Dealing With the Funk

Writing is hard, at least if you let other people see your work. There are three stages in particular that, for me, are harder than any others: beginnings, critiques, and rejections. I always get depressed about these, but I've learned some ways to get through them.

I talked about starting new stories before. How the new story always seem so crappy compared to the polished perfection of the one you just finished. Ideally you want to push through until you find "the zone" again, but it's not easy.

The solution that works for me is an alpha reader. The point of an alpha, as Natalie says in her own post on the subject, is "to love you no matter what and be wildly enthusiastic about your desire to write."

Don't get me wrong. An alpha doesn't blindly say, "This is awesome!" no matter what you write. That would be mildly encouraging, but it would get old, and it is not helpful. A good alpha reader encourages what you're doing right without making you feel like an idiot for doing things wrong. They see the gold that, when you're starting something new, you just can't see for yourself. They help you through the New Beginning Funk (also the Sagging Middle Funk and the Can't See How My Characters Are Going to Make it Through This Climax Funk).

An alpha reader provides a kind of critique, but you and they both know they're not reading a finished work. Beta readers (and other species of critters) are more critical than that. Sending work to a beta is like saying, "This is as good as I can make it without your help," and they respond accordingly. Sometimes harshly.

I never like getting critiques. I'm not allowed to read them in the hours before I go to bed; if I do, I don't sleep. When I do read them, I need a good hour or two of space just to get over it. Nothing puts me in the funk faster.

But getting out of the Critique Funk is even easier than the other kinds. I don't need an alpha, I just need myself. My solution is to make a plan and get to work. Nothing makes me feel good about my story faster.

Here's the tough one. Alphas see potential. Betas see things to improve. But what do you do with agents and editors who say nothing except, "This isn't for me"?

Some personalized rejections can be treated like critiques. Others are too vague ("I didn't connect with the character enough") or are simply form rejections which cannot be used to improve, no matter how much we wish they could.

Rejection Funk is much harder to deal with, but there are two things you can do: (1) send the story somewhere else and (2) write something new. I recommend both simultaneously. Hopefully by the time you run out of places to send it, the new thing will nearly ready to send on its own.

Of course there is also the time-tested solution of escape. Read a book, watch a movie, eat chocolate, get drunk... These are good, but they are not solutions in the strictest sense. They will help you feel better and can aid in emotionally preparing yourself for what needs to be done next, but eventually you have to do something. I suppose you could also give up and regret it for the rest of your life. But what fun is that?

So what about you? What are the hardest parts of dealing with writing for you, and what do you do about it?


Matthew Delman said...


I just plug along and keep doing it. That's the easiest way to really deal with making all these changes.

Joshua McCune said...

The hardest part for me is not knowing whether I'm improving. With sports, results are tangible (my FG% or my batting average went up), but with this whole writing thing, I just don't know. The only thing I do know is that I'm getting slower. Hopefully that means better.

Natalie Whipple said...

Revisions make me feel like the worst writer in the world, but planning helps me a lot in that respect. Yay for plans!

Right now...everything just feels hard though.

(Whoa, word ver is a real word: Magic. I hope that's a good sign or something.)

Myrna Foster said...

Rejections are the worst. I hate form rejections, but I spend a lot more time worrying about/trying to apply encouraging notes from magazine editors who want me to revise or send them something else. Okay, and I argue with them too, but mostly I keep the arguments in my head.

Adam Heine said...

Bane, that is a hard thing to know. There's a post in that, but I'm not sure if I'm the one to write it. I only kind of know myself.

Myrna, don't argue! :-) But it's fantastic that you've got editors with specific critiques. I've only gotten that once, so I was all like, "Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Anything you like, sir."

Myrna Foster said...

But the last time I argued (very respectfully), the editor sent me a contract. I only let very persuasive arguments make their way into cover letters. ;)

Adam Heine said...

Well in that case: don't take my advice! ;-) Clearly you know better than I :-)