September 10, 2010
by Deborah Atherton

September is here, and it’s that time of year for many of us – time to send out proposals, time to submit our work to editors or galleries or agents or producers.  I’ve been sending out my work for many years, and no matter how many positive responses I’ve received, it’s the negative ones that stick with me.  The power of positive thinking seems to shrivel when confronted with my deep distaste for handing my work over to someone else to accept or reject.

Why does one rejection send us into a spiral of misery? One of my favorite positive psychologists, Tal Ben-Shahar, has something to say about that:  “When we fail to attain a desired outcome, we often extrapolate from that experience the belief that we have no control over our lives or over certain parts of it. That thinking leads to despair.”

Despair describes the feeling I get on opening an envelope with yet another rejection slip pretty perfectly.  But how can we combat it, that feeling that no one will ever be interested in the work that takes up all the waking minutes we might otherwise be more profitably spending on, say, actually making a profit?

Habit. It just has to be a habit.  We have to know that despite the ten rejections we got this month, we are going to send out ten more poems, or sets of slides, or CDs, next month.  Our creative work sometimes has to wait on inspiration; our submission of it can not.  If we send out a piece this month, and wait for the response, we most likely won’t be sending out a piece next month.  (For one thing, NOBODY will get back to you in just a month.)

It takes 30 days for a habit to take root within us; and, honestly, if you’ve had years of haphazard submissions and rejections, it is probably going to take longer than that.  Writers’ Relief, the selective writers submission service, tells us that for writers (and these are all writers who are copyedited and can spell), 1 in 99 submissions is accepted.  (I don’t have statistics on other art forms, but observation tells me this is pretty close to what composers, visual artists, and others face.)

So that’s the story, folks.  Maybe you can assign one otherwise depressing Monday night a month to gritting your teeth and shipping out your work.  Maybe, if you’ve got a strong stomach, you can do it more often than that. But if it doesn’t become a habit, it won’t get done at all.

And just think how wonderful you’ll feel the day following your 99th rejection when you get that email or note or phone call saying: you’re in!

And now that you’ve made a habit, you won’t let that stop you either (unless of course this is your magnum opus, and its acceptance means your life work is done) on the next appointed Monday, when you will send your work out again.


More about Dealing With the Naysayers

March 1, 2010

Posted by Leslie Zeigler

Say No to the Naysayers

I just want to share a  brief  bit of   information related to dealing with naysayers.  In my coaching with our client Gail today ( as I have stated before, she  is very comfortable in allowing us  to post about our work as she wants to be helpful in getting this info to others),   she gave me another gem of an example of a comment from one of her Prime Naysayers.  It is someone in her life who may not intentionally recognize the impact these kinds of statements can have on people.  But this time she was told “You’re never going to publish a book.”   Rather than feeling like giving up or being discouraged, she had a slight and siginificant shift in her mindset.  She did feel put down, BUT told me  “I HAVE TO KEEP MOVING  FORWARD.”  It felt so good to hear her say that.

We are all vulnerable to  feeling upset when on the receiving end of a very deflating comment.  I  know it makes me feel like I’ve been punched in the stomach.

Words can really matter.   We all feel better when we hear words of encouragement, rather than harsh or critical words.  We can’t prevent ourselves from coming in contact  with  naysayers, but we can learn how to develop a better way to  talk to ourselves.

We  can try to send our Inner Critic to therapy.  If that doesn’t work,  we can get a book on mindfulness, and try that as a way of  learning how to talk to ourselves in a more compassionate way.  If that doesn’t work, maybe one day they will develop a surgical procedure for  transforming  highly harsh inner critics into kind and loving inner critics (just like gastric bypass!)

Why Morning Pages Aren’t for Everyone

February 20, 2010

Posted by Deborah Atherton

Many books for writers, the best known of which may be Julia Cameron’s The Artist’s Way, advocate that you wake up every morning and write. Attack your resistance before it takes hold.  Retrieve the residue of your dreams, and manage a feeling of virtue all day. Write anything, they say – it doesn’t have to be immediately meaningful. Just write.

All well and good, if you are a morning person. But some of us get out of bed with reluctance every day, and do not really become even mildly functional until as late as 4 PM. Some of us are averse by nature to “just writing,” and do not like to set pen to paper, or finger to keyboard, without a larger purpose.  And some of us lead such intensely busy lives that that half hour or hour just isn’t available every morning – be it a demanding boss, hungry children, or a troop of chimpanzees we are studying, we just cannot commit that time.

As Leslie mentioned last week in her post, this advice has generated a lot of guilt in a lot of writers and artists. Leslie and I are both strong believers in rituals for artists, but we also believe that you have to create your own.  There are lots of books that tell you to do other things first thing on rising, with advice ranging from getting on your exercycle to drinking a glass of hot water with lemon – and while I am sure these are all fine things to do, you don’t HAVE to.  Really. Lots of people go to the gym after work, not when they wake up, and they seem to be as healthy as anyone else, if not healthier than most. And you can do this with writing, too.  Write after work. Write before you go to bed.  Write while eating your tuna sandwich at lunch. Write while on hold with the cable company.  (I have done all these things, and can speak to their efficacy.) Or better, do make an appointment with yourself to write regularly. Maybe it will be every Sunday morning, while the rest of the household sleeps. Maybe it will be Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays from 5 to 6 after everyone else has left the office.

