How a Writer Can Save Her Sanity Even in the Worst of Times

Filed in When Writing Is Hard by on November 16, 2015 • views: 2132

Gratitude Woman Ocean 2Rejection. Ack!

Poor review. Help!

Lackluster sales. Eek!

Writer’s block. Ugh!

What’s the cure for all these writer afflictions?

Appropos for this time of year:


Practicing an attitude of gratitude can save a writer on many occasions.

Ready to throw in the towel or tear your hair out? Take a minute to find something to be grateful for. You’re likely to emerge with fewer scars.

This isn’t just the latest “positive thinking” scheme. There’s real research behind the benefits of the process. Here’s how you can put it to use in your writing or creative career.

The Health Benefits of Gratitude

In recent years, scientific studies have shown that practicing gratitude on a regular basis can result in the following benefits:

  1. Reduced stress. A pair of studies in 2008 found that regularly expressing gratitude lowered levels of stress and depression.
  2. Fewer negative emotions. Researcher Robert Emmons has found that regularly thinking about what you’re grateful for can help improve your mood.
  3. Better sleep. A 2011 study reported that participants who had trouble sleeping because their minds were racing were able to sleep better by spending 15 minutes to write in a gratitude journal before bed.
  4. Improved confidence. A 2014 study found that when athletes had higher levels of gratitude, they also felt an increased sense of self-esteem.
  5. Happiness. In one study, for example, those who wrote about what they were grateful for after 10 weeks were more optimistic and felt better about their lives.

Other studies have also reported that practicing gratitude on a regular basis can help people win new friends, experience fewer aches and pains, and experience increased mental strength in the face of trauma.

5 Ways an Attitude of Gratitude Can Save a Writer’s Sanity

How might gratitude save you on your writing journey? Here are five examples.

 1. After a rejection.

It’s easy to suffer a huge dose of self-doubt after an agent or editor rejects your work. You may even find yourself sliding into depression.

As mentioned above, simply spending some time writing down what you’re grateful for can help you feel better. At the moment of rejection it may be tough, so give yourself an hour or so, and then grab your notebook and start writing. Some possibilities to get you started:

  • You can try again with another agent/editor.
  • You have a chance to improve the work if you like.
  • You were brave enough to send your work out there—be grateful for your courage.
  • You’re “earning your stripes,” so to speak—be grateful for the stories you’ll have of how you survived rejection when your work is eventually published!

2. After a bad review.

This can also raise your inner insecurity to new heights. You may start to question what you’re doing. After all, if readers don’t like the book, why bother?

Here’s where gratitude can help. It can make it easier for you to relax. A mind racing with negative thoughts will only make you feel worse. Turn things around by shifting gears and looking at the bright side.

Some examples of what you might be grateful for:

  • That your book was published at all, either because a publisher agreed to take the risk or as a result of your hard work to self publish.
  • That you’re older and wiser now. You’ve published a book, which is no small accomplishment. (Far more than most reviewers have done.) You can take all your knowledge and experience forward with you into your next project.
  • That you still have time to get the word out about your book to more readers—those who will enjoy it!

3. When facing writer’s block.

You’re stuck. Maybe it’s stressing you out, or you were under stress in the first place which may have inadvertently caused the block Gratitude can help free up you’re thinking if you use it the right way.

Try listing the things in your story that you’re grateful for so far—anything good, like the characters, inciting incident, theme, pacing, dialogue, descriptions, whatever. Maybe there’s one chapter you’re really happy with.

Free write about that part of your story, listing what you’re grateful for. The fact that your lead character is more flushed out than you expected at this point, perhaps. An example:

“I’m very grateful that I’ve gotten six chapters done on this novel and I’m seeing that the lead character is working out really well. He’s heroic but complex, and I like how he’s fighting with his internal self about x, y, and z.”

Spend at least 10 minutes just freewriting about each of the elements of your story that you’re grateful for. Odds are just the act of writing about your story will shake the block loose a bit. If you find yourself going from what you’re grateful for—what’s good about the story—to what you’re stuck on, that’s okay, as it may lead you to your solution. If, on the other hand, it only leads you to your block again, try going back to the good stuff.

Work the see-saw of what’s working and what’s not until you find that breakthrough you’re looking for.

4. When you’re overwhelmed with marketing.

We all experience the exhaustion of trying to keep up with all the chores authors are expected to do these days, from blogging to guest posting to running giveaways to public speaking to social media and more.

