Facing Trouble with Courage

Photo/TaraRoss“In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world” (John 16:33 NIV).

Have you faced trouble in your journey as a writer? Have you been tempted to give up on your writing dreams or career because of failure, rejection, humiliation, shame, or judgment?

Fear of judgment, criticism, or shame? When I struggled with some critical comments and judgment years ago, I expressed my frustration to my husband, Dan. I winced at his abrupt and honest response, “Karen, not everyone is going to like you.”

Photo/TaraRossDan’s statement shocked me, as he reminded me that not everyone likes me or agrees with my opinions. And I’ve revisited that story many times, when I try to encourage other writers.

I still grieve over rejection or criticism, and I prefer to walk away from all confrontations. But I’ve learned a lot from my failures—in relationships and writing.

Photo/TaraRossFear of writing process? In his book On Writing, author Stephen King says, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.”

Even well-known writers must face rejections and criticism. The writing process demands prewriting, drafting, revising, and proofreading before any publication. You may become offended or embarrassed when someone offers constructive criticism. Some writers even give up rather than face more editing, critical remarks, or rejection letters.

Fear of rejection and failure? Do you see rejection as failure? Failure often points us toward changes in our direction and priorities. C. S. Lewis explained, “Failures are finger posts on the road to achievement.”

Author J. K. Rowling agrees with the advantages of failure.

Why do I talk about the benefits of failure? Simply because failure meant a stripping away of the inessential. I stopped pretending to myself that I was anything other than what I was, and began to direct all my energy into finishing the only work that mattered to me.

Thomas A. Edison advised, “Many of life’s failures are people who did not realize how close they were to success when they gave up.”

Tempted to give up? I’ve been tempted to give up more times than I’d like to admit. Have you given up on something because of a failure?

Matthew 26 describes a time when the disciples faced failure. They fell asleep while Jesus prayed, after He asked them to stay on the lookout for danger or trouble in the Garden of Gethsemane. They must have grieved over their lost opportunity and broken promise. But Jesus responded, “Get up! Let’s get going!” (Matt. 26:46 MSG)

There will be experiences like this in each of our lives … times of despair caused by real events in our lives, and we will be unable to lift ourselves out of them. The disciples … had done a downright unthinkable thing … gone to sleep instead of watching with Jesus. But our Lord came to them taking the spiritual initiative against their despair and said, in effect, “Get up, and do the next thing.” If we are inspired by God, what is the next thing? It is to trust Him absolutely and to pray on the basis of His redemption.

Never let the sense of past failure defeat your next step. (Oswald Chambers)

Embracing vulnerability. Finding the courage to risk failure requires us to be vulnerable.

C.S. Lewis wrote, “To love at all is to be vulnerable. Love anything and your heart will be wrung and possibly broken ….”

Dr. Brené Brown, a research professor at the University of Houston, “spent the past decade studying vulnerability, courage, worthiness, and shame.” She suggests, “Vulnerability sounds like truth and feels like courage. Truth and courage aren’t always comfortable, but they’re never weakness.” Brown concludes, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity and change.”

Choosing to become vulnerable could be one of the most courageous things we can do as a writer. Writing about our opinions, our faith, and our relationships takes courage.

What lessons have you learned about vulnerability?

Video/TED (Brené Brown: “The Power of Vulnerability”)
Photos/TaraRoss

Facing a Fickle Crowd?

When Jesus finished telling these stories, he left there, returned to his hometown, and gave a lecture in the meetinghouse. He made a real hit, impressing everyone. “We had no idea he was this good!” they said. “How did he get so wise, get such ability?” But in the next breath they were cutting him down: “We’ve known him since he was a kid; he’s the carpenter’s son. We know his mother, Mary. We know his brothers James and Joseph, Simon and Judas. All his sisters live here. Who does he think he is?” They got their noses all out of joint.

But Jesus said, “A prophet is taken for granted in his hometown and his family.” He didn’t do many miracles there because of their hostile indifference. (Matt. 13:53-58 MSG)

Do you ever want to run and hide from criticism or rejection? If you’ve ever spoken to a crowd, taught a small group, written for publication, or communicated your faith in any way, you may have faced a fickle crowd. And you might identify with this story from Matthew 13.

