Tuesday, May 9, 2017

Rejection and Failure: Don't Quit. Do Something Else Instead. Here Are A Few Ideas.

This is a reprint of my post for @AnneRAllen on April 30.

Rejection and Failure: Don't Quit. Do Something Else Instead. Here Are A Few Ideas.

Rejection and failure make you think of quitting? Be like Thomas Edison instead.

by Ruth Harris

Rejection can make us want to cry and/or break things but rejection is almost never personal and often has nothing to do with your book, either. The sting of rejection can be bullied into submission with a can-do, eff-you spirit or maybe chocolate or a few glasses of wine—sometimes consumed together.
Rejection is temporary, a passing storm that helps writers develop the necessary thick skin and confident attitude, but it’s a sense of failure—often intertwined with fear—that can make us want to give up and quit.

Frazzled, Frustrated, and Fed up. (Notice all the f-words in this post?)

I’ve been hearing a lot of negativity recently from writers who want to give up. They question their talent—and their sanity. They’ve tried everything—free books and promos and newsletter and ads and the latest, hottest genre—and “nothing” works. When they look around they see what looks like the ashes of the ebook boom: declining sales, unpredictable algo changes, and the indie stars from a few years ago who have left the scene.
The odds-against in TradPub are equally daunting. Writers hoping for an agent know the ego-mangling effects of being dissed and ignored, their manuscripts disappeared and their emails unanswered.
As a long-time editor, publisher and writer, my experience has been that we (and our books) fail much more than we succeed. Knopf editor Robert Gottlieb in his book Avid Reader: A Life, talks about the successes and the famous writers but about the failures—the books remaindered, languishing in warehouses, the authors fallen into obscurity—not so much. Understandably, because, after all, who wants to read about (or write about) flops, failures and the forgotten? Doesn’t mean they didn’t happen, though.
I’ve experienced failure from both sides of the desk and want to take a deep dive into the subject since set-backs are an inescapable part of the business we’re in. To start with a bit of perspective: It’s not just us. Most businesses fail. Period.
I live in New York where new restaurants open every week and even more close. Ditto clothing boutiques, hair salons, and dog groomers. Malls across the country sit empty and iconic retailers like Sears and Kmart, RadioShack and J.C. Penney are shutting stores.
With that larger perspective, use your creative abilities to consider ways to reframe failure before you act on your impulse to give up.

Failure as Foundation.

In her June 2008 speech at Harvard graduation J.K. Rowling, currently the richest writer in the world, explored “the benefits of failure.” She described her own failures—she was divorced, jobless, a single parent and as poor as one could be without being homeless—and said that “rock bottom became the solid foundation on which I rebuilt my life.”
Struggling to meet ends and so depressed she considered suicide, she reached out for help and returned to Harry Potter, an idea she had begun years earlier but abandoned. For J.K. Rowling, failure was not final but the beginning of a new ending.
Should you, like J.K. Rowling, return to an old idea or an abandoned draft? Has the time come to review and reconsider?
Award-winning writer Holly Lisle offers a detailed guide to revising a book.
Maybe the book that fizzled needs the sizzle of a new idea or a new shot of energy. Gloria Kopp, a web content writer, shares seven ways for writers to generate new ideas and includes a clickable list of online writing and idea generating tools and resources.

Failure as Part of the Job.

Olympic figure skaters miss their jumps, world-class gymnasts don’t always stick the landing and medal-winning divers splash the entry. Famous golfers miss their putts, Roger Federer loses sometimes, and even Ted Williams struck out.
Failure is part of their career and even those at the top continue to practice their serve, their swing, their fastball and curve. They spend time in the batting cage, in the rink, on the apparatus. They reach out for help and seek mentors and coaches, learn from their competitors, and from those who came before them.
Ballerinas take class or do barre everyday. Singers practice their scales and I recall reading that, as a young singer wanting to improve, Frank Sinatra paid  a retired opera singer to teach him a series of vocal exercises which he added to and practiced throughout his life.
For a writer, editing, revising and rewriting are invaluable forms of practice. Editors, beta readers, and crit groups can take the place of tennis coaches and batting gurus. The book that flopped or was never finished (Harry Potter anyone?) can get a second or third chance because dialoguegrammardescriptionsinfo dumps, and go-nowhere scenes can all be reworked and improved.

Course Correction or Radical Reinvention?

