Think positive! How many times do we hear that and think “pfft”. Elizabeth Harmon is here to tell us how to turn that “pfft” into a resounding “YES!”.
In March of 2015, I had every reason to be on top of the world. I’d achieved my dream of a having my series published by a major New York house, and my debut novel, Pairing Off, had come out. Reviews were glowing, my friends and family were proud, and I was hard at work on my next book.
But the rush of the book’s sale, launch and release had left me physically and emotionally exhausted. The published author learning curve was steeper than I’d ever imagined. The money wasn’t rolling in. The writing was no easier, only now, I had a deadline to meet. Toss in a bout of pneumonia, and I felt pretty low.
Eventually, I came out from under the cloud, but it was a reality check for how difficult the writing life can be. It also fueled my interest in the growing field of positive psychology, the study of happiness.
First, a disclaimer. This is not a post about coping with depression, nor is it meant to minimize a real and serious condition that affects many people, including writers. A depressed person can’t just smile themselves into a new attitude, and should seek treatment.
But positivity does impact how we cope with the day to day ups and downs of the writing life. Rejection letters. Bad reviews. Writers block. Responsibilities that chip away at our writing time.
It’s these little (and sometimes not so little) problems that can stifle our muse, ruin our day, and over time, spiral us down into a pit that’s much harder to climb out of.
Positive psychology represents a shift from psychology’s traditional focus on negative traits and emotions.
Most of us understand that negative emotions, such as fear and aggression, are connected to our survival instincts. But what purpose do positive emotions such as love, joy, gratitude, satisfaction, serenity, and inspiration, serve?
In her book, Positivity, University of North Carolina professor Barbara Frederickson, offers scientific evidence that positive emotions have two powerful purposes: to broaden and build.
Both are vitally important for writers.
The broadening effect opens us to new ideas and experiences, while enhancing our creativity and problem solving. Think how much easier it is to write when you’re relaxed, feeling good about your process, and in love with your story.
Words can flow like water. Ideas that bubble up from your subconscious, inspire more ideas. When challenges arise, you feel confident to meet them.
Contrast this with trying to write when you’re discouraged, angry, frustrated or envious.
One of my goals has been to become a faster and more prolific author. At RWA2016, I attended every productivity workshop I could. I came away with some good ideas, but also felt discouraged. These successful prolific authors were so much faster than I was, and several had demanding non-writing careers and/or family situations. Initially, I felt like a failure because I couldn’t write as fast as they could. But once I shifted my focus from my previous process to my new one, I realized that I was writing faster.
Am I as fast as Author X? Not yet. Am I faster than I was? Definitely!
The building effect of positive emotion helps us connect with others. When we’re in a good place emotionally, it’s easier to reach out on social media, attend writers’ groups and conferences, share our knowledge, and celebrate others’ success.
This builds our community and fosters positivity, which builds up others, and fosters more positivity, and on it goes.
Frederickson identifies a positivity ratio of three positive emotions to counteract a single negative one. We can find these small positives everywhere, in our daily interactions, in nature, and doing things we love!
While we’ve been conditioned to feel guilty about our leisure time, in truth, its essential to helping us stay positive and productive.
As romance writers, we have a unique opportunity not only to build positivity in our lives, but also the lives of others.
“Happy ever after or even just together ever after is not cheesy. It’s the noblest, most courageous thing two people can shoot for. ”Fangirl, by Rainbow Rowell.
Too often, happy endings are dismissed as trivial, cheesy or Hollywood, while love stories that end in tragedy are celebrated for their realism, truth and beauty. Not to take anything away from those stories or the readers who enjoy them, but does that mean that only sad stories are worthwhile?
Absolutely not! Our happy endings give readers that little hit of positivity to help counter the negatives they face, whether it’s a major life challenge, or just a crummy day at the office.
For writers who aren’t yet published, simply pursuing your passion, can inspire others to pursue theirs, broadening and building them, so that they can do the same for someone else.
In a small way, we’re making the world a better place. And that’s definitely something to feel positive about!
Thanks for having me back on Romance University, and I hope everyone enjoys my latest release, Heating It Up: A Red Hot Russians novella! (excerpt below!)
RU Crew, how do you pick yourself up when you’re feeling down?
Join us on Wednesday for Melinda Curtis!
Bio: Elizabeth Harmon loves to read and write romances with a dash of different.
A graduate of the University of Illinois, she has worked in advertising, community journalism and as a freelance magazine writer. She feels incredibly blessed to have a career that allows her to spend her days imagining “what if?” and a loving family that keeps her grounded in the real world. Her debut novel, Pairing Off is a 2016 RITA Award Finalist.
An adventurous cook, vintage home enthusiast, occasional actress, and entry-level figure skater, Elizabeth makes her home in the Midwest, where life is good, but the sports teams aren’t. She loves to hang out on her front porch, or at her favorite local establishments, enjoy good food and wine, and talk writing with anyone who will listen.
In HEATING IT UP, a heart-warming novella of mistaken identity and forced proximity, widow Nora Bradford and Russian adventurer Alexei Zaikov must work together to save their small Antarctic town from being shut down—but will the truth about Nora’s role in Amity Bay’s demise, doom their romance?
Enjoy an excerpt from Heating It Up: A Red Hot Russians Novella
The first thing she noticed was that yesterday’s sad vulnerability was gone. Now his ice-blue eyes were flinty and determined as he strode inside. She remained by the door, hand on the knob, ready to show him the way out. Yet she sensed that sending him away wasn’t going to be so easy this time.
“You’re too late,” he said.
“I beg your pardon?”
“Fifteen years ago some New Zealander became first woman to winter-over solo. Maybe you already know that. Or maybe you don’t care, because we both know that’s not the real reason you’re holed up in here.”
She winced. He knew she wasn’t being honest, but not to what extent. Burdened by guilt and too deflated for battle, she sighed and leaned against the door. “You’re right it isn’t.”
“Nora..,” the gentleness in his voice felt like a caress. “Staying here alone doesn’t hurt Herbert Quinn, it only hurts you. And it hurts me too.”
“Because to keep you secret, I have to lie, not just to IFAR, but to the people who work for me. People whose trust I don’t take lightly. Staying up here not only puts you in danger, but also them. This what your brilliant boss forgot. Down here, people survive because they depend on each other. If one of the systems failed in bad weather, or you had an accident, computers and Vancouver would be useless. Someone would have to put themselves at risk, and come to help.”
Most likely, that someone would be him. Even with blizz lines strung, making such a trip could be life-threatening. Fear tightened her throat as she considered how it would feel to mourn another man she cared about.
“I know you’ve lost much,” he said. “And while I know losing a fiancé is different, I understand the hurt of missing a person I loved dearly.”
“That woman who lied to you?” she demanded, shocked and angry.
“No,” he said. “Not Natalia. I’m talking about my mother. For a long time, I felt like she was the only person who understood me. But when I came here to Antarctica, I found others like me and a place to belong. In time, the pain was not so bad. Up here all alone, you don’t have that.”
“No,” she whispered.
“Ask yourself if this is what he’d want for you. I don’t think it is. I know that if I was gone… and the woman I loved was left behind, this isn’t what I’d want for her.”
Her fingers twitched on the doorknob, and she thought of ordering him out, but didn’t. In her heart, she knew he was right. Even if she weren’t drifting through darkened rooms in a ruined wedding gown, she was teetering dangerously close to Miss Havisham territory. In the process, she was putting others in danger. The weather was turning, and soon the months of darkness would come. It was time to decide where she would spend them.
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