Wednesday, November 15, 2023

What does it really mean to be resilient?

by Suw on November 15, 2023

The very first Grist session will be held on Monday 27 November at 19:00 GMT, and we’ll spend the hour talking about the ‘emotional wheel’ and Angela Ackerman & Becca Puglisi’s The Emotion Thesaurus. If you’d like to come along, upgrade to paid on Substack and you’ll get an email with the details of how to register when I send the first notification out this week.

Talking about the importance of resilience and actually being resilient are two different things.

Rejection is one of the things that writers and creatives of all stripes have to get used to. Submitting your novel to agents or sending in your script to an open call or competition is going to result in rejection more often than not. It’s a fundamental part of working on any commercial creative endeavour, but it also happens relatively regularly once you start submitting, so you do get to practice dealing with the emotions elicited by rejection.

I recently had my script – the new improved version, at that – rejected again and it just sort of bounced off. I always knew that an urban fantasy script featuring a middle-aged perimenopausal woman was going to be a hard sell, so rejection is baked in. I expect to get rejected and therefore there’s very little emotional response when I actually do. A shrug of the shoulder, perhaps. A momentary fall of the stomach. A sigh. Perhaps an eye roll.

Resilience in the face of an expected disappointment is rather easy. One just carries on doing whatever it was one was doing. Nothing about my world has been rocked, nothing is a surprise, so nothing needs to change. No one is asking me to rethink my work or my style or the kind of stories I tell, they are just saying that this is not for them at this point in time.

Getting a lot of these rejections can be quite wearing. I’ve had so many for Tag now that I’ve basically run out of script open calls and UK-based competitions to submit it to, as they generally don’t allow resubmissions. And I’m not going to start submitting it to American competitions because it’s so British in nature that I don’t think Americans would get it. It’s dispiriting I suppose, but I always intended to novelise it, so I still have plenty of opportunities to explore.

But I struggled recently when I received some feedback on the rewritten pilot script that felt overly harsh and that, in many places, seemed to miss the point. I’m used to taking feedback on my writing. I’ve been writing professionally and personally for decades and I am so used to being edited and critiqued that it’s water off a duck’s back.

Yet, for some reason, this particular feedback sent me into a tailspin. It’s hard to say how much of my days-long rage-filled funk was directly caused by this feedback and how much of it was just normal perimenopausal fury. But it made me think about the process of being resilient and of the series of actions that I took to try to deal with the situation.

My initial reaction as I hit the pointiest part of the feedback was to close the document and swear a little, and then post in a supportive writing group I’m in and ask for people’s opinions. Honestly, I wasn’t really interested in any of the comments that suggested I try to learn what I could from the feedback, blah blah; I was looking for confirmation that I should just bin it and move on.

I then grumped for a couple of days, getting unfathomably cross at entirely unrelated things.

I talked to my husband a bit, though was really still too cross to cope with even that.

Eventually, I went back through the feedback and annotated it with my reactions, including ‘Maybe’, ‘Explained later’ and ‘Fuck off’. Actually, scrawling ‘Fuck off’ all over the notes in red pen was quite cathartic. I should have started with that.

It was almost like going through the stages of grief: Shock. Denial. Anger. Bargaining. Depression. More anger. Bit more anger. Lot more anger. Acceptance.

Then I watched Welcome to Wrexham S2E12, ‘Hand of Foz’, and started to think that resilience isn’t really a noun, it’s a series of verbs. Resilience is action: it’s allowing yourself to go through those emotional stages, then picking yourself up by whatever means necessary and carrying on. And that can be over the long term, such as carrying on writing even after you’ve had dozens of rejections, or it can be a short term thing where you have to dig deep to continue after what felt, at the time, like a crushing blow.

In ‘Hand of Foz’, Wrexham AFC are playing what should be a pretty easy match against Halifax, but instead of the simple win they are expecting, it’s a 1-3 loss. That loss shocks everyone and, with the end of the season fast approaching and promotion hanging in the balance, it puts additional pressure on the team’s next match against the formidable Notts County.

Promotion isn’t just a matter of pride. The new owners, Ryan Reynolds and Rob McElhenney, have ploughed millions of pounds into the club and promotion from the National League to the EFL League 2 would be a major change in its financial fortunes. They need this promotion for the club to remain financially viable, which will have a knock-on effect on the players, their supporters and the whole town.

The team has to find a way to bounce back from their disappointing performance against Halifax. They need to dig deep and find out exactly what they are made of. Can they forget the loss and move on, focusing on the task in front of them right now rather than their previous failure? Can they be goldfish*?

It took me six days to bounce back from this particular set-back. I suspect that part of my problem was just straight-up hormonal (menopause is like puberty, but backwards and in high heels), and maybe part of it was exhaustion after the intense lead-up to Ada Lovelace Day.

Resilience is not just about working through negative emotions, it’s also about setting all that negativity aside and reaffirming your belief in yourself by getting on with the job at hand. And that means sitting down with your WiP and continuing to write. It doesn’t matter if you don’t write much after a knock-back, if it’s just a few words or a paragraph each day. It matters that you sit down and do it.

We all suffer let-downs and disappointments. It’s inevitable. As creators, we probably suffer them more often than most people. But that just means that we get to practice our resilience and, when it matters, we have the strength and fortitude to be a goldfish.

* NB: Goldfish actually have pretty good memories.

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