When your career is stalled and “nothing” is working for you, you have the advantage of being invisible. Because no one is paying attention to you, you can take big risks. A pen name can be liberating as you venture out to try something new and different.


If you’ve been on your own, what about collaborating with another writer or even several writers?

Writing for the Market

Lots of controversy about “writing to market,” but if you feel you are getting nowhere, why not consider it? As a young editor, I started out writing magazine articles but wanted to try writing something longer. A book!
At the time, gothic romance was a hot genre. I read a handful of top-selling gothics, wrote an outline and a few chapters to prove to an editor (and myself) that I could do it. Eventually I wrote several gothics and, in doing so, began to learn how to write a book.
I did not find writing to market soul sucking. Perhaps because I viewed writing to market as a starting point, found it educational, and liked getting paid. If you feel stuck and decide to try writing to market, why not think of it as a stepping stone?

A few how-to’s to get you started:

•How to write your first romance novel.
•Chuck Wendig lists 25 things to know about writing horror.
•Susan Spann shares 25 tips for writing a mystery.
•Bestseller David Morrell’s 5 rules for writing a thriller.
•Six secrets to writing suspense.
•How to write action-adventure.

Failure—or fear of failure?

Are we talking failure? Or the fear of it?
Is fear of failure holding you back? Twenty-five noted women from Michelle Obama to Dolly Parton discuss the fear that might have paralyzed them and the steps they took to overcome it.
What if you’ve actually failed? Author Ray Williams talks about coping with failure from a psychological point of view.
Techniques for dealing with failure and moving on.

The book that failed. Or did it?

  • That new book you were sure was going be your break-through sank without a trace.
  • Those newsletters “everyone” said was a sure fire route to fans and sales landed in spam folders.
  • The promo that worked so well last time fizzled this time.
  • Those widely hyped Amazon and Facebook ads turned out to be expensive and time consuming to set up and maintain. They made a dent in your wallet but not your sales graph.
Maybe that book is languishing because it needs the right hook. Paula Balzer at Writer’s Digest goes into detail about how to write the hook that hooks.
How about a better blurb?
Or maybe no one’s buying your book because no one can find it. Here’s how to choose categories and keywords that can shelve your book where people who might like it can actually find it.
What if the promo that was great for “everyone,” did zilch for you? Bestselling author Cara Bristol gives 8 reasons why.

Before I Go (and you give up), Heed these Two “Failures.”

“Failure is success in progress.” —Albert Einstein
“I have not failed. I’ve just found 10,000 ways that don’t work.” —Thomas Alva Edison

Thursday, April 20, 2017

Extreme vanity? Or just good business?

magnifying glass
image credit:  By Penarc - Own work, CC BY-SA 3.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=8631592

 $800 vials of Botox. $475 Genesis laser treatment for pore tightening. $1,200 Titan laser sessions to firm the jawline.

This New York Times article about a LA derm to the stars seemed OTT on first reading, but it also made sense.

Would you want your pimple to be seen in hi-def around the world? Your sagging jaw line?
The lines around your eyes? Sexy—supposedly—on men. On women, not so much.

Most of us wouldn’t much like it but most of us—lucky for us—don’t depend on our looks to earn a living.

What would you do if you were a movie star and your million-dollar paycheck were at stake?
Or what if you were a working actor—but not a star—who was looking for next job? Would you have some “work” done? A touch up here and there every now and then?

If you care about paying rent and putting food on the table, getting first crack at hot scripts, or just landing your next role, of course you would. Ditto for TV personalities, news anchors, C-suite executives who need to look “rested” and alert, ready to meet the next crisis or challenge.

All of which reminds me of my now-retired derm who told me that, when he was in med school, he wanted to do something that would help people feel good and so he chose dermatology. His father, an orthopedist, went ballistic. “If it didn’t involve a saw and hammer, he didn’t think it was medicine,” my derm told me.

His father kept bugging him until my derm finally lost patience. “If you don’t stop, I’m going to go into psychiatry,” he threatened his father.

Who, from then on, ceased and desisted railing against dermatology as a career choice. Ultimately proud, no doubt, of his son, a talented clinician who effectively treated the array of skin sensitivities I had inherited from my father and the only derm able to heal a friend’s persistent and extremely irritating rash of mysterious origin.

I love glimpses into other worlds! Do you?

Tuesday, April 4, 2017


Stop the burning


Burnout can hit the most motivated writers and Type A high-achievers
We’re writers. We work for ourselves. We don’t need no lousy bosses to crack the whip. We can do it to ourselves–create the frazzle, the frustration, the deadlines, the endless to-do lists, negative feedback, and the conviction that we’re not doing enough fast enough.

