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Friday, August 7, 2009

Five on Friday: Dealing with Downers

"You? Make it as a writer? Who do you think you're fooling?"
.
. Ever had thoughts like these bombard you after receiving a rejection or less than stellar contest results? Or perhaps you've returned to your manuscript only to realize that what looked brilliant when it flowed from your fingertips the day before wasn't. At times like these, we can fall prey to negativity.

Here are five Deadly Downers I've dealt with:


1) Doubt

2) Disappointment

3) Dispiritedness

4) Discouragement

5) Depression

Some of you know I received a life-changing phone call on March 25, 2008. Romance Writers of America® board member Terri Reed was on the line telling me that not one, but two of my four entries in the Golden Heart® had finaled. As you can imagine, I lived among the clouds for weeks.

I've shared before the many blessings I received as a result of my final, but there's another side to my story. The down side.

Although I was elated to have finaled, I felt like a fraud. I'd written five inspirational historicals during two years of isolation. I didn't know even one other writer. What I did know was that my stories were lacking. I'd had some contest success, but an honest assessment of the judges' comments revealed some weaknesses, which I had no idea how to overcome at that point in my journey.

Doubt crept in. Despite the accolades, I began to wonder if I had what it took to write something publishable.

Although I knew in my gut the stories weren't ready for prime time, I went to RWA® Nationals and pitched one of them. I'd never had an agent or editor appointment before, and I was terrified. No. I wasn't afraid of them. I was afraid I'd waste their time, afraid I'd make a fool of myself, afraid I'd make such a poor impression they'd never want to see me again.

One and a half minutes into each of those two pitch sessions, I received confirmation; the story didn't interest them. Both professionals were kind as they told me the truth and took time to educate me on what they wanted to see. (With eight and a half minutes left of a pitch session, I was glad I'd read posts suggesting the "What are you looking for then?" question. It saved me the humiliation of leaving my two sessions before my chair was even warm.)

Even though I expected to be rejected, I was disappointed. I knew the agent and editor were right, and I have utmost respect for them. They were just doing their job. I was disappointed in myself. I'd gone ahead with the sessions even though I knew my stories weren't ready.

I returned from Nationals with mixed feelings. I had a wonderful time meeting my fellow Golden Heart finalist friends, talking with authors who were incredibly generous and being treated like royalty by RWA. However, I was dispirited. My enthusiasm for my writing had waned.

Before my Golden Heart final, one story after another had gushed from my fingertips onto the page. And I had a blast. Once my eyes were opened, though, and I saw how much I had yet to learn, the joy evaporated and writing became a laborious process.

For six months following that phone call from RWA, I stopped writing. I used the time to create a Web site, launch two blogs, get involved on Facebook, etc. But I didn't add a word to a story. I was discouraged. I'd lost my confidence.

Knowing the best way to work through a slump is to write, I began a contemporary. I loved my characters and their story and entered a couple of contests. I didn't final. Not only that, but I faced the hard truth that my voice at this point in my journey doesn't lend itself to contemporaries. My young hero and heroine sounded old. I felt old. I shelved the story at 50K words. Discouragement threatened to develop into a full-fledged depression.

However, I hadn't lost hope. With the help of my incredibly supportive husband and awesome critique partner, I moved forward. I'd enjoyed writing my historicals, so I returned to my first love. The thrill was back.

I'd dealt with downers for over a year, but I'm having fun writing again and have experienced some success. Even though the process I went through was painful, I learned a great deal during my down time. One important lesson is not to listen to those voices muttering dark things but to turn to those who will speak the truth in love, who believe in me and who will push me to keep on keeping on.

• • • • •

Have you ever fallen prey to the Deadly Downers?

How do you deal with doubt, disappointment or discouragement?

Who are the people in your life upholding you when things look dark?


17 comments:

Jody Hedlund said...

Hi Keli,

Thanks for sharing your story. The journey is very hard at times. I think we can all relate. We've all been there at one time or another. But I also agree that if we're passionate about our writing, we won't be able to give it up very easily!

Keli Gwyn said...

Thanks for your comment, Jody. I was hesitant to talk about my time in the valley while I was slogging my way through it. I thought it best to remain as positive as I could and not dwell on the difficulties. Tough as the year was, I wouldn't change anything. The Lord used that time to mature me and teach me a great deal about myself as a person and a writer.

I didn't think of giving up. Rather, I wanted to find my direction, which I have. And it feels sooo good now.

Anne Barton said...

Keli, even as you were going through all those "D's" you were inspiring others, moving forward, and just staying positive. I'm so glad you figured out where you wanted to go, set the GPS, and reached your destination! :)

Keli Gwyn said...

Anne, your support and encouragement as I meandered through the valley meant the world to me. Thank you!!!!

sherrinda said...

You must have written this post just for me. I've gotten 5 chapters back from my dad and it is brutal. He doesn't even like my heroine. Let me say, that he is so gentle and kind in his approach with me, but each chapter is riddled with red. The last chapter he sent had major character development problems. He said the plot is very good up to this point and everything else can be worked on, but oh my goodness, it is overwhelming and a bit discouraging.

