Archive for writing life

writing life

Hibernation Season

It’s the time of year when invitations for fall events start coming in, and it’s something I have mixed feelings about. On the one hand, it’s so flattering to be invited to speak at book festivals and conventions. That makes me feel validated and loved. On the other hand, January is a bad time for me to be invited anywhere.

I’ve joked that I’m part bear because I seriously go into hibernation in the winter. I could happily go weeks without human interaction. I come up with excuses not to leave the house. I tend to go into “live out of the freezer” mode, so I don’t even need to go grocery shopping that often (fortunately, fall is the season when I go on cooking sprees, so the freezer is full of soups, stews, sauces, etc. that I just have to defrost). Any invitation I receive in January is automatically less tempting because all I can think is that I’d have to leave the house and be around people.

Once I get over that, I have to really think about what invitations to accept. For the most part, authors have to pay their own way to things like book festivals and conventions. You’re probably not going to sell enough books to cover the travel expenses, so you have to consider other things like the amount of exposure and possible media coverage you might get, what the networking opportunities might be, etc. And, flat out, will it be a fun trip? Is it to a place you’ve wanted to visit? Are there people you might see or meet there? Who will the other authors be?

And then I generally have to get over the “but I’d have to leave the house and be around people” thing again, reminding myself that I may not feel this way later in the year.

But for now, I’m working from inside my blanket fort.

writing life

Mondays

Like most people with Monday-Friday “normal” type jobs, I used to really hate Mondays — back to the grind of getting up, facing a dreadful commute, and spending the day in the office after I’d had a blissful two days of doing my own thing.

Now, though, I actually really like Mondays. It helps that I’m doing something I love, that I’m doing it at home with no commute, and I work for myself, so I set my own schedule. I let myself get a slow start on Mondays, if I want to. Weekends are often busy for me, and especially Sundays, so Monday is generally my “sleep in” day. I linger over the newspaper and a cup of tea before launching into my week, which is so much more civilized than being forced to go to work at the usual time right after a weekend. Monday is usually a day for staying at home and not dealing with people.

But I also love the sense of a fresh start that Mondays give me. It’s like a New Year’s Day every week. If I slacked off or didn’t accomplish what I wanted last week, that’s all in the past and I can make new resolutions for the new week. I can accomplish all the things, eat right, exercise, and make progress on organizing my house. I can spend time writing, get projects completed, and all those other things I really want to do. I can set up new schedules and guidelines for myself (you sometimes have to resort to tricks like this when you don’t have a boss or a strict deadline, and therefore there’s nothing to stop you from spending the day reading message boards about TV shows you don’t even watch if you don’t set up some kind of structure).

So, I’m starting today with a lot of enthusiasm, with maybe a dash of fear because I woke up this morning from the recurring “back to my old day job” nightmare. That one seems to have taken over from the “I’m running late for the final exam in the class I forgot I was taking and never actually went to, and I don’t know for sure where the exam is being held” nightmare that was my brain’s previous favorite. It’s never actually really any of my old day jobs, but it’s one like one of them, or it may be one of my old jobs in the dream, and it’s only upon waking that I realize I never actually worked at that place. The bizarre detail from this particular dream was that my boss had come into my office to talk about something, a call for her (not an actual person I’ve ever worked for — I think it might actually have been Mimi from the Enchanted, Inc. books) got forwarded to my desk, and I got out of the way so she could take it. It wasn’t just a quick answer to something, and it looked like she was settling in for a long chat, so when she sat down at my desk, I slipped out of the office to give her some privacy, only then remembering that I’d taken off my shoes while I was sitting at my desk, so now I was barefoot. When my boss finally got off the phone and left my office, she criticized me for not being at my desk, working, and asked why I wasn’t wearing shoes. Which sounds like something Mimi would do.

And now I kind of want to see if I could pull off a short story from Mimi’s perspective, where she’s running into magic but doesn’t realize it as she continues being an irrational boss.