We feel like hamsters spinning an infinite wheel, and the more successful we get, the tougher the challenges become. No wonder we’re prime targets of stress and its evil relative, burnout.

Stress and Burnout are Different.

As I said in Part I of this piece, stress is a condition of too much and is characterized by over engagement. Too many demands, too much pressure. Your emotions are overactive and hyped up. You face too many demands on your time and energy, and feel barraged and overwhelmed by unrelenting pressure.
The consequences of stress are primarily physical: your pulse rate quickens, your heart pounds, but you still feel a glimmer of hope.
You think that if you can just get everything under control, you’ll be OK again.
Burnout, a result of chronic stress, is a condition of too little and is characterized by disengagement. You feel empty, emotionally drained, and devoid of energy.
Burnout reduces productivity and leaves you feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Your motivation is gone, your creativity, kaput. You feel detached and depressed, and as if you have nothing more to give.
Keeping in mind that stress and burnout are different, the approaches to dealing with them are also different.

Coping with Stress

The symptoms of stress are primarily physical.

The American Psychological Association points out that an extreme amount of stress can affect the immune, cardiovascular and neuroendocrine and central nervous systems, and can take severe physical and emotional tolls. The APA lists five healthy techniques that psychological research has shown to help reduce stress in both the short- and long-term.

Right-size your to-do list. Embrace the zoom out.

Henrik Edberg, an author who writes about simplifying life and becoming happier, offers 33 practical tips about how to reduce stress. They range from right-sizing your to-do list (simple but brilliant!) to the benefits of zooming out in order to gain healthy perspective.

Create a coping plan and learn to “just say no.”

Lynn Ponton, MD at the Psych Central site, lists 20 ways to soothe the stress monster including detailed how-to’s of progressive muscle relaxation and the function of a “hassle” list that will help you distinguish between minor and major hassles.

Keep a stress diary.

From difficult people to poor time management skills, sources of stress are all around us. A stress diary will help you identify and manage your stress points so you will feel less frazzled and more in control. Here’s a templatefor a stress diary to get you started.

Organize the chaos.

Being better organized will help you feel less stressed and more in control. On her blog, Elizabeth S. Craig explains how staying organized gives her more time to write and offers tips on the tools she relies on.

Distraction and interruption.

Whether it’s the phone, IMs, emails, texts, a friend, a spouse, a neighbor, those interruptions add up to increased stress—and it’s not just stress. According to a New York Times article, distraction actually makes you dumber.
Unplug the router, or put your computer into Do Not Disturb mode to fend off distractions and let you focus on your task. Dump the multitasking and ban the interruptions and you will find your stress level plummet.

Coping with Burnout

Be alert to the signs of burnout.

Burnout is a sneaky thief of energy and pleasure. Burnout, a consequence of almost constant stress, doesn’t happen overnight and you won’t be able to rebound overnight. Be on the lookout for burnout if your joie de vivre is MIA, or if you:
  • Feel every day is a bad day.
  • Can’t drag yourself out of bed in the morning.
  • Have the blahs and are exhausted.
  • Take no joy or interest in your work, or feel depressed by it.
  • Feel overwhelmed or paralyzed by your responsibilities.
  • Turn to escapist behaviors, such as drugs and/or excess drinking.
  • Are more irritable and short tempered than usual.
  • Feel hopeless about your life or work.
  • Experience what Ernest Hemingway called the “black dog.”

From snark to insomnia, the subtle symptoms of burnout.

Alan Henry at Lifehacker points out that the best way to beat burnout is to start fighting back before you hit rock bottom and can barely get out of bed in the morning.
Luckily, the signs are usually right in front of us—it is up to us to take care of ourselves, pay attention, and take the appropriate steps.

For burnout, take a go-slow approach.

Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D. points out that “Burnout doesn’t happen overnight, so it’s unrealistic to expect it to go away overnight.” She advises a go-slow approach to recovering from burnout. “Consistent implementation of positive changes into your routine is the best way to see improvement.”

The four stages of burnout.

Psychotherapist, Mark Gorkin, LICSW, “The Stress Doc,” suffered severe burnout himself and used his own experience to become an expert on stress and burnout, how to avoid them and how to recover. On his website, he describes the four stages of burnout:
  1. Exhaustion
  2. Shame
  3. Cynicism
  4. Crisis
He suggests proven strategies for rehabilitation and rejuvenation.

