"Required reading" for today's smart writer.
Saturday, January 21, 2012
The Blessings of Discouragement
by Author C. S. Lakin
Okay, no doubt you think I’m nuts. Really, what is so great about getting discouraged? And what does discouragement have to do with the craft of writing? We’ve all heard the admonitions to persist in our writing, to fend off discouragement, to plow ahead with our calling or dream or creative destiny—whatever you want to call it. And that’s what we try to do—year in and year out, if we are writing for life. Oftentimes, writing is a joy—easy, flowing, inspired. But other times it’s a real struggle to keep at it.
Shoulder the Boulder
In Greek mythology, King Sisyphus was punished in Tartarus by being cursed to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity. The word sisyphean means, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, “endless and unavailing, as labor or a task.” Sometimes we work so hard at writing our books, rolling them up the hill to be noticed by an agent or editor, excited to share our boulder with the world, only to have the thing roll back down as we watch in dismay—or, worse yet, as we get crushed underneath as it careens down the hill.
Some People Only Have a Small Rock to Push
I’ve met a few writers who have had an easy course. Within months of writing their first book, contracts were in the mail. Without much effort, their books catapulted to best-seller status, and within a few years, their list of published credits matched the length of my daily to-do list. For we writers who have struggled the long haul to that golden ring, we fight feelings of unworthiness and envy. Perhaps we finally get our books published and chance upon a scathing review, or sales are disappointing. We finally got that boulder up on top of the hill for everyone to see, and then—more discouragement.
All Right—What’s the Blessing?
As someone who had to wait over twenty years for that first publishing contract, I consider myself an expert in discouragement. But the flipside of that coin is persistence. Persistence either leads to determination or giving up. The blessing of discouragement is closely tied to the writing craft. For, if my determination is continually renewed, my calling reaffirmed with each disappointment and rejection, along with it comes the drive to excel and improve my craft. I have found that my passion to reach out with my words grows more urgent with each year passing, and that translates in my writing as honesty, fervor, urgency, and compassion. I am forced to reflect on what I am writing and why. On how I am writing and to whom—and to what end. Perhaps, because of my personality and background, and my passion to reach and change hearts, God has seen fit to give me a season of discouragement as a way to mature and ripen my sensitivities and insights into human nature. I have no doubt that discouragement has played a huge factor in my growing as a writer—not just personally, but in my craft.
A Writer’s Voice That Matures with Time
If we can think of our years of hard effort like a fine wine that deepens in flavor with age, we might take an honest look and see that, had we become the overnight success we had hoped in the first months of writing, we may not have matured in the fine way we have. Our writing may not have developed the rich, complex nuances it now has. May we all look at the boulder-rolling experience in a positive light—we gain strength from the effort, get a glimpse of what’s on top of the hill, and learn to sidestep the discouragement as it comes barreling at us. Eventually, after so many times of crashing down the hill, the boulder will wear down to a manageable size—perhaps one day ending up a pebble we can carry in our pocket as we take in the glorious view from the heights.
Thoughts? Have you found value in the "valley"?
C. S. Lakin is the author of twelve novels, including the seven-book fantasy series “The Gates of Heaven.” She also writes contemporary psychological mysteries, including her Zondervan contest winner Someone to Blame. She works as a professional copyeditor and writing coach and loves to teach the craft of writing. Her websites are dedicated to critiquing fiction and building community to help survive and thrive in your writing life: www.LiveWriteThrive.com and www.CritiqueMyManuscript.com. Come join in! You can read more about her and her books at www.cslakin.com.
Follow @cslakin and @livewritethrive. Facebook: C. S. Lakin, Author, Editor.
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I had a writing instructor once who said, "The first ten years are practice for most writers." There is some truth to that. My writing has certainly improved in those ten years. Great post.ReplyDelete
I'd like to start the "boulder rolling" by welcoming C.S., and by stating how inspiring this post was to me personally. I believe that it will be motivating and meaningful to many.ReplyDelete
I love this angle! It's such a great perspective to maintain to help propel us forward. Thanks, Jennifer, for the intro to C.S., and thanks, C.S. for the encouragement!ReplyDelete
Thanks for your perspective, (and your instructor's). :-)
I think there's great validity to it, and it seems I've had more than my share of practice. :-) But as they say,
"practice makes perfect." Right?
Glad you enjoyed it. It is an awesome angle! Thanks for your time and input.
