I wish I had a neat “how to” answer to this one but the answer is messy, multi- layered and evolves all the time. Like life, like writing.
Surviving While Writing
The job itself sets you up for major pitfalls, and writing is almost guaranteed to test your stability to the limits. To write successfully, it seems, you have to depart from every rule that ensures sanity because writing asks you to do the following things:
- Purposely isolate yourself from the possibility of human interaction, often for hours on end.
- Constantly interrogate your worth as a writer and the validity of your project (while trawling through twitter).
- Sit still most of the day, usually with a cup of coffee to hand that may segue into a glass or more of wine.
- Eat food quickly, possibly unhealthy and probably too much.
- Meet deadlines, manage anxiety, sleeplessness and stress.
And that’s just the writing part!
How To Deal With Rejection
If you are determined, you will finish your work and submit it, but you then face a further series of worries. Rejection is normal but that doesn’t mean it’s easy. If you are lucky enough to get accepted by an agent and then a publisher, you will get feedback. Much of it will be negative.
When the book comes out you will worry about getting reviews and then about the number of books you sell. You might hope to get into the best seller lists. Even if you do well on all these counts, you might hope your publisher submits you for a prize. And then, if you have the fortune to be shortlisted, you will mind if you don’t win.
It’s entirely possible to surmount all this with grace and forbearance, but to do so you will need at least one of the following:
- Friends. Good friends, especially, but not exclusively writer friends. They are lifesavers. They will understand exactly what you are feeling, because they are feeling it too, and simply talking will make you feel so much better.
- Ditto agents. If you are lucky, they are there for you when you are having those difficult times, and will reassure you that, yes, you are a really good writer. And, even though you suspect they are just being kind, it tends to work every time.
Making It Out The Other End
The other advice is more generic and it’s just the same as I used to give patients who were stressed, anxious and even depressed. This advice may sound very obvious but I’ll make a list here just in case:
- Exercise regularly. It should be possible to leave your desk ,no matter the deadline, for a half hour jog round the block. Walk to the Co-op for a bag of apples, or to the newsagents (newspapers being a brilliant source of stories).
- A dog. Adopt one or borrow one. The sight of a dog peacefully sleeping as you write is one of the best soothers I know, and you would never have that rainy November afternoon walk without him to make sure you get out and use your muscles. Talking of which…
- Pilates is great for your back, and yoga for stretching cramped writing muscles. Join a group if you possibly can.
- Sleep. Skip this and both life and writing gets hard. If it’s difficult to fall asleep, stop using screens at least two hours before bed. Go to sleep in a cool, dark room. Reading helps.
- Take Breaks. A little break every twenty minutes, and a longer one every hour. You can garden, cook, stretch; clear a cupboard, or sort out books for Oxfam.
- If the writing is genuinely flagging, and you are able to do this, step away for longer. A writing-free weekend, week, or even month, may help restore the world to normal. The time away from your book will also help you see it in a different light.
- Treats. These are important. Schedule in an afternoon at the cinema, or watch a great drama on television. This is the stuff of stories, as well as being enjoyable. My debut novel was constructed while I was watching Missing with Sarah Lund (that jersey), one of the first of the great Scandi-noir television dramas. I learnt so much from the plot structure.
- A day at the beach can work miracles and can be useful, too. It’s always possible to recycle a beach day into a story, if only as a childhood memory for one of your characters.
- Get stuck into the next project. If you’ve submitted your book and are fretting, start work on the next. Lose yourself in the pure love of writing. Remember, writing is your happy place, or used to be. In the early stages, it’s all about exploring ideas and banging them down; structure and grammar can come later. Let the ideas flow, enjoy the freedom, and recapture the fun of it.
And if none of this works, and you are really unhappy, make an appointment with your GP. I promise I would have loved to have listened to you when I was a GP.