Recovering from burnout isn’t quick or comfortable.

In a personal essay, CEO Carrie Severson reveals that recovering from burnout is actually as uncomfortable as what causes burnout. Hardworking entrepreneur, she was broke—financially, emotionally and mentally—and describes the steps she took to rescue herself and balance work with personal time.

The 4 risk factors for burnout.

Tchiki Davis, M.A., Ph.D., a Silicon Valley consultant, goes into detail about the consequences of poor work-life balance that result in burnout. She describes helpful techniques that you can use to rescue yourself from the destructive mindsets that lead to burnout.

The 3 types of burnout.

Scientists at the Association for Psychological Science have identified three types of burnout:
  1. overload
  2. boredom
  3. worn-out
The linked article, somewhat technical in places, delves into the significance of ineffective coping strategies that fail to protect from work-related stress. It also suggests that cognitive and behavioral therapies, such as ACT, may be useful for all burnout types.

Serious risks of burnout.

Belle B. Cooper, an iOS developer and writer, observes that burnout can impair personal and social functioning as well as overwhelming cognitive skills and neuroendocrine systems. She says that over time the effects of burnout can lead to memory, attention, and emotional problems.
She suggests ways to overcome burnout, some of which may seem counter-intuitive, like adding more activities to your day. If they are activities you actually enjoy, they can help us fight the resentment that leads to burnout.

Even though it doesn’t always feel that way, you have choices. Use them.

Stress feels awful. Burnout will stop you in your tracks.
Reframe the way you look at work and set boundaries, use organizational tools to quell the chaos and productivity apps to manage priorities, grab time for yourself, your friends and family, recognize the value of “goofing off” and “down time.”
The life you save will be your own!
by Ruth Harris March 26, 2017, originally appearing on Anne R. Allen's blog
What about you, scriveners? Do you suffer from stress? Burnout? What methods have you used to cope with these problems? Have you tried a recommended technique that didn’t work? 

Monday, March 13, 2017

Stress or Burnout? Why they’re Different and Why you Need to Know the Difference

Stress or burnout? Writers can suffer from both.

by Ruth Harris

Look at your to-do list.

  • WiP needs edits and revisions
  • Editor/cover designer to hire
  • Promo forms to fill out
  • First draft to finish
  • Get that new book/new series ready to launch
  • The next-to-final draft need polishing
  • Backlist covers need a refresh
  • A box set waits for formatting and covers.
  • An idea for a new series needs an outline
  • Time to write a new book for an existing series
  • Newsletter!
  • Writing a newsletter for your pen name
  • Writing a blurb / a blog post
  • Analyzing results of AMS and FB ads
  • Beta readers to be contacted

Now look at yourself.

  • Snapping at colleagues, the strangers at the table next to you in a restaurant, the checkout clerk at the supermarket.
  • Snarling at your dog who’s too afraid of your rotten moods to snarl back.
  • Fighting with your spouse/roommate/bestie over…nothing.
  • Can’t sleep.
  • Can’t eat or you overeat.
  • You’re losing/gaining weight.
  • Productivity has slipped to zilch.
  • You hate everyone.
  • And everything.
  • Including yourself.

We’re stressed out. Or are we burned out? 

We feel like hamsters trapped on an endless wheel. We’re tired, crabby, frustrated, uninspired, and unmotivated. Our anxiety-meter has topped out and we’re not even running on fumes any more—we’re running on empty.
We talk about it among ourselves, moaning and bitching and rolling our eyes. Our sense of humor turns blacker and blacker.
We can—and do—complain about our plight but we’re paying real consequences, physically and emotionally. Our friends and family suffer the fallout. So does our work.
Stress and burnout are related but they are different although, according to experts, some of the signs and symptoms overlap. Whatever the specific definitions, stress and burnout reveal themselves with specific symptoms and are more dangerous than you might think.

Stress or burnout: how they’re different.

Stress is a condition of too much and is characterized by over engagement.
Too many demands, too much pressure. Your emotions are overactive and hyped up, you face too many demands on your time and energy, and feel barraged by unrelenting pressure. The consequences of stress are primarily physical: your pulse rate quickens, your heart pounds, but you still feel a glimmer of hope. You think that if you can just get everything under control, you’ll be OK again.
Burnout, a result of continual stress, is a condition of too little and is characterized by disengagement.
You feel empty, emotionally drained, and devoid of energy. Burnout reduces productivity and leaves you feeling helpless, hopeless, cynical, and resentful. Your motivation is gone, your creativity kaput. You feel detached and depressed, and as if you have nothing more to give.

