You have to be tough to be a writer. It’s a well-known truth. From Stephen King’s On Writing to the Instagram and Twitter writing communities, we all know writing results in
Both are impossible to avoid and, in the long run, make you a better writer, so you need to be tough enough to deal with the powers that be telling you, “hey, you can do better.”
Because of this, writers often hear the same refrains:
Shrug it off.
Don’t show that it hurts, for goodness sake.
Just. Keep. Swimming.
This advice is good and true. The rejection sucks, but it means you’re putting yourself out there, learning. The feedback from beta readers and writing groups can be harsh, but it is meant to help you fulfill your storytelling potential. Kind of like broccoli, you may not like it, but it’s good for you (I love broccoli, by the way…).
But some writers don’t naturally have thick skin. Some folks who aren’t writers but want to be may not have thick skin, and they may be hesitant to begin an endeavor that is so fraught with peril.
Understandable, but don’t let your soft heart keep you from writing!
Here’s how to endure the slings and arrows of the writing life without changing who you are.
Soft hearts can sometimes only take so much abuse. So, if you find yourself under an onslaught of rejection or criticism, take a break.
Don’t break from writing itself. Don’t stop reading, of course. But maybe bring your battered manuscript and heart inside for a while, out of readers’ hands. Nourish it up a bit, forge it some new armor. Let it rest from the battle of public opinion.
How long you rest is up to you. A few days, a few weeks, a few months, your heart will tell you when it’s ready to go.
Once it’s healed and (hahaha) hearty, send it back into the world, renewed and ready for battle!
List Your Strengths.
While you’re on that break, though, you’ll need to do actual work to heal and prepare for the next go round of reader feedback.
So, when you’re at your lowest–feeling like you’ll never finish your work, find an agent, get published, engage readers, on and on and on until you’re just a blanket-covered lump on the couch–make a list of reasons you are an awesome writer.
Be honest. Don’t make stuff up in order to convince yourself you’re the next Pulitzer Prize winner. Seriously evaluate your own work. If you’re a smooth dialogue writer, list it! If you’re great at the funny moments, list that too!
Listing your strengths can remind you that you’re definitely not the worst, even if you’re not the best.
List Your Weaknesses. Attack Them.
But you’re not done yet.
(We’re going to have to stop thinking of this as a break. It’s more like a training montage…)
Time to make a new list. This time, list out your writing weaknesses. If you’re a perfectionist like me, this list might be easier to curate. The bullet points might pop up so quickly, your word processor breaks down. That’s okay. Because you’re not listing your weaknesses to be mean to yourself. You’re listing them so you know your enemies and can develop a plan of attack!
If your weakness is plotting, research courses or workshops you can take to improve your plotting skills. Are there any books you can buy, any blog posts with plotting advice? Take this time to honestly identify and actively improve your writing weaknesses.
Pro Tip: you know that feedback that sent you retreating in the first place? You may want to give it serious thought and use it to add to your list!
React in Private.
We’ve all been there. You get a rejection in the mail or open up a file of disappointing feedback. Maybe you feel like shooting off an in indignant email or tweeting something nasty in response, in defense.
Probably not a good idea, though.
Give it an hour, a day, a week, and you may feel very differently. You may find yourself appreciating the feedback and thus regretting the immediate reaction.
Don’t let your soft heart get you in trouble. Don’t fling over desks, anger your editor, or alienate any agents. If you must weep over less than glowing reactions to your work (and you may have to–that’s okay!), do so somewhere private and to someone you can be a mess in front of.
This is the GOLDEN RULE: reflect before you react.
Rejection and critical feedback can be gut wrenching; it can make us want to spiral out of control, to react immediately in defense of our beloved manuscript. I spent a lot of time listening to folks tell me I had to stop that s***, I had to react differently, be someone different. I tried, honestly, but at the end of the day, I am who I am.
So, I’ve accepted it. I’ve got a damned inconvenient soft heart. But this acceptance doesn’t mean I’ve rejected all critical feedback and rejection.
Nope! Instead, I’ve created a plan to help me make the most of rejection, to deal with it more healthily! At the center of this plan is reflection, particularly on these questions:
- What was the gut wrenching advice?
- Why is it true?
- How could it be wrong?
- What is my purpose for writing?
- What can I compromise on?
- What is not up for compromise?
Answering these questions shows me that there is more room for compromise in my work than I originally thought. The gut-wrenching advice isn’t contradictory to my own artistic purposes at all. It IS possible to make the necessary changes AND stay true to my goals and creative vision.
Above All, Know This.
Your soft heart is not a weakness. It means you care. It means you have goals that matter to you, that are at the core of who you are. That’s not only okay, that’s amazing.
I’m guessing your soft heart may even seep into your writing, creating your voice, influencing your word choices, plot, characters, everything. It’s what makes your story yours.
Your soft heart will be wounded by the thing it loves the most. Your failures will pierce you, tear you, leave you for dead. And that’s okay, as long as you don’t lie there too long, as long as you get busy reflecting on and improving your writing.
Are any of you soft-hearted writers? How do you manage the perilous travails of the writing life from such a vulnerable state?