By Carol Grannick
Research continues to pour in on the benefits of various positive emotions on the brain’s creative capacities. Indeed, it would be difficult to argue against the practice of learning and strengthening the skills of positivity.
Why, then, do so many of us wait until we’re feeling badly before we think about doing the hard work of creating or maintaining emotional resilience? As with any physical pain, it’s harder to limit or end it once it’s in full force. Of course, you can intervene in a negative emotional spiral at any point, but why not prepare yourself ahead of time? You can learn to challenge and change negative thoughts (and therefore feelings and attitude) in small—even tiny—everyday events.
Our emotional well-being powers the energy and productivity for our writing lives. And that means the emotional, inner part of us needs as much care and feeding as does the craft of writing.
Practice pays. Here, more recent research has made it clear: even with genetic factors in place, genius is practiced, not given. So for writing, music, dance, the visual arts—for anything—regular, painstaking practice is what gives results.
The truth of this revisited me recently when I sustained a blow to how I thought of myself as a writer. Ten years ago, it would have knocked me down for quite a while. Thirty years ago, it might have knocked me out. This time, I spent two hours being upset. Very upset. I reached out to a writing friend and to my sister, who understands my writing journey. Then I got back to work on what I feel is the revision of my life (so far!).
I believe the foundation of seriously changing a pessimistic attitude is Learned Optimism and the (learnable) skills of disputing negative thoughts. There’s no question in my mind that without that daily practice, my skin wouldn’t have become so “elastic,” and I wouldn’t be (generally) joyously working on my revision right now.
Serious change means committing to challenging gratuitous negativity so that you can increase your productive, creative, writing time. Committing, that is, to the imperfect process of practice.
So if you’ve planned a goal or resolution to be more positive in the coming year, I’d advise revising that resolution. Change the word to become. Then commit to the constant hard work of challenging your negative thinking, being gentle with any failures to do so, getting back to it, and becoming a more resilient writer.
Carol Grannick is a writer of picture books and middle-grade novels. She is also a clinical social worker in private practice, working with writers and others individually and in small groups to create and maintain resilience, and to build flourishing lives. You can reach her at firstname.lastname@example.org for questions or to set up a consultation. Her blog site contains a wealth of information about how to build and maintain resilience: http://theirrepressiblewriter.com.