The Mayo Clinic lists the common symptoms of stress

Stress symptoms can affect your body, thoughts, feelings, and behavior. Being able to recognize common stress symptoms can give you techniques for managing them.
Stress that’s left unchecked can contribute to health problems like high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.

Common physical effects of stress

  • Headache
  • Muscle tension or pain
  • Chest pain
  • Fatigue
  • Change in sex drive
  • Stomach upset
  • Sleep problems

Psychological effects of stress

  • Anxiety
  • Restlessness
  • Lack of motivation or focus
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • Irritability or anger
  • Sadness or depression

Behavioral effects of stress

  • Overeating or undereating
  • Angry outbursts
  • Drug or alcohol abuse
  • Tobacco use
  • Social withdrawal
  • Exercising less often

The Harvard health newsletter describes the symptoms of burnout.

Burnout, which can be a result of prolonged stress, is a gradual process. The signs and symptoms are subtle at first and can mirror those of stress. However, over time they become more severe and destructive.

Physical effects of burnout:

  • Feeling tired and drained most of the time
  • Lowered immunity, getting sick a lot
  • Frequent headaches or muscle pain
  • Change in appetite or sleep habits

Emotional signs and symptoms of burnout:

  • Sense of failure and self-doubt
  • Feeling helpless, trapped, and defeated
  • Detachment, feeling alone in the world
  • Loss of motivation
  • Increasingly cynical and negative outlook
  • Decreased satisfaction and sense of accomplishment

Behavioral effects of burnout:

  • Withdrawing from responsibilities
  • Isolating yourself from others
  • Procrastinating, taking longer to get things done
  • Using food, drugs, or alcohol to cope
  • Taking out your frustrations on others

Type A personalities and burnout.

Psychologist Sherrie Bourg Carter Psy.D explains that high achievers—Type A personalities—often experience burnout. She describes the early and later stages of burnout as follows:

Chronic fatigue.

In the early stages, you may lack energy and feel tired most days. In the latter stages, you feel physically and emotionally exhausted, drained, and depleted. You may even feel a sense of dread for what lies ahead on any given day.


In the early stages, you may have trouble falling asleep or staying asleep one or two nights a week. In the latter stages, insomnia may turn into a persistent, nightly ordeal. As exhausted as you are, you can’t sleep.

Forgetfulness/impaired concentration and attention.

Lack of focus and mild forgetfulness are early signs. Later, the problems may get to the point where you can’t get your work done and everything begins to pile up.

Physical symptoms.

Physical symptoms may include chest pain, heart palpitations, shortness of breath, gastrointestinal pain, dizziness, fainting, and/or headaches. (All of these symptoms merit a medical evaluation.)

Increased illness.

Because your body is depleted, your immune system becomes weakened. This makes you more vulnerable to infections, colds, flu, and other immune-related medical problems.

Loss of appetite.

In the early stages, you may not feel hungry and may skip a few meals. In the latter stages, you may lose your appetite all together and begin to lose a significant amount of weight.


Early on, you may experience mild symptoms of tension, worry, and edginess. As you move closer to burnout, the anxiety may become so serious that it interferes in your ability to work productively. It may also cause problems in your personal life.


In the early stages, you may feel mildly sad, occasionally hopeless, and you may experience feelings of guilt and worthlessness as a result. At its worst, you may feel trapped, severely depressed, and think the world would be better off without you.
(If your depression is at this point, you should seek professional help.)


At first, this may present as interpersonal tension and irritability. In the latter stages, this may turn into angry outbursts and serious arguments at home and in the workplace.
(If anger gets to the point where it turns to thoughts or acts of violence toward family or coworkers, people should get professional assistance.)

How to manage stress and avoid burnout.

Because the consequences of stress and burnout are serious and because so many of us feel overwhelmed and stressed out, recognizing the signs and symptoms is critical.
Learning how to manage stress and avoid burnout before it starts can save your marriage, your relationships, your job, and your career.
In Part Two of this article, I will turn to experts for advice about how to manage stress and burnout.

