Friday, April 5, 2013

Dealing with Discouragement

Photo Courtesy of "Grant Cochrane/

Jenny* was running late. She grabbed the first seat inside the door, and acknowledged the teacher standing on the opposite side of the room. He welcomed her, unfazed by being interrupted.
We were sharing our homework. A 250-word piece on “Daring to Kick the Universe”.
We soon got around to Jenny. She prefaced her work by sharing that she’d experienced her first troll on her blog that afternoon. We invited her to tell us more about how she felt.
Shock, anger, and frustration reflected in Jenny’s response. I could relate having only the day before read a very unflattering review of Angelguard. It didn’t matter that I had a bunch of other really flattering ones; this one review had bugged me for a day or so.
Just like Jenny, I’m new to this type of negativity. She confessed what I too had contemplated: responding with a curt reply. Neither of us did.
It riled us and were unsure what to do with the negative emotion it produced.
“You’re going to have develop a thick skin,”
“Don’t worry about it, its’ blah blah, blah,”
“Don’t these people have something more interesting in their lives than to openly criticise someone’s work.”
Encouragers expressed all of these statements and more. Our teacher reiterated the over-sensitive nature creative types typically have: they put their work out into the world without any protection hoping and praying it will be (and only) well received. But the well-wishers only served to diminish the flames, not extinguish them.
A few days later I read a few more such reviews and understood why many creative types refuse to read reviews.
My mind, as it can do, spiralled into a pit where I became fearful of what those closest to me would think having recently given them a copy of the book. I recalled the advice I gave Jenny: don’t let the negative emotions linger for long. Discouragement can quickly turn into a little seed of bitterness.
As I put my head on my pillow later that night I turned to the Lord. I sensed the question, “Is this that important?”
“No,” I responded.
“Then let it go. The only one holding onto it is you.”
So I let it go.
And prayed for all those who’d reviewed Angelguard, especially those whose reviews were negative. Jesus in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5-7, says we should “love our enemies and pray for those who persecute you.”(5:44). I’ve always found this douses the fire of discouragement in my heart.
The enemy is intentional in his strategies to unsettle us. Discouragement is one of his key weapons.
What strategies have worked effectively for you when you’re feeling discouraged?
Jenny is a pseudonym for one of my creative writing classmates.
** I was drawn to a doughnut for the photo to this post as I read this quote from Steven Pressfield’s “The War of Art”:
“The professional keeps his eye on the doughnut and not on the hole. He reminds himself it’s better to be in the arena, getting stomped by the bull, than to be up in the stands or out in the parking lot.” (Grand Central Publishing, Hachette Book Group, April 2003, p90)

Ian Acheson is an author and strategy consultant based in Northern Sydney. Ian's first novel, Angelguard, is now available in the USA, Canada and UK. It is scheduled to be released in Australia in May. You can find more about Angelguard at Ian's website and on his author Facebook page.


  1. Great post. I try to do that - ask myself to look at the situation 'in the light of eternity'
    Thanks Ian

  2. Don't be discouraged, keep staying true to what you know God wants you to write.

    1. Thanks Jennifer, sound advice. Sometimes (well probably more often than I care to admit) the discouragement can make me doubt what I believe God wants me to write. And that is exactly what the enemy wants, isn't it?

      It all keeps coming back to Him.

      Thanks for the encouragement.

  3. Ian, I keep all the positive, encouraging emails I have received about my books in a special folder and even put some on my website, so that when those negative reviews or comments come along, I can get the whole picture in perspective. And I also try to remember that the negative comments just help to keep me humble! God bless and encourage you.

    1. Love that Jo-Anne, yes, I've recently started the positive reviews folder. Staying humble, yes, so important for us to do.

      Thanks Jo-Anne. Blessings to you too.

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  5. Thanks for your great post Ian. Letting go is often hard - but so freeing when we do so isn't it? It's easy to focus on the one negative instead of all the positives. To let one difficult person get us down when a hundred others are for us.

    I agree that it's easy to get discouraged as writers. What keeps me encouraged is the joy and fulfillment I get from writing. That is my reward - far more than anyone else's thoughts about my writing. Also the knowledge that God has called me and that I am filling a niche that only I could fill.

