Seven ways to stay positive (in the face of dropping advances, ongoing rejection, and an onslaught of articles in the Guardian)

Listen to this as a podcast –

I had planned this time round to say something about a technical aspect of writing – creating suspense, perhaps, or working with viewpoint. Those are both very important, but lately I’ve come to realise that I still need to say more about the way how you feel affects how you write. I’ve encountered a few people recently who were totally fed up with the process. Sick of rejections, sick of trying and getting nowhere. Sick of putting work out there and not getting read. Sick of the entire business. And it seems every week there’s a new article in the Guardian about how writers can no longer earn a living from it and how we may as well all pack up and get checkout jobs in Tesco (I paraphrase).

I think there is truth in this, and there are important conversations to be had about how the book industry needs to change, but I don’t think it’s helpful to be pessimistic or to lose faith in writing itself. I should say right away that staying positive is not something that comes naturally to me. I’m as prone as anyone to getting into a writing slump or comparing myself to other people. I’m very guilty of not appreciating my successes when they come. I often lose confidence. So I’m writing these suggestions as much for myself as anyone else. I hope they help a bit.

So here’s seven ways to stay positive and not lose your optimism

  1. Have a think about the words you’re using and what they mean. What is ‘failure’? Does it mean, I’ve had some books published, but I’ve not selling as much as I’d hoped? Does it mean, I’ve got an agent but my book didn’t sell yet? Does it mean, I’ve won some competitions and had some short things published but I’m not a novelist…yet? What does ‘rejection’ mean? Does it just mean someone wasn’t the right fit with your book, and didn’t feel they were the right one publish it? These words aren’t helpful. I’m trying to redefine what ‘success’ means to me – for example, I finished a book, I entered a competition, I went to an event, I had a new idea. All of these things are steps to a goal, not a failure to reach it. Try congratulating yourself for any forward steps you take.
  2. One thing I’ve tried to do is understand what a privilege it is to earn any money at all from doing something you love. Yes, advances have dropped and there are issues surrounding royalty rates and ebooks and being asked to write for nothing, but it seems to me writers have always had it easier than other artists. Comedians and actors for example, can expect to work for nothing for years to establish themselves. I’m not saying this is good – just that writing is one area where it’s possible to earn a significant chunk of money at once. If you go freelance, you can’t expect to earn the equivalent of a salary. You trade off all the positive aspects with the uncertainty and the lack of sick and holiday pay. It does seem to be getting harder. But if the money isn’t there, we can’t expect to get some of it.
  3. Remember why you first started this. No one was paying you then. Even if you confidently expected you’d be able to quit your job within the year, it wasn’t certain, so you must have been doing it out of love. Out of sheer enjoyment of putting the words down on paper, creating the world. Your creativity is not defined by whether or not you are currently earning money from your writing. No one can take it away from you – you will always be able to create, and as a writer you don’t need any equipment beyond a pen and paper, or any other audience beyond yourself. The more I think about that, the more amazing it is, that anyone who’s lucky enough to be able to read and write can just start creating something, right here and now. It may be something that earns money, it may not. You still created it, simply because you wanted to.
  4. Try to focus on the transmission of the work- you made it, you’re putting it out there – rather than the reception of it. The chance of any particular person experiencing any piece of art (a book, a film, a song) vary. Someone might not see it. They might see it but not connect because of their own circumstances on that day. Or they might see it and connect and it might change them. It’s been an eye-opener to me how many plays, gigs, and comedy nights are taking place at any given time, often with not that many people in attendance. But perhaps it’s freeing to worry only about what you’re doing as the creator, and not about who is listening or what they think.
  5. Commit to living a creative life, and identify yourself as part of a community of creative people. It’s been useful for me to get to know people from other areas of the arts, and see how different expectations are from those of writers. There’s more than one way to live a creative life. If you see it as a process, a way of life, then it won’t matter so much whether you sometimes have to do other paid work, or whether you have good years and bad ones. So make the commitment. Decide you’re in this for the long haul, even if you have to suffer at times. If an artistic life is really what you want, then nothing else will ever take its place.
  6. Take inspiration! I find it helpful to talk about my worries (so and so is doing better than me, I don’t know if I’m any good, etc etc) with understanding friends (who won’t make you feel bad for it!). This week I’ve also read Very Good Lives by the wonderful J K Rowling, who advocates failing, to find out your own limits and needs. ‘Rock-bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life,’ she says. I also read this great piece by the creator of Mad Men (though 30 still seems quite young…no?)
  7. Maybe get off social media? (She says, while talking to you via social media…) I adore connecting with people online, but it’s definitely creating Comparison Anxiety. But everyone curates their lives online. No one Instagrams the bad times. Maybe I just need to ration myself more.

GOOD LUCK. You are brave and brilliant for ever trying to create something at all, and that is something to be proud of.

One Comment Add yours

  1. johnaalogan says:

    Reblogged this on John A. A. Logan and commented:
    A wise, balanced outlook on the concept of “failure”, and commitment to living a creative life…

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