And I really, really don’t want to have to go back to working for the kind of people who inspired Mimi, so I guess I’d better start writing.

writing life

Putting Things Off

We started children’s choir last night, and it’s a good thing my co-teacher is a Boy Whisperer because they were particularly rowdy. One kid got sent to the corner several times (first for throwing things at other people, then for leaving the corner and trying to sneak out of the room) and had the “do we need to go find your mother?” threat after he stuck his nametag on one of the posters, covering up one of the essential parts (and it wasn’t the kind of nametag sticker that comes off easily). Meanwhile, one of the other kids came in early while I was trying to clean some marker off the floor (I don’t think we were responsible, but I figure we’d get blamed), became obsessed, wanted to help, then took over. Which was fine for a while, but he wouldn’t stop, no matter what else we were doing, and he got possessive about it, so fights were breaking out over cleaning the floor.

Small amounts of music ended up happening in between all this. The funny thing was, I started teaching them about notes and showed them sheet music, and they were fascinated by it. They spend so much time and energy trying to avoid doing any of the class stuff, but when we finally do it, they love it.

Hmm, that sounds like me and my writing schedule. I spend so much time and energy putting off actually getting to work, but once I’m working, I enjoy what I’m doing.

Tomorrow and Saturday I’m going to a music leaders workshop, so maybe I’ll come away with some new ideas to try with the choir. And maybe me.

But being out for a day means I need to get a lot done today. I need to finish writing a scene, write another scene, write two synopses, condense three synopses into two-page “blurbs,” then polish all of it. I won’t finish today, but I may get to the point where I can do the editing and polishing on Monday.

And then it’s back to the books I’ve been working on.

writing life

Imposter Syndrome

On Writer Twitter, the topic of Imposter Syndrome comes up frequently. That’s when you feel like whatever success you may have had is merely a fluke, and someone is going to notice it. It’s when you feel like you’re not a “real” writer, for whatever reason — not selling, not selling enough, not being well known, not getting award nominations, not being invited to book festivals. I’ve been surprised by how many people I think of as far ahead of me confessed to feeling this way.

The thing is, I’m not sure anyone really gets over this, unless they’ve got a huge ego (that’s not just a front). I would guess that the people who don’t ever feel like they might be exposed as an imposter are those who are the real imposters. Self-doubt does have its uses. It can keep us from feeling complacent and pushes us to keep doing better. When I start to fear that whatever I’ve achieved is a fluke and feel like a nobody, that’s when I buckle down and write more and am hard on myself to make what I write the best it can be. You don’t want to take it so far, though, that you hold yourself back from opportunities out of fear that you won’t be worthy, and you definitely don’t want to take it so far that you give up and quit because you’re sure you’ll never be a “real” writer.

The trick to dealing with all of this is to think about your own definitions of success. Don’t look at what success means to other people. What does it look like to you? What really matters? What are you trying to get out of this career? Would you trade what you have for what you see other people having?

I had my wake-up call about that when I was at the Nebula Awards conference last year. What often makes me feel like an imposter is the fact that I seem to be a relative unknown in my field, in spite of the years I’ve been publishing, the number of books I’ve had published, the amount of money I’ve made. I was on a panel about dealing with discouragement, and I brought this up as one of my discouragements. I had the audience raise their hands if they’d heard of me, and only a couple of hands went up. But on another panel about finances for freelancers, I was with people I consider far more successful than I am. They’re authors the audience had heard of, people who get award nominations, who have thousands of Twitter followers. And yet they were talking about running through their emergency funds, having to take part-time jobs to supplement their writing income, doing various kinds of crowdfunding. I might be obscure, but I’ve always been fairly financially secure as a full-time writer. I own a home, have no debts other than the mortgage (that I’ll probably pay off soon), and have a big enough financial cushion that I don’t have serious worries as long as I manage my money wisely. That was when I realized that while I’d love to be recognized and acknowledged, I much prefer making decent money. Of course, if I’m already making decent money, then being better known should mean I’d make even more money, but I wouldn’t trade the income for the renown.

Meanwhile, it’s entirely possible that the other people on that panel were feeling like imposters because they weren’t living entirely off their writing income without having any financial woes. Or they may be okay with where they are because they’re getting what they want.