Thanks for the kind comments. May you be encouraged and strengthened in your writing journey!ReplyDelete
Wow. This is really painfully true. I do see that my writing deepens and is enriched by pain.ReplyDelete
I've found that discouragement will often make me bolder as in, "Well, phooey, that didn't work. Now they're really going to see some writing!" Sometimes it even works. =0)ReplyDelete
I admire your persistence. Thanks for adding to the mix here. :-)
I write, but mostly blog, but at least I know I`m creative non-fiction!! That`s a start, but my discouragement and lessons so far come from the brick walls I hit in what is a not so average, every day life....ReplyDelete
Love the post..... certainly makes me think, which I know can be the best gift ever!
Welcome, Sherri! Glad you liked the post and took the time to tell us.Delete
I wrote my first novel three years ago. I am still working at securing a publisher or agent. In the meantime, there was nothing to do but KEEP WRITING. I joined a writers group-the best thing I ever did-and managed to get several short stories published. I wrote another book and am currently working on the sequel to my first novel. I started a blog and LOVE IT! These are all things I would not have tried if I had been successful in getting that book published immediately. Do I ever get discouraged? Yes, once a day, at least. But I know that my books will be published in the traditional old-fashioned way sooner or later. I know that I will not stop until I interest an agent. Keep the faith!ReplyDelete
This article is very (almost eerily) timely for me. I've just revised my novel again. Yes, again. It's very hard to be persistent sometimes when a little voice in your head is telling you that you've just wasted an incredible amount of time on something that is entirely unpublishable.ReplyDelete
Yes, persistence and practice improve your writing. And, disappointment keeps you humble. Also, it gives you opportunities to do new things. I have two colleagues who would make outstanding novelists, but have never taken the plunge because they are doing so well at what they do. Try new genres, new themes, new publishers. I'm meeting lots of new people doing all of these new things.
I'm still feeling frustrated, though.
Welcome--how wonderful to have you here. I like your point, "try new genres, new themes, new publishers."
Persistence pays. :-) Thanks for your comment and the "follow."
To write that has not been written before is a metephore, We must stretch the imagination to unlimitless bounds in order to find our own originality and what has not been done or said before. Then, and only then, as a writer or person, can you say you are original.ReplyDelete
J.A. Konrath didn't become successful overnight, neither did Bob Mayer, Scott Nicholson or Amanda Hocking. These are all examples of writers who didn't give up and now they're successful. Writing, like most things in life, takes time.ReplyDelete
I just published my first book back in April and didn't know how it would sell. I made it the best possible book I could make it at the time, but how can it be my greatest book when it only marks the start of my writing career? I'm sure I've got plenty more books in me and they will all be great so long as vow to make each one better than the one before.
Thanks for sharing this. I appreciate your time and input.
You bring up some good examples here. Great food for thought. Thanks for stopping by.
Very inspiring. Gave me a lot to think about. Thank youReplyDelete
Welcome! Glad you enjoyed the post. I appreciate the input.
I appreciate hearing from an yet another accomplished author who had to toil for years and fight disappointment discouragement before it all finally started to work out for her. That's really how it is for many writers: 'overnight success' strikes only the few. You can either make it a referendum on your worthiness or pick yourself up, dust yourself off and keep writing.ReplyDelete
How true! Thanks so much for chiming in here. :-)
Yes, I do think that discouragement can sometimes beReplyDelete
a blessing because from the - Frustration -
can come - Inspiration - For example with my Blog(s) first I was very frustrated about hardly seeing any visitors to any of my Blog(s), because of that I was contantly thinking
about way's to change that.
'Than I started to actually Imagine
how it would be like when there actually
would be lot's of visitors to my blog,
O.K. than what...?'
That got me Inspired to think about:
- how you probably actually would want
some intersting content to read,
- that you might want it easy to read
with things like Subheadings, Block Quotes etc. etc.
- also making available for you a - Most Popular Posts - List and a list with - Most Recent Comments - etc. etc.
All to make it easy to read and for you to be able to directly find the most interesting content. Now most recently I also actually included an actual List with Bestselling Book Industry Books for you as a reader
of the - Writer's Lifestyle - Blog. And although there is still plenty of 'room for improvements', I did get a pretty amazing increase (more than 400%!) in the number of visitors to that blog.
(While it still is a little less compared to some of my other Blogs, now it also finally started 'dripping' some more Commenting on the Writer's Lifestyle Blog.)Delete