Positive Writer

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How Crushing Disappointment Can Make You a BETTER Writer

Why in your right mind would you choose to put your creative work out into the world again?

It’s a question that’s plagued me for the past 10 years. All that self-doubt, rejection and potential criticism; you know what’s waiting so why put yourself through all of that unnecessarily?

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Not to mention the seemingly endless line of disappointment. All of the work you’ve put into those projects over the years that didn’t quite turn out or take off the way you hoped they might. What makes you believe next time will be any different?

In the build up to the launch of an album a few years ago I was spending time on the part of the creative process I hate; reaching out to various contacts in the hope of getting some pre-release reviews. It’s definitely the time that The Resistance really takes a stranglehold, filling me with negative voices and self-doubt.

The silence was finally broken by a message from a good friend who presents a radio show.

It simply read: ‘Andy, please call me.’

I didn’t know whether I should be excited or terrified… Or both. Normally I spend a few hours second-guessing what messages like that mean and I run through a whole range of imagined scenarios. But I decided I was too busy for that so cut to the chase, dialed the number and called him right away.

‘Hi Andy. Thanks for sending me the album, I’ve had a listen and to be honest I’m disappointed. In my opinion it’s lacking oomph; it has nothing about it. You’ve got better in you. My expectations have always been really high for you and you haven’t delivered what you’re capable of.’

Smash. I could hear my heart beating through my head and the world got a bit fuzzier.

I think he urged me to keep going, to try again and to come up with something better. But those few minutes were like a heavy weight around my neck. And boy was it difficult to lift my head. The album was finished. It had already been mastered, cut, and printed. It was what it was and for now there was no going back or ‘trying again’.

My friend’s disappointment was really, well…disappointing.

It gave a foot-up for the resistance and reset my inner-dial to ‘half-hearted’ at best as I tried to muster the motivation to carry on promoting the record album. I had lost interest. In fact I was questioning whether it was worth creating anything ever again.

People kept trying to remind me that the positive responses far outnumbered that lone, single criticism.

But as always the negative voice stuck. It hurt. It was a huge disappointment because on some level it resonated with my own self-doubt and belief I already feared was true about the record. My self-criticism was right all along.

As the dust settled over the days that followed I realized I had two options:

1. Quit

I wanted to quit. A voice was telling me that my time had gone, my best work behind me.

2. Embrace the Challenge

I didn’t want to quit. There was another voice telling me to be excited, to enjoy the journey of re-discovering the magic and becoming all I can be.

This second voice was telling me to use this disappointing setback as a marker in my road, a catalyst for better work and a wake up call from the creativity sleepwalk that had brought me to that album.

What if this disappointment was a friend? It wasn’t out to get me, to bury me and my art. Rather it had an important role in the process. It was an ally asking me important questions, making sure I was fully engaged and ready to become the best possible version of myself into the future.

Disappointment when we experience it on our creative journey has some positive characteristics when we allow it to speak:

– A Learning Tool

Disappointment teaches us about ourselves, what we truly value, and how we can do better. Every disappointing situation is a learning experience. As the famous NLP presupposition suggests “there is no failure, only feedback”, meaning that we can use all negative situations to learn something.

Disappointment teaches us about ourselves, what we truly value, and how we can do better. (Click to Tweet)

Even if what we’ve learned is that we don’t want what we thought we wanted as bad as we thought we wanted it.

– A Reminder

Disappointment is painful because you care. I wanted reassurance and encouragement from those who’s opinions I value, not because I wanted to feel good but because I cared about the music reaching people and speaking to them.

The disappointment spoke to a failure in that objective. But the criticism eventually became a reminder that the pain was caused by the fact I really care about making good music (the outcome). It reminded me that it’s a part of me and something I can’t live without.

– A Survey

Disappointment provides space and time to assess where you’re at and where you want to get to. It brings into focus questions such as ‘do I want it badly enough to try again even if that means starting from scratch?’ or ‘where did it go wrong? What can I do to make it better?’

The implication of answering the questions may be a long hard road. You don’t need to rush into it now but if you decide that it’s worth it and you take each small step you will realize that there is always time for another attempt.

– An Inevitability

Disappointment is experienced by everyone. Every big name author and writer has experienced rejection. They’ve grown and learned how to deal with it. They will tell you that it strengthens resolve and hope. Consider each rejection as a necessary step closer to a success.

Hope is a flip-side to disappointment and a key sign of life. Without hope we settle for second best. We go with the status quo. We reject the possibility of transformation.