Back in my day job years, I was at a conference for people in my field (university communications/public information officers), and the speaker suggested keeping a “fuzzy file.” In that job, you get a lot of criticism and are often caught in the middle — the administration always wants more and better results, the faculty just wants to be left alone and not bothered with press inquiries, unless they want more attention but don’t have anything likely to get attention, the press want sources for their stories but don’t want to be pitched things they aren’t interested in. You can’t make everyone happy. So it’s important to hang on to any bit of praise. Keep a file of thank-you notes, press clippings, positive feedback, etc., to look at when you’re feeling battered. Writers should keep their own fuzzy files of good reviews, acceptance letters, good royalty statements, award nominations, screen caps of high Amazon rankings, etc. Write a list of your accomplishments. When Imposter Syndrome kicks in, you can look at your fuzzy file and remind yourself that you deserve what you’ve achieved. Then use that nagging sense of dissatisfaction as motivation to go above and beyond.

writing life

Intentional Time

This year, I’m really trying to treat workdays like workdays. One of the dangers/pleasures of working for myself at home is that I’m totally in charge of my own time. If I want to spend the day reading or watching TV, I can. If I want to take the afternoon off and go to a movie or on a hike, I can. I can spend all day on Facebook or message boards. But then I don’t get any writing done. Even on good writing days, just taking a little break to check e-mail can end up with me blinking out of a fog an hour later. The thing is, I seldom do intentionally take a day off. I consider it a work day, then get sidetracked by other things that aren’t really fun but that aren’t work.

So my aim this year is to be intentional about how I use my time. I’m setting timers for activities that tend to have me blinking out of a fog an hour later, and I’m trying to spend as much time on work-related tasks as I would if I had a full-time job. That still gives me more free time than if I were working in an office because I don’t have to commute and I don’t have to deal with all the “office” stuff that isn’t work but that eats time. The last couple of years I had a “real” job, I was telecommuting and working part-time, but I realized I actually got more work done because so much time in the office was wasted. I’ll still allow myself the flexibility to take time to do fun things and enjoy the flexibility I have, but I want it to be on purpose, not time lost in a “I was just checking my e-mail, wow, what time is it now?” haze. Plus, if I really treat weekdays as work days, then weekends will be more meaningful.

Yesterday I was pretty good about getting a full day’s work in. I’m putting together some proposals for a potential opportunity, and I had a new idea for one, developed an old idea that’s been looking for a home, and figured out how another old idea might be repurposed to work for this. Then I re-read what I’ve written on a project in progress so I can start moving forward. Meanwhile, I did some promo work.

It helps that it was too cold to be up and around much, so I wasn’t distracted by housework or organizing projects. But I also cut off the TV and Internet early and read, finishing my first book of the year. I’ll be losing my cable service as part of my homeowners association fees early this year, and I’m considering scrapping it entirely, just getting an antenna, so I can cut back on my TV watching. I can get plenty of DVDs from my library, and the library also gives access to a few streaming services for TV shows, movies, documentaries, etc. Then I can watch what I plan to watch rather than mindlessly flipping through channels for background noise.

Now to go play some more with those new ideas and see if I can develop them into anything.

writing life

Home Again!

Whew, I’m finally at home for at least a little while. Three trips in a month, five conferences/conventions in about six weeks, was a lot. I’d thought about taking a vacation trip this fall, but at the moment, I don’t really want to leave home, and my post-Thanksgiving calendar is already filling up.

So, here’s where I’ve been:
There was FenCon locally in late September — my “home” convention that I also help put on. At least for that one, I got to stay at home and sleep in my own bed, but I got sick near the end of the convention and was out of commission for about a week afterward.

Then I flew to St. Louis for a quick trip to speak at the Missouri Library Association, where I felt like a really big deal.

Then the following weekend was Writers in the Field, a new event that’s sort of a hands-on subject matter workshop for writers. Instead of reading about things like swords and archery, you get to actually try it and talk to experts. They’ll be repeating it next year, so mark your calendars if that sounds interesting to you.

Then I went to Florida for Necronomicon, where I was a Guest of Honor — my first time doing that. I got to feel like a celebrity and met a bunch of great people.

After a weekend off, I went to San Antonio for the World Fantasy Convention, where I was a lot more obscure. I’m still working on that invisibility within my field thing, but I did sell a lot of books, so maybe it’s improving. I was very good and didn’t hide out in my room too much. I hung out with people in the lobby or in the hospitality suite and even made a couple of potentially valuable professional connections (in fact, I have a conference call later this week based on one of those contacts). I also took advantage of being in downtown San Antonio, with the Riverwalk making a lovely setting for my morning walks. I particularly love the main downtown area of the Riverwalk early in the morning, when the only people out are the maintenance staff and other walkers/joggers. It’s so peaceful, and it’s like getting a secret behind-the-scenes look without the crowds of tourists. Every time I’ve been to San Antonio, it’s been for some kind of business, meeting, or conference, and I keep saying I need to go sometime when it’s just for fun. Maybe that’s how I’ll use that airline voucher. I found a few things I’d have liked to do if I’d had the time.

