Ever been to Siberia in winter? You’ve got to be a tough nut to live here, and no joke.
In Novosibirsk, where I am now, each morning greets us with sub-zero temperatures and cutting winds. And we haven’t even come to the real winter — when daytime temperatures will feel “warm” at -30°C. (In Fahrenheit, that’s -22°!)
So, as I’m bundling up and bracing myself for the deep freeze, I realize I’m going to need to pluck up some serious attitude to face the next four months.
I suppose the same could be said of my barely-begun web-writing career. As writers, we’re no strangers to winter … that is, the winter of discouragement and doubt. Sometimes, embarking on the writer’s life itself takes some serious attitude.
At times, it feels like too much — too much to learn, too much to do. Slow progress. Negative feedback. Yet another snag, where we thought we’d find smooth sailing.
Winters like this are inevitable in the writer’s life, no matter how good you are or how experienced. Still, it’s possible to get through those dark, cold times, and even come out stronger on the other side. Here’s my advice for doing just that, taken from my experience as a writer “from the north country.”
Rule #1: Don’t think too much about the cold.
Everyone complains about the cold — yes, even the “tough nuts” in Siberia — but dwelling on it too much, and complaining about it too often (both out loud and in your head), only makes the cold feel worse.
In a similar way, dwelling too much on your fears, delays, and disappointments will bury you deeper in discouragement.
I admit, I wallow: I tend to treat doubts like mysteries that must be solved before I can move forward. Like, “Before I take one more step, I must know for sure that I can do this and it’s worthwhile.” But I just end up tormenting myself, trying to predict an uncertain future.
If something gives you a legitimate reason to stop and re-evaluate, then by all means, take the time to think it over — but approach it with a clear head and get moving again as soon as you can.
Remember: If you stand still too long, you freeze!
Rule #2: Feel the cold, but persevere through it.
As I trek to work in my puffy pukhovik coat, sometimes the wind is so bitter that my legs (even in long johns) are frozen before I get to the metro station.
It’s easy to “dwell” at this point, but I’ve learned to just keep chugging. To feel the cold, but not focus on it — to concentrate instead on the goal at hand, which is getting to work.
It’s a trick I picked up from Alexander Solzhenitsyn’s novel One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich, which is about a prisoner in a Soviet hard-labor camp. He’s freezing, hungry, and exhausted, but he works with what he has, focuses on the task of each moment, and even takes pride in his labor.
As writers, we’re not working from gulags — I hope — but sometimes writing through discouragement can feel like hard labor.
My advice is to hold your goal before your eyes and keep marching onward.
Accept the cold — that is, the fact that you’re still growing, learning, and developing as a writer. Take the opportunity to say, “Sure, maybe my writing didn’t go over as well as I’d hoped, but now I know where I can improve” or “Maybe this isn’t as easy as I expected — but dang it, I’m going to make it!”
This time of adversity and self-doubt is your chance to show your mettle.
Rule #3: Wear warm clothing.
When I recommend you “feel the cold,” I’m obviously not suggesting you go out in shorts and a windbreaker. In a Siberian winter, that’s crazy talk. Go too long like that and you’ll end up a popsicle.
But what does wearing warm clothing mean for you as a writer? Only this: when you’re feeling discouraged, it’s a bad idea to go it alone, without any insulation — that is, without moral support.
Gather around you a circle of supportive people, which might include fellow writers, family, and friends. Fellow writers can be especially helpful, so if you don’t have a writing group, considering joining or starting one. (For tips on this, check out Marianne Foscarini’s post, How to Form an Online Writing Group.)
When I’m starting to freeze up from doubt, it’s the people around me — especially my writing group — who give me the inspiration to keep going.
In your case, it might be a single “I believe in you” that makes the difference between freezing (failure) and persevering (success). And, the more layers you wear (the more circles supporting you), the more likely you are to stay warm throughout your winter.
Rule #4: Go “outside” and enjoy the things only winter can bring.
There was a recent article in Fast Company titled, The Norwegian Secret to Enjoying a Long Winter, and the basic idea was this: Norwegians in the far north don’t suffer as much seasonal depression because they “think differently about the winter.”
They look forward to skiing, festivals, fires, and getting cozy in warm blankets. In other words … things that make winter a pleasure.
But how can a winter of discouragement be a pleasure? I mean, it’s not like taking a ski vacation is the answer. (Though it could help — you never know. Going outside and being active can do wonders for your mood.)
Vacations aside, the advantage of feeling discouraged is this: it forces you to pay attention to what you’re doing, and it offers you opportunities.
You can go outside — of your comfort zone. You can take risks, try new things. Have fun, like a child, and face the “cold” with a spirit of adventure. Take this time of questioning as a chance to see what you can do!
Rule #5: Show solidarity with others.
Another point of the Norwegian article was that the communities of the far north tended to be closer-knit, with a “sense that everyone was in it together.”
Winter’s not a time to shut people out, but to open the doors.
In your writing life, remember you’re not going it alone — there are many others weathering setbacks and storms of doubt. Reach out to those others and give them support. You may find that by encouraging someone else, you also find the strength to keep moving.
So tell me … are you going through a winter of discouragement right now? If so, how do you plan to push through it?
Let me know in the comments — and let’s support each other!