You’ve heard that writers must be resilient in order to bounce back from the internal and external obstacles of the writing life. But what if the optimistic attitude that underlies resilience doesn’t come naturally to you? What if you struggle with occasional or frequent periods of losing energy, focus, creativity and even hope? Your mood plummets. Your work pays the price. You may even become angry about that and then you’re in a complete funk, no longer the persistent writer you want to be. Still, being resilient may not be an option. But becoming resilient is.
Guest column by Carol Grannick, who offers
consultation and workshops in creating resilience
for individuals, groups, and conferences. Her
children’s fiction has appeared in Cricket and
Highlights For Children. Her essays and
articles have appeared in magazines.
She blogs about resilience online.
In his groundbreaking work, Learned Optimism (Free Press, 1998) Martin Seligman highlights the “explanatory styles” of optimists and pessimists, and the reality that attitude toward adversity, rather than the adversity itself, impacts outcome. Barbara Fredrickson’s research (Positivity, Crown 2009) proves positivity “broadens and builds” the brain by making it more open, creative, productive, and receptive, and resilient, providing a hedge against depression.
Applying this knowledge will give you, if not a “thick skin,” the elastic skin necessary to more quickly recover from writing adversity. Here are three important tips for getting started:
1. Step Back and Notice: In the throes of self-deprecating language and negative feelings, it’s virtually impossible to make any positive change, let alone write in the way you want to. So try to move yourself into a neutral place by saying, “This is interesting.” Remind yourself that your negative language is what you do when you are hurting, rather than who you are. The relief is energizing.
2. Learn Your ‘Explanatory Style’: Even if you consider yourself a general optimist, you may be surprised that your self-talk contains more pessimistic “style” than you thought. Take one of the tests here or here. Once you know your style, you can learn to change it.
3. Learn to ‘Dispute’ Pessimistic Thoughts: If you accept that your pessimistic thoughts are often not rational, you can learned to replace them with truer beliefs that will change how you feel and act. Find an adaptation of Martin Seligman’s disputation techniques here.
These tools for emotional resilience are as important as any other in the craft of writing, because without resilience, you feel less capable of the hard writer’s journey towards excellence. If you make your emotional well-being equivalent to writing excellence, you’ll spend the time you need to build and maintain resilience and find yourself a more persistent, and consistent, writer.
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