Thursday, April 22, 2021

What To Do When a Writer is Discouraged

by Henry McLaughlin @RiverBendSagas

One given in the writing world is writers will get discouraged. 

An area where I’ve been discouraged is when a story doesn’t work. My fingers are like stones on the keyboard. What seemed like a great story idea flickers like a dying fire. The plot is what my Italian friends call a frittata. The characters are flat and couldn’t inspire or engage a tree stump. The dialogue puts me to sleep and I’m writing it. And the setting has all the excitement of a square room with floor white walls and a bare floor. One way I deal with this is to put the story aside and write something more meaningful, like a grocery list or a to do list.

There are other areas where discouragement can raise its ugly head. Unfortunately, it’s something we do to other writers. I was at a workshop several years ago. In one session we were doing critiques. One participant said to another, “I don’t think that’s a story you should write. In fact, I don’t think you should write at all.” Shock smothered the room. It was so quiet you could hear an ant burp. The critiqued writer fought back tears. The moderator called an immediate break and took the critiquer to one side. But the damage was done. It was a long time and a lot of support before the critiqued writer returned to her story.

We’ve all heard stories of situations where a writer has been ripped to shreds by a critique, a reviewer, or an editor. Why do we do this to each other?

For some, it’s jealousy. For others, it could be a need to be in control or feel superior. And for still others, it could be hiding their own inadequacies. In fact, it’s probably a combination of all these effected by other internal aspects in their psyche.

It doesn’t really matter what motivates someone to disparage or discourage another. Especially among the Christian writing community where our focus should be on representing Jesus to those striving to fulfill his call just like us.

When we’re discouraged, we actually have a choice about what to do with this awful emotion. We can let it control us and spin us out of our dreams and out of following God’s purpose. 

Or we can turn to Jesus.

I’ve done that on more than one occasion. In the last the five months, I’ve been rejected by at least seven agents or publishers. Now none has said I should quit writing, but they sure haven’t been encouraging either.

Here’s what I’ve learned.

  • One, it’s not personal. There are a lot of writers competing for a few spots in the publishing universe. Even with self-publishing, it’s hard to get a book on the market and have it get noticed. If it is a personal attack, there may be something seriously wrong with the other person. In which case, I remove myself from their presence.
  • Two, I dig back into the craft. Is there some nugget in the discouraging experience I can take and apply to my craft? 
  • Three, rejection, while discouraging, can also be a step toward success, albeit a sidestep around the mulberry bush. Better than thrashing through the thorns of my own bullheadedness.
  • Fourth, I remember those times when I have been encouraged by a critique group, an agent, or an editor. One editor who rejected me recently was very kind and referred me to another publisher she thought might be a better fit.
  • Five, keeping all this in mind, look for opportunities to encourage others. Jesus said it best:

So in everything, do to others what you would have them do to you. Matthew 7:12 NIV

I know, we’ve heard it since we were kids. That doesn’t make it any less true.

In essence, critique others how I want to be critiqued. I submit to my critique group with the attitude that I want to be corrected and taught with kindness. I look to the group to improve my story. And this is the attitude I take when I critique or edit someone else.

There are plenty of others in the writing universe eager to stomp on someone’s dream.

I don’t want to be one of them.


Henry’s debut novel, Journey to Riverbend, won the 2009 Operation First Novel contest.

Henry edits novels, leads critique groups, and teaches at conferences and workshops. He enjoys mentoring and coaching individual writers. 

Connect with Henry on his BLOG, TWITTER and FACEBOOK.


  1. It happened to me. But the Lord had two people in place the very afternoon my heart was broken. One was a woman I "happened" to sit next to in a class that had read my book and loved it. Then after I left the class, I "happened" upon another woman and we began to walk together as we talked. I shared what had just happened. She recognized me from some correspondence we had earlier (after she posted on the conference page). We were thrilled to be meeting in person! Then she prayed over me. Between those two ordained meetings, God was patting me on the back and saying "Keep going." I knew it right away. So those damaging comments were put into a proper perspective. God builds up and equips. The enemy seeks to destroy. Everyone has to start somewhere. Satan will throw down roadblocks every step of the way. We just have to understand their source. Thanks for this encouraging post, Henry. We all needed to read it!

    1. Thank you, Julie. I'm grateful to hear your story and how God brought the people to you at the exact right time. He is do good!!!

  2. Great words and so encouraging. Thanks for this blog this morning - for sharing.

    1. Diane, thank you for your warm comment. I'm blessed my post encourages you.

  3. Thank you for this wonderful, and encouraging post, it is appreciated.