What does Positively Teenage have to say for adults and writers? by Nicola Morgan
Positive thinking is a flimsy strategy. “You can do anything if you try” is a lie, a myth we must bust if we are genuinely to control our lives. Focusing on positives can lead us to ignore routes to improvement. “Practice makes perfect” is a false hope for most of us in most situations. Besides, perfectionism is itself a motorway to dissatisfaction.
So, why have I written Positively Teenage and, in an apparently separate but actually connected pair of questions, what has it to do with adults and with writers?
To answer the first question: too many people treat adolescence as a mental illness, or a stage of life that will necessarily be difficult and unpleasant. In fact, the way to thrive is first properly to understand adolescence and why it’s as it is and second to perform certain sensible actions to provide the best chance of well-being, so that hurdles, should they appear, can be leapt over or avoided.
What this has to do with adults is that well-being strategies are not age-specific. Good advice for young people is the same as good advice for any people.
What this has to do with writers is two-fold.
First, the way to succeed in becoming published is first properly to understand writing and publishing and how readers and publishers make decisions and why it is as it is and second to perform certain sensible actions to provide the best chance of publication, so that hurdles, should they appear, can be leapt over or avoided.
Second, an enormous threat to mental health is posed by the difficult goal of publication (and remaining published) accompanied as it usually is by rejections and undermining failures.
I’m not being abstract when I say this. I’ve been open about the fact that my mental and physical health weren’t (warning: understatement follows) too good when I was younger. I wrote about how that linked with my failure to be published at the end of my 2010 book, Write to be Published. I’m also clear that my successful battle against this history of illness and under-performance is why I now write about well-being, explicitly for young people but implicitly for everyone. It’s why Positively Teenage and my other titles exist. I learnt the hard way what happens when we make mistakes in self-care.
Let me share with you some mistakes that are relevant to a writer’s mental health. They’re all covered in different forms in Positively Teenage.
Allowing a specific failure to over-colour your self-esteem. Failure is a step to success if you ask yourself the all-important question: what went wrong? Perhaps it was something you did or perhaps it was outside your control. Taking steps to discover this – which is difficult but not impossible – is the key. We should be learning all the time.
Impatience. As I say, we should be learning all the time and that takes time. Someone who gets published more quickly (or gets a job more quickly) is not “better” than someone else. In fact, you may become better than them if you spend time getting it right.
Not taking breaks. Working hard is admirable and necessary. But our brains don’t work well if we don’t take breaks. Short and long breaks are necessary for humans and they are necessary for writing.
Keeping on trying. This is a bad idea if you’re keeping on making mistakes. After a few rejections, you need to find out what might be wrong. One rejection is “just an opinion” but several all picking the same fault are worth listening to.
Extrapolating the general from the specific. “I’ve been rejected by X’ becomes “I’m a rejected author”. “She doesn’t like me” becomes “I’m unpopular and worthless.”
Opening yourself to online angst. This didn’t exist when I was struggling to be published but I’ve thought about it a lot since, not least because I have another book out this year apart from Positively Teenage: The Teenage Guide to Life Online. In it, I include the tremendous online opportunities for writing, learning skills, sharing words and being published. But I also talk about the downside, again relevant to writers: opportunities for envy, the dismay we can feel at the news of yet another debut. “Why them? When will it be me? Will it ever be me?” I can’t answer that but never forget this: what you see online is gloss. Every single gleeful author has a bank of failure, struggle, rejection, doubt. Same for teenagers: constant competition with everyone’s online perfection.
“Eggs-in-one-basket” goal-setting. When you miss the big target, it feels like the end of the world. So, you need step-targets. Your ultimate target might be “Get a novel published by a good press” but find smaller step-targets, such as “Get an article published”, or “Finish my novel and send it to three publishers/agents”. Value each and make sure you have several under way at once.
Ignoring your heartsong. My previous blog was called Heartsong because, back in those dark days of mental and physical symptoms, a wise counsellor told me, “You have to find your heartsong.” He meant that you have to know what makes your heart sing and you have to provide it. Come what may, you must provide it.
Most people have many things that give them heartsong and the tunes change over time. It could be physical exercise, cooking for friends, reading, gardening, performing, writing and being heard. For me it is all those, which is why I mention them, but the main one was writing and being heard.
Being positive that you’re going to get published one day is not the way. In fact, the fear that you might not is a pretty good motivator! Similarly, Positively Teenage is not encouraging some kind of vacuous “You can do it if you really want to” mentality. It’s about arming oneself with knowledge of how things work (whether well-being or books); having practical strategies for living (or writing) well; being optimistic and brave, honest and self-reflective; being able to roll with the knocks and get back up to try again – but try better, asking for help if necessary. It’s about not letting other people drag you down but listening to helpful voices. Being positive, yes, but proactive, informed, realistic and determined – determined not only to succeed but to relish the journey. It’s about, as I say in Positively Teenage, controlling the things you can, ignoring the things you can’t, and learning to tell the difference.
(c) Nicola Morgan
Nicola Morgan, previously known as the Crabbit Old Bat for her über-honest publishing advice, is a multi-award-winning author and international expert on teenage brains and mental health, how stress impacts wellbeing and performance, effects of screens and social media and the science of reading for pleasure. A former teacher and dyslexia specialist, Nicola was an acclaimed teenage novelist whose career is now devoted to her best-selling non-fiction books for teenagers. After the success of Blame My Brain, The Teenage Guides to Stress and to Friends, and her popular teaching materials, Brain Sticks and Stress Well for Schools, Nicola’s new books for 2018, Positively Teenage and The Teenage Guide to Life Online, build on her position as the go-to expert in her field.
For information and resources, or to contact Nicola about visiting your school for INSET or parent or student talks, see www.nicolamorgan.com
About Positively Teenage:
Positively Teenage gives you tools to approach your teenage years with optimism and understanding and to develop real wellbeing for life.
The media so often portray adolescence negatively but this book shows you how to approach these years far more positively so that you can really flourish and be in control. You’ll find simple strategies to develop a positive attitude, growth mindset, self-understanding, determination and resilience and you’ll see how those strengths will help you cope with any challenges, enjoy life and achieve your potential.
Full of practical, proven strategies for physical and mental health, Positively Teenage will show you lots of ways to flourish physically and mentally – from doing things you enjoy to learning new skills; looking after your diet, exercise and attitude to being healthy online; getting great sleep to understanding your personality – allowing you to take control of many areas of your life. With these new strengths and skills, you can survive any storms and thrive on the challenges of your exciting life.
Scattered throughout are POSITIVE BOOSTS: quick ideas for actions you can take to build positivity and well-being. Add them into your life and use your imagination and your new understanding to invent others.
Positively Teenage gives you the power to let yourself flourish, achieve and be who you want to be. Use your powers well! Be truly, positively, teenage! Stand tall, stretch your arms wide, take a deep breath and say, loudly (or in your head), ‘I can do this!’
Order your copy online here.