If you follow me on Instagram or have been listening to the podcast, you’ll know that having submitted my book to agents (for the second time) around 2-3 months ago, I’m now in the response (rejection) stage. I only ever submit to a handful of agents at a time and pretty soon I will have heard back from all of them. After this, I’ll revisit the manuscript, armed with some useful feedback from those that showed a modicum of interest, make the necessary tweaks and do it all over again.
It’s very easy at this stage, or indeed at any stage in the writing process, for an unpublished, aspiring author to become discouraged. Keeping our heads up, continuing to write in the face of…well, nothing, quite a lot of the time, can be tough.
We’re told (by the industry, by fellow writers, by our inner voice) that we must carry on, that we mustn’t take knock-backs personally, that it happens to everyone. We know this. And we know the only way to keep going is to keep going. But sometimes keeping going just feels too damn hard.
Here are five ways in which you can overcome these slumps, keep your motivation from dipping and keep writing.
1. Decide that you’re in it for the process, not the prize.
Sometimes we can be so focused on The Goal – securing an agent, getting a publishing deal or finally, FINALLY holding that hard copy of your book in your hand. Ok, let’s not pretend none of those things don’t matter. But spend too long with your eyes on the prize and it’s easy to forget why you started doing what you do in the first place.
(Warning: I’m about to play the mindfulness card. If this offends or grates like nails down a chalk board, skip to 2.)
Notice in detail what you do: you observe, you notice things, you take snapshots of your imagination and create beautiful stories from them. How amazing that you get to do that? I have a post-it on my desktop that reads ‘Please leave your ego outside’. It serves as a reminder that having the ability and the means and the time to write is a gift. In Recovery, Russell Brand talks about happiness and the fulfillment of desire as being two separate things. Happiness is being able to do what we love (ie writing), fulfilling a desire is achieving a certain outcome (the publishing deal, fame, an income). Think of it this way:
The process feeds the soul, the prize feeds the ego.
2. Write something completely different to whatever it is you’re working on.
Spend a few hours writing for the sheer pleasure of it. Write like no-one will read it. Write anything: a fantasy, a dream, what you’d like to do to someone you love right now, anything at all to stoke that creative fire and reignite that passion for writing that got you started in the first place.
Another tip is to tackle whatever it is you’re working on from a different angle. If you’re in the middle, start writing the end. If you’re at the beginning, write a scene that happens somewhere much further on. Looking at something from a different perspective can lift your mood, it can motivate you to carry on and it can help overcome writer’s block.
3. Start a blog.
Writing can be lonely and isolating. Blogging provides the opportunity to self-publish on a regular basis and to connect with readers, many of whom might be going through exactly the same thing as you. For me, just hitting the publish button and putting my work out into the world is mildly satisfying in itself, enough to make me think ‘Good. I’m still here’. If you already write a blog, write a blogpost to distract you from those feelings of discouragement (pretty much like I’m doing now 😉).
4. Take a break.
In The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron recommends a weekly ‘artist’s date’. This is time you set aside to do something other than writing to feed your creative self. (It’s more of that soul-nourishing stuff I was on about earlier). It can be anything you think will inspire you, for example a day at the beach, a walk in the woods, visiting a gallery, a theatre trip, watching a film or reading a book. Or you might decide to try something new, like an art, photography or language class. Or something totally different. (Confession: one of my absolute favourite things to do IN THE WORLD is browse stationery shops and stationery departments of big posh shops).
5. Meet up with other writers/like-minded creatives.
There’s nothing quite like a coffee (or stronger) and a chat with other people in the same situation. Earlier this year, a friend of mine contacted me and another writer friend of ours, to see if the three of us could meet for coffee just to talk about creativity. Apparently she was worried we’d think she was weird and say no. On the contrary, we jumped at the chance, not realising that it was the best possible therapy none of us even knew we needed. So productive and helpful was that first meet-up that we make a point of doing so regularly. There’s no agenda, other than to listen to each other, offload, share ideas and offer support and encouragement. Without them I wouldn’t have had the courage to record my first podcast, something I had wanted to do for over a year and I would almost certainly have given up on the rewrite of my book*.
Find your tribe.
Finally, accept that at times we all feel like we want to give up. We question the point of what we’re doing. You won’t always feel good about what you do, but equally, those feelings will pass, the urge to write (or create) will return and with the right mindset, you’ll get back to work.
Remember: You’re doing great.
Thanks for reading. I’d love to know your tips for keeping motivated. Leave me a comment below or get in touch by email firstname.lastname@example.org
PS. Don’t forget, you can listen to The Terrified Writer on the go with the Life Is Scary podcast, available on iTunes, Soundcloud or here on the blog. If you listen on iTunes, please do leave a review, it really helps other listeners find us (also, it’s a really lovely thing ☺️)
*Thank you, Sophie and Shiv. You are my rocks!