• tarahthornburg

How to Stay Positive as a Writer When You Just Can’t Get Traction

It’s inevitable in any creative career: No matter how hard you work, no matter how great your writing is or how well-placed your niche, there will be times when it feels as though you just can’t get traction. Maybe you’re struggling to complete your first novel. Maybe you have been fielding one rejection after another. Maybe you have multiple published books but sales are stagnant.

At the time that I wrote this, I was trying to gain traction for a three-book sci-fi series and a matching box set. I’d just had a deal fall through on the audiobook version of the series, and I was struggling to get results from paid ads I was running. I did not have the funds to come out of pocket for the audiobook, but I desperately wanted to give this series a boost. I felt as though I was banging my head against the wall, and so I had to take a step back.

But then I remembered an important lesson: A creative career is not like climbing a corporate ladder. It isn’t like becoming a doctor or a lawyer. There is no tried-and-true path that always works. It matters little what school you went to or where you got your first job. Things do not always progress in a smooth linear fashion with constant upward movement.

A creative career often feels more like a roller coaster or the stock market. There are peaks and valleys. At times you will release a new book or creative asset thinking it will be a big hit, and nothing will happen. Other times it may feel as though you are falling, falling, falling when things suddenly change and all your efforts come to fruition at once.

I tend to think of my creative career in terms of a stock chart. It doesn’t look like Amazon’s — more like Procter & Gamble’s.

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This is why my advice for writers and creative types is the same advice they give to amateur investors: Just be there. The worst mistake new investors make is not being in the market out of fear of the market’s ups and downs. Rather than ride the waves, they keep their money in a low-interest savings account. But that’s actually riskier than not investing at all because inflation will slowly devalue their money if they’re only making 2 percent interest. Despite the market’s ups and downs, the general trend over time is up.

The same goes for a creative career. As things get tough, many fair-weather writers will give up and drop out of the market. They will either stop submitting their work, or they will stop publishing independently. Your goal should be to make yourself the last one standing.

The way I see it — to continue the stock market analogy — you should “buy low.” When people are complaining that a business is dying (or creatives are returning to their day jobs in droves), you should see it as a good time to invest.

For years, people have been complaining that the movie business is dying. Every big hit at the box office is a sequel or a remake, and so Hollywood has all but stopped making original blockbusters. And yet, at the same time, we have seen an influx of wonderful indie films come out of left field to win all sorts of awards, and we’ve entered the golden age of television. The movie business as we know it may be “dying,” but the public’s appetite for entertainment is not. Where pessimists see entire industries withering on the vine, you must train yourself to be the hardier crop.

Let me be clear: You will have low days when you feel like giving up — we all do. I have had some of those days recently. You and I will still have days when our minds seem to spin out of control and we feel paralyzed by indecision. When that happens, here are a few things that have worked for me that can also work for you:

1. Tell yourself that it’s only temporary. Bad feelings and bad days come and go. (I find that my morale tends to be low on the rare days that it’s cloudy in Colorado.) Like the cloud cover on the Front Range, this too shall pass.

2. Remind yourself why you love your art. Try to recapture that feeling you get when you are in flow and in love with your writing — or whatever you create. Sometimes, if we’re really low, it’s difficult to find love in what we’re currently creating. That’s okay. Most of us have a few books, movies, or TV shows that were formative for us — art that made us say “I want to do that!” Revisit those books and movies to recapture some of the magic.

3. Read or watch interviews with your idols. When I was going through a particularly rough patch before I left my day job, I watched and re-watched Oprah’s interviews with JK Rowling. Just hearing what she had been through and remembering that she too had felt low before triumphing helped me feel that anything was possible.

4. Get out into nature. Nothing clears the mind better than fresh air, open sky, and beautiful vistas. Feeling the sun on my face always makes me feel better — even and perhaps especially in the dead of winter. I also find that pausing to absorb a beautiful landscape can make me feel very rich — even when my bank account doesn’t agree.

5. Talk to other creative people. There’s a saying that misery loves company, but this is not my advice. While it can be helpful to realize that other writers are struggling just as you are, it’s better to surround yourself with creative types who lift you up and make you feel that you — can — do this. Find a tribe of writers or artists with a positive, upbeat attitude. You are the average of the five people you spend the most time with. (As a natural worrier who married a big risk-taker, I can attest to the transformative power of these five people.) So insulate yourself with individuals who are smart, innovative, hard-working, and optimistic through your friend circle or a mastermind group. (If you’re having a particularly bad day, I find positive podcasters like Joanna Penn, Bryan Cohen, Rachel Brathen, and Mona Lisa Ondevil can give me an immediate lift.)

5. Be of service. I don’t know exactly why this works — only that it does. Getting out of your own head for even a few moments to do something for someone else just makes you feel good. I think it has to do with cultivating an abundance mindset. Even if you don’t feel particularly abundant in money, you can feel abundant in time and energy by devoting some to a loved one. This doesn’t mean you have to go down to the soup kitchen or walk dogs at the shelter to be of service. You can start in your own backyard — literally. Your “service” can be as simple as doing a chore for your spouse, throwing the ball for your dog, or doing some yardwork for an elderly neighbor. Whatever you choose, I know you’ll feel better.

The longer I run a creative business, the more I start to think that at least half of my success depends on my own personal mindset. When I am able to keep myself positive, upbeat, and motivated, I write better, I feel better, and I make more money. Working on ourselves has to be a part of any creative business, and these strategies are the ones I use to keep my head on straight.

Do you have any tips to add for staying positive no matter what? Let me know in the comments below! And don’t forget to follow me on Twitter @writewithtarah to make sure you never miss a post!

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