In this episode, Belinda Pollard, Alison Young and Donita Bundy discuss the impact of disappointment on a writer’s career. They examine how common it is among writers, discover practical tips to deal with it, and explore the spiritual implications.
Scroll down for audio, video, and a full transcript, or find the podcast on Apple Podcasts here: https://podcasts.apple.com/au/podcast/gracewriters-podcast/id1519376330
In conversation in this episode:
- Belinda Pollard, author of mainstream crime novels, accredited editor with quals in theology, and Gracewriters founder
- Alison Joy, romance author
- Donita Bundy, writing teacher, preacher and author of young adult urban fantasy
Topics covered in this episode:
- Does every writer feel disappointment, or is it just me?
- Practical tips for dealing with disappointment.
- The spiritual implications – how it impacts our faith, and how our faith impacts disappointment..
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Belinda Pollard: Welcome to the Gracewriters podcast – Christian writers changing popular culture. Connect with us at Gracewriters.com.
Today on the Podcast, Tackling Disappointment. Hi, I’m Belinda Pollard. I’m an author, editor and writing coach with a theology degree and 20 years in the publishing industry. Find links to my books and blogs at belindapollard.com.
Alison Joy: Hi, I’m Alison Young. I’m a romance writer and I live here in Brisbane, in Queensland. You can find my information at alisonjoywriter.com.
Donita Bundy: Hi, I’m Donita Bundy. I’m a writer, a blogger and a creative writing teacher. You can find out more about me at donitabundy.com.
Belinda Pollard: So, our topic today, Tackling Disappointment. Is it a common thing among writers or is it just me? And we will look at some practical tips to deal with it and also the spiritual implications of disappointment in our writing. Alison, you’ve been doing some research for us. How many writers do deal with disappointment in their writing and how do they feel, how do they deal with it?
Alison Joy: I think the answer is 100%! Everybody deals with it. I don’t think it’s something that’s just emerging writers, I think it’s just something all across the board. Doesn’t matter whether you’re a top selling author, bestseller, or someone who is just getting started. I think everybody experiences disappointment and that’s just life in general that it doesn’t always go the way we want.
Belinda Pollard: And you’ve found some particular stories from people?
Alison Joy: I just think we probably fall into the trap when we’re writing, “Oh, we’re going to write a book, and oh, we’re going to get published! Yeah, it’s going to be a bestseller.” And then it’s not and you think, “Well, hang on a minute, if I was playing tennis, I wouldn’t expect to be playing Wimbledon next year. If I was learning the piano, I wouldn’t expect to be playing at Albert Hall or Carnegie Hall in the next little while.”
And I like to dabble with photography, as I know Donita does, and if I took a really cool landscape photo or an animal wildlife photo, I wouldn’t expect that I was going to be winning the National Geographic photo award. So, I think, why do we think that if we write a book that it’s automatically going to be a bestseller? Like, seriously! I mean, it might but chances are pretty good it’s not. So, I think we get our expectations up too far and then we come crashing down pretty heavily and then we’ve got to deal with it.
Belinda Pollard: There’s so many different levels, as well, that we can be at different times as writers and we often are thinking something is happening for others, that actually isn’t.
Alison Joy: Yes, I think we don’t know everybody else’s stories. We only hear if it’s a top selling author, obviously, we get bit and pieces here and there and we may know, “Okay, J.K. Rowling’s story about she used to write in a coffee shop,” and blah, blah, blah, blah, blah. And sometimes we hear different authors and how many times they got rejected. But for the most part, we don’t hear everybody’s stories, and everybody has a story and if you’re like most people we’ve probably shovelled the disappointment under the carpet so nobody can see it. And nobody can know, trying to be positive and don’t know about it and then we don’t admit to the disappointment because we don’t want to be seen as a failure.
Belinda Pollard: So, true. I’ve heard social media described as the show reel of people’s lives. It’s where we put all the positives and all the good stuff and it’s not just those who are doing the type of photo, where they’re pouting and taking selfies, but even just the happy days with the families. We don’t know that they spent most of that day fighting or pushing each other in the river. There’s all of the other stuff of life.
I wonder a little bit too, because social media has given us more of an insight into peoples lives than we used to have and yet, in some ways, it’s probably exacerbated this problem where we think everyone else is having a great life, because we’re seeing people constantly posting and showing all the great stuff they cooked, not the disasters!
