Writing Advice of the Week: Setbacks Happen. Adapt and Overcome.

Reading Time: 9 minutes

Have you ever pushed yourself beyond a limit you knew you should have heeded? What was the consequence when you did?

Pushing ourselves beyond our perceived limits is a great thing. Moving into new territory, learning something about ourselves and the world, and finding new bravery within are beautiful, transformative outcomes. But neglecting actual limits for the sake of getting something done? Well . . .

I knew I needed a bit more rest last weekend, but my chaotic, go-get-em side said, To hell with rest! So, I plodded on. In folly. And after a series of personal physical challenges last week, I wound up with some serious swelling in my left shoulder, which has rendered my left arm limp and mostly useless.

No more on-paper writing sprints.
No more pitchforking in the garden.
No more daily drum practice sessions.
No more pick-up hugs for my daughter.

Having little to no use of my left arm means it’s extra challenging to get any actual writing done, which — when you work with words — could be a show-stopping problem. But instead of bemoaning my self-inflicted fate, I’m taking turmeric and icing my shoulder like my creativity depends on it, seeing my acupuncturist to tackle the inflammation, and moving forward with my creative passions regardless of my physical limitations.

Setbacks are going to happen along the success journey. It’s our duty to handle them as they come, to adapt, so we can effectively move past them and get on with things. One way to adapt is through appreciation:

  • Appreciation for the garden seeds and starts thriving in the soil.
  • Appreciation for the pool built in time for our first 90-degree day.
  • Appreciation for the story I’m evaluating with a well-handled con-lang.
  • Appreciation for turmeric and icepacks and a skilled acupuncturist on call.
  • Appreciation for the flexibility and freedom of book work, so I can heal for a few days.

This week’s writing advice is about appreciating the complexity of being human and finding happiness in your creativity and writing despite setbacks (with or without pain). And in the event your setback, like mine, came with some pain, many of these activities can be done using voice notes or in the mind alone.

No hands needed.

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Prompted by Fallon Clark via Adobe Firefly

When facing a setback of any kind — be it a creative block, rejection, criticism that was less than constructive, a lack of motivation, burnout, time prioritization, or something else — the first thing I like to do is step back, reframe, and appreciate what my setback is telling me:

When feeling a creative block, for example, I like to consider why I’m feeling blocked. Since writer’s block is usually nothing more than a state of overwhelm due to poor planning, I appreciate the opportunity to learn something about my work, so I can plan better and move forward. When considering creative blocks, ask yourself:

  • What do I not understand about this scene, character, setting, or event?
  • What books or stories come to mind that handled this same issue well?
  • What techniques can I learn to improve planning and get back to writing?

So take your unique setback and reframe it. What can it tell you about your skills, your process, your planning? What opportunities can you find? For more inspo-juice, check out the articles, Adopt A Positive Mantra by Rochelle Melander for Write Now Coach! and Writer Fuel: How To Get In The Writing Mood by Gabriela Pereira for DIY MFA.

Sometimes the setbacks we face are strictly of our own creations. There are no mean kids on the playground stopping our hands from picking up our pens or taking away our notebooks or laptops. Nobody is telling us we can’t or shouldn’t write, that our messages and stories aren’t valid, that our experiences aren’t worthy. Nobody is throwing dirt in our eyes.

Nobody except that dastardly inner critic, that is. And that inner critic likes to stoke the fires of fear.

If your inner critic is telling you burning lies about your writerly self — You’re not a good writer; Nobody wants to read this story; You have nothing original to say. — appreciate that inner voice for trying to protect your feelings before they get hurt. Because, really, humans are masterful when it comes to conflict avoidance, especially when in conflict with ourselves. We’d often rather remain the same than go through the discomfort of recognition and change.

So reframe your perceived setback and understand what it can teach you about yourself.

  • I’m not a good writer. → I lack confidence in my writing, and since confidence comes from successful execution, I appreciate the opportunity to practice more.
  • Nobody wants to read my story. → I haven’t identified my ideal readers yet, and since readership often begins with successful market placement, I appreciate the opportunity to locate comparable books to understand my future readers better.
  • I have nothing original to say. → I feel like my story has already been told, but since storytelling often comes from the storyteller’s lived experience, I appreciate how I can add a unique spin to an old tale in alignment with my personal style.

Now, it’s important to be self-aware when handling perceived setbacks, because sometimes those perceptions are accurate. So, if it’s possible that you’re not a good writer or haven’t curated an audience for your writing or refuse creativity in favor of tradition, those are learning opportunities to upgrade your skills first and foremost.

For more self-awareness and real-talk, check out the articles, Are You Afraid Of What Might Bleed Onto The Page? by Nicole Meier for Women Writers, Women’s Books and Common Writing Mistake #2: Writing Yourself Into The Story by Kelsie Engen for A Writer’s Path.

When pushing yourself beyond your writerly limits and dealing with setbacks as a consequence, finding the path back to yourself first and appreciating the time you have for reflection, adaptation, and forward movement may be the key to getting back to your writing in a way that feels good and honors your process and craft.

So, what setback are you dealing with? And what’s your trusted method for adapting and overcoming for success? Share in the comments, ask for advice on overcoming if needed, and let’s write on!

Happy writing!

<3 Fal

Want More?

Ask and you shall receive, lovely humans. Here are all the other pieces of advice Maria collected this week. Peruse, choose, and use at will. And remember: Sharing is caring.

More Productivity Advice

More Craft Advice
More Business Advice

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Fallon Clark is a Vermont-based manuscript development coach and editor serving fiction and creative non-fiction authors. Her writing has been published in Flash Fiction Magazine. Check out her website, FallonEdits.com, or connect with her on LinkedIn or Substack.

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