When you’re writing in the zone, you feel confident and creative, ready for prime time, readers, agents, and publishers, right?
But it doesn’t always come that easily. When writers get stuck, those good feelings can drop away quickly.
A lonely occupation
Writing is a solitary business for the most part, with hours spent alone, day after day. You zip forward, then maybe you stall, so you start over, you revise, revise again… It’s not easy. It can take years to write a book you’re proud of.
Feelings of isolation and self-doubt are occasionally part of the bargain for any author. They can be intrusive and debilitating, sapping your creative energy. That’s why it’s so important to have people in your orbit who provide unconditional personal support when you need it. It’s essential – like food and water.
The solution: stay connected
Maintain contact with other people, loved ones, family, friends, and colleagues. You don’t have to ask for help, just engage as much as possible in satisfying human relationships. Look for people who can make you laugh out loud. Get out of your head, get out of the house, go and talk to another person. You don’t have to be alone. Repeat: you are not alone.
Where to find support
• Look close to home
Are you lucky enough to have a loving partner, a parent or adult child who’s sensitive to your creative ups and downs? This may seem obvious, but some authors shut out these family members. They’re reluctant to burden their loved ones or they get so deeply mired in their own funk that it’s hard for them to make that stretch.
Be sure you let these very important folks inside!
In an excellent book about the creative process titled Art & Fear, authors David Bayles and Ted Orland observe that:
“Until your ship comes in, the only people who will really care about your work are those who care about you personally. Those close to you know that making the work is essential to your wellbeing. They will always care about your work, if not because it is great, then because it is yours – and this something to be genuinely thankful for.”
• Check in with a good friend or colleague
Choose someone you’ve known and trusted for a long time with shared experiences and mutual regard. Such a friend will be there when you need one and may also provide an opportunity to reciprocate, which can put your own problems in perspective.
• Seek out other writers
You may meet an experienced author at a reading or conference who’s happy to form a mentoring relationship. Such author friends can help you get through periods of worry or writer’s fatigue. They have visceral experience with whatever you’re going through and can tell you how they’ve handled it.
Writer’s groups can also provide wonderful humor and collegial fun with shared war stories, pet peeves, heroes and villains in the world of writing and book publishing.
Connect online with other writers seeking support and know how. There are more venues than ever — please pass along your favorites in comments below.
One of the most profound sources for an author’s emotional comfort can be what emerges from within. I’ve seen authors with major accomplishments who rally their energy and renew their work by appreciating how far their talent has taken them so far.
Think of it. You’ve made an enormous commitment of time and energy. You’ve stayed with it this far. But the world of literary art and commerce can be tough going. There will probably come a time when you feel discouraged and dissatisfied with what you’ve written.
So dig yourself. You’re human, not perfect.
How a developmental editor can help
Family, friends and other writers can be wonderful sources for emotional support. But they might not be the best authorities for creative ideas or editorial solutions. Focus on close comfort and warm distraction, not help with words on the page.
As Bayles and Orland say, “However much they love you, it still remains as true for them as for the rest of the world: learning to make your work is not their problem.”
When it comes to finding specific solutions to problems with your characters, story, or style, that’s a job for your editor.
Some of the biggest names in literature have depended on their editors for creative literary support. Frank Kafka struggled for years with depression and hypochondria that eroded his confidence and productivity. His literary executor and friend Max Brod encouraged and advised his writing. After Kafka’s death, he refused to follow his instructions to burn his life’s work, arranging instead for their publication and subsequent fame.
I suppose what I am trying to say is that due to the solitary nature of the profession, writers are sometimes more susceptible to anxiety, depression, stress, addictions to drugs and alcohol, and a whole array of other mental health issues. With this in mind, if you are struggling with your mental health, then it is vital that you reach out to someone for help.
Depending on your individual circumstances, this might mean seeking support from a healthcare professional for rehabilitative therapy. Mental health support has come a long way in recent years, and most rehabilitation facilities also now offer outpatient programs to monitor your future progress. Correspondingly, you can learn more about ongoing mental health care by heading to the Enterhealth website.
Rehabilitation is not always necessary though. Instead, improving your mental health might simply be a case of meeting with a friend to talk about your worries and concerns. Mental health issues can strike anyone at any time and therefore you should never feel ashamed about getting help if you need it.
Going back to my earlier point though, Thomas Wolfe relied on his editor Maxwell Perkins to cut out hundreds of pages of his draft novels, reorganize, shape, and focus the best-selling books Look Homeward Angel and Of Time and the River.
Perkins did the same kind of close editorial work for F. Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway, as did Albert Erskine for Cormac McCarthy.
I’ve tried to emulate this model of author-editor relationship in my own work with Toni Morrison, Hunter Thompson, Tom Robbins and many others, including the writers I work with now.
Having a good developmental editor in your corner, therefore, can provide a renewed sense of confidence about solving the literary problems you’re having, whatever they might be. For more information check out this earlier post on what to expect from a developmental editor.
What about you?
Have you ever experienced a break in self-confidence or writer’s fatigue of a different stripe? How have you dealt with it? What’s worked for you, or hasn’t? Please share your valuable suggestions here with fellow writers. I’ll watch for any questions.