The writing and publishing life can be hard on the equilibrium. It’s full of ups and downs, hopes deferred, dreams dashed, dreams realized, ego strokes and debilitating criticism.
We wonder if we’ll ever reach our goals. We swing between high-on-life optimism and crushing pessimism. We decry that this path shouldn’t be so difficult. We rail against systems. We wonder how to write a good book. We despair of ever reaching our readers.
But there is another way to think about it. Many of you have probably read Good to Great by Jim Collins, a classic book for business and leadership. In it, he explains what he calls the Stockdale Paradox, a way of thinking that can get anyone through the most harrowing of circumstances.
You can click here for a short audio clip of Jim Collins discussing the Stockdale Paradox, or Google the phrase to learn more about Admiral Jim Stockdale, a United States military officer held captive and tortured for eight years during the Vietnam War, for whom Collins named this Paradox. Admiral Stockdale had a unique way of looking at his brutal situation that allowed him to survive, and go on to thrive later in life.
As a writer, here’s how you can apply the Stockdale Paradox to immediately change your thinking:
1. Instead of wondering whether you’ll ever find success as a writer:
DECIDE that you will find success one way or another, regardless of the obstacles.
2. Instead of bemoaning the difficulties of the writing path:
EMBRACE your current challenges. Know that they will help you become the best person — and the best writer — you can be.
3. Instead of being optimistic and “looking on the bright side,” assuming publication will eventually be your due:
FACE your current situation realistically, acknowledging every downside, every hardship, every difficulty. And be willing to ceaselessly take action to overcome these obstacles and find publishing success.
It’s a paradox because it involves holding two seemingly opposing things in your mind at once: a certainty of success, and an honest assessment of the obstacles. There is no unnecessary pessimism or defeatist thinking; nor is there any sugarcoating or unwarranted optimism.
Decide. Embrace. Face.
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