Try thinking back to that stage in your life when you wanted nothing more than to have a book to sell. What was it like then? Did you feel doubtful about your own talent? Did you wonder if you would ever get to the point that you would actually have a book available for readers? What did you think it would be like to actually have that book out there?

Then write down all the accomplishments you’re grateful for. Go beyond just publishing a book. You’ve learned about editing, book cover design, proofreading, story form, what makes a story effective, and what it takes to move a story from draft format to finished book. And now you’re learning about marketing, and audience appeal, and communications, and more.

We tend to forget how far we’ve come along the writing journey. Wherever you are, you can look back and be grateful for the steps you’ve managed to take!

5. Any other difficult situation.

The writing life is full of challenges. Any time they start to get to you, remember to be grateful for one big thing:

The power of choice.

At any time, you can choose to quit. You can stop doing it all. There’s no one holding a gun to your head. You can ditch the whole profession and become a bus driver or substitute teacher or anything else you’d like to become. The choice is always yours.

Sometimes we get trapped into thinking we “have” to do this or that. We “have” to blog. We “have” to do social media. We “have” to speak in public.

Remind yourself that you always have a choice. You’re in control. It’s an empowering thing to remember, and it’s likely to get you back to the feeling of being grateful that you “have” to do what’s necessary to live the writing life—as you wouldn’t have it any other way!

Have you noticed that an attitude of gratitude helps when things get tough in the writing life? Please share your story.

Alex M. Wood, et al., “The role of gratitude in the development of social support, stress, and depression: Two longitudinal studies,” Journal of Research in Personality, 2008; 42(4):854-871,

Nancy Digdon and Amy Koble, “Effects of Constructive Worry, Imagery Distraction, and Gratitude Interventions on Sleep Quality: A Pilot Trial,” Applied Psychology: Health and Well-Being, July 2011; 3(2):193-206,

Lung Hung Chen, Chiahuei Wu, “Gratitude Enhances Change in Athletes’ Self-Esteem: the Moderating Role of Trust in Coach,” Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, May 2014; 26(3):349-362,

Elizabeth Heubeck, “Boost Your Health with a Dose of Gratitude,” WebMD,

Paul J. Mills, et al., “The Role of Gratitude in Spiritual Well-Being in Asymptomatic Heart Failure Patients,” Spirituality in Clinical Practice, 2015; 2(1):5-17,

“Giving Thanks Can Make You Happier,” Harvard Healthbeat,

Amy Morin, “7 Scientifically Proven Benefits of Gratitude that Will Motivate You to Give Thanks Year-Round,” Forbes, November 23, 2014,

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Comments (8)

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  1. Lev Raphael says:

    What a powerful list and helpful list Great especially for beginning writers, I think, who don’t know how often they will face defeat. After 25 books, I’ve had many triumphs and many more defeats, and I am eternally grateful that I had a brilliant, loving mentor in college who years later is my best friend. She’s with me all the time, especially when I sit in a classroom teaching writing. 🙂

  2. Chere Hagopian says:

    This was an awesome post! You’re so right- remembering that we always have a choice can make a world of difference. Changing my mind from “having to” do something to “getting to” do the same thing reworks my whole perspective! So does spending a little time with anyone less fortunate. There is always so much to be thankful for!

  3. Katy Haye says:

    Great post! I’ve been feeling overwhelmed as I’ve taken on a bit too much lately. I had a conversation with myself pointing out that it’s all stuff I’ve chosen to do and I can stop if I want. That let me appreciate that I’m doing what I love doing – I want to do it, I don’t have to do it. It’s made a big difference. I’ll try a gratitude diary, too.

    • Colleen says:

      Thanks, Katy! Sounds like you were already on top of #5!! The overwhelm is easy to fall into for sure. Good luck with the gratitude diary. :O)

  4. Linda Egenes says:

    Great post, Colleen! I am always amazed at how consciously turning my mind to gratitude can banish any number of negative emotions and get me moving again—whether in my personal life or writing life. Thanks for sharing and Happy Thanksgiving! I am grateful that you have created this space for writers to focus on health and happiness.

    • Colleen says:

      Thanks, Linda! It’s true–if we can just get started it soon seems to flow and then we’re feeling better. Thanks so much and enjoy your holiday!