By Robin Weaver, Author of The Christmas Tree Wars
You’ve just received a rejection—the third one this month. You click the trashcan icon and go back to your story, only your heroine has turned into a Kardashian-sized butt, the middle of the tale is sagging like Honey Boo-Boo’s belly, and your hero has become so whiny, you want to go Lizzy Borden on the dude. Your neck hurts, your fingers throb, and the ache in your head is threatening to make you sick to your stomach. You kick your desk, not only making your toe throb more than your fingers, but you also chip the polish from the pedicure you just got. Disgusted, you pick up your snail mail, only to discover you lost last month’s Visa bill and have received a $50 late fee.
Chocolate. The only thing that can help is gooey, chewy chocolate. Too bad you ate the last of your stash when you noticed the crack in your kitchen tile floor—fortunately, you found an errant M&M at the same time. You put on your least stained sweats, don a baseball cap to cover your three-days-overdue-for-a-wash-ponytail, and cover your face with the biggest sunglasses you have. Doesn’t matter the dims are the glaucoma glasses your father left when he insisted on fixing that “knocking” sound in your dryer—the same repair that cost you a trip to the appliance store when the machine quit working completely.
On the way to the grocery store, a dump truck, sans mud-flaps, shoots a half-inch pebble your way creating a three-foot crack in your windshield. Then, when you finally get to the grocery store, the security guard—the hunky one you suspect is really some undercover detective—waves because he recognizes you from your last incident at the grocery story—when you backed into the fire hydrant. He walks up to your car, not to remove that cart that’s in the only slot within a block of the entrance, but to tell you your windshield’s cracked. Then he looks at his reflection in your sunglasses and you realize he thinks you’re on drugs.
What possible reason could you have to be grateful?
You better find one. Recent studies suggest gratitude may be uniquely important to well-being and mental health. I won’t bore you by spouting my research sources, but trust me, my theory is well supported. According to these studies, grateful people are less stressed and less depressed. They cope with life better and are—get this—more satisfied.
For the writer, gratitude might be particularly important. As we get more and more sour from those rejections, deadlines, required edits, bad reviews, etc., etc., we can become—dare I say it—bitter. Your mood reflects in your writing.
So what’s a writer to do when life is throwing rotten lemons at you faster than a rock flying at your windshield? According to those same studies mentioned above, tough times are especially “good” times to be grateful. Gratitude helps you see the situation in a way that makes coping easier and allows you to derive creative solutions. In other words, being grateful might just help with everything from writer’s block to correcting plot holes.
Easier said than done, right? After all, people aren’t hardwired to be grateful. According to Dr. Robert Emmons, author of Thanks! How Practicing Gratitude Can Make You Happier, there are three steps:
1. Recognize what you have to be grateful for (i.e., that pedicure, a dad who wants to help, etc.).
2. Acknowledge it.
3. Appreciate it.
Having trouble recognizing your literary gifts? Consider this: a recent study cited 81% of Americans think they have a novel in them (especially pompous when another recent study said 28% of Americans didn’t read a single book in 2013). Despite the large number of “I could” people, only 0.1% (that’s one person in one thousand) actually do write a novel.
So be grateful you can write. Be grateful you do. Focus on the process, the fun of creating other worlds, snarky characters and crazy plots. Appreciate the insistent creativity that keeps you going to the keyboard again and again.
So let’s go back to the grocery store parking lot…
You take a quick glance at the fire hydrant to ensure you missed it this time. You breathe easier when it’s relatively undented. Then, you take off your dad’s glasses so Mr. Hunky can see your pupils aren’t pinpoints (or is it dilated? …I can never get that right).
Hunky says, “Wow, you have beautiful eyes.” Without even glancing at your cleavage, he offers to get you a shopping cart.
A—you don’t need a cart for a bag of candy, and B—you can’t get a jumbo bag of KitKats if Mr. Hunky is following you. You reply, “Thanks, but I just came for a cup of coffee,” grateful for your quick thinking. Then you say a little prayer because some ever-so-brilliant developer put a Starbucks in the complex. (See, you’re already getting the hang of this gratitude thing).
Hunky offers you a stick of Big Red, looks at his watch and says, “It’s about time for my morning break. Would you mind if I join you?”
Life is good.