Alison Joy: And they always pretty everything up. I take photos at my church and I know some of the others that take photos they edit them to the Nth degree before they’ll bother showing anybody, and I’m thinking, that’s not real. My daughters, they take photos for Instagram and I get told to take them down because they don’t like how they look. Or they have to edit them before they put them up. They’re presenting an image that other people think is normal or everyday and it’s not really, it’s particularly for social media, as you said, the highlight reel. So, it’s not often that people are real and vulnerable in social media settings because they’re worried about getting attacked, I suppose. Or maybe being seen to be less.
Belinda Pollard: Yes, and that’s particularly a problem for the young, but also for every age of life, isn’t it? And also, sometimes we just don’t want to be negative. We don’t want to spread about the negative stuff that’s happened, we prefer to be more positive. And there might also be that concern for a writer if they start talking about all the troubles they’re having and the disappointment, they might worry that it could affect their opportunities for being picked up by a publisher or even just getting more readers, or if they’re self-published, creating those extra opportunities. They could be worried that if they speak more honestly about the disappointment that could be a problem.
Nobody wants to say, “I’m a big failure. Hi, how are you?” That leads us into the practicalities because this is something that I’ve seen a lot. As you know, I interact with a lot of writers, over a lot of years and as with any kind of disappointment, expectations are key. Disappointment basically is disappointed expectations. Expectations that did not eventuate. I see this again and again with writers that reality doesn’t live up to what we expected and that’s because what we expected is often based on a fairy story.
Sometimes it’s the issues to do with the writer’s life that are covered in movies and popular culture. Sometimes it’s just something that we’ve imagined. Sometimes it’s that we think that all the everyday, working writers that we see out there are living in a castle, like J.K. Rowling, and arriving at book events in a stretch limousine and being put up in posh hotels, whereas the fact is that they’re just scraping it together, year after year. Even though they might be publishing a couple of books a year or more, they’re just kind of moving forward, moving forward and they’re probably feeling a bit embarrassed and disappointed. They don’t want to tell people, it’s just not as lush as they thought it would be.
So, I think we often imagine that we know what is happening for other writers, even just people, it could be writers we know personally, maybe they’re shy to tell us what it’s really like, or those that we see on social media.
And I think there’s also that issue to do with what we think it will feel like. I think we see these videos on social media of people doing the unboxing of their first book and they’re just so excited and it’s all going off. So then your first book arrives and you’re unboxing it and you’re thinking where are the flashing lights, like what’s happening? I’m just feeling kind of tired! And I don’t know why it’s not as exciting as it’s supposed to be.
I actually found this, because I’ve been a working, my initial degree was in journalism and that was far too long ago for me to admit to just how long ago it was. So, I’ve been writing for a living almost forever and then moved into editing books and stuff as well. But I had been involved in numerous books and it had not been that thrilling, exciting thing. Then I self-published my first novel, which was a very different animal and a different species of thing, and I remember the day that I published it, I expected to have shooting stars and lights coming down from heaven and all kinds of things. And really, I was just exhausted, and I wasn’t feeling the things I was supposed to be feeling. I thought, I’d better post something on social media, saying how wonderful it is to publish my book. But I don’t feel wonderful.
But anyway, I did post something and I actually was a little bit honest about how tired I was and how deranged I was feeling, but also there was a sense of pleasure of having finally come to the end of this process, because I had been writing that book for near on 20 years. And then everybody started reacting and they were excited for me and then I felt excitement. It was like in the relationship – because a lot of these were my friends – in the relationship and them being thrilled for me because they knew what I had been through to produce this thing – and their beautiful words to me – it was the relationship aspect of it that then lifted me, not the physical book in my hand so much.
So, I would just say to all the Gracewriters out there, if you’re wondering why you’re not feeling the way you think you should be feeling, it could just be that everybody feels different, and different moments are different for everybody, and it’s okay and it doesn’t mean you’re a failure. Yes, and I think there’s those different type of disappointment. There’s the disappointment in ourselves as individual writers, our ability to write well, we thought we would write better than we do, perhaps, and we struggle with that. Maybe we’re disappointed that we’re struggling to meet deadlines, whether those set by our publishers or personal deadlines that we’ve set.