But don’t let anyone tell you that waking up at 6 AM and writing is essential to YOUR life as an artist, whatever kind of artist you may be.  Some do – most don’t.  Quite possibly all you want to do in the morning is drink your coffee and read the newspaper or a blog.

Enjoy your coffee.

Just Say No to the Naysayers

February 7, 2010

The naysayer in your life

by Leslie Zeigler

Have you ever told a friend that you are thinking about an idea for a story you are writing only to hear:  “You are not a writer because you are just thinking and you are not setting aside time each day to write.”   Well this is what Gail, the writer whom Deborah and I are coaching, is hearing from some of her friends. ( Gail has given us permission to share the themes of our work together in the blog.)  Gail  said this kind of comment can make her feel discouraged.   We have been working in our coaching sessions on helping her not just to allow herself to feel what she feels, but to move forward in spite of  how much or how badly that negative comment makes her feel.

Naysayers can be friends, neighbors, or even relatives or spouses.  Sometimes the comments can  be expressed in a way that might take you by surprise and perhaps even leave you feeling speechless.   It  is unlikely that anyone  can insulate and protect themselves from  being on the receiving end of such comments.  But it is probably fair to say that whenever people move forward, working towards a creative dream,  other people will feel jealous or threatened and these kinds of comments will just pop out of their mouth.  Be prepared to internally  say no to the content and tone of these comments as well as finding a diplomatic way of letting the person know that you do not agree.

As Gail explained to me, she knows that many books on writing, as well as many writers, will say that you should sit down and write each day.  And although that is an excellent and worthwhile ritual to acquire, it doesn’t work for Gail.  We talked about the importance of  Gail following her own inutition about what works for her.  Although the naysayers in her life may tell her that not having a daily writing ritual means that she is not  a real writer,  it is just not so.

Since our last session two months ago, she  spent some time mulling over how she wanted to rewrite a children’s story she is  working on.  Through her thinking, she has now clarified for herself the direction of the story.

Her next assignment is, of course, to now put it to paper, which she is committed to doing, within her own time frame.

Trust Yourself

December 14, 2009

While talking tonight with Gail, our coaching client, (  who has given me permission to blog about what she has shared),   she was  reporting how much she valued going to the writing conference that she attended in November at the 92nd Street Y.  I felt amazed at the conversation because it was only a few short months ago that Deborah and I started to coach her.  The single most striking aspect of what she talked about was her challenge of wanting to transform herself from a  school teacher to a writer and how hard it was for her to do that in light of her significant self-doubt.  However she certainly surprised me when she quickly in spite of her fears  found out about  this conference, signed up and eagerly attended.

She was telling me tonight how much this conference increased her confidence. She very much appreciated  the message she heard there about how “You don’t have to be anything to be a writer”. “Anybody can be a writer.”   This was in stark contrast to messages she received from others who consistently reminded her that she was no Shakespeare.   Messages that not only momentarily stopped her in her tracks but affirmed her worst fears.  As she described tonight the slightest obstacle can  influence her to get  discouraged.  But as we talked further, she ended up sharing with me a wonderful and inspiring story from the conference.   One of the  editors at the conference said that a woman she knew

had written a book about a man who owned  shoe stores across the country.,  It was a book meant for teens and was to describe the adventures that went along with opening up the shoe stores. She read this to her  writer’s group and was told to get rid of the shoe stores as her central idea.  Well instead of listening to her group, she got rid of the group.  She then went on to write a bestseller.  So this is a striking example  of the value of  trusting your own instincts.

The Power of “They”

August 16, 2009

Posted by Deborah Atherton

Speaking with a very gifted portrait painter recently, I once more encountered the enormous power of “They” among otherwise confident artists.

“They” say no one will ever take my poetry seriously if I use rhyme,” she told me.  She had recently begun spending more time writing poetry, as well as painting.

I asked how she envisioned using or publishing her poems. She said she was going to create a book of paintings, accompanied by her poems, that explored a recent traumatic event in her life that had unexpectedly brought her new freedom and depth in her work.

Now, it is certainly very true that rhyme is not generally held in high esteem in the Academy today, and if she were trying for a professorship or attempting to break into the pages of the New Yorker, neither she nor her rhymes would be unlikely to be greeted with open arms. But she is a talented and successful artist in the field of portrait painting, which is probably about as likely to get her a chair at Harvard as rhyming poetry, and she is very happy in her work. So why was the critical writing “they” so much more powerful than the painting “they” in her mind?

The answer, I think, lies in her taking poetry up seriously later in life. Being new to writing for others (although not for herself), she was more sensitive to the possibility of criticism. A friend telling her that they would have laughed anyone who rhymed out of her poetry class was enough to give her pause.

What I suggested to her was that she was being true to her own gifts and her own way of expressing them, a way that worked for her in her painting. Her rhymed poetry and her realistic painting achieved a consistent and unique personal aesthetic. If she forced herself into free verse forms, she would be abandoning her own view of the world on several levels. And while I am all for this as an occasional exercise – we can all benefit by seeing the wider world through a different lens occasionally – it’s not our primary job as creative people. Our job is to see the world through our own eyes, our once-in-the-history-of-the-universe perspective, and share it with everyone else as best we can. Those who aren’t interested in it, because it is rhymed, or representational, or uses old-fashioned harmonies, or is shot in black and white instead of color, will most likely ignore it, but for the audience who is waiting to find it, it will be just the right thing.