By Susan Breen
No one lives on hope as much as writers. It might have something to do with spending so much time in our own heads. We spend years working on projects in the hope that someone will love our writing as much as we do. We sit hopefully by the computer, waiting for e-mails from agents and publishers. We start new projects, hoping they will be better than the previous ones. We look at best seller lists … and hope.
But there are times when the hope dries up. An unexpected rejection, a mean-spirited review, a hurtful critique, and next thing you know, you’re doubting everything. Your writing is dust. Your plots are trite. What’s the point? You’ll never succeed. Potentially debilitating criticism and rejection happens to every writer, and one of the most important things you can do as a career author is figure out how to deal with it. Or you’ll find yourself giving up.
In my years of teaching, I’ve seen so many talented people surrender, sometimes right on the cusp of accomplishing great things.
How can you keep hope alive?
- Surround yourself with hopeful people. It makes a difference. I have a friend who’s devoted her life to saving the world. She hosts refugees in her apartment, tutors immigrant children, and cares for stray dogs. (She also happens to love my writing.) When I’m with her, I feel like anything is possible. Yes, I can finish that novel. Yes, I can get that character on the page. Avoid getting involved in petty feuds. (I’ve seen so many of them flash across Facebook.) They will fill your mind with useless grievance.
- Nourish moments that keep that hopeful flame alive. Any time anyone writes something positive to me, I save it. My agent, the fabulous Paula Munier, once sent me a card that said, you are a badass, and I keep that taped to my desk. I even keep encouraging fortune cookies. I want to sit down at my desk and feel good.
- Tap into your joy. I have loved trees since I was a girl. I love to take pictures of them and post them on Facebook. Turns out there are a lot of people who love trees and they are all fabulous people and they send me pictures of trees, and sometimes they buy my books. If you feel stymied in one part of your life, try another. Joy leads to hope, or vice versa.
- Share the hope. As someone who teaches novel writing, I’m often asked to write references or blurbs. Usually, I’m happy to do it. I don’t expect payback. Really! But people do pay it back. They ask me to speak at events. It goes round and round and it’s all good. What if no one is asking you to do something? Then volunteer. Literary magazines are always looking for slush pile readers. Bloggers are always looking for guest posts. Find a way to insert yourself into the literary world.
- Give yourself small things to succeed at. Earlier this year, I submitted a story that was longlisted for the UK’s Crime Writers Association’s “Margery Allingham Short Mystery Competition.” I would have liked to win it (because then I would have met Elly Griffiths at the ceremony). I would have liked to be shortlisted, because then I could say I was shortlisted. But do you know what? I was absolutely thrilled to be longlisted. It gave me the validation that I needed at that moment. But I would not have felt validated if I hadn’t written the story and sent it out.
Challenge yourself. You’ll be amazed at what could happen. Here’s hoping that lots of good things happen for you!
When the muse is elusive, how do you get motivated to start writing? We’d love to hear your get-going strategies on Facebook.
Susan Breen’s debut novel, The Fiction Class won a Washington Irving Book Award. Her stories and articles have appeared in many magazines, among them Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and Writer’s Digest. A renowned writing teacher, she is also a member of Mystery Writers of America and Sisters-in-Crime. She lives in a small village on the Hudson River with her husband, two dogs and one cat. Her three children are flourishing elsewhere, and she has a new granddaughter who sometimes distracts her from writing but keeps hope alive.
Maggie Dove and the Lost Brides is the latest book in Susan Breen’s bestselling Maggie Dove mystery series. Hank Phillippi Ryan raves, “Cozy readers will instantly fall in love with the charmingly endearing Maggie Dove.” Follow Susan on Twitter, and check out her other books on her website.