Monday, February 13, 2012

Writer's Survival Guide 1: Dealing with Negative Emotions

The last year challenged me in ways I hadn't anticipated when, years ago, I pumped my fist in the air and declared I would be a published author. Negative emotions weaseled into my normally easy-going, upbeat personality. I ignored them, pretended I wasn't feeling them, or occasionally justified them. But recently, I was forced to acknowledge that, despite all of my attempts at positive thinking, deep down, fear was tearing me up.

Dealing with negative emotions is only one part of a writer's health. I don't know about you, but I'm struggling to keep my body fit, my eyes clear, my brain creative, my soul happy, and whatever else possible to be the best writer I can be.

So... I decided to share what I'm doing to keep my body, mind, and soul powerful. Welcome to the first installment of the Writer's Survival Guide. Every Monday will be devoted to helping writers grow strong. I realize how vital mental and physical health is to power through this journey. I've been very, very blessed to have a huge network of writers to talk to, either in person or online, and I know that every stage of a writer's career requires stamina.

For six months, I've read book after book about staying positive, about the power our mental state has on our physical life. For over twenty years I've kept up with the latest exercise and nutrition fads. Health fascinates me. It also confounds me, especially...

When negative emotions attack.

As I mentioned earlier, the last year disrupted my equilibrium. I think most writers can relate to what I'm talking about. I have not met an author who hasn't dealt with ups and downs, fear, excitement, hope, despair, envy, bitterness, joy, and gratitude. Is it part of the job description? Maybe!

Looking back, I would say I reached a point where I was no longer content with where I was at on the publishing totem pole. Unfortunately, I had it in my head that all the years I'd already spent climbing the sheer cliff to traditional publication were payment enough. After all, I had served my years on rejection row; I'd spent hours, weeks, months, years learning the writing craft; I critiqued others' books, had them critique mine. I knew my writing had improved, and I revised and polished until I knew I'd done everything I could to make my books the best they could be.

I'd been blessed beyond belief to find an agent who believed in me and loved my writing. Simply put, I felt it was my time. My time to shine!

I've always firmly held to the belief that perseverance and hard work would pay off. I prayed. I prayed for the exact outcome I desired. I stayed positive, let myself dream, brushed off all "why don't you self-publish?" queries, and yet, I still didn't feel...good. Often, envy would clench my heart at all of the people who announced book deals online. Bitterness pierced my soul that in four years of blogging, submitting, and doing everything "right" I still was sitting on the sidelines, twiddling my thumbs.

My inner confidence eroded as my outer confidence grew an edge. I knew something wasn't quite right within me, but I couldn't acknowledge it. Wouldn't acknowledge it. Peace eluded me. Gratitude came with price tags.

But God has a way of getting our hearts right--even when it's painful. Several challenges entered my life, leaving me scared, sad, and ultimately quiet with an empty heart.

When my heart emptied, I found grace.

I shook off my pride and confided in trusted friends. I prayed. (I pray a lot.) My confidence changed, shifted to an appropriate level. Gratitude no longer had price tags. The bitterness and envy? No place for them to stick. When your heart is wiped clean, the negative emotions slide off.

Maybe I never anticipated my publishing and personal journey would have so many bumps in the road, but I also never imagined I would be blessed with so much support along the way.

Simply put? I'm a billionaire in friendship.

And I'm open--wonderfully, ecstatically open--to my future.

At some point, most of us plod through a period where all the things we worked hard and hoped for refuse to come. Not only that, we get bad news in our personal lives. Then we step in dog poop. Yes, even authors who have experienced success don't always get the outcome they want. If negative emotions attack you, I hope you will be more proactive about them than I was.

When envy, pride, bitterness, or despair hit, we can meet them head on. Ask ourselves what's the worst that can happen? What is really causing you to feel this way? I can't speak for you, but one of my problems was that I had a sense of a ticking bomb. Like, if life didn't improve soon, I'd combust. I worried that another setback would put me over the edge. More than anything, I was scared I wouldn't be able to handle more bad news.

Maybe the old "when life gives you lemons, make lemonade" adage didn't quite apply to me. I'm more of a when life gives you lemons, pucker up and cry a little type of gal. But the cool thing is--I'm surviving. I found out that more bad news didn't destroy me. It gave me clarity. God gives us the strength to get through anything. We can't prevent bad things from happening, but we can control our attitude and our reactions.

