The wisdom of Scarlett

I’ve mentioned previous the podcast series I listen to about writing. It’s produced by three (or more) published authors who share their insights on writing and the business of writing. It’s very good stuff if you’re serious about being a writer, but it also can be depressing and discouraging when I realize just how far I still have to go.

As you may also know, I’ve been working on a novel since November. Since I started listening to these podcasts I’ve realized all sorts of errors I’ve made in my novel. But I’m 3/4 the way through it, and I know if I go back and try to rewrite it I’ll probably never finish it. I’m forcing myself to finish this darn thing, knowing full well that I’ll probably have to go back and redo at least half of it.

Between that and the podcasts there are days I really have to ask myself why I’m doing this to myself and why I think I could ever make it as a writer. In fact, this has been happening so regularly lately that I’ve finally formalized a strategy for coping with it. I’ll call it the Scarlett Method, after Scarlett O’Hara and her famous line, “Tomorrow is another day.”

In short, whenever I start feeling down and discouraged and ready to quit I just remind myself “This is just today. Let’s just get through today and see how things look tomorrow.” So I refuse to make any decisions on that matter for the rest of the day, and nearly every time the next day something will come along to make things look much better. I’ll listen to another podcast that’s more encouraging, I’ll make some good progress on the novel, or something. Often it’s just getting a good night’s sleep and facing things fresh in the morning. But inevitably things do look better.

I started learning to do this when I was out of work the last few years. I would almost weekly have a day when everything just seemed to be piling up on me and I couldn’t take it anymore. My poor wife would notice me looking deflated and try to get me to talk about it. Unfortunately, more often than not, that would just get me started on a pity-party of circular thinking and horrific self-doubt. After awhile I figured out to just keep it to myself and hang in there for the rest of the day. The next day things would look better again.

Not that I’m advocating avoiding talking to your spouse, but at least with me there are times when I’m not really rational anymore. I don’t really want someone to solve my problem because if someone tries to tell me not to take on so much I just feel like I’m an even bigger failure because I can’t handle everything like I think I should. It’s not pretty, trust me. And if you understand that mind-set, my deepest sympathies to you and everyone around you. It’s not a fun place to be.

There are times when I can work things through, and when having someone to talk things through with really help. The rest of the time about all I can really do is just put it all off until tomorrow. Tomorrow is another day. And nearly always it is. My exhaustion, my doubts, my inability to cope are usually temporary problems that can be alleviated by sleeping on it.

I know to some degree it doesn’t make any sense. Nothing will have changed by putting it off to another day. But in these cases the problem is usually not the situation, but my response to the situation. If I simply can’t cope today with a problem I usually cope with quite well, the problem is me, not the problem. Get through the day, hit the clear button, and see if things don’t look better the next day. It works.

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