The Resilient Writer - How to bounce back from adversity to realise your writing dreams
Lately, some of my writing tribe have shared they've been struggling to find their creative mojo. And with good reason. A threat we have never faced before, COVID--19 has torn apart the structures of our lives and brought about new realities. The challenges of job insecurity and isolation from community, of family thrown into enforced proximity—working from home and home-schooling—all take their toll.
Before we unpack the concept of resilience, I want to share an amazing story of resilience from a fellow romance writer.
My all-out favourite part of writing my blog is that I get to talk to fellow authors about aspects of their writing journey. This month, author and editor, Libby M Iriks agreed to share her story with me. As Libby told me, she shed copious tears whilst answering these questions, but as you will see, she has truly bounced back from adversity to publish her novella, "The Game of Love." Her story is inspirational. (Spoiler alert, have your tissue box close by.)
You had a very tough two years leading up to publishing your novella "The Game of Love." Could you share a bit about that?
Sadly, I did. In October 2017, my dad lost his fight with cancer after battling it for two-and-a-half years. The week before we lost him, my husband’s grandmother passed, and not even twenty-four hours after, we received a call with the news my husband’s aunt had died unexpectedly. In a mere eight days, we’d lost three family members.
Very soon after we lost Dad, my mum’s long-term fragile health declined rapidly. Meanwhile, in January 2018, we lost my grandmother, my mum’s mum. Around this time, it became clear that Mum was too ill to care for herself at home, so before I’d had a chance to properly grieve for Dad and our other family members, I was soon organizing services and caring for Mum as best I could while working full-time. We had to make the decision for her to go into a nursing home, and she was admitted in February 2018.
After only nine days of Mum’s residency, I got the dreaded midnight call from the nursing home. Mum wasn’t doing too well, and the nurse thought I should head in. At the time, I never guessed the true meaning of that call, but just ten minutes after receiving it, I was at Mum’s bedside and the nurse was telling me Mum was in her final moments. I then saw her take her last breath.
Losing Dad had been heartbreaking but losing Mum unexpectedly and so soon afterwards was … well, there are no words. While I struggled with my grief, I also had to deal with the debilitating stress of handling her estate and selling the much-loved family home.
Meanwhile, my daughter, who was only ten at the time, started suffering from severe stomach pain—and I’m talking about rolling-around-on-the-floor-and-screaming-for-hours-on-end kind of pain. After numerous visits to emergency departments, doctors’ surgeries and specialists, after which we walked away with no answers, we eventually figured out she’d developed anxiety, manifesting as physical pain, as a result of suppressing her grief—she hadn’t wanted to upset me by getting upset herself. She’s learned to manage the anxiety but still has mild bouts from time to time.
So, it’s fair to say that five funerals in four months took its toll on our family. For a long while after, every time my husband and I sat our children down for a chat, they immediately assumed it was more heartbreaking news. I was only thirty-six years old and had lost both my parents within four months of each other, and the emotional pressure of everything else going on almost broke me. While I was never suicidal, there were times when I wasn’t sure I could cope, times when I didn’t know if I could keep going. I’ve never experienced such a low, and I hope to God I never do again.
What do you think the factors were that helped you to move forward with your writing career dreams after this?
As a little girl, I’d dreamed of being an author, except I never saw it as a realistic or achievable dream. But in 2013, I was hit with the inspiration bug and started learning and practicing my craft. Less than two years into my writing journey, Dad was diagnosed with stage four cancer. I wrote the very first draft of The Game of Love around that time, though it was published as A Healing Hand that same year. This meant both my parents got to see me achieve my dream of being published.
However, between 2015 and the end of 2018, I wrote intermittently. Juggling the day job, young children, aging parents, learning of Dad’s terminal diagnosis, and all the tragedy that followed meant I wasn’t in the right headspace to create, often for months on end. But as the first anniversary of Mum’s death approached early in 2019, the muse hit suddenly and unexpectedly. I started writing and didn’t stop for nineteen days. I’d penned 65,000 words in that short time and wrote THE END on Mum’s anniversary. If I didn’t have that story to tell, I’m sure I would have been a mess, which is why I firmly believe Mum was guiding me to start writing again. She wanted me distracted to ease my pain. This belief is what helped initially.
Secondly, losing my parents forced me to face my own mortality. Life is short, but I believe now with absolute certainty that I can achieve the dream of the little girl I used to be—except it won’t happen unless I make it happen. This has kindled in me intense determination and dedication to work hard and make my dream a reality.
Thirdly, I simply want to make my parents proud. They worked hard for our family and went without for most of my childhood. They gave me a good education, let me make my own mistakes, and encouraged me to go after the things I wanted. I knew they were proud of me when they were with me; just because they’re not now, doesn’t mean I can’t feel them smiling down on me and cheering me on.
What have you learned about yourself that you most value from this time?
I’ve learned that I’m capable of inspiring people. As a huge introvert and someone who suffers from social anxiety, this still blows my mind. I feel inadequate nearly every time I leave the house, but there have been times when I’ve shared my story and people have told me I’ve inspired them. When I first started hearing this, I thought the people telling me were insane. If only they knew how close I’d been to losing my mind in those dark, dark days … I wasn’t strong during that time; I was struggling just to survive! But the more I heal, the more I achieve and the harder I dedicate myself to achieving my dream, the more I believe what these people are telling me. They see the things that are so difficult for me to see within myself—I am resilient, determined, dedicated.
If you were to give one or two tips to a writing buddy going through a tough time, what would they be?
