I’m happy to welcome mystery author and executive coach Melissa H. Blaine to the Power of 10 series. Today, Melissa shares valuable insights and advice about building writer resilience.
What’s the bravest writing action you took today?
Creative work is filled with failure and setbacks. Rejections. Bad reviews. Publishers closing. Declining sales. Unsupportive family and friends. The list could go on. Every time we fill up a page with words or put paint to a canvas or pull images into a design we are taking a risk. Because creative work like writing is subjective, nothing that we create will be loved by everyone. Likewise, our writing or other creative work always includes some of ourselves in it. We’re not just laying our work on the line; we’re laying bare a piece of ourselves for the world to see and judge too.
Building resilience is important for writers as we navigate the challenges. Being able to bounce back from adversity is a skill that we can develop and nurture—one that will keep us writing when things look bleak or we don’t believe in ourselves. We may not feel brave or resilient or tough, but finding the paths ahead make us all of those things every day.
Looking to nurture your resilient spirit? Here are ten ways to find resilience in those challenging moments.
1. Acknowledge the Emotions
Emotions happen. As humans, we’re going to feel disappointment, anger, doubt, shame, and hurt when setbacks happen. Identifying and acknowledging what we’re feeling can not only be a healthy response but also help us move forward. By accepting the emotions, we give ourselves that chance to learn how to manage it in healthy ways and the acceptance can take away some of the destructive powers that negative emotions can have. Did a writing group member take a snipe at you that made you angry or upset? Acknowledge how you feel and why you feel it. Our emotions can be complicated creatures so getting to the bottom of things might reveal truths that help us move forward.
2. Find the Comeback Stories
Whenever we face a setback or a challenging event like a rejection, it can be easy to feel alone or to compare ourselves to other successful writers. The truth is that all of us struggle at some point. Look for the comeback stories in the people you admire or see around you. Maybe they have their own string of agent rejections or have had their publisher close the doors. Finding the stories of others who have gone through what you’re experiencing can not only make you feel less alone but also reassure you that the rejection, setback, or bad review doesn’t have to be the end of your story either.
3. Take the Big Picture
Setbacks, rejection, and bad reviews can feel like the end of the world. In the moment, it can feel like we won’t recover or that there’s no way forward. Taking the big picture can help you focus beyond the moment. Maybe your dream agent didn’t love your book, but there are many other agents out there who might love it. A missed deadline can be defeating in the moment, but might not even be noteworthy in five years. Try to see above the fray. Will this matter in two months or two years? Does it really close off the paths forward or do you need to shift a little to find a way through?
4. Use Your Strengths
Everyone of us has character strengths that we draw on every day. These include positive traits like hope, humor, curiosity, perseverance, and bravery. When negativity seems like it’s hanging around us like a dementor waiting to pounce, consciously using a character strength can help you summon your patronus to banish it away. Learn to recognize your signature strengths and you’ll get better about being about to call them up to help you rebound. Imagine that you’re on a writers’ panel at the biggest conference of the year in front of your favorite author and you fall getting into your chair and then spill a glass of water down the front of your shirt. Disaster? Maybe not. You call up your humor strength, crack a joke, and your favorite author invites you to lunch.
5. Look for the Lesson
Whenever we fall flat, it can be difficult to peer into the dark and look for the truth. We’d rather hide or blame it on someone else. It’s OK to take some time, but don’t forget to look for a lesson in there. Does that hurtful bad review have a grain of truth in there that can help you improve the next book? Is the feedback from your critique group the same week after week? Is that typo that haunts your dreams a symptom of rushing through things or not hiring a copyeditor? Finding the lesson can help you improve and grow, as well as giving you good practice in learning from the adversity.
6. Fall Forward
We all fail. At some point, something isn’t going to work or go our way. Falling forward means that we take what we’ve learned through the failure and fall forward with growth, new insights, and better skills. What we try might not work, but it can move us forward, if we let it. Maybe that story you wrote isn’t garnering rave reviews from your critique group, but you gained experiences and new insights so you’ll fall forward from where you started. If you fall forward, you use those experiences and insights to help you succeed on the next step.
7. Write Your Own Comeback
What if you could write your own success story? Try journaling about your next steps and successes in the future. Writing down what you’re feeling or where you want to go can help give you perspective about what’s happening. Research has also shown that talking to yourself in the third person or as “you” can help people perform in stressful situations better than if they use “I.” Give it a try in your journaling. It can help reduce feelings of shame as well as help us be more objective in our feedback to ourselves.
8. Build Your Community
We can’t always choose who we interact with but finding your community can help you foster resilience. Look for people who you can trust to both give you honest answers as well as who want the best for you with no strings attached. Your inner writing circle can have an effect on your self-talk so it’s good to be choosy and find your people, including the people that you hire and entrust your work to like editors, coaches, and marketers. Lean on your community in those moments when you need support and a boost up. That’s what friends are for, after all.
9. Use the Muse
Those hard moments can drain our creative well. It’s not unusual to find your creativity flagging along with your spirits after you read that not-great review or your book isn’t selling well. Sagging creativity then feeds into the negativity because if you can’t write, you can’t find your way out of the pit. Bolster your muse by doing something new, taking yourself on an artist’s date, or getting in some quiet time. Your muse might not make a sudden, dramatic appearance, but a new idea or story will eventually start itching in your brain. Give yourself the space and use the muse to pull yourself back into writing.
10. Delete the Doubt
Whenever those setbacks happen, imposter syndrome likes to show up right behind them. We doubt our ability to write, to be a writer, to succeed as a writer. Deleting the self-doubt that tries to keep us from moving forward can help us bounce back quicker and easier. If we believe that we are resilient and brave, we’ll act more resilient and brave. If we know how to kick self-doubt to the curb, we can find that healthier, stronger relationship with ourselves and our writing that lets us skip over some of those challenges like a pebble on water.
Is doubt holding you back from writing or publishing your book, blog, or dissertation? Writing is hard; doubt makes it harder. But it doesn’t have to be that way. Delete the Doubt is an online course designed to help you learn to use good doubt productively and banish the bad doubt from your writing life. When you embrace the good doubt, you’ll be able to use it—because that’s where creative genius happens—and spot when good doubt starts to turn to self-doubt so that you can stop it in its tracks before it stops you. Through the course, you’ll develop your own roadmap for deleting doubt so that you can draw on the strategies that work best for you. Choose the Delete the Doubt course option that works best for you: course only, two-month course program with weekly group coaching and discussions, and premium three-month course with 1-1 coaching sessions each week.
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Melissa Haveman (aka Melissa H. Blaine) is a mystery author, Michigander, and executive coach. She has almost eighteen years experience as a developmental editor and writer, and she’s also served as the Director of Content for an academic publisher. She’s taken hundreds of writing projects from start to finish, working with experienced and beginner writers alike.
Melissa is the owner of Creatively Centered, an executive coaching business that specializes in making remote work, work. She is a member of Sisters in Crime, the SinC-Guppy chapter, the Short Mystery Fiction Society, and the Grand Rapids Region Writers Group (GRRWG), as well as the Center for Executive Coaching and the International Coach Federation.
Her sociology degrees have led to many hours researching gravestones, urban legends, and how villains are created in history. When she’s not in front of her computer screen, Melissa is off hiking with her (hell)hound.