Thursday, February 18, 2010

Seven Rules to Help with the Blues

Got a note from a newbie writer who is at the stage of sending stuff out and collecting rejections. He has gotten a few. How, he said, do you deal with that? Don't you get depressed when that happens?

Oh, yeah. More so now than I did when I got started: Then, I expected to be rejected. I shrugged it off and kept going. Now, I keep thinking I'm past that. But, the sun comes up, the sun goes down, and even Asimov used to get rejections from his own magazine. You still have to shrug it off and keep going.

After a few weeks of cold and gray and rainy, where the only sun you see is on the Weather Channel somewhere far away, the winter blahs can set in and any more bricks on the load can seem unsupportable. Been there, felt that.

I can't help with major, chronic depression. Nor am I offering medical advice here. If you feel suicidal, call the hotline, get competent help. But hereunder some things that might be useful if you open the mailbox and see a couple-three rejections in amongst the bills, and it makes you want to scream ...

1. The Serenity Prayer: "God grant us the serenity to accept the things we cannot change, the
courage to change the things we can, and the wisdom to know the difference."

If there is something you can do to fix a problem, figure out what that is and, if you can, do it. If it is beyond your control, accept that and let it go. You can always write better, but that's not always the solution. Sometimes a story can be fine, but they just bought one like it, the editor spilled coffee on her lap, or they just ran out of money to buy anything that week.

Send it back out.

The first story I wrote and submitted picked up fifteen rejections over three years, and was rewritten a couple times. #15 was a printed form rejection. #16 was a note with a check -- "Great story!" Persistence is not just a virtue, it is a necessity. If you quit, you can't win.

2. Slice carrots.

When you feel overwhelmed, and if you are a freelance writer, you will feel overwhelmed from time to time, trust me, do something else that you can manage. The slicing carrots metaphor is to this end. Well, I can't stop the war in Afghanistan, but I can go into the kitchen and make supper. Better to light one candle than curse the darkness.

3. Serve somebody.

If you can't help yourself in a situation, maybe you can help somebody else. It doesn't have to be much, but paying something forward never hurts. Pick up the neighbor's newspaper and put it on his porch. Help a little old lady cross the street.

Wringing your hands won't make it better, but picking up that piece of litter on the way to the drugstore at least makes the world a tiny bit nicer-looking place while you wait for fame and fortune.

4. Sing the blues

Sometimes expressing how you feel with somebody willing to listen can do wonders. Consider the field of psychiatry -- that's pretty much what they do most of the time, listen. If you tell your spouse you feel like crap, maybe you'll get a nice "Poor baby!" and a back rub.

Or, you can literally sing the blues. Gonna be down, get into it ...

5. Recognize how good you have it, relatively-speaking.

Yeah, our problems are big to us, else they wouldn't be problems, but if you have no shoes, meeting the man with no feet puts that right into perspective. Got a roof over your head, a computer you can access the net with, enough to eat? You are better off than much of the world. Imagine living in Haiti.

6. Go work out.

Inertia tells us that a body in motion tends to stay in motion unless acted on by a greater force.
A body at rest also tends to stay that way. Working up a good sweat can burn off a lot of tension. We tend to internalize feelings of misery, and if you do it long enough, it manifests in somatic problems. A bleeding ulcer, chronic fatigue, general malaise. Exercise won't cure those, but it might help prevent them. Blowing off steam and using that to get into better shape is a double winner. Even a little bit is better than nothing.

7. Muddle through.

It's all temporary, dude. We will be here a while, and then we'll leave. If you are slogging through a swamp, it might be a major effort to keep moving, but if you do, eventually you run out of mire and get to dry ground. If you stop, you will surely sink. Eyes ahead, don't look back, move on as best you can.

Hang in there.


Brad said...

You know Steve, that's pretty good advice for life in general. Not just for dealing with rejection, but just getting through day-to--day.

jks9199 said...

Lots of good advice there -- and not just for aspiring writers.

Kai Jones said...

An excellent summary for dealing with any kind of stuckedness, including grief.