Care and Feeding of the Discouraged Writer

This post was originally published in April, 2011, but it seems to be particularly relevant during the craziness of the holidays. Hope this encourages you as we hurtle toward the end of the year!

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

The Joy of the Writing Conference

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Now that I’ve written about how to get the most from your next writing conference, and how to dress for your next writing conference, I’ve realized that I may be putting the cart before the horse. You may not yet be convinced that you should invest the time, money, and emotional energy to GO to a writing conference in the first place. Conferences and travel and lodging and all that aren’t free, you know. So why bother?

Helga Weber Photo by Helga Weber

Changing Your Vision

I wrote an entire “Tuesday Ten” list of reasons to attend a conference—and they’re all good reasons. I’ll post it tomorrow. But I feel like the list doesn’t get at the heart of the issue, which is that attending a writing conference can change you. A good conference can meet you wherever you are as a writer, and give you what you need plus a little extra.

Every year, I attend my local Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators conference. Every year, I see people attending their first writing conference.

There’s the young mother, nervous, who doesn’t know anyone. This is her first weekend away from her two preschoolers, and she wonders if she made the right decision in coming.

There’s the high school student, who looks somewhat mortified to have his mother in tow. He’s eager to learn EVERYTHING and will tell anyone who will listen of the epic fantasy he’s written.

There’s the retired schoolteacher. He’s written his entire life but never had the self-confidence to do anything with it. He’s only here because his wife gave him conference attendance as a gift.

There’s the art student, winner of the illustrator’s scholarship contest. He acts cocky and self-assured, but you can tell he’s nervous during the portfolio reviews because he keeps dropping his papers.

There’s the mother of two teenage girls, who has finally allowed herself to spend money on her “writing hobby.” She feels like an imposter at first, but she’s determined to stick it out.

Do you see yourself on this list?

I coordinate the manuscript critiques for this conference and it’s one of the most rewarding things I do. Sometimes when I pair a hopeful young (or middle-aged or older, because we’re all hopeful, aren’t we?) writer with an editor or agent for a critique, I feel as if I’m reaching back in time to a younger version of myself—the terrified young woman attending her first conference, afraid to speak to anyone because they were REAL WRITERS. I was welcomed into the writing community by wonderful (and much more experienced!) writers who have since become some of my best friends. Attending that conference changed my life.

Not because of the great information (although there was plenty of great info.)

Not because I learned the latest industry trends (although I did.)

Not even because I made connections that later enabled me to join a critique group (although that happened, too.)

The REAL WRITER

It changed my life because it enabled me to see, feel, hear, even taste what it meant to be a real writer. It gave me the courage and knowledge and support to realize that I WAS a real writer. At that conference, I clarified my understanding of who I was and who I wanted to be. And, for the first time ever, I caught a glimpse of how I could become that person.

So come back tomorrow check out my logical lists of reasons to attend a writing conference this year—but don’t forget that a conference’s greatest benefit may be some intangible shift in understanding that, right now, you can’t even see that you need.

If you’re a veteran conference attendee, how did conference attendance impact your life? If you *haven’t* gone to a writing conference, what’s holding you back?

Ten Keys to Your Best-Ever Writing Conference!

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Last week, I blogged about some of the reasons writers should attend writing conferences…and then I headed out to my own conference experience with the Pikes Peak Writers, in Colorado Springs Colorado. It was fantastic! Fantastic for all the reasons I mentioned in my earlier post, and for half a dozen others as well.

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Photo Credit

The Conference Experience

It got me thinking about the conference experience, and how it’s changed for me over the years. I get a lot more out of writing conferences now than I did eight or five or even three years ago. Why is that? In part, it’s because I know more people. It’s a lot easier—and more fun—to go to a conference filled with familiar faces than it is to go to one where I don’t know anyone. It’s also because I am more confident in myself as a writer and person than I was even a few years ago, much less when I was taking my first tentative steps into the writing life.

Those things come with time, but they aren’t the only reasons I get more out of conferences today than I did at my first few conferences. I also benefit more because I know how to glean more benefit from those crowded, crazy, and often-stressful days. I’ve discovered some great conference “keys.”

Are you going to a conference this year? With a little preparation, you can make this your best conference experience ever!

Know your purpose.

Even before you decide which conference to attend, take a look at your current needs as a writer. What is the most important thing you need to get from a conference? Is this conference the best place to meet that need, or should you look at others? Is there a particular editor or agent you’d like to meet? Are you searching for a writing buddy? Maybe you need a healthy dose of inspiration or encouragement. By identifying your primary goal in attending a conference, you can prioritize your time, session choices, and social activities.

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