Hope Management for Writers

Dreams in a Puddle
Dreams in a Puddle

Most writer’s seem to need dreams to propel themselves through the hundreds and thousands of hours it will take to finish a book but those dreams don’t always serve us well in the face of rejection. Nothing like having hopes dashed to make you want to give the whole thing up.

In some of my recent posts, my comments may have been mistaken for a touch of despair. I’m pleased to report that I’m still in the “happy writer’s place.” I’m enjoying a break from my current project by doing story development on my next one. Defining the basic premise, characters and plot is a particularly enjoyable exercise for me. What some of you may have keyed off of is my ‘hope management’ that keeps me motivated without letting things get so unbounded that bad news crushes my spirit.

Off and on, I’ve been writing since 1990 with the ‘off’ periods mostly due to over-reaction to negative feedback. After analyzing that (I am an engineer, after all), my response has been to set more realistic goals with a better understanding of the writer’s market. Consider this an extension of all those blog posts that remind us that almost all successful writers endured heaps of rejections before finding success. In my case, a better understanding of my chances helps me accept the more-critical-than-hoped-for feedback, the oh-so-terse editor/agent rejections, the fact that the story that I loved and spent two years on just isn’t up to snuff and should be set aside. It then follows that I must be prepared to shelve my current project at some point if it doesn’t get traction. I could keep polishing it forever and it is tempting to do that (look I’m a writer: see, I have a book I’m working on) but there’s too much good advice out there from folks in the business that suggests moving on after a reasonable time is the proper course if I ultimately want to be a successful writer, which I do. So, that means being able to talk about setting SOTA aside, even if I still very much hope I can get it published.

It also means being realistic about other aspects of the writing business, like how much I want to market my work. Conventional publishing still requires a lot of work from the author but in the end, it will always be a challenge for me so I’m going to try the conventional path, where you get at least a little help. And I’ll think twice about ever taking the self-pub path: I don’t want to do it just because the bar is lower. That’s no path to success in an absurdly crowded field. I might yet go self-pub, but only if I can’t find a contract and I also have some trustworthy feedback that the book is worth publishing. Otherwise, I’d rather wait to launch on a better book.

So for me, it’s a matter of setting realistic goals and having a realistic understanding of likely responses and reactions. That’s not to say I don’t let my hopes soar at times.  I find the best time to unbridle the dreams is when writing the first draft. But when it comes time to put it out for critique or review, send it on to agents, etc., I find the criticism and rejection easier to take if I’m realistic about the response. These days, bad feedback is usually just a blip in my day. I allow myself not to write for a few days after worse-than-desired criticism but I don’t typically do that any more. It’s just part of being a writer, like trying to figure out whether something needs a comma.

But one thing I’ve learned about feedback: I almost always need to set it aside and read it again in a few days because I tend to read it as more negative than it was. There have been more than a few critters critiques that were actually quite positive but when I read them the first time, I was convinced they were entirely negative. So best to read it twice, at least for me 🙂

Not everyone approaches things this way. My two sons, for instance, have completely different responses to being asked to do a chore. One will happily do them whenever you ask. The other will moan and groan if you don’t give him advance notice. It would be nice if the second one didn’t require that but, in the end, that’s just the way he is wired (and I can appreciate his position because I don’t like chores dropped on me out of the blue either: “but honey, the garage has been a mess for months, why do we have to clean it today?”).

How do you manage your hopes as a writer?

2 thoughts on “Hope Management for Writers

  1. I don’t think of it in terms of hope or the odds against. I just think if the story fits the market, and I submit it and then I go back to my work in progress, because that’s where I choose to put my energy. The only sure way to not get accepted is to not submit.

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