Meanwhile, my excellent blog partner, Anne R. Allen, asks:

What about you, scriveners? Are you suffering from stress or burnout? It’s so easy for writers to get stressed these days, since most of us have day jobs, and the job of being a writer involves so much more than actually writing. Do you recognize any of these symptoms in yourself or others? 

Monday, February 6, 2017

Writers: How to get out of your own way and build resilience.

Resilience: The Key to Reaching Your Writing Goals in 2017

(This article was first published at Anne R. Allen's blog on January 29, 2017. Visit Anne's blog this week for her always-reliable advice on 5 good reasons to blog and 5 bad reasons.)

Books! The ones that got written!

They’re mean and nasty and they're out there waiting to get you.

  • Inhibitions
  • Hang ups
  • Glitches
  • Gotchas
  • Snares and snags
  • Roadblocks
  • No go zones
  • Flops and fizzles
The reasons (excuses?) for not writing/not beginning (or finishing) your book/not allowing enough time and energy for marketing/blogging/advertising often come down to the same tried-and-true suspects.

1) The P Word.

As if you don’t know what I’m talking about. 😉
But, just in case you only recently landed on Planet Earth, let’s call it what it is: PROCRASTINATION. Here’s a short list of tip offs:
  • Tweeting instead of writing.
  • Surfing the web instead of setting up your AMS ads.
  • Making coffee instead of contacting reviewers.
  • Playing Words With Friends instead of working on your BookBub application.
  • Cleaning the bathroom instead of searching for the right cover image.
  • Organizing your spices instead of updating your blog/website.
  • Alphabetizing your shopping list instead of building your email list.
Bottom line: You’re doing anything and everything you can think of exceptdo what you need to do to take the next step forward.

2) Interruptions.

  • Phone.
  • Kids.
  • The dog.
  • The cat.
  • Neighbors.
  • Your husband/wife/significant other.
  • The Amazon drone delivering 3 pairs of gym socks you ordered half an hour ago.
Interruptions are the writer’s toxic waste dump. Interruptions cause you to lose your train of thought.
If you were in the zone, you’re now out of the zone. If you weren’t in the zone, you’re now out in Siberia.
You’re frazzled, frustrated and cranky and you’re wondering how you can get through your to-do list when you’re dealing with almost constant interruptions.

3) Power Failure.

Your MC is on the top branch of a burning tree and the bad guys are down below. With guns, knives, IEDs, RPGs, snarling tigers. machetes and blowtorches.
So now what?
What does the MC do?
What do the bad guys do?
How about his/her husband/wife, cubicle mate, best friend, bridge partner, girl friend/boy friend, Pilates teacher, dog walker, nutty neighbor, favorite TV comedian or movie star?
Who says what? To whom? Why?
You mean you don’t know? Don’t even have a clue?
The outline is useless. Imagination is kaput. Forward motion is stopped.
You’re experiencing a complete power failure.

4) Fear And Loathing.

You have more ups and downs than a yoyo. Right now, your current state of mind redefines the downside of bipolar.
Maybe you…
  • Forgot why you’re writing the damn book and you hate every word anyway because you’re a no-talent nobody.
  • Can’t figure out whether it’s a comedy, a thriller, urban fantasy, horror or romance.
  • Can’t remember why you started the stupid thing in the first place.
  • Have no idea what you’re doing, why you’re doing it, who your characters are, what genre you had in mind and why the bleep you even bothered in the first place.
  • Have a  first chapter that sucks, a blah middle, and you’ll never figure out the ending.
  • And you’re bogged down, flailing away in quicksand and only getting in deeper with every chapter. You’d be better off slinging burgers at Mickey D.
Writers, like everyone else, have mood swings. Usually not enough for clinical intervention but enough to seriously undermine confidence and halt forward progress.

5) The Fantasy Trap.

You’re writing the Great American/Bolivian/Icelandic novel. It’s so wonderful you’ll out sell Stephen King and Nora Roberts combined. Millions and millions of readers will lap up your every book and wait breathlessly for the next one.
An invitation to the White House, to a billionaire’s yacht, to a fabulous mansion on a private island in the Caribbean will arrive in the mail. Beautiful, brilliant people are lined up, just waiting to experience the exquisite pleasure of your company.
And, while you’ve unleashed your imagination about the rewards about to come pouring down on you, please, definitely do not forget the prizes: The NBA (Not the one aka hoops that’s played by tattooed seven feet tall men. The other one.) The Booker. The Legion of Honor. The Nobel. The Pulitzer. Foreign translations. The big azz movie deal. Your name in lights.
The list is endless.
And it’s paralyzing.

