Today, I’m inviting you to foster your writing habits by collecting encouragement.
What does that mean?
Well, when it comes to discouraging comments and thoughts, we all seem to have perfect recall. We can remember the smallest insult, the most minuscule disparaging remark. We hold those in our minds as if they were somehow a pure truth.
Yet, the comments from people who enjoyed our work? Those we dismiss as biased or we convince ourselves that the commenters didn’t do a thorough reading.
We’re not to blame for this mental habit. It’s part of what’s known as a negativity bias – which is a natural tendency for negative events and emotions to hang out longer in our thoughts and to seem more ‘real’ or important than positive ones.
The good news is that while our brains easily veer in that direction, we can fight back by choosing to engage more fully with positive experiences.* We can basically make our positive experiences stick around longer by paying more attention to them and reviewing them in our minds.
That’s why I am advising you to collect encouragement.
Chances are good that you have had many positive comments and interactions about your writing.
Perhaps people complimented your descriptions. Or maybe they enjoyed your turn of phrase in one section. They may have said that they enjoyed your dialogue.
Maybe they weren’t that specific and they just said that they liked your writing.
I think it would be a good idea for you to write those positive things down so you can remember them clearly. Include as many details as you can remember so the memory will be vivid.
And you don’t have to wait for future comments. Maybe your next writing session can be about remembering good things that were said in the past.
I realize that this process may also churn up some less positive memories. If that happens, examine the memory for useful information (i.e. if someone was mean to you but they gave you good advice about how to fix a section of your WIP) you can keep the useful part but consciously choose not to engage with the rest of the memory.
Note: I actually find it useful to say aloud ‘Oh, that part is no good to me, I’m going to banish it.’ I don’t necessarily free myself from it forever but I do get some relief. It did take practice though!
Create a Encouragement File
In addition to choosing to record and remember positive comments, you can also create a file (or box) to gather things with positive writing associations. You don’t have to call it a positivity file
That would be a good place to keep the pen you used to write your favourite story. Maybe you can keep a copy of a poster from the reading where you shared a piece of your novel. Or you might want to keep a cheque stub in there, or picture of the cardigan that makes you feel like a ‘real’ writer.
If you have written your compliments in a notebook, your file is a great place to keep it. If you have typed your compliments, print a copy for the file!
Obviously, it is up to you what to include in your Positivity File. You’re the only one who knows what makes you feel good about your writing.
Revisit the Positive
Once you have a place to keep all of your positive memories and objects, be sure to find time to revisit it often.
You might naturally be drawn to it when you feel discouraged and need a little cheering up. But it can also be good to choose to look at the contents when you are feeling neutral or even when you feel positive.
As you look through the contents, engage as fully as you can with each item. Try to remember why you included it and the specific details of the experience it references. Sinking into the memory will help keep it vivid.
Remember that your positive experiences are just as real, just as valid, and just as important as the negative ones. It is worth the effort to recall them thoroughly.
*I want to be clear that I am NOT suggesting that you have to ‘just be positive.’ And I am definitely, definitely not bright-siding anyone who is dealing with mental illness and/or trauma. The full human experience involves negative and positive experiences and pretending otherwise is not healthy. There is no amount of faux-positivity that will make anyone’s life perfect and I am in no way dismissing anyone’s lived experience or suggesting that engaging with positive experiences will ‘cure’ anything. This advice is intended for run-of-the-mill negative experiences, not anything long-lasting or based in any sort of trauma. I am not a mental health professional and I am not pretending to be.
Christine Hennebury’s storytelling career began when she was four and her parents didn’t believe her tale about water shooting out of her nose onto the couch – they insisted that she had spilled bubble solution from the empty jar in her hand. Luckily, her skills have improved since then. Christine makes up stories, shares stories, and coaches other people who are working on stories, in Newfoundland and Labrador, Canada. Find out more about her at christinehennebury.com