We might be disappointed in our results, perhaps we’re having trouble find a publisher. Perhaps we’ve been published but we’re not selling as many as we thought we would. Maybe we had hoped to be able to live off our writing and you could only live in a tent in a park on what you’re earning, and even then, not eat. So, it’s turned into a different animal than what we thought it would be. Sometimes there can be disappointment in other people’s reactions, in terms of public reactions like a bad review, or even just our family or friends not understanding or perhaps just not thinking it’s exciting. Or not understanding when it’s hard, not understanding the desires and the purpose in that.
Any further points to add there, Alison, from what you’ve discovered?
Alison Joy: I think you’ve got to just decide what you’re going to do with that disappointment. Are you going to use it as an excuse to quit or is it going to propel you further? Are you going to use it like a marker in your journey to use it and then move forward, acknowledge that maybe you need to do better or need to do other things? Just use it. I think there’s a quote somewhere, “There’s no failure, only feedback.” I thought that was pretty cool. But you just use it as a catalyst for change and catalyst for doing better and everybody makes mistakes, you’ve just got to learn from them and move on.
Maybe you do need to sit and think about where you are and where you want to go and where you want to get to. And then you go, “Okay, do you want it badly enough to maybe have to start all over again.” To maybe start from scratch, I mean, maybe it’s something along that line and do you really want to do that. You’ve got to try and make it better. It could be a long hard road, to be honest, nothing in life ever comes easily or that’s what they tell us. So, if you really want it badly enough, I guess you’ve got to just take steps to keep going in that direction.
Belinda Pollard: I think that sense of purpose is important and I suspect that as Gracewriters, particularly, that might be one thing that we can be praying about often throughout our writing career, in terms of refining and understanding our purpose in this writing. If it’s a hobby, then surely being engrossed and joyful in the writing is key. Not necessarily what other people think or how supposedly successful it is, but our ability to get into that flow state when we’re writing. Our ability to enjoy what we’re doing and maybe to find a few other people who get it and understand and love what we’re doing as well.
If it’s a business then I think we also need to set realistic expectations, we need to do research to understand what is realistic and possible. And obviously, the three of us write books, as well as other things, so we often do tend to lean towards thinking about books, but there’s Gracewriters writing all manner of things, all manner of forms and so they need to be thinking about the realistic expectations. Don’t give up your day job to start writing immediately, you need to do some research and look into the ways that that’s going to work and then work on creating strategies to make it happen for you in the way that you want it to unfold.
So, it is hard work but it’s joyful work and it will be. One of the most valuable things that I ever heard, there’s a guy who runs Christian business conferences and I went to one of his about five or six years ago. One of the most revolutionary things I ever heard for me, because I do run a business, was that most businesses really struggle and are kind of in this constant rolling failure for the first few years. And that’s normal and that just gave me so much more comfort. I think if our business is writing that kind of rolling failure is not a sign, necessarily, that you shouldn’t be doing it. It just means, how much do you want it, are you going to keep pushing, are you going to keep working, are you going to keep creatively strategizing to find those solutions?
And then if our writing is a ministry, are we seeking to honour God in what we write, are we seeking to grow in godliness, are we perhaps wanting to provide some form of outreach or support and encouragement to our readers. And so we are constantly looking to that, and a lot of these are fairly self-contained things, so the disappointment of how other people react or us not being famous, or whatever, is actually not relevant to the achievement and the purpose and the moving forward.
Donita, how does this kind of disappointment impact on our faith, and how does our faith impact on the disappointment?
Donita Bundy: Thanks, Belinda. I think, as Alison was saying earlier, the first thing we need to do is acknowledge that disappointment is part of life and obviously it’s not just contained to our writing. We are broken people living in a fallen world. And it doesn’t matter how much research we have done, it doesn’t matter how gifted we are, it doesn’t matter who we’re working with or who we’re writing for, we are going to be confronted with disappointment.
One of the passages that I find really helpful, is from Romans 5:2-5, the whole passage is awesome, but the bit, for time, I’m stuck to those verses. “And we boast in the hope of the glory of God. Not only so, but we also glory in our sufferings, because we know that suffering produces perseverance, perseverance character, and character hope. And hope doesn’t put us to shame because God’s love has been poured out into our hearts through the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us.”
So obviously, writing suffering is nothing compared to the persecution that Christians faced, that Paul was writing to his audience. Nor Paul’s own sufferings. But I think the principles are the same. We should let our disappointments lead to perseverance, and today we would call that resilience. And let that resilience change our character, build our character and then let our character flow into hope. Because we are not alone, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, we are God’s, and He is in us. And also, we are part of the body of Christ, we are part of the One, and we are also part of a community.
