Becoming a Resilient Writer

Joshua Gillingham is the author of the northern fantasy novel The Gatewatch. This troll-hunting saga tells the epic of tale of Torin Ten-Trees and his closest companions, Bryn and Grimsa, as they journey to Gatewatch to become troll hunters. Inspired by the Norse myths, The Gatewatch is a must-read for fans of all things viking. His website is

Let me begin with a confession: I spent seven years writing the first chapter of my first novel. Seven years. In that opening scene my characters were trying to climb up over a mountain pass and in all that time they never made it over the top.

Then, two years ago, everything changed for me when I learned how be a resilient writer. I’ve now finished my first novel, delved into the sequel, recorded an audiobook podcast, and started collaborative work with other writers and podcasters. So if you are stuck on the side of the mountain right now then let me assure you of this: you can get up to the top.

Two years ago, everything changed for me

when I learned how to be a resilient writer

My first lesson was this: inspiration feels more like rowing and less like the weather. I used to sit around in my writing chair as if it was a sailboat. There I would wait for inspiration to fill my sails and whisk me away on the adventure that was my story. Gusts of inspiration came intermittently but with such infrequency that they carried me nowhere; even worse, they often blew me right back to where I started. But when I learned to row, to start tugging at those oars despite the blisters and the rain, I started to make real progress. Then when a blessed gust of inspiration did come I was ready to take full advantage of it.

The second lesson I learned is going to sound strange, but I’ll share it anyways because this is what really changed the game for me: imagine there is a force that is actively and insidiously working against you finishing your book. You don’t have to literally believe this (I do) but it will put you in the right mindset. The creative process, like actual birth, isn’t a pretty, passive act. You won’t want to Instagram the reality of it. It’s a gritty, greasy slog that will take everything you’ve got, and then some. So forget all the perfect pictures of laptops and lattes that other people post online and brace yourself for all-out war.

The creative process, like actual birth,

isn’t a pretty, passive act. You won’t want

to Instagram the reality of it.

My last piece of advice is for writers in the digital age: treat social media like sugar. It feels great to have your Facebook page liked, your Twitter announcement re-posted, or your podcast shared. However, nothing is going to crush you like a bad review or a rejected query letter if you’re relying on praise from strangers; it’s like trying to run a marathon on a stomach full of halloween candy. Instead, ground yourself in your work, believe in its intrinsic value, and invest in a support network of analog friends (preferably writers) rather than banking all your hopes on one-shot viral success online.

Treat social media like sugar

Not everything that works for me will work for you. But I do think your story is worth telling and I don’t think you will finish it in a reasonable amount of time without becoming a resilient writer. So ignore the storm clouds on the horizon. Nevermind that the breeze is blowing against you. Chalk up those hands then grip the oars and get writing.

For more on writers and resiliency Joshua recommends The War of Art by Steven Pressfield.

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