Have you tried to push away negative emotions? Did they fester? How did you ultimately overcome them?

Have a fantastic Monday!


  1. Great post. I've been lacking motivation in my writing journey lately. I finally realized it was because I had been trying to push away my negative emotion of fear. When I admitted that I was putting off finishing my manuscript because of self doubt and fear of failure, I was able to get back to work. I think it's almost impossible to be creative when you're spending your energy trying to push away those emotions. We need to recognize them and pour them into our work.

  2. You have been on quite a journey and I feel blessed to have shared them with you as you are always an encouragement to me. I'm trying to push my feelings of despair about writing away and I know it is a process that I have to work through--it does hit writers --and like you-- I felt after six or more years of hard work, it ought to pay off. Finding out there isn't a time line---only God's time. So I am praying lots too and waiting and hoping.

  3. Oh, Jill, I'm so sorry you've been going through this. But I'm glad you've found the support you need. Hang in there!

    When I wonder what the heck I'm doing, trying to make this author aspiration happen while others out there are actually working jobs and earning money, I first: count my blessings that I don't have to write AND work a day job, just to make ends meet; second, I ask myself: "What else would I want to do?" It always come back to WRITING. Writing makes me happy, even when it's hard work, even though I'm not published yet. Our time will come, Jill - just wait and see!

  4. Love how real this post is, Jill. Anytime I have negative emotions, I get back on my knees and ask God about them.

    I LOVE the two last verses in Psalm 139. Search me, O God, and know my heart. Test me and know my anxious thoughts. Point out anything in me that offends you and lead me along the path of everlasting life.

    I've prayed those two verses more times than I care to admit!

  5. Loved the raw honesty here, Jill, and I especially love this line:

    "Simply put? I'm a billionaire in friendship."

    Sometimes that alone can help pull me up out of negative tide pool. When I feel afraid and negative, I go back to my Bible and find all the personal scriptures God gave me over a particular promise and I meditate on that day He gave me that promise. (I date them to the side so I never forget along with a note in the margin what it was about-for my kids someday.) And that always works for me!

  6. What a wonderful post, Jill. No matter where we are on the publishing journey, there are always negative emotions just waiting to jump out and ambush us! I struggle a lot with envy and jealousy (yes, I admit it). I often give myself a little pep talk and tell myself not compare my results with others.

  7. thanks for sharing this, Jill. You're right - the negative can easily outweigh the positive, even when we don't realize it's doing that. I don't have anything great to add that the ladies above haven't. I, too, find comfort in my favorite Bible verses, in prayer and in friendship...

  8. I hear you Jill. I took me 5 years to get my contract then my release was delayed and delayed and delayed. I constantly felt like the bottom of the heap. Things weren't done then though, a week after this long arduous battle I was thrown into the fire. Sure it's a trial but as you said it.. the only things we can control are our actions and attitudes.

  9. What a beautiful and inspiring post. The negative can definitely outweigh the positive in life, and writing is no exception. I experience crazy swings in confidence with no reason, other than my own self-doubt. I've been lacking motivation lately, and I have no reason. Things are going well in the sub process. I'm excited about my new WIP. But I just feel like I don't wanna, lol. I can't get past it. But I'm trying.

    I'm sorry you've had some down times this year, but congrats on pushing through and the positive attitude!

  10. Thank you all soooo much for the comments. I wasn't sure I wanted to post this, but ultimately, felt it had to be said. Some days I get giddy thinking about the future, and others I still struggle with negative feelings.

    Today I have a nasty head cold, so forgive me for not individually responding. I appreciate all of you, and I'm very thankful for your comments and wisdom.

    Thanks so much for stopping by!

  11. Wow, I can't even tell you what reading this has meant to me this morning. I am generally a pretty carefree, happy person...but in the past 2-3 months I have not felt like myself and have absolutely struggled with negative emotions. And this is sooo me: "I can't speak for you, but one of my problems was that I had a sense of a ticking bomb." I can't even point to anything that brought this feeling on...but oh boy, reading your post today a) reminded me I'm not the only one and b)sooo blessed me. Especially this:

    "When my heart emptied, I found grace."

