When You're Face-to-Face With a Setback

Sometimes, as writers, we face some pretty frustrating setbacks. Some of which are so bad that all we want to do is to close our laptops, put away our pens, and just take a very, very long break. Maybe even an indefinite one. Whether it’s rejection from a publisher or you’ve lost an entire piece of work due to a malfunction, it makes you wonder why you’re still on this crazy, unreliable train anyways.

Today, I want to talk about those setbacks, and why they really aren’t the end of the world – even though that’s what they feel like. In reality, they’re actually pretty beneficial to your growth as a writer.

Trust me, I’ve had my fair share of setbacks. I mean, in this past month alone I’ve lost a scene from my novel, suffered the corruption of a file that had a poem I loved, and received a rejection regarding an article that I was proud of, and expected to get published.

The funny (and frustrating) thing about writing is that when we lose work or face those rejections, there’s not much we can do except take a deep breath, get it together, and move on.

It’s not fun, I know.

But if we don’t learn how to let it go and move on, we are never going to be successful. Each one of those setbacks are lessons for us to learn from. 

Work lost reminds us to back things up, and maybe you’ll come across some new revelation while you’re rewriting it. Maybe there was something missing that you didn’t think of until you picked up that pen, sat down at that keyboard, and start it over again. Rejections show us how to improve – even negative feedback is still feedback, and a little constructive criticism never hurt anyone. Maybe there was room for improvement, and maybe that really wasn’t the best you could do.

We’re always learning and growing as writers. Our profession is one that no one can really teach. Sure, authors hand out pointers and tips all the time, but it’s a bit of a journey. No one has ever truly mastered the art of writing.

Sometimes those setbacks hurt us deeply. Maybe you’ve just finished your first book, and you are so proud and excited because you just know the world’s going to love it – until they don’t. Or, at least, the publishers/editors/critics don’t. Maybe you lost a hard-drive or your notebook and you’ve lost everything, and now you’ve got to start from the very bottom all over again.

It does hurt, and it is hard, but I’m here to tell you that while maybe it doesn’t feel okay – you can work through it. Writers are pretty resilient, and we learn how to work through every one of our misfortunes. No matter what happens, we press on, because we can’t stop writing. There’s something inside of us that just craves it, and we can’t not write. 

We’ve got ink in our blood, and it’s got to get out there, someway, somehow.

It’s hard to move on, though. We want to wallow around in our grief for a while before moving on, mourning our loss. The idea of starting over or going back is not something that seems appealing. We’re frustrated and tired and it seems like it’d be best to just stop writing for a while. Taking a break just sounds so appealing because in the back of our minds we can’t help but wonder if it’s just going to keep happening again, and if maybe this is God’s way of telling you that you aren’t meant to write. 

That is absolutely not the case, trust me. Setbacks are just that – setbacks. They don’t stop us from moving forward, they just make us backup a few steps. Take in your surroundings, figure out where you are, and press on once more. This time, you know what lies ahead of you for the next few feet of your path. 

Those thoughts will still lurk, but you’ve got to ignore them.

Instead of dwelling on those thoughts, sit down and start writing, and remind yourself of everything you’ve accomplished so far – even if it’s as small as sitting down and getting a few words out today. 

Writing is like therapy, because there’s something so reassuring and comforting in the constancy of the written word and that little blinking cursor flashing on your screen.

And whatever you do, don’t stop. If you need to take a breather and figure out where you are, do it. You are totally allowed a break. But don’t put everything on hold for one setback, no matter what size it is. 

The only way you ever fail as a writer is if you fail to write. Sure, you can lose or get rejected for something you didn’t write, but you can’t accomplish anything, either.

I know it’s hard. I know it’s frustrating. But I know without a shadow of a doubt that we’ve got to just push forward and keep going. That’s one of the reasons community is so important. If you surround yourself with other writers, who know exactly what it feels like to face another setback, then they’re there to catch you when you fail and give you the encouragement you need to beat that setback, to shove your way past it and get through this new obstacle.

And you know what? You’ll come out stronger on the other side, each and every time.

So take heart, my friends. We’re wired to face those seemingly-impossible situations and beat them, too. 

We are writers, after all.