Now that I’m home and more or less recovered, I need to get back in the swing of writing. I’ve got a book to finish, a book to revise, and a potential new thing to develop.

writing life

Travel Catch-Up

I’ve been quite remiss in my blogging lately, but I seem to have been either getting ready for a conference or convention, at a conference or convention, or recovering from a conference or convention for the past month or so.

There was FenCon in September, which was local, so I didn’t have to worry about packing and travel, but I’m on staff, so I had work to do in addition to being a guest. I started getting sick on the last day of the convention, and I spent much of the following week in bed.

Then I recovered just in time to go to the Missouri Library Association conference, where I was the keynote speaker for the young adult librarians breakfast. That was a quick trip, just one night, and it was a lot of fun because librarians are cool people. I went out for barbecue with a group the night I arrived, and then there were some interesting discussions the next morning at breakfast. Librarians always give me food for thought.

They put me in a room on the club floor at that hotel, so I felt very special. I have new incentive to write more and sell more books because now I’d like to get on the club floor whenever I travel. I’m going to get spoiled.

I had about a week to recover, and then there was another local event, Writers in the Field. This was kind of a writing conference, but it was more hands-on and real world. It was held at an event space in the country, and it was an opportunity for writers to learn about horses, archery, swords, guns, and that sort of thing that we might need in our books.

The following week, it was Necronomicon in Florida, my first time to be a convention guest of honor. Again, I felt like a celebrity and I could get used to that. I met so many great people that weekend and really enjoyed myself. I may be spoiled for conventions where I’m not a GOH now.

And now I’m gearing up for the World Fantasy Convention next week. I just have one panel, so it’s less of a working convention for me. This is supposed to be more of a networking event. I’ll have to see how that goes because I’m terrible at networking. The very thought of “barcon,” where you do your networking while hanging out in the bar, utterly terrifies me. I usually make it to the threshold of the hotel bar, feel like a new kid on the first day of school, looking for someone to sit with in the cafeteria at lunch, then flee in a panic. It doesn’t help that my body has decided that I’m now a morning person, so I’ll probably be falling asleep before barcon gets in full swing, and my energy levels drain rapidly in noisy, crowded places. Maybe I need to spearhead “morning walk con” for the non-night owls.

I’m giving myself permission to treat this as sort of a working vacation. I’ll go to the panels that interest me, I’ll attempt to be social in the con suite/bar/lobby, and otherwise I’ll enjoy San Antonio. I have a list of places where I want to eat and things I want to see and do.

After that, I get to stay home for a while, though I do need to plan a vacation. I volunteered to get bumped on an oversold flight on the way home from Tampa, so I have a voucher toward a flight, and I’ve decided it should be used on fun, not a business-related trip. I just need to decide where and when to go. But first I want to be at home for a while.

writing life

Willpower

I read a lot of books about things like productivity and time management, mostly because I have no adult supervision, so I need all the help I can get. I’m my own boss, so there’s no one monitoring when I go to work, what I do during the workday, when I stop work, or how productive I am. I have even less structure when I’m writing for independent publication and there’s no publisher deadline. That means I need to figure out ways to keep myself honest and make the most of my time. There’s also an element of fascination and curiosity. I love psychology and figuring myself (and other people) out. My life makes for a good experimental environment because I have total control over just about everything. I decide when to sleep and wake up, when and what to eat, when and how to work. That allows me to try the various advice I read about in a way that I couldn’t if I had to worry about a job, spouse, kids, or even pets.

