A good friend and glorious writer admitted this week to being ‘at sea’ with her writing. Traditionally published with no shortage of accolades or experience, she is currently pitching her new novel—her baby—to agents and publishers. And so far she’s had to deal with several rejections and worse: silence. In an attempt to refocus, she turned to a long-abandoned first-draft manuscript, but was disheartened by the work required to bring it up to scratch. The reason? Her skills have developed since writing that draft, but she still doubts her ability to realise its potential. The cocktail of self doubt and disappointment that most writers know all too well.
This friend turned to our writing group for support, and the advice she received from Adrienne Ferreira, a talented novelist, mentor and teacher, was first rate. Adrienne said of writing: ‘It’s a practice, and like any practice, we must strip away all the factors that are out of our control (approval, recognition, status) and focus on the words, the rhythm, the intent. Our reward is learning and the clarity writing brings.’ For more writing wisdom, check out her website: www.bravewords.com.au.
My friend’s problem struck a chord with me, given I’ve been pitching my own novel for the best part of two years. Meanwhile, like her, I’m also working on an early draft of a new manuscript. Imposter Syndrome is a frequent companion, and while I can’t top Adrienne’s advice, I recognise the need to accept self doubt and continue to write in the face of it. Here are a few ideas which have helped me stay on track.
How to keep writing through rejections and silence:
- Read: I recently devoured Reading Like a Writer by Francine Prose, and am currently working my way through George Saunders’s excellent A Swim in a Pond in the Rain. Unlike many books about the craft of writing, these both focus on how much a writer can learn from reading the work of masters. If you’re looking for inspiration, try indulging in a spot of purposeful reading.
- Take a course: Another way to drag your attention from the publishing process to the creative one is to take a course. It could be a one-day workshop, an online self-paced course, or a longer structured program, like ACT Writers’ Hidden Nerve, which I’m thrilled to be participating in this year.
- Offload to other writers (no one else gets it): If you haven’t yet connected with the writing community on social media, what are you waiting for? Better yet, get together with other writers face to face. Finding your tribe can take time, but it’s wonderful to talk to someone who understands what you’re going through. Other writers can also offer much-needed perspective if, like many creatives, you’re prone to catastrophising.
- Try something new: If your big project is getting you down, shake it up a bit. Get those creative juices flowing by trying your hand at short fiction, poetry or non-fiction. Write a book review. Play around with art or nature photography. You might just find your mojo along the way, and return to the big project with renewed enthusiasm.
- Know when to shelve a project and move on: This one’s tough. After spending years working on a manuscript, how do you know whether to persist or give up? Some tenacious writers spend a decade or more on one novel, revising and refining, sending out hundreds of queries until they get that one yes. More power to them, but for me, if I reread the manuscript and no longer love it, if feedback is pointing towards writing something new, if I know in my heart that it’s not ‘the one’, I chalk it up to experience and move on. After all, embracing creativity is all about growing and learning. And sometimes, unfortunately, it’s also about letting go.
How are you planning to bring your focus back to the words, the rhythm, the intent?