I noticed a few helpful truths in this passage.

  • Jesus used stories to communicate.
  • People praised Him at times.
  • People also criticized Him.
  • Jesus stayed in tune with His audience.
  • Jesus moved on, when criticized.

Facing criticism and rejection. Reading the account of how Jesus handled this crowd reminds me of an event from my past.  

When my close friend, Sara, invited me to her Sunday School class, I hesitated, uncertain if I would fit in. But since her friend, Glenda, taught the class, I agreed to visit.

Hoping I found the right place, I slipped in the door and scanned the room for a familiar face. No one seemed to notice that I had entered. I found a seat close to the door, in case I needed to make a quick exit. I fiddled with my purse, hoping my insecurity would not be obvious.

I got up the nerve to survey the room again, and my eyes met Glenda’s cold stare. I looked back down at my purse, pretending to search for something, as I questioned myself. Am I in the right place? Is this a closed group? Have I done something to offend her? Maybe I’m reading her wrong.

As I fought the urge to escape, I gripped the edge of the cold, metal seat and leaned forward just as Sara walked in the door. Her warm smile calmed my nerves. And as she sat down in the empty chair next to me, I found the courage to stay.

Pleasing people? After several painful interactions with Glenda over the next few months, I listened to some sound advice from my husband Dan: “Some people just aren’t going to like you.”

What seemed to be common sense to Dan, took me by surprise. Up to that time, I believed that I could always find some way to make people like me. I had been successful at pleasing people most of my life—until I met Glenda. She decided that she wasn’t going to like me. Why? Who knows? I could do nothing, but forgive her and move on.

Facing a new year. I realize that I will always face fickle crowds. And I am still tempted to try to make them like me. But the Bible assures me of God’s unconditional love.

For I am convinced that neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither the present nor the future, nor any powers, neither height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. (Rom. 8:38-39)

I also hope to remember the example that Jesus gives us in Matthew 13 the next time I face a fickle crowd. So, as I prepare to meet the challenges of a new year, I plan to …

  • Continue to tell the stories that matter most.
  • Offer thanks for the praise I receive.
  • Ask for God’s help to deal with criticism.
  • Stay in tune with my audiences.
  • Move on, when criticized.

 What helps you, when you face a fickle audience? 

Answering Critics

Everyone’s a critic. Everyone has an opinion. And of course, everyone’s entitled to their opinion.

But what happens when a critic or a reviewer or a book club member reads your book and doesn’t like it? What do you do when you read a cutting review of the book you toiled over for months (or years)?

Novelist Alice Hoffman had a book release in 2009 called The Story Sisters. She received a less-than-glowing review by The Boston Globe’s Roberta Silman. Unfortunately Hoffman wasn’t able to dismiss the review as one person’s opinion and move on. Gawker, an Internet gossip site captured all the dirty details. Lashing out on Twitter, Hoffman posted 27 Tweets in response to that review, including posting the contact information for Silman in hopes that Hoffman’s fans would call the reviewer out on the carpet.

I wonder if Ms. Hoffman is wishing she could take back her words. Well, actually — if she could take back her Tweets. I think that the answer to that is a resounding yes because her Twitter page is no longer online.

Very few writers please all the critics all the time, and most likely there is no writer who’s ever accomplished that feat. But the issue lies in how you deal with the criticism. It’s tough to receive negative feedback whether you’re a yet-to-be published author or one who’s had several books printed.

Some strategies to deal with the disappointment?

Call your agent/editor/mother/spouse/best friend/significant other and vent your frustration. Go for a walk. Write something. Take a nap. Write a private email to your critic if you must. Still, if the last option is your choice, first give it a day or two, and consider praying about the words you’ll deliver.

But don’t go and lose it online.

Perhaps the best course of action for Ms. Hoffman would have been to say nothing. What’s accomplished in slamming the reviewer for her words? It just doesn’t look professional, even if you think the other party acted poorly.

Author Angela Hunt cautions writers to never answer a critic publicly. That sounds like good advice. Too bad Ms. Hoffman didn’t receive such counsel.

Want a laugh? Here’s one author’s humorous response to criticism.

What’s your advice to someone suffering the sting of criticism or rejection?