My latest read was a book called Willpower, by Roy F. Baumeister and John Tierney. It’s all about how willpower works and how to use it. They cite the now-famous study in which preschoolers were given a marshmallow and told that if they didn’t eat it before the researcher returned to the room, they’d get another marshmallow. They were studying self-control in children, but then later followed up with the kids when the daughter of one of the researchers, who’d been part of the preschool class used as a study group, mentioned running into her former classmates in college. They were curious to see what became of the kids, and it turned out that the greatest predictor of future success wasn’t intelligence or even socioeconomic background. The kids who held out for the second marshmallow were overwhelmingly more successful — better grades, went further in school, got better jobs, were better liked — than the kids who ate the marshmallow. The kids who ate the marshmallow were more likely to have dropped out of school or gone to prison. This held true even when they adjusted for race and class. I guess I’m interested in this kind of thing because I was the sort of kid who not only would have held out for the second marshmallow, but I’d have then held onto both marshmallows, saving them for some future special occasion. I would say that I’m not particularly successful, but then again, I am making a living in a career where most people who try it don’t end up making a living, so maybe we’re grading on a curve.

Anyway, the book offered a few takeaways that I found interesting and potentially useful for people who are trying to manage their lives more effectively. One key thing about willpower/self-control is that it’s essentially a decision — you’re deciding to take one action (usually a less immediately pleasant one) over another action (usually one with short-term benefits). It functions in the brain like any other decision you make — what to wear, what to do, what to buy, etc. We only have a limited amount of stamina for decisions, and once it’s depleted, it’s difficult to make decisions at all. By the end of any decision-making process, we’re likely to just not care and go with whatever the default is, and there’s lower willpower after that. Because of this effect, if you’re trying to change something in your life that takes willpower to do, it’s more effective to focus on one thing. You don’t have the stamina to make that many decisions on an ongoing basis. That’s why New Year’s resolutions usually fail: that long list of things you’re going to improve requires more willpower than you’ve got. You’re better off picking one thing and focusing on that.

The cool thing is that once you focus on that one thing, other things tend to fall into place without you really trying. They found in a study that when participants worked on one change in their lives from any category (physical fitness, financial planning, study habits), they also ended up eating better, smoking and drinking less, exercising more (even when physical fitness wasn’t the thing they were working on), and generally getting their lives in order without making any conscious effort to do those things. I’ve found that this summer. Because I’m rehabbing my bad knee and am in physical therapy, I have to exercise daily. I’m highly motivated to do this because I’ve been in pain and not able to do things, so I want to get better and know that doing my exercises will help. There’s also a financial motivation, as my medical bills will be lower the sooner I’m released from therapy, and doing the exercises daily will make me get well faster. And I’m getting monitored on my progress by the physical therapist, so I’m held accountable. That has made it relatively easy for me to make myself exercise every day. I’ve found that the rest of my life has fallen into place. I’m going to bed earlier and getting up earlier, feeling well-rested. I’m eating better. I’m doing a lot more writing. I’m making progress on organizing my house.

The other helpful thing is that after you do a behavior that requires willpower for a month or so, it becomes a habit, and doing it regularly no longer requires willpower. Then you can move on to some other thing you want to focus on. So, instead of making a list of resolutions, pick one thing to focus on. When that becomes a habit, move on to the next thing.

Accountability and monitoring really help in sticking to something. For writers, they suggest keeping track of the number of words written and amount of time spent writing (which I do). Planning also helps because it separates the decision from the action, which means it takes less willpower. I’ve found that to be very effective for me. I make a schedule for my day in the morning, and I find it’s a lot easier to say “it’s time to clean house” or “it’s time to write” because it’s in my schedule than it is to have a big open amount of time and then have to decide how to fill it when I’m in the moment, especially later in the day, when I’m tired. One fine tuning I’ve made to my schedule this week is to schedule my breaks. I used to just block off afternoons for writing, but I found that when I took a break during that time, it was sometimes hard to get back to work. So, instead of just blocking off the afternoon, I block off distinct writing sessions with distinct breaks, and I even plan what the main activity for each break will be. Then it’s a lot easier to get back to work. I’m not deciding it’s time to get back because the decision has already been made.

Anything you can do in advance to make the decision less taxing can help. If you’re dieting, don’t have tempting food in the house and you don’t have to decide not to eat it. Measure out portions ahead of time so you don’t have to decide how to eat or when to stop eating. Lay out your exercise clothes ahead of time so you don’t get sidetracked by deciding which t-shirt and shorts to wear. That’s something else I’ve been doing, scheduling time to set up my writing area. That way, all those little procrastination behaviors don’t happen during the designated writing time. The glass of water, computer, notebooks, etc., are all already there when it’s time to get to work. It used to be that the first half hour of my writing block was filled with the equivalent of the toddler demanding a story, a glass of water, and a closet monster inspection to delay bedtime. Now I have that block scheduled for preparation, and I find that I’m actually starting writing sooner.

