Hope for A Bad Day of Writing

writer-rejectionA bunch of my friends and acquaintances are going through tough days as writers. Some have been discouraged about book projects, others don’t know where to start, a bunch wish they were further along, and quite a few have received difficult criticism on their blogs. 

I’ve had some pretty dramatically good and dramatically bad days as a writer, and some ups and downs in between. I’ve cried on the way home from a writing conference because I’ve felt completely overwhelmed and I’ve landed 3 book deals in a matter of two months. I’ve had to cancel one project and nearly had to kill another.

I’ve had editors practically sign me up for a contract on the spot… several times… only for them to disappear after sending a brief note of disinterest.

The same ups and downs go with the blog here. Disagreements come up from time to time. Commenters have proved me wrong. Others have questioned my sincerity. Oftentimes I walk away from the comments with something else to consider that I’d overlooked.

That is not a comfortable feeling when you want to act like you have it together. And that is perhaps the most important lesson I learn over and over and over again as a writer: I don’t have it together. I will make mistakes, I will be rejected, I will be criticized, and I will have to make some major about faces sometimes.

Blog posts will pass unnoticed, books will sit unread, and editors will leave my emails unread.

I have plenty of tough times as a writer, so here are some lessons I’ve learned as a writer:

You Will Hit Walls

If you’re doing the right thing, that doesn’t guarantee smooth sailing. One of the most prominent biblical themes is opposition in the face of obedience. Following Jesus didn’t make life easier for the disciples.

If you have a calling on your life to write, it may introduce a lot of conflict and lead to some really, really hard times. You’ll watch ideas die, struggle to sort out the next part of a chapter, or come up empty on blogging ideas. You’ll wonder if you’re really the person to do this.

In a sense, conflict is a good sign. It means you care enough to have a fight over something. If it’s hard, that doesn’t mean you can’t do it. It just means you’re doing it and you’re experiencing reality.

The only way to avoid dry spells, discouragement, and setbacks is to stop writing. Hitting them does not invalidate you as a writer.

If you sense that God has called you to write, then expect tough times like any other disciple.

You Will Be Wrong

A number of years ago I planned an entire book around a certain research study. It received positive feedback from friends and the editor at a major publisher loved it. When a different editor took over the project, we had to cancel the project.

A few months later, I met a sociologist who told me that the study I’d been relying on was faulty. As it turned out, it was a blessing to cancel that book! I made some huge mistakes back then, and they cost me dearly in time and embarrassment. However,  I learned writing is all about making mistakes and then learning to make less of them as time goes on.

Every time someone visits your blog or picks up your book, there is a moment where conflict can flame up. They can agree with your words or disagree. If you ever try to write anything, you will make mistakes.

The plot will have holes, characters will act out of character, stories will fail to connect with your main point, or your main point could be completely wrong.

You could misuse an anecdote or confuse your terminology. There are hundreds of ways you can mess up a writing project.

Messing up is not a complete failure. You can apologize, retract a mistake, and plan to do better next time. The biggest difference between a new writer and an experienced writer is that experienced writers make less mistakes since they’ve learned from the ones they’ve already made!

Disagreement Shows that People Care

I’ve watched books and blog posts flare up with conflict, and I’ve watched them sit and die due to lack of interest.

The alternatives to disagreement are either pats on the back or indifference. Neither provide opportunities for growth unless you make the changes yourself. Criticism does that hard work for you, but receiving it is quite difficult, especially if the critic attacks you personally.

However, even the most angry attack tells you something good: people care and take you seriously. Sometimes comments sting for days, weeks, and months. One time a commenter said that I “sounded like a little child,” and the sting of that gets me when I think of it.

Stepping away from defending myself is quite hard. I want to be right and I want people to like me. However, disagreements and even arguments show that I’m at least tapping into topics that people care about and may need to be explored further.

Perhaps I need to change my approach in light of feedback from readers. Perhaps I just need to stick with my plan. Either way, I need to find my validation from God alone.

I’ve found that turning on a bit of worship music can do wonders for pulling me out of my personal pity party or my obsessions over what someone wrote in a comment or book review.

No One Said You Can’t Write Again

Whether you’ve been wrong, hit a writing wall, or struggled with criticism, none of these will delete your website, lock up your computer, destroy your books, or hide every pen in your house. You can still write.

Failures, criticism, or blank pages don’t have to be the end of your writing career.

I’ve had to return to my calling time and time again: do I sense the joy of God in my writing? Yes. Then keep writing.

That’s the abridged version of these conversations of course. I offer God all of these great reasons why I should stop writing.

