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Dealing with Discouragement

May 14, 2011 by Fiction Editor Beth Hill
last modified May 14, 2011

All writers face discouragement. All humans do.

When we don’t get what we want, what we deserve, what we’ve strived for . . . When we don’t get our recompense fast enough or in the right degree or from the right people . . . When we want to quit because quitting will relieve our frustrations . . .

When the effort isn’t worth the reward . . .

When there is no reward . . .

That’s when we need a word of encouragement. An infusion of encouragement. We need a reminder that our work is valuable. We need someone outside our own minds, outside our hearts, to remind us that what we do is not worthless and that who we are is not valueless.

Maybe you’re losing fans or your most recent book tanked in comparison to the one before. Maybe your Web site gets no visitors and your editor doesn’t want to hear your ideas and even your agent isn’t returning your calls.

Or maybe what’s bugging you is internal—you don’t like what you’re writing or how you’re writing or why you’re writing. You’re bored or frustrated or ready to quit because nothing is working out the way you expected.

If this is how you feel today, allow me to remind you that these feelings will pass; that the roadblocks keeping you from a good story or a better contract or simple recognition will be removed; that what works against you today won’t always triumph over you. In fact, you’ll one day look at the setbacks and challenges as minor irritants and be shocked that they once held power over you.

Yes, you could quit. Any of us can quit any endeavor at any time. We can give up on our writing careers, our marriages, and the day job. We can abandon our dreams when real life tells us that dreams are for children. We could knuckle under, accept defeat, and try something new. Something different. Something less difficult.

Something less rewarding.

Or we can realize that challenges don’t last forever, that we can grow beyond those challenges, learning how to overcome them with new skills and experiences and the counsel of friends.

We can learn that the giants won’t always be so big.

As you gain skills and experience and knowledge, the power of the giants that stand against you will diminish. The giants themselves will lose their seeming invincibility.

Maybe you can’t beat them today, but you can learn how to overcome them later. You can develop the skills that will defeat the giants that stand against you, taunting you to give up without a fight. You can grow stronger, becoming more than what you are.

In terms of your writing, this may mean studying the craft. It may mean going back to school or joining a critique group. It may mean changing genre, getting a new agent, seeking out a new publisher.

You may have to start a new book.

Strengthening your skills to overcome obstacles can seem another overwhelming task, just one more to add to the list of impossibilities that you can’t master. But it’s not.

Think of learning new skills and improving old ones as training for battle. You face enemies of many kinds; each can be defeated by different weapons and different strategies. Learn the strategies and learn how to use the weapons. Gird yourself for battle and then engage your enemies.

Learn what it takes to defeat those enemies arrayed against you.

Do your basic writing skills need work? Practice and practice again.

What of work habits or procrastination? Change what you do in order to defeat the habits that keep you from being productive.

Your agent isn’t pulling her weight? Tell her what you need from her. If that changes nothing, find another agent. Change agents even if you’ve been with your current agent for 15 years and she got you your first contract and you wouldn’t be where you are without her.

You can still be friends. But if she’s a roadblock to where you want to go, you need to remove the roadblock or go around it.

Take a good look at your strengths and your weaknesses. Be honest with yourself. If you can’t pinpoint what needs work, enlist a friend or professional colleague to help you. When you find weaknesses, look for ways to strengthen them.

You are your own boss—how are you doing with your task of managing the workforce? Treat the writer in you as an employee—help that employee do a better job. Arrange for classes or a mentor, whatever might work to help the writer put out a better product and turn into a more successful employee.

Only bad managers allow employees to flounder. Get to work. Motivate your inner writer. Give him every advantage. Equip him to do the job you’re asking of him.


Give yourself a kick in the butt when you need it but cut yourself some slack when you do need a break. You don’t need to write every day to be a real writer. You are more than the words you write—remember to live your life while you’re writing about the lives of others.

Realize that the feeling of being overwhelmed is often just temporary. And it sometimes is the byproduct of something else going on in your life.