It’s interesting reading if you want to work on managing your life, and might even be good character fodder.

writing life, writing

Change vs. Persistence

In my last writing post, I talked about dealing with discouragement. One of the pieces of advice was to change what you’re doing. There’s the often quoted saying that insanity is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results. If you don’t like the results you’re getting, it makes sense to change what you’re doing.

On the other hand, there’s something to be said for persistence. What you’re doing may not be wrong. It may just be a case of sticking with it and building up momentum. In the business book Good to Great, Jim Collins brings up the concept of the “flywheel.” In a factory, this is a large, heavy wheel that takes a lot of effort to get moving, but once it’s moving, it can be kept moving with minimal effort. The idea behind the metaphor is that in your career, it may feel like you’re not getting results at first, but if you stick with something long enough, you’ll eventually reach the point where it keeps turning on its own. If you keep starting and stopping or changing to something else when what you’re doing seems to be difficult, you’ll never build any momentum.

Which advice is right? It all depends on the situation.

In some cases, the need for change is pretty obvious. If you’re not selling enough stories, then it makes sense to write more stories and/or work to improve your writing. Sending out the same story over and over again, even after everyone’s rejected it, isn’t necessarily the good kind of persistence. The persistence there is continuing to write and submit rather than giving up at the first setback.

Other situations are more difficult — is it better to stick with a publisher and hope that you’ll gradually move up in the ranks and eventually have a book chosen to be a lead title, or is it better to move on and hope that you can find a publisher who’ll give you more attention now? Is the agent who launched your career the best fit for you when you want to move to another level? Should you continue with your current marketing efforts and hope that you can build an audience if you just let it build momentum, or should you drop some things and try some new things?

One thing to consider is how much you’ve sunk into doing things the way you’ve been doing them. Sometimes, that investment means you should stick with it, but that can also hold you back in making needed changes because you don’t want to lose that investment. Would starting over do you any good? Are there any opportunities waiting for you if you stick with where you are? Is there a potentially better use for the resources you’re currently devoting to what you’re doing now?

Have you given it enough time and opportunity to take off? If you’ve given what you’re doing a reasonable amount of time and aren’t seeing results, change makes sense. Are you seeing a positive trend? Are things getting better over time, even if you’re not yet where you’d like to be? If things aren’t improving even after you’ve given it some time, then change makes sense.

Here’s an example from my own career: I’ve been hitting science fiction conventions as an author since soon after my first fantasy novel was published, more than ten years ago. Travel to conventions was the biggest part of my marketing budget. Last year, I started thinking about whether that marketing strategy made sense for me. I realized that even that far down the road, I was still relatively unknown at the bigger conventions. I don’t seem to be making a name on the convention circuit or among that particular crowd. I’ve had one invitation to be a guest of honor at a convention. I mostly see the same faces in the audience when I do readings. I got a big boost from conventions early in my career when I went from being unknown to being slightly known, but I don’t seem to be growing beyond that level. I’ve given it more than ten years, which is long enough that if I were building momentum, I’d have seen it by now. The results seem to be tapering off. There are more effective ways I could use that time and money, so I decided to back off from conventions unless I’m an invited featured guest. Instead, I’m attending professional development and networking-oriented events and library and school events. I’ve used the travel budget on getting a new logo and website developed, and I’m working on other activities that I hope will get my name out in different ways. I’m also using the time I would have spent traveling to and recovering from conventions to write. I wasn’t feeling the momentum, so maybe I can build momentum in a different way that might allow me to hop back into conventions at a level where I can see more results, or at least do it for a different purpose, meeting fans instead of building a name.

If the answer is to stick with it, you may still need to make changes, like improving your writing, increasing your output, or finding new ways to build word of mouth. You can seldom get over any kind of slump by just continuing to do exactly what you’ve been doing all along. At the very least, changing something makes you feel more empowered and may help change your frame of mind, which makes it easier to weather the discouraging moments.

writing life, writing

Dealing With Discouragement

When I was at the Nebula Awards weekend last month, I was on a panel about dealing with discouragement. While preparing for that panel, I thought a lot about that topic, so I thought I’d share some of the ideas I came up with, only some of which actually made it into the panel discussion.

