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Cheryl Reif

Cheryl lives and writes with her inspirational family, two energetic dogs, and a small mammal menagerie, all of which are fairly tame. She writes about cool science stuff for children and adults, daydreams about stories and characters 87% of the time, and tries not to plot novels while driving. You can also find Cheryl on Twitter @CherylRWrites, Pinterest., and Google. Come say hi!

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Care and Feeding of the Discouraged Writer

Jami Gold’s recent post Have You Ever Been Tempted to Give Up? is thought-provoking and true. In a weird way, it’s encouraging to realize that even published, successful authors struggle with this question.

Jamie’s post ends with a question: “What pushes you to the edge of giving up (lack of time, rejections, something else)?  What things help motivate and encourage you (a support system, wanting to prove something, finding successes wherever you can)? ” Visit her blog to see what other writers have to say.

Have I ever been tempted to give up? Absolutely! As has every writer in my critique group. As has every writer I know personally. And yet, most of us don’t. What keeps us going? I think the answer depends on why we’re tempted to quit, the way different illnesses respond to different treatments.

In my experience, there are several factors that can push me to the edge:

  1. Too much rejection/too little affirmation: This ailment is best treated by interaction with other people. Turn to your critique group, writer friends, Twitter tweeps, or a trusted first reader for encouragement and perspective. Or read the thoughts of a successful author in writing books like Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird, Jane Yolen’s Take Joy, or Stephen King’s On Writing.
  2. Physical exhaustion: When a writer is juggling multiple jobs and responsibilities—as most of us are—sometimes we spend so much time living inside our heads that we forget to take care of our bodies. Are you physically worn out? Try treatment with a brisk walk, plenty of water, a restful foray into nature, or a good night’s sleep.
  3. Mental overwhelm: When juggling too many to-do’s—writing or otherwise—it’s easy to get mired in too-much-to-do-itis. Overwhelm is not conducive to creativity. Treat with a hefty dose of self-kindness, lightening your load, word play, and small, achievable writing goals to help you rediscover the joy of writing.
  4. Negative creative balance: In her book The Artist’s Way, Julia Cameron describes the source of an artist’s creativity as a “creativity pond”, something that can be overfished and emptied if we don’t take are to refill and restock. If you spend too much time working—even doing work you love—you may discover that your muse is not longer speaking to you. Treat with Artist’s Dates, infusions of beauty and sensory delights, and creative stimulation such as a conference, class, or writing book.

Sometimes, you have to have faith and keep pressing forward; other times, mere willpower is not the answer. If you’re tempted to give up, ask yourself why. It might help you puzzle out the best remedy for what ails you.

:) Cheryl

Photo courtesy of Paolo Camera

11 comments to Care and Feeding of the Discouraged Writer

  • Jami Gold

    Thanks for the link! :) And you're spot on with saying that understanding the cause helps us treat the problem. Great post!

  • Cheryl Reif

    Hi Jami–thanks for the inspiration and for stopping by. Glad you enjoyed :)

  • Gabriela Lessa

    Great post, Cheryl! And so true! I guess we all have those moments, don't we?

  • Jill Kemerer

    It's a discouraging time of year for me. I get so bogged down with bad weather, kids' commitments, and I get tired of everything. I think it's time to fill that creative well! (In Tahiti…you're welcome to join.)

  • Cheryl Reif

    Thanks, Gabriela. I have yet to meet a writer who doesn't slog through occasional lows.

  • Cheryl Reif

    Hi Jill! I think I'll join you in Tahiti (although I'd take Mexico or Hawaii, instead; I'm not picky). This IS a hard time of year, when winter won't *quite* let go of the weather and schools are busily trying to catch up on everything they're supposed to cover before the year's end. When one family member is stressed and busy, I think it trickles out to everyone.

    I like the longer days, though, and the promise of Spring around the corner…crocuses and tulips always cheer me up!

  • PW.Creighton

    Great post Cheryl. When you get overwhelmed by anything be it bad reviews, continuous rejections or simply annoying software it's easy to sink into a depressed state. Fortunately there are many outlets that can help you find your composure as you listed.

  • Patrick

    Thanks for a great post, Cheryl!

    I've been thinking about rejection a bit the last couple of weeks and wrote about it recently. It's a fact of life for any creative, but that doesn't mean it's welcome.

    It's a tricky balance. There's the need to press forward, to not let one rejection stop your project in its tracks. I've been guilty of that more than once.

    Yet, as I heard Michael Chabon say once in a speech, sometimes you need to recognize that the rejections are telling you something, that maybe the work isn't ready yet, or maybe your creative efforts need to shift elsewhere.

    I realized that last year on one writing project I was doing. I decided I needed to grow more as a writer before I tackled it, so I put it aside and shifted to other projects. I'm considering returning to it during my MFA in Writing program, which I start in June.

    Patrick

  • Cheryl Reif

    Overwhelm due to annoying computer programs–too true!

    Patrick, I agree–sometimes rejection signals you need to change your approach; the trick is not to lose heart so you CAN change your approach. Congrats on starting an MFA program! I'm jealous :). Perhaps someday…but now is not the right time. Meanwhile, I'll keep on keeping on, practicing my craft, reading, and writing. It's good to do so surrounded by friends!

  • Julia Munroe Martin

    Great post (just found your blog via a tweet, so glad!). Physical exhaustion and mental overwhelm have been huge for me this month so it's encouraging (seems like a strange choice of word for this!?) that others feel the same way sometimes too. I'm looking forward to reading more of your blog!

  • Cheryl Reif

    Julie, I know exactly what you mean! This happens to me when I get together with my writer's group: hearing about others' stress and overwhelm is weirdly encouraging. I think it's because it normalizes my experience. I can get stressed because I'm stressed (NOT helpful!), and finding out that stress is a normal part of the process helps me let it go.

    I hope your overwhelm decreases these next few weeks. It's not a fun place to be :(

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