“Fatigue, discomfort, discouragement are merely symptoms of effort.”
I have been spending a lot of time this summer working on a novel that I started four years ago. I've been trying to develop it more, and give more depth to the characters and situation. Even though I wrote the basic plot from beginning to end in about three months, the task of figuring out more about the world and characters has been colossal. Every time I work on a scene, I'm faced with a whole lot of questions I have to try and answer, even though I don't always know the answer yet. And then, if I do figure it out, I have to try to find a way to reveal it in the story somehow. It's all very daunting. When I think of how much I still don't know about my story and all the work that lays ahead, I just get discouraged.
Whenever I’m discouraged, I just feel like there is nothing I can do about it. Being discouraged is to doubt yourself, your competency, and your skill. It’s that feeling when you lose confidence in yourself. The worst part of it is that it makes you feel like you will never escape from your self doubts. It brings this hopelessness into your thoughts that makes you believe you can never move forward. I hate it.
I’m the type of person who gets encouraged and discouraged easily. My confidence level goes zero to a hundred real quick, and back down again. There are times I feel like I can take on the world. I’m invincible and nothing can stop me. I get flooded with thoughts like: “I’m the best writer that ever lived” (a nice lie I tell myself); “I’m a great worker, I totally got this” (hopefully not a lie); “I totally have my life together” (not going to comment on whether this is a lie or not). In those moments of feeling on top of the world, I truly believe all of these positive thoughts.
Then, there are the other times when I think: “I will never get published or amount to anything;” “I’m going to die alone… with a hundred cats;” “I’m useless and can’t do anything right.” These thoughts most often arise when I feel like I’m letting someone down, or when it seems like I'm failing at life. In these moments, I truly believe all the negativity, and I don’t see how things can get better.
The thing with feeling discouraged is that it’s not always rational, kind of like encouragement too. You can encourage a child all you want that they’ll be the next president of the United States, but let’s be real – that’s not going to happen. It doesn’t mean you stop encouraging them, though. They need it. In the same way, discouragement, whether it’s your own thoughts in your head, or the words of someone who doesn’t believe in you, are also not always rational. When you tell yourself, “I can’t do anything right,” that doesn’t make it true. It’s just a pile of thoughts and feelings that have a lot of power over us.
Even though they are just words, it’s funny how some words are more powerful than others. If you or someone else tells you that you can’t do something, and you believe it, then it won’t matter if one hundred people tell you that you can do it. If one person who you trust and respect tells you that you can do it, then it doesn’t matter that one hundred people tell you that you can’t.
For me, when I feel discouraged about something, whether it’s my writing, or if I’m a good enough daughter, sister, or coach, it doesn’t seem like there is anything that anyone can say to make me feel better. If I’m feeling like a bad writer, and all of my friends tell me that I’m good, I just don’t believe their words are credible. Most of them aren’t writers. Sometimes words just don’t help when you’ve truly lost faith in yourself.
So, then what does work? What pushes me onward when I don’t think I’m any good at anything? Well, it’s different things. Sometimes, it’s the support of my loved ones. Them just being there for me, listening to me even when I don’t feel much like talking. Other times, it’s words from the right people. When I’ve felt like an inadequate coach, I’d look at notes from my students telling me how great I am.
The thing that has helped me the most is this little quiet voice in my head that’s so easy to ignore when I’m feeling down. It tells me to write, just write. Of course the voice would tell me that. I’m a writer. Someone else’s voice would probably tell them to pray, or dance, or paint. Mine tells me to write, whether it’s journaling, working on my novel, or my blog. I like to fight this voice and tell it that I don’t feel like writing. It quietly yells at me from a distant place in the back of my head and tells me to just write. Even if it’s bad, even if no one but me will ever read it, I just need to write.
So, I listen to the dumb little voice in the back of my head, which probably isn’t that dumb, and I write. And you what always happens? I always feel better. This voice doesn’t always tell me to write. It’ll sometimes tell me to pray, or spend time with my family, or go to the beach. This little voice seems to always know what I need, and it’s my choice to listen or ignore it.
I believe we all have this voice. Some are quieter than others and some are louder. Some of us listen more often and other people don’t. Maybe you’ve ignored your little voice for so long, you don’t even hear it anymore. This voice could very well be God, or whatever higher power you believe in. It could just be that cricket on your shoulder whispering into your ear. This voice most reminds me of a nice little song sang by a very nice fish, “Just keep swimming.” Don’t wallow in hopelessness. Don’t let it keep you stuck. When you’re discouraged, the voice is supposed to tell you that all you can do is just keep going.