    I do know that these discouragements often throw us on God in a new way - and then we are deeply blessed by the experience - because God comes through once again. So the situation turns into an encouraging one after all! :)
    God bless you and keep writing!

    1. Hi Anusha, your point about discouragement serving to bring us back to God in a new way is very wise. And it is interesting how we so often are blessed through a difficult or unpleasant experience. Part of that humility thing that Jo-Anne referred to above, perhaps?

      Thank you for your generous words.

  6. Great post!

    The "Is it that important?" question is a good one.
    I've had a couple of reviews that have really bugged me (one in particular) but I think you are right about the danger of disappointment turning into bitterness. Ultimately once the book is off on its own it belongs more to the reader than to the writer. I think sometimes a book exists only in the interpretation of the reader and this is why it's so important to write what we are actually trying to say. But sometimes that reader gets it wrong. (unless EVERY review is negative and then perhaps we need to do some soul searching about the book itself.)
    Your attitude to your reviews sounds healthy. Here's hoping Jenny can take a similar approach.

    1. Thank Penny.

      This morning my brother phoned to say he'd finished the novel. He's not a believer and so I was particularly anxious how he might receive it. We've typically not sugar-coated anything in our lives so I was pleasantly surprised how positive he was about it. He highlighted both strengths and weaknesses of the novel. I hope the story may have planted a seed.

      One of the great joys about Christian stories is we never know what God will do with them in the heart of the reader, even those who don't like them.

    2. Great to hear of your brother's reaction - even better when you know it's an honest response.
      And yes, I think even a book a reader doesn't enjoy can get them thinking. :)

  7. Ian, I love the doughnut quote. Isn't amazing that we let the 1% of negative responses to destroy our confidence rather despite all the positive ones. I know what feels like!

    I was sharing with my sister last night (a chaplain in two schools) the quote from Abe Lincoln "You can please some of the people some of the time all of the people some of the time some of the people all of the time but you can never please all of the people all of the time."

    Like you, moving my focus from the negative and letting it go helps. It also helps me to remember that every one has different tastes, ideals, experiences - so the negativity may have more to do with the critic than me, I don't have to please everyone. Another strategy I find helpful is considering what might be valid in the criticism - learning from that and discarding the rest (as John Savage says "Let the critic be your coach") and finally, that I don't have to be perfect to be accepted, that I am perfectly accepted in God's great love.

    Thanks for a relevant and interesting post.

    Jenny (PS not the Jenny of the story LOL)

  8. Thanks Jenny.

    Those quotes from Lincoln and Savage are beauties, thank you for sharing them.

  9. Not having had a book published yet, I haven't received any reviews. I've seen some negative ones on the web sites of other published writers though, and have to say I felt a sense of outrage on behalf of the author. I guess what we need to do is ask if there is any validity in their comments, or is it simply a spiteful review done out of jealousy or perhaps because the author of the review isn't a Christian. As Christian authors, we write as the Lord leads (or at least we should) and if we know beyond any shadow of doubt it's from the Lord, we know that amongst our readers there is at least one person,or perhaps even several, whom the Lord speaks to through our writing. My favourite radio/TV preacher has a saying, "Obey God and leave all the consequences to Him." We know where our gift of writing comes from and one day we will enjoy "the applause of Heaven." May the Lord encourage you and give you peace and joy in your writing Ian.

    1. Lyn, that's a beautiful response, thank you.

      I think as well we should expect negativity. Jesus has told us it will happen, and we have the opportunity to be gracious in how we receive it.

  10. Great post Ian. I always try to remember that reviews are subjective - the opinion of the reader - and in no way reflect me as a person. I think we have to separate our work from our identity.

    Also, when I read Jo's response, I remember a pastor friend who kept a file of 'hate' letters. He said he would read them whenever his pride was raising its ugly head.

    Perhaps both positives and negatives have their purpose - keeping us humble as already mentioned. :)

    Blessings, Amanda

  11. Thanks Amanda.

    It can be hard separating our work from our identity? I guess it's an ongoing process of surrendering both to the Lord.

    Blessings to you too Amanda for a lovely weekend.