6) The Michelangelo Dilemma.

Every word chiseled in marble. Every syllable a treasure for the millennia. So, of course, it has to be perfect. That’s why you have that infallible misery-maker, your own personal internal critic, to tap you on the shoulder and remind you of every terrible thing anyone ever said about you ranging from your defective personality to your crappy taste in clothes.
You’re so terrible, even your dog hates you.
You write. And rewrite.
Consider and reconsider.
Contemplate and then contemplate some more.
You hit the delete button. Then the undo. You open the sentence-in-question in two documents and review them side by side. Still can’t decide which one is better so you write a third version.
Which just adds to the confusion and misery as you scratch your chin and tear your hair (at the same time if at all possible because—don’t forget!—we’re going for perfection here) and try to decide whether or not a fourthversion is called for.

Tough (Self) Love Leads to Resilience

Almost every item on this list, no matter the superficial differences, is a self-inflicted wound. Bottom line, you are the one who is causing your own suffering.
The mess you’ve created is your own doing.
You did it to yourself.
You are the snarling beast standing between yourself and your goals.
We are not in “it-hurts-so-good-don’t-stop” mode here. We are in self-defeating territory, a lethal terrain in which you will never get your book written, much less edited, revised, proof read and published. Much less promoted, publicized, advertised.
Which is actually the good news. Since whatever is going wrong is something you are doing to yourself, you are the one who can undo the damage. The key is resilience—the ability to bounce back—and perception is key to resilience.
Do you conceptualize a negative event as traumatic or as a chance to learn and grow?
If you shift your focus from external (blaming fate, Amazon, your editor) to internal (What can I do to change the outcome?) and you will feel less stressed and more in control.
Here are some specific approaches to rescuing yourself from the setbacks and frustrations almost every writer faces at one time or another. Over time, you will learn which approaches work for you and, most likely, develop effective coping techniques of your own.

1) The P Word.

Are you an adult? Or a kid who doesn’t want to go to school because there’s a history test today and you haven’t done your homework? The real answer is—or should be—that you’re a professional and professionals get the job done. If you’re floundering in self-defeating procrastination, pay attention to the following techniques.
Dr. Patrick Keelan uses a Flow Chart method to help clients overcome crippling procrastination. Dr Keelan’s practical, effective approach starts with four simple questions.
From revising your to-do list to rewarding yourself, these tips on beating procrastination for students also apply to writers.
Professor Tim Pychyl, a psychologist at Carleton University in Canada, works with the Procrastination Research Group and offers six steps for freeing yourself from the trap of procrastination.

2) Interruptions.

Nora Roberts famously said that she will allow interruptions only in the case of blood and/or fire. NR is as professional as it gets. Isn’t her no-nonsense attitude something to emulate?
Although we can’t control emergencies, we can (usually) exert some control over the day-to-day interruptions that steal our time and energy.
  • If your cluttered, disorganized home office is working against you, here are some tips about how to make your office work for you.
  • If home is too chaotic, go to the library or a coffee shop.
  • Turn off the Internet. Here are 8 web distraction blocker tools.
  • Silence the phone and let voice mail handle your calls.
  • Put up a “do not disturb” sign. Or, like a friend of mine, string yellow “crime scene* tape in front of your office door or work area. (I love this idea! Maybe I’ll put one at my front door to keep out those magazine salespersons and religious nutjobs…Anne.)
  • Make a deal: Trade a hour of uninterrupted work for an hour of errands/child care/chores: you’ll walk the dog (the one who hates you)/do the grocery shopping/take the kid to soccer practice in exchange.
For further consideration: If your family doesn’t respect your work, might that mean you have somehow given them the signal that it’s OK to barge in and interrupt you whenever with whatever?
If so, you must undo the damage you have inflicted on yourself by having a serious heart-to-heart with the perp (or perps), or, if necessary, some sessions with a therapist to help figure out why you are undermining yourself.

3) Power Failure Reboot.

