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.