Be sure you don’t quit something you love—something you know you’re destined for—when you’re physically or emotionally overwhelmed or tired or sick. Don’t give up on the activities that bring you joy and satisfaction just because some other part of your life is a shambles.

Do what you need to do for your health and your family and your finances, of course. But remind yourself that you need to return to your other loves, those activities that satisfy your soul.  That is, don’t permanently cut out the good stuff because some bad stuff overwhelms. Take care of your commitments. But remember to take care of yourself as well.

Other writers are pulling for you.

I’m pulling for you.

Here’s to you, the writer challenged by giants. I can’t wait to hear the sound of your giants falling with a satisfying crash.

I can’t wait to see you barreling through your roadblocks.

I can’t wait to read your stories.



Tags:     Posted in: A Writer's Life

15 Responses to “Dealing with Discouragement”

  1. Kat says:

    And right back to you, sweetie. The good we do is returned tenfold. And this is just what I needed to hear today. Thank you.

  2. My pleasure, Kat. And you know I’m always ready to read your stories.

  3. Vivian A says:

    Sure I just can’t hide under this rock for a little while longer? Beth, you’re a hundred percent correct, as usual, but why is doing what we know is right so hard sometimes? What I wouldn’t give for some Done-Right-Right-Away potion.

  4. Vivian, rock-hiding is acceptable, sometimes necessary, for a while. Maybe for a season. But there’s nothing like engaging with life, with doing what we were born to do.

    And how satisfying would a task be if we used that done-right-away potion? I know how hard you work—you don’t really want that potion. Instead, you want to be the victor after a job well won.

  5. Rebecca says:

    Reading this post tonight, after a particularly trying and discouraging day, was a gift. Thank you for writing it!

  6. LJ says:

    What an inspirational post! Thank you so much. I’m going to add this post to my favorites just for those moments of feeling defeated.

  7. Rebecca, I’m sorry your day was a trying one but glad to have been here when you needed an encouraging word.

    LJ, we do have those moments, don’t we? I hope we see fewer and fewer each day.

  8. PW Creighton says:

    Brilliant post… dream a little dream for dreams are all we have in life. If we fail to dream big then we fail ourselves and a little piece of us dies inside. Why not dream?

  9. PW, you said it. Why not dream? Dreaming big keeps us hopeful and focused on possibilities. Only the dead and those without hope don’t dream, don’t imagine.

  10. Karen says:

    Thank you Beth. I have appreciated your blogs for awhile now, but how timely this was. As a very new writer I have been overwhelmed with the thought of re-writing my novel and today I found your words of encouragement a big shot in the arm as I am trying to gird myself up for the battle that lies ahead.

  11. Karen, rewriting is tough, but so, so rewarding. Does it help to know that every writer rewrites? There’s so much to cover, there’s just no way we can do it all in only one or two drafts.

    I know you’ll do a good job with it.

    Thanks for letting me know you’ve liked the articles.

  12. Thanks, Beth, for the post that brings a smile. : )

    What I found over time was that the writing, itself, is what soothes — going back to the writing. Doesn’t matter if it’s a new novel, an old one, or an R&R on a present one.

    The writing is the one thing in our control. And thank goodness, if we do keep getting sent (or send ourselves) back to it, we keep going back to the best part of the whole process.

    (says me, on page 140 of a 200 page R&R. My mantra? All writing is practice. All writing is practice … )

  13. The writing is the good part, Emily. Playing with words, creating with them, is so very satisfying. I guess that ball players and mechanics and scientists get the same satisfaction from the tools and practices of their worlds. But I love those words.

  14. This was a very good article. I linked to it a few times on facebook and set this part as my status because this is EXACTLY the advice I need because I give up everything that makes me happy. “Be sure you don’t quit something you love—something you know you’re destined for—when you’re physically or emotionally overwhelmed or tired or sick. Don’t give up on the activities that bring you joy and satisfaction just because some other part of your life is a shambles.”

  15. Jennivie, if you love to write, if it energizes you and satisfies you, I hope you never give it up. We should never give up those things that strengthen us. I hope you make even more opportunities to write and explore the writing world.

    I appreciate the links. Thank you.