March 12, 2013

The Writer's Survival Kit





















Yesterday at dinner, I told Justin about a friend of mine who was really struggling with her publisher. Justin stopped chewing and shook his head slowly. And he said, "Man, your industry is brutal." 

It is indeed, dear husband! 

Sadly, it is indeed. 

Lately I've been thinking about this whole book-writing process and how brutally heartbreaking it can be. The rejection. The hair-pulling. The rejection. The shifting market. And—oh look!—MOAR rejection. At every turn, we can face heartache and disappointment, from the query trenches and submission woes to poor book sales and harsh reviews. 

Le sigh.

But the point of this post isn't to depress you! In fact, it's quite the opposite. It's about getting through those tough and miserable times so we can continue what we love to do—and that is to write. So without further adieu, here are four tips that have helped me when I've been plagued by the doubts or stuck in the Sea of Despair. (Blergh, the Sea of Despair! Boo, hiss!) 

Tip #1: Eat (or drink!) your emotions.

First up, indulge yourself! Eat that Ben & Jerry's straight out of the carton. Swallow that bag of Cadbury Mini Eggs. Drink that ridiculously delicious mimosa. Drink another! 

Okay, okay, don't go too overboard! We do want to stay healthy, after all. But whenever I'm feeling particularly blergh-filled, I take a field trip to Baskin Robbins or Georgetown Cupcake, and I let their sugary goodnesses erase my woes. Sure, an ice cream cone can't fix my writing troubles (if only!) but it does make me feel better, at least for a little while. 

So bottom line: be kind to yourself. Indulge a little. When you feel like beating yourself up, head out for a milkshake or some stir fry—or, fine, a nutritious salad if that's your thing!—instead of wallowing in despair. Trust me, getting out of the house will do you some good! Which leads to...

Tip #2: Exercise!

As a quick disclaimer, I hate exercising. I like my sofa, thank you very much, along with my good friend the TV. But, alas, sofa-sitting and TV-watching don't exactly get those endorphins flowing—and you need those endorphins when you're feeling down in the dumps. 

Case in point: back in 2011, I was tying myself in knots over a revision request from my agent. I wasn't sure if I could tackle the changes he suggested—I didn't know if I was good enough—and so I fretted and fretted and basically turned into an anxiety monster. (Don't you want to be friends with me?!) Anyway, in the midst of my fretting, my dad asked me to help him with yard work and I grudgingly agreed. (Boo, hiss! I don't want to go outside!) But a funny thing happened as I pulled weeds and trimmed hedgets... I felt better. Lighter. And dang nabbit, I just knew I could tackle those revisions! 

Whenever you feel a bout of tears coming on, close your laptop and head outside. Go for a walk or hop onto your bike or swing by that rock climbing gym for an hour or two. Once those endorphins start flowing, you'll feel better—and more importantly, healthier—and you'll be in a better state to kick those doubts to the curb. 

Tip #3: Cut out your triggers.

Now this is a lesson I wish I had learned sooner! For far too many years, I worried about things out of my control:

There's a writer who got seven offers of rep?! I can't even get a full request!
She wrote four books in one year? I-I-I can't even finish one! 
He got a major deal for the first book he ever wrote? *Thud*

Fret, fret, thy name is Caroline! Fortunately, I've now devised a plan to cut out the stuff that triggers my writing woes. See, as much as I love writing forums and Twitter, sometimes I just need to take a break from them. Social media tends to generate a lot of "noise" in my mind, and that noise distracts me from what I really need to focus on. My writing. My books. My neuroticism.

Kidding, kidding on that last point!

Tip #4: Create a Feel Better Folder. 


Ah, the Feel Better Folder! Every writer needs one. Haven't heard about this miracle product? Well, I just made it up so allow me to explain! 

When I get a nasty case of the Doubt Monsters, I open up my Gmail account and click on the "Feel Better" label that I've set up. Basically, this folder contains the emails that always put a smile on my face: praise from my beta readers, kind words from Agent Jim, and nice messages from blog readers. These emails are like a big o'l hug to meand there's one in particular that gives me the biggest hug ever. 

In the spring of 2010, I found myself in the incredibly lucky position of receiving multiple offers of representation. This came as a huge surprise because I had been querying for over a year and had almost trunked my book entirely. Once I picked my jaw off the floor, I emailed the agents who had my query/partial/full, and one of them quickly replied that he was attending a conference but would pass along my manuscript to one of his readers. A couple days later I got a reply that started with:
I received an incredible response from my first reader here, who inhaled your book!
Long story short, the agent ended up stepping aside—which was fine because I really, really wanted to sign with Agent Jim!—but I saved his message and I still read it from time to time. I don't know what it is but this one sentence gives me hope, even though three years have passed, even though that first book didn't sell. Somewhere out there, someone read my book and loved it. I don't know his name; I don't even know if he is a she; but that someone loved my book. My little ol' book that came out of my little weird brain!

It's just one person, I know, but it's enough to keep me going.
Because if there's one, there might be more out there, right?

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So there you have it! My writer's survival kit. Of course, I still struggle with writerly doubts and frustrations but I'm hoping that I can follow my own advice and dig myself out a rut whenever the Doubt Monsters hit next!

How about you though? What's in your writer's survival kit? Any tips or advice for a delicate flower like me?


4 comments:

  1. This is such a great list, Caroline! Exactly what I needed to read today. Thanks! :)

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  2. This is fantastic advice, Caroline, and a timely reminder! I've definitely got #1 and #2 down, and I love the idea of #4... The next time I have a few spare minutes, I'm definitely going to make a Feel Good folder. :-)

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  3. Great advice Caroline, I need to remember Tip 3 at the moment!

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  4. I love this! Especially the idea of a Feel Better folder. I'm going to create one ASAP. :)

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