Survival Tips

The other day I was talking to a writer friend I’d lost touch with for about 20 years. We each shared stories of inspiring successes and heart-breaking failures and it occurred to me that there are a lot of highs and lows in this business. So I asked my fellow Miss Demeanors: How do you deal with the ups and downs? What are your survival tips?  This is what they said: Tracee: how to survive the ups and downs? I’ll take the ‘downs’ first and say it’s necessary to remember that this is a job, and like any job there are ups and downs. Some failures are private…. a flat scene, newly discovered plot holes. That these private ‘failures’ are in our heads doesn’t help and I think it’s necessary to have someone, or a group, to turn to and share the trials and tribulations and get a sympathetic pat on the back. Finding the right support person or group is important. Certainly someone who understands that while the failures are on paper, they are also real. Big failures, certainly those that are public, let’s say a particularly bad review, well, this is no different than losing a client at work, or a trial, or not being re-elected. Everyone has professional set backs, it’s what we learn from them, and how we dust off and get back to work that matters. Now success is another thing altogether. Success is such a sliding scale and – at least for me – when I hit my goals suddenly they are in the rear view mirror. Possibly we all need to remember to celebrate the little victories – that might be getting good feedback on a rejection letter from an agent! Or it might be staying on the NYT bestsellers list for more than 100 consecutive weeks. Every writer should appreciate where they are in the process and value the successes as they come (even while keeping a weather eye on the NYT bestseller’s list). Bottom line – don’t be afraid to applaud the small things, even while dreaming of the big time! Cate: Personally, I’ve been feeling the downs a lot this year and it helps to have people to commiserate with that remind when those successes, now in the rear view, were your destinations. thanks Tracee! Michele: I take the ups and downs as they come, remembering both are temporary. I seek comfort from other writers who understand how difficult this can be to do. Then I sit down, put my pen to paper, and start writing again. It’s the only remedy I know that works.  Robin: I’ll start with the downs first, too. As Tracee points out, “down” is relative. It’s not like writers and artists get a lot of sympathy from non-artists on the down days. I can’t count the number of times I’ve heard, “Isn’t this something you’re doing for fun? Just don’t do it.” Thus, I’m selective about when/if/what I share on a bad day. When I do, I’ll turn to writer friends, of course, and friends who have revealed themselves to be cheerleaders and allies. Before I had an agent, I didn’t tell anyone but my significant other, because she would bear the brunt of my moping around. As far as how I deal with it now, I give myself permission to feel bad, because it’s natural, but only to a point. It is a business, as Tracee said, and bad days happen. Wallowing serves no one. If I’m on the brink of wallowing, I look for opportunities to get out of my own head and help someone else. Volunteering, mentoring, sharing my expertise in some way. And, like Michele, I write. It makes me happy in a way nothing else does, which is why I do it in the first place. The good days are also relative. Before I signed with Paula, I printed out agent rejections whenever they said something complimentary, highlighted the good parts in bright yellow, then stuck the pages up where I could see them in my home office. I celebrate every win, no matter how personal. Had a great writing day? Yay! Attended a conference where I learned something? Yay! Met a personal hero? Yay! Sold a short story? Yay! Finished a new manuscript? Yay! Celebrations could be as humble as doing a literal happy dance (picture lots of fist pumping in the air) to splurging on a nice dinner or bottle of wine. When I signed with Paula, I did all three 🙂 Alison: I don’t think I can possibly add to what the rest of you have written, but I’ll try. As a relatively new writer, I firmly believe we can all use a little help from our friends–writer friends–with whom we can be completely honest. It’s hard to admit that you’re not happy with your writing or you got a bad review. I’ve known both and then some. After a little time has passed, I go back to the work I don’t like (if it’s not already sent to the copy editor) and revisit. When it comes to reviews, I also force myself to wait. If the critique doesn’t sting anymore, then the criticism had more to do with the person writing it than with me. If it still stings, then it’s me, and something I can learn from.  Alexia: My coping mechanism isn’t particularly profound–shopping. When I’m down, finding something nice cheers me up and when I’m celebrating success, shopping is my reward.If I’m in a full-on blue funk where nothing’s right with the world and everyone sucks, I try to do something completely unproductive and totally fun. A change of environment or a new experience or reliving an old but enjoyable experience usually gives me renewed energy. I also try to avoid the news and scale back on social media as I find the constant negativity reinforces my own glumness.One thing I have to guard against when I experience a success is impostor syndrome. I have to remind myself that I earned the success and I’m not a fraud, I didn’t just get lucky, and I deserve it.I don’t obsess over reviews, good or bad. Obsessing over reviews is crazy-making. I remind myself everyone is entitled to an opinion and not everything is to everyone’s taste. I take reviews as opinions on my work, not me. And advice/feedback from people I know and respect is a good thing–I use it to improve. (And I’m actually my harshest critic; see my above comment about impostor syndrome.)I tend not to share the downs with others. As an introvert, that’s not in my nature. When I commiserate with colleagues it tends to be about bigger things like the state of the publishing industry in general instead of something specific to me. Paula: I love this question. As a writer, because I know firsthand that if you don’t love the writing, you’ll never last. As an editor, because I know that the writers who get published are the writers who finish, and revise. And as an agent, because I see way too many good writers quit just when success is right around the corner. The answer: Never give up, never surrender!

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