And there are the communities, like you were saying, Belinda, to belong to other people who are thinking on the same page, thinking the same way, having the same heart, which is what’s so great about Gracewriters. And even though we may not face the same persecution as Christians in the early church, or even Christians around the world today, we may face flack and pushback because we are Gracewriters and we have gracenotes. But I would hazard a guess that none of us have actually suffered to the point of shedding blood. But always we can be asking ourselves questions.
So, the first thing, I think, is it’s healthy to acknowledge our disappointment, giving ourselves time to grieve, that is healthy. As long as we keep that time to a schedule, allow the grief, allow the chocolate binge and the doona time but then it stops, and then we move on. And the first place we go is we come before God and I think we ask those questions, “What went wrong? Was it our planning? Was it our expectations? Were we not listening? Was it just part of being in the world?” So, what went wrong and spend time reflecting and listening.
Asking, I believe, one of the most important questions any Christian can ask is, “What can I learn? What am I to learn from this?” Then asking God, “What is it that you require of me now, and how may I serve you in this?” And then after spending time reflecting and listening, we go back to the drawing board and we re-cast the goal and we reset the plan. But this time we have greater insight, we’ve learnt from our experiences and those failures, whether they are perceived or real. We have learnt and we have grown and taken those on board. We’ve learnt more about the industry that we are part of or wanting to enter into. We’ve got a better understanding of the reality that we are entering in.
And we know more, we have greater insight into who God is to us and who we are in him. And so, I think it’s always that process of coming before God, listening, reflecting and then acting and then it’s a process and it’s an ongoing goal. And I think as we do this we’re not only growing as writers, learning from our mistakes, having a better understanding, we’re growing in our faith and hope and our practice. So, I think, for me, that’s how I handle my disappointment, obviously the level of disappointment is relative to the level of the goal that was cast and the level of failure. So, different time is required for different pickup and mop up, but as a whole I think this is a principle that is helpful to, not only improve our writing, but to improve our relationship with God.
Belinda Pollard: Beautiful thoughts, Donita. Any final thoughts to add, Alison?
Alison Joy: Well, I think you’ve just got to write, and I think we’ve said it over and over, just write and keep writing. You’ve got to write through the disappointment in order to get to the joy. That’s how life is. You’ve got to deal with the disappointment or, in this case, give yourself an opportunity to praise God. Praise Him in the circumstances even though you’re disappointed, praise Him through the circumstances, and just keep writing.
Donita Bundy: I think it’s important too, to give yourself permission to fail. And I think failure and disappointment are two different things, but as we enter into this, I’m still new to this whole thing. Giving yourself permission to fail when entering into something. For me, it’s a foreign world. I’m still so new at this. I’m exploring, experimenting, developing. I am going to fail. I’m going to be disappointed and that’s okay. And giving permission to fail allows me to be braver to attempt new things.
Alison Joy: Yes.
Donita Bundy: If I’m scared of failing, I won’t step out. If I don’t step out, I will never give it a go and I’ll never have the opportunity to improve and just see how far I can go. So, Alison, as you were saying before, you never expect to start out on day 1 and end up at the goal, and along the way we’re going to trip. So, permission to fail, time to grieve, but always asking the questions and I think that’s key.
Belinda Pollard: Thank you both. You’ve just come up with some amazing thoughts today and you’ve probably, those of you watching the video, might have seen my eyes went red a couple of times. It’s all right, I didn’t lose it and start blubbing, but these are deep issues for many of us. And I know that for you out there listening, there are some deep things that could be being triggered for you, so be kind to yourself and take some time to process and just feel it, give it to God and push on through as you recover. How about I pray for the Gracewriters.
Heavenly Father, we just thank you that we can meet. We’re in all parts of the world. We’re possibly listening to this at different times and yet we’re, in a sense, gathering around your throne. I just pray that we might be able to, as a body of Gracewriters, lock arms and support and encourage one another through the disappointments, help each other see the possibilities and the potential, help each other to have that courage and that strength and energy, that when the time is right we will pick ourselves up and we will continue on with the writing that you have given us to do. And we thank you Lord in Jesus name. Amen.
Donita Bundy: Amen.
Alison Joy: Amen.
Belinda Pollard: Donita Bundy and Alison Joy, thank you for joining us today. I’m Belinda Pollard and we will see you next time at the Gracewriters podcast.
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