Do you faithfully follow your goals, even when the going gets tough? Or do you tend to give up rather easily? It might help you to learn how to make your writing resilient…
Reading time: Just over 4 minutes
Anyone who’s been on a diet — not that I’m endorsing diets — understands the concept of resilience. You resolve to eat only small amounts of healthy food and yet, only three days into your diet, a chocolate fudge brownie sneaks its way into your mouth. What do you do?
People who are resilient, forgive themselves and go back to healthy eating right away. Less resilient people say a variant of, “what the hell, I’ve broken my diet. I may as well eat that bag of chips… and the Snickers bar…and the bag of Skittles….and the big bowl of Cherry Garcia…. In many cases, it takes them days, weeks or sometimes even months to resume the practice of healthy eating.
Writers are much the same. They want to write every day (or perhaps every weekend), lasering in on impressive goals in their mind’s eyes. They plan to produce 2,000 words a day or sit at their desk for at least two hours. And when they fail to meet this goal — whether right away or eventually — they become dejected with themselves and start to feel hopeless. The following thoughts often cross their minds:
- I was mistaken to think I could ever become a writer
- I have no discipline
- Every time I try to write, I fail
- There’s no point in making any more effort
Do I need to tell you that these thoughts are wrong?
People who succeed at writing have a plan for how to deal with failures and setbacks. Here’s how you can make your writing more resilient:
- Start small: The biggest mistake I see many writers make is that they start way too big. They don’t understand that producing a blog (even one that’s posted only once every two weeks) or writing a book (or thesis or dissertation) is a major commitment that requires planning how to sustain yourself for the long haul. If you need to write something big or if you want to become a regular writer, start with no more than 15 minutes a day. And understand it’s perfectly okay to start with only five minutes, too. Starting too small is never a mistake. Starting too big, however, will frequently consign you to failure.
- Cultivate self-awareness: Understand your own habits and tendencies and try to predict what’s going to trip up your writing plan. Are you planning to write after dinner? And do you frequently get phone calls from friends at 7 pm? Or are you planning to write early in the morning? And do you often get called in to early-morning meetings? We all face challenges along the way. Try to predict what these problems are going to be and make plans for how to deal with them.
- Be flexible: Understand that the world is not black and white or all rainbows and unicorns. When things go wrong, deal with the situation and try to reschedule your writing for another time. Understand that you haven’t failed until you let yourself fail. Regroup and accomplish your goal in a different way. If you identify a problem that’s likely to recur — for example, phone calls from friends at 7 pm — then figure out a solution — perhaps, turn off your phone and call them back later?
- Be ready to forgive yourself: If your failure to write arises out of something you’ve done (or failed to do) — in other words, if it’s your own fault and you have only yourself to blame — accept that you made a mistake and forgive yourself. You’re a human being! We all make mistakes. Don’t allow yourself to derail your writing plan because of one missed day or one lousy mistake.
- Get help from friends and acquaintances: People who are resilient know how to ask for help. If you’re having difficulty establishing your writing practice then ask some (writing) friends for advice and suggestions. Maybe even seek a mentor. Or consider a program like my Get It Done accountability group. What we lack in knowledge or strength ourselves can often be supplemented with the efforts of others.
- Look after yourself: To be resilient you need to eat well, get enough sleep, have adequate exercise and have enough time with friends. (That sentence just about summarizes a healthy lifestyle.) You can’t do work — or look after others — unless you look after yourself first. Make sure your self-care is going to support your writing plans.
- Embrace failure: Harsh as this may sound, we are all going to fail at some point in our writing careers. Don’t try to escape this failure. Instead, recognize it for the learning opportunity that it is. We are hard-wired to learn a lot more when things go wrong than when they go right. Those failure-related lessons strike us with greater force and are much more memorable.
- Focus on what’s right, instead of what’s wrong: This may sound like a contradiction given point 7, above, but remember that while you don’t want to fear failure, you also want to spend more time focusing on what you do well. Remember, where attention goes, energy flows. So, for example, if research is an excellent strength of yours then look for work where your research skills will shine. On the other hand, if editing is your hidden talent, then write your first draft as quickly as possible so you can luxuriate in your editing.
- Try again: Don’t ever lose your spirit for the craft of writing. If you want to become a writer and things keep going wrong, persist in figuring out why those mistakes are occurring. We all get better at what we spend the most time doing. It’s always worth trying and then trying again.
Albert Einstein once said it was insanity to do the same thing and expect a different result. If your efforts to write are not working, or not working reliably, then make the effort to increase your resilience. You’ll be glad you did.
I’ll be holding a no-charge webinar about my Get It Done program, on Friday, May 10. This is your chance to learn more about writing and to ask me whatever questions you like. Email me with the word “WEBINAR” in the subject line, and I’ll be happy to send you an invitation. Deadline for applying to this three-month accountability group (starting June 1) is May 23rd. To apply, go here and scroll down the very end and select the bright green “click here to apply now” button.
My video podcast last week aimed to help academics facing the challenge of multiple co-authors. Or, see the transcript, and consider subscribing to my YouTube channel. If you have a question about writing you’d like me to address, be sure to send it to me by email, Twitter or Skype and I’ll try to answer it in the podcast.
Are you a resilient writer? What tricks do you use? We can all learn from each other so, please, share your thoughts with my readers and me in the “comments” section of my blog. And congratulations to Jennifer Wain, the winner of this month’s book prize, Organized Enough by Amanda Sullivan for an April 27/19 comment on my blog. Anyone who comments on today’s post (or any others) by May 31/19 will be put in a draw for a copy of the non-fiction book Pitch Anything, by Oren Klaff. To leave your own comment, please, scroll down to the section, directly underneath the “related posts” links, below. Note that you don’t have to join the commenting software to post. See hereto learn how to post as a guest.