Writing Optimism: capture your compliments (and your critiques) in a treasure box

inktuition happy and sad faces

Capture your happy, sad and confused feelings in writing. (pic: istockphoto.com/solvod)

Feeling down about your output? Fed up about rejections? Feel you’ll never make it as a writer? We’ve all been there – and yet we all still keep going. Or do we?

If you’re thinking about crumpling up your last piece of paper in the bin and hanging up your ink pen for good, think again. Instead, pick a nice jar (clean and tall) or – if you’re like me – use this as an excuse to go to a stationery store and buy a nice new treasure box (patterned, plain or whatever shape, size or cost inspires you). Any excuse.

The purpose of the treasure box is to hold all the positive comments you get – whether that’s about your writing, your expressions, a great turn of phrase, or even how you’re looking today. The point is: you write them all down, fold them up, and deposit them in your treasure box/jar. So, when you’re having a bad day, or feel you’ve reached a dead end, you simply dip into the folded up pieces of paper in your magic jar, and hey presto, you’re reminded of how good you can be.

For those of you who feel that undaunted optimism is too much too soon – or rather unrealistic – let’s not forget the shadow of optimism: pessimism. Criticism – and all the negativity that goes with it – can be as healing and helpful as compliments. It’s just that criticism can be hard to bear, and a challenge to take constructively. But the point is not to deny its existence. Or it will hang around and haunt you anyway.

So, how to deal with the negative as well as the positive? A good, workable tip comes from the book Rainy Brain, Sunny Brain, by psychologist Elaine Fox. She recommends two important things for people who are prone to look on the rainy side rather than the sunny side:

1. Note down positive and negative events every day, to help the brain notice the good things that happen over time, rather than focus on the negativity constantly.

2. Make sure you do three positive things for one negative thing. So, if you have to do a task that you hate or are bored with, make sure you compensate for doing three exciting and positive things to balance the negative one.

OK, so you might not always manage these recommendations. However, for the really negative-focused people, I know a great tip from an experienced and wise psychotherapist: keep a notebook especially for all the angry feelings you have, and all the things you’d like to do to all the people who’ve made you angry. This kind of notebook won’t ever be published, but it will certainly keep you human and sane.


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