    Thanks for the encouragement...looking forward to the rest of your survival guide posts!

  12. Such truth and pure honesty here, Jill. Thanks for sharing.

    I struggle all the time with negativity. It's getting easier to shake it off since I really started to trust God with my life.

    When I'm feeling low - My verse is Psalm 121 "I lift my eyes up to the hills..."
    That verse has gotten me through many a rough patch.

    I'm looking forward to your Monday posts!

  13. I love this & I'm off to tweet it.

    I love you, friend!

    I'm believing in the dream for you.
    ~ Wendy

  14. I had no idea that you were going through such trauma. Even though you found an agent who liked your work, there seems to be more hurdles to overcome. I am glad that you found the friendship and perseverance to go on. You are one of the most professional working people I have even encountered. I know that you will succeed. A door will open.

  15. I love this timely and heartfelt post. So many of us go through these emotions on a regular basis and it's hard to come out and admit how we feel. Thank you for being honest, Jill. You've encouraged me to really dig in and go before God with my emotions so He can minister to my heart.

    I just want to say that I enjoy your blog. In the short time that I've been in the online writers community, you have encouraged me and provided so many resources to navigate this intimidating media. I pray for you to have peace and wish you continued success in your writing career. God is working for you!

  16. Oh, forgot to mention that I'm sharing this post on FB.

  17. I'm sorry things have been so rough for you at times, Jill. I believe in you and look forward to the day I'm celebrating some BIG news with you. I feel certain it's coming.

  18. This is one of the best Blog posts I've read, on any site, Jill. Your honesty is so refreshing. From following you, I know that you are one who works hard to do all of the right things.

    We read often about being willing to give it all up for God, that this is the point He wants us to reach.
    The danger is always that our dreams become bigger than He is. I think it is something most Christians struggle with.

    I read this today in a Charles Stanley devotional, and it didn't hit me until just now how it speaks to writers, to me, to us. He said, "If you work for the good of others, you'll soon be disappointed. Your real employer is Jesus Christ."

    When I write I'm always thinking about how I'd like to affect certain people, thus, "working for the good of others." But, this seems to be telling all Christians that we work for Christ, above and beyond all others. And then, He will have His way with our work, (if indeed we have put forth good effort) using it for His purposes. (I think sometimes His purpose is just our faithfulness.)

    Upon occasion, I imagine one of my manuscripts being discovered in a drawer by a grandchild, after I am gone, and I think: perhaps this one person is the reason God commanded me to write. I hope and pray it would be enough. (And then I think, what if I hadn't been faithful to the call?)

  19. Great post, Jill!! The roller-coaster of emotions you describe...yeah, I've ridden on that. You're right, the negative emotions can drain you if you don't let yourself feel them, let them move through you instead of becoming you. And yes, this is easier said than done, and easier to spot in hindsight; but still, I think each time we go thru the rough spots that we have the potential to learn something about life if we have the capacity to look back and try to figure out what happened. Okay, I'm rambling a bit now.
    Thanks for the thought-provoking post!!

  20. I think any writer has experienced those emotions. Since they greatly affect my self confidence, I read great books, watch movies, and stay offline for a bit. They aren't easy.

  21. Negative emotions? What's that!? HA !!! I am the QUEEN! Great blog - I'll remember this in two minutes when I start critting my one page synopsis. :)

  22. Again, thank you all SO much for your kind words and understanding. The friendships I've made through blogging help weather these storms. And thanks, too, for giving me additional insight!

  23. Hi Jill -

    I just did a 4-post series about my battle with discouragement. Thanks for sharing your experience. I know it will help many.

    Susan :)

  24. Jill, wow! There are so many great points in here, I'm printing it out to keep handy. You hit the nail on the head when you said: "I'm struggling to keep my body fit, my eyes clear, my brain creative, my soul happy, and whatever else possible to be the best writer I can be." Thanks so much for this post, and I'm looking forward to Monday's survival posts!

  25. Hi Jill , I hear you! Sorry to hear you've been struggling with discouragement, but thank you for your honesty about the down times as well as the good. I love that you're starting a "survival guide" series--it's something lots of us need! I look forward to weekly encouragement here :)


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