Besides the obvious suggestion of finding someone trusted to talk to, I have two pieces of advice: Be patient. Be kind to yourself.
It’s important to remember that life has its ups and downs. There will be times when the creative juices are flowing and all is right with the world, but when everyday roadblocks and detours crop up—or not so every day in the case of a global pandemic or the death of a family member—it can feel like we’re never going to move forward on our writing journey. But roadblocks and detours are never permanent. Sure, they may slow us down, meaning it’ll take us longer to get where to want to go, but if we remain patient and have faith, we’ll get there eventually.
However, as writers, we tend to put a lot of pressure on ourselves. If we’re not writing, we feel guilty. If we’re not giving enough attention to other priorities, we feel guilty. But it’s damn near impossible to be creative in times of extreme stress or heartache, so while we’re developing the patience of a saint, we must learn to be kind to ourselves. It’s okay if you can’t summon the strength to write each day. Hell, it’s okay if you can’t summon the strength to write for months on end. Give yourself time to heal. Gather your loved ones and support system around you and hold on until you feel you can stand on your own two feet again. If you’re patient and kind to yourself, I guarantee you’ll end up a stronger version of you, one that’s capable of achieving your wildest dreams.
Finally, both Alyssa and Dean in 'The Game of Love' come over as resilient characters despite personal trauma. Did your own experiences impact on how you wrote their journey towards finding love?
Absolutely. In The Game of Love, both Alyssa and Dean hit rock bottom. And while my journey is not their journey, I know what rock bottom feels like. I’ve experienced the blackest of black moments, so I channeled those feelings of complete and utter hopelessness, those feelings of absolute despair and heartache, and injected those emotions into my characters. The result was an intense and heart-wrenching black moment for both Alyssa and Dean.
But between the storm clouds clearing and the moment where they get their happily-ever-after, there’s still some uncertainty surrounding their future. At that point in the story, I felt inspired to share the sentiment that got me through my lowest point. Without giving too much away, I’ll share a line of Dean’s dialogue: “Hope is what keeps us fighting. You have to have something to live for.” This, I believe, is at the core of what it means to be resilient. Resilience is not about being strong or not letting things faze us, it’s about overcoming adversity, and sometimes the only way we can do that is to take things one day at a time as we fight to survive. But if we have hope, if we have something to look forward to, we become a whole lot more determined to win the fight.
So What is Resilience?
As Libby's heart-wrenching story above illustrates, resilience is no walk in the park; the path can be full of grief and despair. Sometimes it is only after we are through the worst that we are able to truly appreciate the strength and determination we have developed. As a writer, and as a human being, it can help to recognize qualities of resilience in ourselves, so that we may harness them during difficult times.
In my view, there is no such thing as a resilient person. Instead, I prefer to view resilience as a set of skills that can be developed. As Ernest Hemingway wrote in "A Farewell to Arms":-
"The world breaks everyone and afterward many are strong at the broken places."
To be resilient we must learn emotional elasticity. And while I love the phrase "bounce back from adversity" I think it can make it sound a tad too easy. So I did some research. And I found there are five main characteristics that people who take a resilient approach to life seem to share. In a nutshell:-
The ability to tolerate and accept the situation. Acceptance does not mean giving in, rather it is making the choice not to fight the circumstances we find ourselves in. Three years ago I was diagnosed with a congenital hole in the heart and had to undergo open-heart surgery. Resisting the situation with fear or anger would have used valuable energy I didn't have to spare. Don't get me wrong, I was scared, but I chose not to let those emotions take hold and I do believe that aided my recovery.
The ability to reframe the situation in a more helpful light. Psychologists call this skill "positive reappraisal". When we ask ourselves what can be learned from a difficult or unpleasant experience, we have an example of positive re-appraisal. As a writer, I try to see criticism of my work as a way to hone and improve my skills, or to accept that not everyone will enjoy what I write no matter my skill level. ( I always allow myself time to lick my wounds first.)
The flexibility to adapt to the situation. There are no absolute right or wrong ways to manage adverse life events, but flexibility is essential. We may choose to withdraw and re-group, seek advice or a shoulder to cry on, eat chocolate (yes, that counts), or take remedial action. The point is we need to know we can choose from a range of responses, not feel stuck with a narrow repertoire.
Self-compassion. Yep, that inner critic can sap our emotional resources and steal away creative energy. Kindness towards our suffering, on the other hand, bathes our emotional wounds and helps them heal.
A sense of humour. Humour that is a little "dark" maybe, but which enables us to laugh at the curved balls life throws at us is a quality of resilience. In the somewhat irreverent words of Winston Churchill—who overcame depression to lead Britain through the Second World War:-
"If you're going through Hell, keep going."
So on this roller coaster ride of life, make sure your resilience pack holds friends to confide in, chocolate to eat, a big self-hug, and a dash of devilish humour. Now jump—you're going to land just fine...
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT LIBBY.
Libby M Iriks wants to live in a world where an eighth day of the week is dedicated solely to reading, where cheesecake is good for you, and where romance novels are everyone’s un-guilty pleasure.
As a writer of contemporary romance, she sets her stories in small towns where the chemistry sizzles and love is forever.
When she’s not writing about people falling in love, you can find her trying to keep her small collection of house plants alive.
Her debut novella, The Game of Love, is available now as a free download! Subscribe to her newsletter now and she’ll give you a copy: https://www.libbymiriks.com/subscribe/.
FIND OUT MORE ABOUT RESILIENCE.