I should have waited to sent it to him. It is my very first and I only went through it once...without anyone else looking at it. But he said, "Why take the time to let others critique it before me? I can help you." So, I did. But in doing so, am overwhelmed and wonder if I really have what it takes.

I am tired this week and have worked 48 hours so far (I will go in today and probably tomorrow some.) and so maybe that has playing into the disappointment and discouragement. Maybe not. But your post was just what I needed. Thank you for sharing your heart. You are always an encouragement.

Jarmara Falconer said...

I just keep on writing and talk much less about my writing loud. My husband is my backbone and is at my side, so I don't worry what others may think about my writing dreams.

Laura Frantz said...

Kelli,
Wonderful, honest post here. Now that I look back on my own writing journey prior to this first release, I see how my own doubts, depression, and discouragement were every bit as important in my development as a writer as the "up" times. Of course I always prefer the up times. Even after publication, I am riddled with doubts and insecurities at times. But that still serves an eternal purpose. I'm learning to run to God first with my needs and let Him work things out.
Thanks for sharing your heart to encourage others.

Jessica said...

Thank you so much for sharing your journey. I think I can relate in so many ways. I hope some day I can read one of your historicals! I think I'd love it. :-)
And I'm amazed that you wrote five books before you'd ever really networked with any other writers. And that they finaled. That's so awesome. :-)

Ooh, I gotta get off. I'll come back.

Keli Gwyn said...

Cyber hugs, Sherrinda. The first feedback can be so hard to receive. You've poured your heart and soul into your story, and to hear that it needs work is tough.

But you're tougher! I trust you'll learn from you dad's kind, knowledgeable instruction and take your story to a new level as a result of analyzing his comments and suggestions.

Your dad must think you show promise if he's taking time to teach you. And there was a BIGGIE in your comment. He likes your plot! That means you can tell a good story. Hold onto that. The rest will come, but you've already got the most important aspect nailed. Yay for you!

For what it's worth, I think fatigue may well be a factor. Working all those hours has got to be draining. Once you've had time to rest and let the initial emotion bleed off, I trust you'll see the comments in new light. I'll go so far as to say there may be some ah-ha moments that end up really helping and that you'll be pleased you were brave enough to send your story out for feedback. I'm proud of you for taking this step.

Keli Gwyn said...

Jarmara, aren't supportive husbands the best? Mine is president of the Keli Gwyn fan club, and I can't thank him enough for being behind me 100%. Plus, he's an awesome plotting partner. I'm blessed!

Keli Gwyn said...

Laura, I've heard that published authors deal with doubts, discouragement and disappointments too. Some have shared that their thoughts shifted from "Will I ever sell?" to such things as pleasing their editors, doing enough promo, getting positive reviews, being able to produce subsequent books as good as the first and dealing with deadlines. Would you say this is true?

Keli Gwyn said...

Jessica, thanks for your kind words. I hope we're reading one another's books soon. Won't that be fun?

Jessica said...

I'm back.
That would be fun! LOL Did I tell you I love historical romance?

Anyways, I feel all those Ds too, at different times. Sometimes I just stop writing until I feel better. I wish I had an easy answer so I could deal with this stuff every time it knocks me back. Sigh.

I really admire your honesty! Your writing is very strong, strong voice too, and I can't wait to see where you end up. :-)

Keli Gwyn said...

Jessica, historicals are my favorite reads too. Makes sense that's what I like to write, I suppose.

One thing I've learned about dealing with the Ds is that although they may pay us a visit, they won't stick around forever. In my case, I wish they'd taken their leave sooner, but they were an important part of my process, as Laura said.

BTW, the book I reviewed and am giving away this week is another Summerside Press historical.

Laura Frantz said...

Yes, Keli, to answer your thoughtful question - writers just have other issues once they're authors. Sometimes I think, "Can I even produce another book?" "Will it be as good as the first one?", "Will my editor like it?", "Will readers like it?", etc.
I recently read a blog by a best-selling author who, after over 70 books, says she still worries about each novel she turns in. In her words, "What if it stinks? Always a fear."

Sigh! Talking about this on your blog helps diffuse some of the tension and shows each of us how alike we are, published or not:)

Keli Gwyn said...

Laura, so it's true then. Published authors don't suddenly become immune to doubt and it's cousins disappointment, discouragement, etc. I think for those of us striving to convince that one agent and/or editor we have a worthwhile story, the thought of pleasing the reading public is almost beyond our comprehension. :)

There's a wonderful fellowship among writers, published and unpublished. I've been richly blessed by both. It's a tough business we've chosen, so the mutual support means a great deal.

I'm looking forward to your interview at Romance Writers on the Journey in two weeks. I'm sure we'll hear how much the partners on your journey have meant to you.

Susan Hollaway said...

Keli, How brave of you to share your story. But it will bless many, including myself, so I'm so glad you shared. I'm just beginning to write and haven't even entered a contest yet, but I get discouraged at times even this early into my journey. It helped me to read your story learning what you've went through.

I'm so glad you're enjoying writing again and the joy of it all is filling your heart. Double high-five, girl!