As tempting as it is to run away from potential disappointment; to hide our work and ourselves from potential opportunities that involve hope, risk, and trust. The world needs us to make that choice, to take that risk, and to put ourselves on the track along which disappointment travels.

Embrace the challenge that it presents for it is a friend, an ally, and a companion to all creative people.

Over to You

How do you respond to the disappointment of rejection and criticism? Share in the comments.

This post is by Positive Writer contributor, Andy Mort. Let him know if you enjoyed it in the comments.

About Andy Mort

Andy Mort is a UK based musician and writer. He is the founder of SheepDressedLikeWolves.com, which is a Blog and Podcast aimed at encouraging HSPs and introverts to embrace their creativity and push against the expectations of an often overwhelming world. Twitter: @atlumschema

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Like a good friend, Bryan guides you through the process of facing your inner demons, conquering the craft, and creating work that matters. ―Jeff Goins

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  • Enjoyed your post, Andy. I liked that you didn’t tell us about disappointment, you peeled back the curtain of your life and let us feel your disappointment.

    I too, believe there are valuable lessons wrapped up in disappointment. I think we’re thrown off sometimes when it comes from places we didn’t expect. And I think at times we need to lick wounds before trying again.

    But if we ask “what am I to learn?” instead of crumpling up into a wad of paper. Then our next attempt will be better than the one we just made. I am curious if the comment changed your relationship with the giver, or if it strengthened it?

    • Thanks Anne! Totally right, and yes it’s important to be gentle with ourselves, to allow time to lick the wounds, and reflect a little before jumping back on the horse and trying again.

      Good question about my relationship with the giver. It has maybe strengthened things with respect to my appreciating honest good hearted feedback like he gave rather than just saying ‘yeah it’s great’ and moving on. Knowing he really cares is a powerful thing and has given me that extra level of self-scrutiny as I create now: ‘is this really the best I can do?’ I just keep reminding myself not to allow this to slip into a one dimensional quest for his approval, which I’ve definitely seen others suffer with!

      Thanks for your comment!

  • Andy, I love your positive characteristics. I think it is wonderful way to handle disappointment. I think what hit me most was the fact the criticism hurt most because you cared about putting out the best. I would like to share your characteristics on my blog…please let me know if I may share some of your thoughts. I have a lot of friends who are artists (musicians, writers, and painters) that would benefit greatly from your words and wisdom. Thanks.

    • Hello Elizabeth, thanks for your kind words – it’s very true – criticism hits hardest when it’s about something we truly care about and want to make the best of. I’d be honoured for you to share anything on your own blog. Please feel very free!

  • Great post, Andy. This is how we get better. Venturing out, failing, and trying again. It’s tough but just a part of the cycle.

    • Spot on Rachael. It’s the place we grow out of and improve. Like how muscles need to tear before they grow and get stronger I suppose!

  • Anna-Maria Ninnas

    Learning that creative minds go through these sort of feels and mental processes at any phase of their path, be that a beginner or adept, is highly encouraging to someone like myself who is yet to work the nerve too make the first step. Just wanted to say how I enjoy getting these posts in my inbox every now and then! They remind me of my greater mission in life.

    Thank you dearly.

    • It feels like one of my greater missions in life to share that although you will find ways to cope and respond to the disappointments on the creative path the struggles are experienced by EVERYONE! But that the rewards of living your creativity are worth it every time. We’re right behind you Anna-Maria, all the best taking that first step! One baby step at a time, that’s all it takes 🙂

  • Sheila Myers

    This is a great article. I am reading a book called Big Magic which reiterates for me the point of the creative process. It is to some degree all about dealing with failure. We do what we do out of love. You keep going. Good luck!

    • Thanks Sheila. I recently bought Big Magic. Working my way through my oversized reading list to get to it – have heard lots of great things about it. Elizabeth Gilbert has some brilliant insights about all of that stuff – the voices we carry through the creative process. Can’t wait to read it!

  • Jan Joe

    “Disappointment is painful because you care.” So true. And that is what I come back to each time disappointment occurs. I struggled with a particular disappointment for a number of years, and felt my creative contribution didn’t have any value. However, in the light of so many changes both at home and around the world I returned to my art for comfort. It was then that I discovered how much I care, and how much I missed writing. In the long run, I’ve learned that though disappointment will rise up now and then, my creative self can temporarily shelter in my art, and my art then becomes the vehicle that drives disappointment away. Thank you, and the best of luck to you!