasons to interrupt her:
“blood or fire.” She’s one of the world’s best-selling writers, the author of
200 books and someone who obviously has a few good ideas about productive
4) MISTAKES, BAD DECISIONS &
. Not someone else’s screw-up but your own.
- The terrible contract
- The agent-who-couldn’t-sell-Gone-With-The-Wind
you chose to represent you.
- The undercapitalized small publisher who
disappeared in the dead of night.
If the cost of your own poor judgment is
financial, think of the price as tuition.
You’ve certainly learned something, most of all about yourself and also about
the sharks and incompetents to beware of. The cost of that expensive knowledge
is financial loss. It’s the tuition you paid to learn a valuable lesson.
Sometimes all you
can do is laugh it off. Definitely a sign of mental strength. As a friend of
mine—she’s a bestselling writer—once said when a guy she wasn’t even that crazy
about dumped her: “Sometimes you can’t even get what you don’t even want.”
Black humor works wonders so don’t forget that looking through a noir lens can
be a jolting brace of reality-adjustment (aka mental toughness).
6) THE LEFT/RIGHT BRAIN STRATEGY.
Analyze the problem rationally and
figure out coping strategies. You’ll feel much better.
Cozy mystery author Elizabeth S. Craig
explains: “I’ve gone a step farther, too. Besides looking for data from reader
emails, I’ve sought out and read my stinky reviews online…and analyzed them for
a common thread. When I saw something mentioned repeatedly, I made a note of
it. It’s not too hard to get past any hurt feelings when you’re being
analytical—easier than it might seem, actually.”
Bottom line: Don’t wallow. Analyze!
Winston Churchill, who led England to victory in World War II, knew something
about mental toughness: “Success is not final. Failure is not fatal: it is the
courage to continue that counts.”
Also from the Brits: Keep calm and carry on.
You’re tougher, more resilient and flexible, more able to laugh at yourself and
the world around you than you might think. After all, as Carlos Castaneda said,
“We either make ourselves miserable, or we make ourselves strong. The
amount of work is the same.”
What about you,
scriveners? Have you been able to develop mental toughness? Do you have any
tricks to share with your fellow writers who might not have been around long
enough to build those callouses on their souls?
Labels: coping with rejection, Elizabeth S. Craig, How to be a Writer, IBBA Awards Finalist, learning to fail, Lee Goldberg, Mariano Rivera, Mental toughness, Nora Roberts, Ruth Harris