We all get discouraged. Some of us more than others, but hey, no matter where you fall on the discouragement scale, we’ve all been there. Tragic news. Rejection letters. A spiral of self-doubt. Lost a job. Bad breakup. Whatever. I’m going to talk specifically about how to encourage writers, but some of these tips will come in handy for anyone.
Why am I writing this post, when there are probably a million articles on the subject? Because a friend of mine recently received a rejection letter. When she reached out to others, a flood of responses came back, but most of the responses went something like, ‘Keep trying,’ which is great advice, but feels like token advice. When I received two rejection letters last week, and I reached out to my friends, I received the same type of responses. Thankfully, I didn’t stay down for long. I sent the work out to a new market the next day. But what I realized is that even when we’re trying to encourage other people, we’re doing it in a distant, reserved kind of way. I always think of Manny in Ice Age 2. Instead of talking to Diego, he just walks up and punches him on the arm (all my references come from kid movies these days). Why are we afraid to touch humanity? I don’t want to walk through life telling everyone, ‘Chin up!’ all the time, without really reaching out to encourage someone.
So I’m writing my own list of ways to encourage discouraged writers.
People don’t always want tips, or to know how difficult it was twenty years ago, or how many times you’ve been in the same position. Sometimes we just want someone to listen to us rant, rave, complain and demean ourselves (not to mention demeaning the rest of the world–specifically that other writer we know who suddenly got a big break). We need to spit out all the bad feelings inside, get rid of the poison and self-doubt before we can move on. Understand that. Don’t offer advice, tips, or funny stories. Just listen.
After you’re done listening, then you can let your friend know how difficult it was twenty years ago and how many times you’ve been in the same position. It helps if you’ve brought along a beverage/ice cream/chocolate of choice. Be careful, though. Share their misery, don’t steal it.
3) Remind them of their strengths.
Now we’re moving into personal territory. That human element most of us are either scared of, or take for granted for some reason. Maybe your friend isn’t the next Poe, or Shakespeare. Who cares? I’m positive he or she has at least one strength, if not more. It could be her passion, the way she describes the weather, her research skills, her dedication, her perseverance, her talent for picking the perfect character names, his ability to create emotional scenes, his ability to write realistic female characters, her ability to capture tiny details, and a host of other strengths. Remind your friend what they do well. Tell them what they’re great at. They need to hear this!
I understand the need to be ‘honest’ with someone–but I have a problem when writers continually criticize other writers under this banner for two reasons. One, your ‘honesty’ is nothing more than your opinion. Two, at this point, your friend needs encouragement, not criticism. The world is full of people who are more than willing to point out all the things he does wrong. Your role at this point isn’t to be one of those people. At some point it might be. In certain situations, you may be called upon to offer honest, critical feedback–and you should. When your writer friend is slobbering into the phone about what a loser she is, or how he refuses to write another word as long he lives, isn’t one of those times.
4) Remind them why they began writing.
When I send out my work for publication, I’m looking for validation. I want someone to say, ‘You have taken the talent and skills you have honed over time and the love you have for the craft and completed a task worthy of that talent, skills and time. Well done.’ (Payment is nice, too)
Validation didn’t inspire me to begin writing, though. Nor is it why I continue to write. Sometimes I forget this. I write for a number of reasons. You can read about them in my post Why Do I Write?. Being published isn’t one of them. It is a goal, but it’s not the reason. Chances are it isn’t the reason your friend writes either. Remind him why he began writing. Get him to fall head over heels for his first love all over again.
5) Remind them they are in good company.
Anyone who has dared to put herself out there, to bare his or her words for all of humanity, has experienced rejection. That means your friend is in fantastic company. All the inventors of the world. Almost every writer. Dreamers. Poets. Playwrights. Activists. Journalists. Humanitarian leaders. Make it personal. Google some of these rejected authors. Especially if you know your friend’s favorite author. Find out how many times he or she was turned down and share the information with your friend.
6) Remind them of the odds.
Yesterday, I ran across the greatest meme on Facebook and posted it to a writers’ network. You can find the original meme from the Writers Write Facebook page. It was put together based on Robert J. Sawyer’s summary of Robert Heinlein’s Five Rules for Writing. The Rules are:
1. You must write.
2. You must finish what you start.
3. You must refrain from rewriting except to editorial order.
4. You must put it on the market.
5. You must keep it on the market until sold.
Sawyer’s blog post can be found here. I love it because he adds in the odds. We start with 100 writers and he narrows down the playing field based on how many stubborn folks out there keep going. If you stick with it, the odds are in your favor. If you keep going, you WILL succeed.
7) Encourage them to write it out.
Put all the angry, dejected feelings on paper. At first he or she may not want to. I know I haven’t wanted to write when I’ve felt
down miserable. But sometimes I have, even if it’s just to write in angry capital letters, ‘I DON’T WANT TO!!!’ I’ve filled up pages with raw emotion. I’ve also ended up with a couple of poems from the process, in addition to fodder for future emotional scenes.
8) Check in.
Check in with your friend from time to time. He or she will appreciate it. And who knows, maybe one day, she’ll be the one encouraging you.