Embracing the Boulder of Discouragement

I would like to propose that discouragement is a good thing. Excuse me? Who in their right mind would think of discouragement as a blessing? Or a benefit in any way? Sure, dealing with discouragement can make us patient and long-suffering. It can help us toughen our skin so that as more disappointment or rejection hits, the blows won’t hurt as much. Why look for the good in something so negative? And what does discouragement have to do with the craft of writing?

We’ve all heard the admonitions to persist in our writing, to fend off discouragement, to plow ahead with our calling. And that’s what we do—knowing that if we have been “called” to write, we need to be faithful to that calling or risk that empty feeling that comes from curtailing or denying our creativity. Oftentimes, writing is a joy—easy, flowing, inspired. But other times it’s a real struggle to keep at it. Maybe you feel like we’ve been over and over this subject, for I’ve run numerous posts on this topic. But this is a plague among writers, and I keep witnessing this discouragement popping its ugly head up among my clients and writer friends. 

Shoulder the Boulder

In Greek mythology, Sisyphus was a king punished in Tartarus by being fated to roll a huge boulder up a hill, only to watch it roll back down, and to repeat this throughout eternity. The word sisyphean means, according to the American Heritage Dictionary, “endless and unavailing, as labor or a task.” Sometimes we work so hard at writing our books, rolling them up the hill to be noticed by an agent or editor, excited to share our boulder with the world, only to have the thing roll back down as we watch in dismay—or, worse yet, as we get crushed underneath as it careens down the hill.

I’ve met a few writers who have had an easy course. Within months of writing their first book, contracts were in the mail. Without much effort, their books catapulted to best-seller status, and within a few years, their list of published credits matched the length of my daily to-do list. For we writers who have struggled the long haul to that golden ring, we fight feelings of unworthiness and envy. Perhaps we finally get our books published and chance upon a scathing review, or sales are disappointing. We finally got that boulder up on top of the hill for everyone to see, and then—more discouragement.

Flip the Script

As someone who had to wait over twenty years for that first publishing contract, I consider myself an expert in discouragement. The flip side of that coin is persistence. Years ago, my agent told me she felt “the author with the most persistence wins.” Meaning, if you keep at it (writing, submitting, honing your craft), eventually it will pay off in a successful writing career. Persistence either leads to determination or giving up. But the blessing of discouragement is closely tied to the writing craft.

For, if my determination is continually renewed with each disappointment and rejection, along with it comes the drive to excel and improve my craft. I have found that my passion to reach out with my words grows more urgent with each year passing, and that translates in my writing as honesty, fervor, urgency, and compassion. I am forced to reflect on what I am writing and why. On how I am writing and to whom—and to what end. Perhaps, because of my personality and background, and my passion to reach and change hearts, God has seen fit to give me a season of discouragement as a way to mature and ripen my sensitivities and insights into human nature. I have no doubt that discouragement has played a huge factor in my growing as a writer—not just personally but in my craft.

May we all look at the boulder-rolling experience in a positive light—we gain strength from the effort, get a glimpse of what’s on top of the hill, and learn to sidestep the discouragement as it comes barreling at us. Eventually, after so many times of crashing down the hill, the boulder will wear down to a manageable size—perhaps one day ending up a pebble we can carry in our pocket as we take in the glorious view from the heights. If we can change our attitude to embrace the boulder rather than see it as a heavy unwanted weight, it will make the burden lighter.

Featured Photo Credit: Pandiyan via Compfight cc

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  1. An excellent post Suzanne. I sense a philosophy distilled from despair! Since I am still squeezing despair and the Sisyphean task seems unending ( and yes rather repetitive) it takes some doing to feel any bleedin book s worth the whole of life!

    But I look at the other side of giving up and will then have to live with bitter disappointment (in myself) But it may be worth devising an Author questionaire by which an author can define how important being a successful (and I do not mean in numbers of readers or dollars, but fulfilled in self-expression) writer is before they put pen to paper! Once on the treadmill the price of stepping off is equally high!

  2. Well, written post. It’s a tough pill to swallow, but God can so often use discouragement to teach us things, things we never would have learned otherwise – like how to write without an audience for a while, simply for the sheer joy of it.

  3. I think, for me, the most encouraging thing about your post is that it took you twenty years to get that first contract! I started writing in 2004, started trying to find an agent in 2005, and I’m still at it, three books later. But the top of the hill is getting closer. Thanks for the inspiration.

  4. I love the poetry in this post. Discouragement can be difficult, even when you don’t query publishers and literary agents. I decided I wanted to be a self-published author because I knew I couldn’t handle that type of rejection (and you get a greater share per sale). I’ve seen how I react. I was depressed for a month after one rejection a couple years ago (unrelated to writing).

    But still, discouragement is everywhere. I’m having a hard time right now working through the notes of one of my beta readers, who is a great reader and very detailed in her notes. However, I find I am excruciatingly slow in correcting and working through her comments. I am having to learn to accept these harsher comments, knowing she meant well. It was what I asked for, in fact. But, even knowing I need to make these changes, need to hear these harsher comments (even though they aren’t that harsh), I find it hard to work on it for more than short periods of time. I’m working on it, learning (hopefully), and hope I’ll eventually be able to improve, become more balanced, be able to take these comments better.

    And the funny thing is I’ve never had a problem with people ragging on my stuff, giving it bad reviews…

  5. Great post! This holds especially true since, according to a Bowker 10/2012 article, self-publishing saw a 287 percent growth since 2006—an additional 235,000+ print and eBook titles in the marketplace. New and emerging authors are going to have to find new and creative ways to market themselves, and their product, in order for their work to be noticed. And yes, as you’ve noted, it can be a long and arduous uphill journey, if not, battle.

    KUDOS! It’s good to read posts that bring enlightenment to the journeys many authors may/will face.

  6. Wonderful post, C.S., so humane and uplifting! With your permission, I’m putting a couple of excerpts of your post on my blog for my readers (with links to you of course!) Because good words like these are very much needed for poor struggling authors…Many thanks!

  7. Thanks Susanne. I’ve certainly been up and down with discouragement through writing and being ill and not able to write. I’m sorry it has taken you so long in your journey, but I’m glad you have shared the persistence it has grown in you – it gives me hope and renews my persistence too!

  8. Awesome post, Suzanne! It’s the type of inspiration all of us writers need. It is well worth sharing, as I will do on my blog. Thanks for being uplifting and keep up the good work.

  9. Absolutely! I believe it was Camus in his essay, “The Myth of Sisyphus” who pointed out the relief Sisyphus must have felt when that boulder tumbled back to the ground. Sure… it is a defeat (all that hard work and it goes back to where it started). But, for that moment, you aren’t pushing the darn thing up the hill.

    For the writer, I take that to mean: send your work out. Even though it gets rejected, there is the moment of relief in knowing that it is off your desk and on someone else’s. That there is the chance of getting it out into the larger world. If you never send your work out, you’ll never be discouraged by rejection… but you will also never be published.

  10. What a timely post. For years I’ve been fighting discouragement about my journey as an authoress. For some reason, try as I might, I can’t seem to quit. I thought I would, a couple of years ago, but ‘something’ came along and encouraged me not to quit. So, daily, I read, learn, encourage others, and keep on going. It’s what I absolutely LOVE doing. When I think of my life without this journey is when I get really discouraged.

  11. Wow. Good stuff here. I need to read this every week. Some mornings I look at the manuscript of book #3 and truly wonder why I keep doing this. Thank you for the encouragement.

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