In the end, I’m left with a leap of faith, a pounding in my heart, and a peace over my mind that this zig-zagging rough draft of a life is exactly what God wants for me.

This Is Your Profession’s Worst Day

Hard times will come in life no matter what you do.

Dinner will burn. Babies will cry. Calls will be missed. Bosses will be annoyed. Appointments will be cancelled. Jobs will be terminated.

We will have these peaks and valleys in all things.

So I’ll take the weeks when editors turn down my best work and my articles fail to make a splash. I’ll take the tears, the frustrations, the early mornings, the doubts, and the moments crying in the car because I just can’t imagine this not working out somehow in the future.

This is my calling. It’s the one and only occupation I’ve been sure of.

Every job will have its moments that drive you crazy. It’s not that you can choose a path that avoids the crazy. It’s more a matter of choosing your kind of crazy and loving it.

15 thoughts on “Hope for A Bad Day of Writing

  1. Douglas C Luce

    I understand Completely! As a youth, I wanted to be a Professional clarinetist! After many brick walls, I quit & gave up. :-(. Don’t. My Dad offered me some Sage advice, which I ignored. ;-( Prov 4:1 Godspeed

  2. Shelly Miller

    Thanks for this Ed. For some reason, I read it out loud to myself and found myself tearful when I read, “I just can’t imagine this not working out somehow in the future”. And the tears surprised me. I think perhaps I’ve just plowed along without realizing how much it all means to me. Appreciate your encouragement.

  3. Jennifer Clark Tinker

    I totally needed to hear this. I have always loved to write and always wanted to be a writer, but I have been so scared of putting myself out there. I started my blog because I heard that’s what writers ought to do.

    I am finally showing some of my writing to the world (through the blog) and I’m still afraid I’m making mistakes. I love your post here because you make the mistakes sound so not deadly! Thank you for this.

    1. ed Post author

      The difference for me is that professional writers just keep practicing and learning. Always practicing and learning. I’m working on a series for my writing blog with lessons from a variety of unrelated careers to writing and one of the lessons I’ve learned is that the difference between a pro hockey player and guy like me who slaps a ball around in the street is the level of commitment to learning fundamentals and practicing.

  4. Michelle W.

    You have no idea (wait — you definitely do) of how much I needed this today. I feel like I keep taking one step forward and three back. But this will help me to keep pressing on.


  5. Christine Niles

    “…choosing your kind of crazy and loving it.” Exactly…Even the worst day in this life is better than the best of one I’m not meant to be living. Thank you. Perfect message and deeply needed encouragement.

  6. Sandra Heska King

    Conflict scares me. I should probably explore that more.

    I feel like I might be teetering on the edge of some transition. But “this is my calling. It’s the one and only occupation I’ve been sure of.” Even more than the years I spent in nursing. And yet there are some days I wonder and wish I didn’t care so much. It passes.

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  8. Caroline

    Ed – This is my first time to your site (I linked here from Rachel Held Evans) and I am so grateful. I just launched a blog because I do feel called to write, but I am just so discouraged. Not even by feedback or by statistics, because of my own fear in my own head and the voices in the mushy darkness in there telling me to just give up, that I’m not enough. Your post reminds me why we have to just keep going. If we stop, we’re not writing. And if we’re not writing, then we’re not responding to the call God’s placed on our heart, and so are not responding to God.

    It also reminds me that not everyone is going to (or has to or might not ever) like what I write. I may never break through or break out, but if I hear God, feel him more deeply in my life, by putting words on paper, then it’s all worth it. I need to “find my validation from God alone”. Perhaps the funniest thing is that my post this morning was titled “I Seek Validation Everywhere. Don’t You Agree?” so I’ve been thinking about this for hours before I read your post! But I could hear this message over and over again every second of every day and it would never be enough.

    Sorry for the rambling comment. I’m just really grateful.

  9. Daniel Wilcox

    Hi Ed,

    What helped me the most was your statement, “I need to find my validation from God alone.”

    Nearly all the time I fixate on getting applause, or at least responses from others, but at this stage in my writing career, none of my family reads any of my published writing. They aren’t even interested in my career. This is very difficult to take.

    And when I don’t receive comments on my blog, or don’t get publishers’ acceptances for weeks, I get frustrated and discourage.

    But seeing your sentence about our needing to find validation in God alone reminds me anew that is the primary reason I write, because God gave me the talent and calls me to do so.


  10. Pam Eason

    Thanks for the uplifting perspective. Discouragement has been crouching at my door for a few weeks now so I really needed to hear this.

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