How to Enjoy Your Writing Gauntlet Journey
(Or any journey, really)
One of the questions I see asked a lot in the writing community is: How do you write through the doubt? Through the rejections? Through the bad reviews? Would you keep writing even if you knew you’d never be published? Even if no one read your work?
And if I really think about these questions, I think I could sum them up in a broader question: How do you enjoy the journey when the road is long and difficult?
Although I’m relatively new to the writing world (I self-published my first book in 2020), I’ve climbed mountains of other varieties, and since Iseult has so graciously allowed me to guest post, I thought I’d share my a few of my mantras in case they can help someone else.
1. It’s okay to fail. Let yourself be a beginner.
First of all, I have failed—a lot. I have failed many tests. I choked and cost my fencing team the national championship in my freshman year of college. I’ve failed to make the midwaycut-off in an international race, forfeiting my running partner’s opportunity to finish. My books have gotten one star ratings and two star reviews… I could go on.
But, on the upside, I graduated with my Master’s in Mechanical Engineering (much to my advisor’s surprise.) I was captain of the fencing team my senior year when we won the national championship. I’ve finished ultramarathons, my books have gotten glowing five star reviews, and my first book even won a cash prize.
Everyone fails. This is part of a being a beginner. But if you don’t let yourself fail, you will never give yourself the chance to succeed. You may not excel at something right away, but that is perfectly normal. Take the opportunity to learn and grow.
2. Speak kindly to yourself.
This goes along with number one. Our internal dialogue is so critical to our resilience. If you wouldn’t say it to another aspiring beginner, don’t say it to yourself.
3. Wait! It’s dangerous to go alone. Take one of these:
A writing friend.
Or two, or three. When things get tough, having a listening ear that knows what you’re going through makes a huge difference. Though I love my supportive family and friends, they can’t really empathize with the constant rejection of querying, they don’t have the writer’s eye for manuscript critiques, and honestly they don’t even know what a writing sprint is.
Over this past year I’ve been so lucky to connect with a couple awesome writing friends to commiserate, celebrate, and collaborate with—I honestly would not have made it this far without their amazing support. As any epic quest plot can tell you, if you’re starting on a journey, it’s usually good to take a few good friends. Find your Sam, Frodo, and hold on to them.
(On a related note, if Sam secretly turns out to be a Gollum, don’t be afraid to throw them in the volcano… or you know, amicably part ways. No one needs that kind of negativity.)
4. Celebrate the little things.
Not going to lie, I struggle with this one. Today I am celebrating that someone picked my book out of my local little free library, and an indie bookseller nominated Idriel’s Children for the Indie Next List on NetGalley. What does that mean? I have no idea! But it sounds great—mental high five, self! See, I feel better already.
5. Goal small. Dream Big.
If you make a goal that is not in your power to achieve, you will be discouraged. If something requires more than hard work to make it happen (i.e. I want to get an agent, I want to make the NYT bestseller list, I want to see my story on the big screen), then label that as a dream, and use your small goals (I want to write 500 words today, I want to take a writing class, I want to read a writing craft book) to keep you motivated. Climbing the rungs of your goals will keep you driving toward your dreams, and small goals are also a wonderful way to measure how far you’ve come, which is usually a lot more fulfilling than measuring your success by how far you have left to go.
6. Do not endeavor for the dream. Endeavor for the experience.
Speaking of dreams, achieving them is a wonderful thing, but the elation can be rather fleeting. Usually, I’ve found you don’t spend very much time at the top of the mountain before you start thinking about the next mountain. As anyone who has ever climbed one of their mountains probably knows, the truth is that you don’t spend very much time at the top (maybe a day or week or month) before you make your next goal or dream. So enjoy the climb, take in the sights, feel yourself growing stronger and smarter and wiser, and soak in the fulfillment of each stride, instead of only the final step.
7. Remember this is not all you are.
Sometimes, I’m sure this part of your life seems to be YOUR WHOLE WORLD, and when something bad happens, that whole world suddenly seems to be crashing down. Remember to take a step back and breathe. Find your balance. This is only a part of you. When writing isn’t going so well, I remember that I am a mother, a wife, a daughter, a friend, an engineer, a runner, a reader… etc. Chances are, even if I’m not doing well as a writer, I’m doing well in at least one of those things, and I can use that part to buoy myself back up and gain some perspective in order to find my balance in the wider world once again.
8. Rest when you need to. Resting is not quitting.
Feeling exhausted? Burnt-out? Overstressed? Take a seat, catch your breath, and enjoy the view. Then come back to the trail with rested legs and a refreshed spirit. If you’re climbing a mountain, you’re allowed to take a break on the way to the top.
Then perhaps, with any luck, you’ll even enjoy the journey on the way.