"My courage is faith—faith in the eternal resilience of me—that joy'll come back, and hope and spontaneity." —F. Scott Fitzgerald
If you're like most writers, after long writing jags at the computer, you start to feel soreness in your joints: aching back, stiff shoulders, or numb legs. You know what to do. Stretch. Walk around the block. Hop on the treadmill. Pop ibuprofen. Our natural tendency is to deal with physical pain, but what about psychological pain? Chances are, whether you're a seasoned author or an aspiring scribe, you've grappled with your share of self-doubt, meteoric challenges, repeated letdowns, major setbacks, and devastating heartbreak.
Writing rejections and disappointments can nibble away at us like death from half a million cuts. After a while, it feels as if we're bleeding to death and can't tolerate one more slash. Statistics say more of us have the stamina to continue to take safety risks after a car crash than to continue after a series of psychological defeats. After repeated failure, along with a bad mood, writers often throw in the towel so they don't have to keep feeling disappointment. Attempts to bring quick relief to the misery of defeat by running from the bad mood rob us of knowing what missed opportunities lay beyond the barrier. This impulsive reaction—scientists call it the "what-the-hell effect"—is a way out: permission to give up. Adding insult to injury, we seek comfort in the very thing we're trying to conquer: writing failure.
Although growth as a writer can be painful, it can be even more painful to remain tight in our little security holes. Craft alone won't carry you through the massive writing hurdles. Literary agents agree that the number one key to writing success—even more important than good writing—is resilience, dogged determination in the face of disappointment. The phrase "tremor of truth" is used in physical fitness circles when we push ourselves to the max. Lifting weights, we grimace as a tremor of unease shoots through the body. Our muscles tremble during pushups. Our legs quiver with exhaustion running a marathon. The brain says we can't do it, but just as grass grows through concrete, we persevere—a true sign that we’re giving ourselves an optimal workout.
A similar thing happens with writing when we push ourselves until we discover our "tremor of truth." Meteoric writing obstacles and setbacks seem too great, as if we're pushing through relentless steel, a vein of encased ore: an impossible deadline, a heartbreaking rejection, impassible writer's block, a lousy review, sounds of crickets at book signings, or the rumble of our own self-doubt. After constant disillusionment, just before giving up, we get a second wind. We push, tremble, and shake. Then a sudden jolt of electricity sizzles through us, and we're filled with renewed determination. With one extra push, inner reserves kick in, and we plough through the smackdown moments that had brought us to our knees, moving us over the finish line.
You can build writing resilience by asking if you're pushing hard and far enough through the gray mist of uncertainty. Or do you need to step up your efforts? And how far do you stretch before reaching your breaking point? The term "springback" refers to a process when metal returns to its original shape after undergoing compression and tension (stretching). Like metals, we have an elastic limit to which we can stretch to a certain point before returning to our original shape. Springbacks happen only in smackdown moments after failure, mistakes, or hopelessness over seemingly impossible odds. Springbacks prevent us from giving up on our writing dreams, no matter how improbable they seem. They fuel wordsmiths, like Olympian champions, to reach the top.
Here are some tips on how to develop faith in your "tremor of truth" and find the hidden mental reserves you didn't know you had— resources that enable you to push forward through writing hardships.
Bryan E. Robinson (Asheville, NC) is the author of 35 nonfiction books and two novels. His books have been translated into thirteen languages, and he's been featured on 20/20, Good Morning America, ABC's World News Tonight, ...