I think just about every writer deals with discouragement in some form or another, and at every stage of his or her career. When you’re just starting to write, you may be discouraged about being able to find time to write or struggling to get all the way through a book. Later, you may be discouraged about your work being rejected. Once you’re published, you can get discouraged by reviews, by the way the publisher treats your book, by sales figures, by the kind of recognition (or lack thereof) you receive. That’s why it’s important to learn and practice good coping skills so you can turn your discouragement into a positive force.

One thing to know is that it’s okay to be discouraged and even angry. The trick is to channel it in a more positive direction rather than letting it fester and become a negative force on you and your career. Eat chocolate, rant and rave a little, throw a beanbag at the wall, vent to your friends. However, do all this in private. A social media meltdown could come back to bite you. It may be a turnoff to industry professionals who may want to work with you in the future, and you don’t want readers or potential readers to think of you as an angry whiner. That doesn’t mean you have to always be Little Mary Sunshine, but you should probably think about and process your discouragement before expressing it publicly rather than ranting out of pure emotion on a public stage. I would also caution you to not get too physically unhealthy in your emotional coping strategies. A little chocolate or a drink with your writer friends is one thing. Drowning your sorrows in alcohol isn’t going to help matters. You also don’t want to stay angry and bitter without moving forward because that will affect the quality of your work — and your life.

Once you have the raw emotion out of your system, you can get more analytical. What, exactly, is it that’s discouraging you? Write it down and try to get to the core of it — I’m struggling with the middle of the book, which feels boring; I can’t seem to get beyond the form rejection stage; my publisher did absolutely no publicity for my last book, then blamed me for the bad sales; I’m getting horrible reviews.

Now identify the factors that you can control and do something about. You can’t change what publishers do, what reviewers say, how agents perceive your work. But you can change what you write, how you write, how much you write, what professional activities you participate in, how you promote yourself, etc. So, for example, if you’re getting nothing but form rejections, you can try writing something different — maybe there’s not much of a market for what you write — or taking some workshops to try to improve your writing. You can get into a critique group or find a critique partner to get some feedback on your work and see if you can identify what might not be catching editors’ or agents’ attention. You can go to conferences to network with people, maybe get some face-to-face pitch sessions so that you can get some up-front feedback if it’s what you’re writing that’s being rejected, or you may get a more personalized response that identifies what it is in your writing that isn’t working. Develop a plan based on things you can control and do something about to address the source of your discouragement. Set goals and targets that you can measure, and keep track of your progress. That not only puts you on a path to correcting things, it makes you feel more empowered, which makes you feel less discouraged.

Unfortunately, there are still a lot of things you can’t control, and that becomes more true the higher you go up the career ladder. You can’t make publishers decide that yours is the book they want to promote, you can’t make reviewers review your work and like it if they do review it, you can’t make your book get nominated for or win awards, you can’t make readers buy your book and tell others about it. How do you deal with it if the source of your discouragement is something you can’t control? I think this is where positive anger comes into play. That’s using anger as a motivation to persist and improve. Even at this level, the things you control are still the same. It just may take a lot more work to get enough change to make a difference, and it will take a lot of motivation to power through. If you’re not getting a push from publishers, what it takes to get it is a book that makes everyone in the publisher excited about its potential, or else a track record of steadily rising sales that makes the publisher feel like this can be the book that breaks out. That means working hard to find the right concept, executing it brilliantly, maybe some networking to build support and establishing a professional reputation. That’s possibly even more difficult than writing a first book, and you’re going to need all your righteous anger to fuel you and remind you that you need something too awesome to be ignored. It may help to have a motivational mental image. I’ve joked about what I’ll demand when I ride into New York at the head of my conquering army, with maybe a few dragons circling overhead, but that mental image does spur me to get back to work when I’m ready to settle for “good enough.”

I think the worst way to handle discouragement is to focus on the things you can’t control without having any kind of plan in place to deal with the things you can control. Then you just have that free-ranging disappointment and anger, that sense that the world is out to get you. I find that it really helps to dig into what’s causing the problem I’m having and what I can do about it, then focus my thoughts and efforts on what I can control.