10 Lessons I Learnt From Becoming A More Resilient Writer
Why your attitude to adversity could make all the difference.
One difference I’ve noticed between people who get ahead and those who don’t, is what happens when setbacks occur. The successful types know not everything works — they understand that’s just the way it is.
Recently, I had to abandon 30,000 words of my novel because I’d wandered off piste. That was a tough moment, but I learnt a few things (ten) about myself as I dusted myself down and sharpened my pencil again.
1. Don’t Be A Victim
The first lesson was reminding myself that it’s up to me how I react to any setback. I’ve found it helps to pay attention to the narrator in my head who interprets and describes what’s going on. My narrator’s mean and loves to run me down. He likes to spin a version of events that suits his unhappy view of the world. In his eyes, I’m a victim.
The trouble is, if I think I’m a victim, that’s disempowering. So now, if I feel sorry for myself, I tell myself I’m not a victim. I choose, not anyone else how anything that happens affects me.
2. Roll With It
The second thing I learnt was that it’s better to cultivate a mindset that accepts setbacks are just a normal part of achieving something worthwhile. If something bad happens, I tell myself it’s to be expected when writing something as complex and involved as a novel.
Whatever’s happened I can’t change, its’s history. The important thing is to consider what I’ve learnt and keep going.
3. I’m Walking Into A Gale, That’s All
If I think of the various challenges and difficulties which a writer faces as a headwind, it makes me more willing to accept them as part of the process.
I’ve already experienced plenty of other problems in my life and this current creative difficulty is really no different.
I worked for a Professor of Emergency Medicine earlier in my career. I asked him how he became a Professor. He thought for a moment then said.
There were lots of us at the beginning, many who were better and more able than me. I just put my head down and kept going and then one day, the smoke cleared and I was the only one left.
If I keep going, I know that eventually the wind will drop and things will get easier.
4. Laugh Out Loud
It devastated me when I had to throw all my hard work into the bin. It took so long to write and realising I’d lost sight of the plot and veered way off course was hard to take. Then I remembered something I learnt at work. A wise mentor once told me:
Take your work seriously, but not yourself.
It’s true; one of the best antidotes to adversity is to laugh at it. If you look for the comedy — there’s normally plenty available. I re-thought my predicament and conjured up an image of myself throwing a hissy fit tantrum like the diva I had become. It made me smile and think, you know, there are worse things that happen at sea.
5. Remember My Why
Writing a novel is a major challenge. In any big project, where the goal is important but requires months of effort to get there, it pays to be clear about why you’re doing it. If you’re clear about why you want to achieve something, you’re much more likely to keep going when the going gets tough.
So, I spent some time thinking about why I was writing, what it meant to me and what I hoped to achieve. That wise mentor also told me to avoid using words like should or ought. He said such words might mean I was marching to someone else’s tune.
Now that I’ve re-stated why writing is important to me, I think it will help me whenever I have a bad day and remind me why I must keep going.
6. Keep The Big Picture In View
Okay so now I’ve worked out that I should expect setbacks. I’ve figured out my ‘why.’ The next step is to make sure I keep my ‘why’ somewhere in view. It’s helpful to remember what you’re trying to achieve, whenever the next problem arises.
I’ve put a card with my ‘why’ on it and keep it in my laptop bag. I’ve put it somewhere where I’ll keep seeing it and so can refer to it frequently. It’s how I’m keeping the big picture in view each day.
7. Write A Daily Journal
I had a bought of depression a few years ago and one of the best things I did then was to start a journal. I’ve learnt that by journalling each day, you’re able to look back at when other setbacks occurred. Looking back is a useful reminder about how other previous difficulties either blew over or resolved.
There is truth in the saying that the night is darkest just before the dawn. Having your own record which proves that things that seem enormous pass, encourages me that this too will pass.
8. Make A Plan For Each Day
I’ve learnt how being clear about priorities helps me to focus and build momentum. I thought the best way to do this while writing would be to set a daily writing target. I explain why that’s not such a great idea here.
What I’ve done instead is to promise myself that each day I’ll show up and write, even if it’s only one word.
Having an effective plan for everything else in my life helps to create the space for writing to happen. So each day I decide before the day starts which three things are the most important priorities I have to get done. I find ticking them off as I complete them gives me a boost.
In the space that my well-ordered day allows, the day by day progress I’m making with my writing (however slight) is like putting away rainy day money. The positive sequence of small steps helps when I face the next problem.
It means I’ve got a personal evidence base of daily progress I can draw on that means I’m not so easily discouraged.
9. Give Something Back
When I’ve hit a low point, one of the best antidotes is to do or say something kind for someone, with no expectation of anything in return. For example, when I’m feeling blue, I might go for a short walk in the fresh air. Usually while I’m out, I can find some way to make myself useful to someone else. This can be something small — it doesn’t have to be a large gesture.
It’s one of the most powerful ways I know of restoring my equilibrium.
10. Be Kind To Myself
A final thought, which my lost 30,000 words has taught me. It is this:
Very little that has lasting value is easy to accomplish.
It’s the difficulty that makes something valuable and worth the struggle. When things aren’t flowing my way, I’ll tell myself it’s because I’m attempting to achieve something worthwhile and is therefore difficult to achieve.
So, give yourself a break and remember that you’re doing something you believe in.