Every writer faces the blank wall, the blank screen, the blank brain. Every writer has been there and every writer has escaped because, if they hadn’t, no book would ever have been finished.
Including Isaac Asimov who wrote 500 books in 25 years and who often got stuck but didn’t let getting stuck stop him. Over the years, he developed a strategy:
“I don’t stare at blank sheets of paper. I don’t spend days and nights cudgeling a head that is empty of ideas. Instead, I simply leave the novel and go on to any of the dozen other projects that are on tap. I write an editorial, or an essay, or a short story, or work on one of my nonfiction books. By the time I’ve grown tired of these things, my mind has been able to do its proper work and fill up again. I return to my novel and find myself able to write easily once more.”
What you need to do is Be Like Isaac (read about his 6 writing tips in Charles Chu’s article at Quartz) and develop a backlog of techniques that will get you moving again.

Here are a few suggestions—

  • Brainstorm with a trusted friend.
  • Go to your junk file. By that I mean drafts you wrote but didn’t use. Never delete unused paragraphs or scenes, just put them in a junk file. When you’re stuck, open the file. You may well find just the right route forward in something you once rejected.
  • Make a list. Steven Sondheim spoke of making a list of all the words that might apply to the song he was writing. That list, SS said, revealed hidden connections he hadn’t seen before. There’s no reasons that approach can’t work for a writer.
  • Have a glass of wine. I am not talking about getting rip-roaring drunk. I am talking about having a glass of wine with dinner. The combination of a small amount of alcohol, good food, a relaxed mood and diverting conversation can spring open a door that has been stubbornly closed.
  • Go for a walk. Take a shower. Weed the garden. Empty the dishwasher. Go to the gym. Often, just getting away from your desk and engaging in a mildly diverting or physical activity is enough to get you off dead center and break the block.
  • Give up and go to sleep. Let your unconscious (which knows more than you do) get to work. Amazing how often you wake up the next morning with just the answer you’ve been looking for.
  • Make friends with your own tics and twitches. For some, it’s beginnings. For others, it’s endings. And what about that godawful, go-nowhere, endless muddle in the middle?
  • Anne offers reliable advice about first chapters.
  • Chuck Wendig lists 25 ways to fight the mushy middle.
  • The experts at Writer’s Digest tell how to write a great ending.
  • Janice Hardy talks about chapter endings and book endings.

4) Fear and Loathing.

Happens to everyone. In fact, fear and loathing are so predictable that many writers (include me in) have come to see F & L as a normal part of the process.
F & L need not be a way of life or a dead end. Here are a few escape routes.
  • Going back to your original outline can help. So can reading over your notes and research. Finding just the right, almost forgotten nugget can make all the difference.
  • Making a reverse outline will often untangle the snarl.
  • If you’re working on a computer, viewing your book on paper via a print out yields a different perspective.
  • Sending your manuscript to your Kindle and reading it there can make a difference. Even changing the font can help you view your work in a fresh way.
  • Having someone else read your manuscript and report back can help.
  • Maybe it’s not as mind-blowingly vile as you think.
  • Or maybe it is, and you have to rewrite/revise. Rewriting and revising are part of the process, your precious second chances. Embrace them.
  • F&L is why god created beta readers, crit groups, and editors.
  • Patience, perspective, persistence, and, if necessary, a pair of outside eyes are called for.

5) The Fantasy Trap. 

Dreams, even big dreams are OK and, for some, come with the territory.
They can motivate but if they lead to paralysis, you will need to ask yourself why you are allowing a dream to interfere with the necessary day-by-day, word-by-word real-life work required to make the dream come true. Only you will be able to answer that question but unless you can look at yourself with an unflinching eye and cut down the unrealistic fantasies that are stopping you, no dream can come true.
Remember, even Stephen King has to take out the garbage.

6) The Michelangelo Dilemma

Perfection doesn’t exist. Everyone knows it. So why do some writers torment themselves trying to achieve something no one—not Einstein, not Picasso, not Shakespeare—ever achieved?
If you are in that group or even if you have self-defeating tendencies in that direction, try a dose of reality. For shock therapy, go to the Amazon page of any famous, bestselling writer and check out the one-star reviews.
Ernest Hemingway—“I have had root cannels [sic] that were less painful”
Nora Roberts—“worst thing I’ve read in a long time”
Lee Child—“garbage”
Need I go on?
And you think you’re going to write the perfect book? 😉

The Takeaway:

The more times you rescue yourself from perfectionism, procrastination, a block, unrealistic dreams, the more you will become a writer with confidence—and resilience—and the closer you will be to getting where you want to go.

The Giveback:

Now about you: Have you fallen into the fantasy trap? Do interruptions trip you up? Does a rotten review ruin your day/week? Do you know how to rescue yourself? Do you have a plan for developing the resilience a career as an author demands? Do tell!