How Do You Handle a Setback?

The short answer to that, for me, is not well…at first.

In fact, ‘not well’ is a gross understatement. Depending on the particulars of the setback, on one end of the spectrum, I may get angry and loud or on the other end, I may get positively hysterical, screaming and crying and pounding my fist on the closest hard surface, be it a table or someone’s noggin.

The latter was a recent reaction to losing an entire manuscript just as I was about to begin editing. Doesn’t matter how it happened, but my reaction was over the top, just a little. (I pounded my desk and not Hubby’s head, by the way.)

Woman Pounding fist on computer

Naturally, all I could think about was how much time, blood, sweat and tears went into that story. How would I ever retrieve the whole of it from my less than stellar memory? Did I even have any more blood, sweat and tears to shed? And time? Well, I had beta readers and a pro editor waiting on me. The rest of the day is a blur of padding around the house with my head down, staring into space, while alternately indulging in fits of sobbing.

My mood had brightened by the time I woke the next morning. Oh I was still reeling from the shock of it all, but I could see clearly now what I had to do.

There was only one thing I could allow myself to do…begin again.

On the path to your own dreams and goals, all sorts of obstacles can block the path. The small stones that can litter the path are easy to kick out of your way. Then, there is the monstrous boulder. When it falls onto your path, you need some help moving an obstacle of that size.

Boulder blocking the road

In my case, I had my Hubs, kids and a few friends telling me “Things happen for a reason” and “The book will be better than before”.

Yes, it might be better. Or, it might not.

And that’s the rub.

Whatever you choose to believe is what you can expect to happen.

A covey of dark angels swoop down on you and ask questions like:

“Are you sure you want to do this all over again?”

“Wouldn’t you rather sit back, binge on chocolate and read all day?”

“You don’t really think a second book can possibly be better than your first masterpiece, do you?”

“Hahahaha! Sucker! This was meant to be. Don’t waste your time rewriting!”

Yes, my dark angels really did say all those things. But not immediately.

At first, I was pumped up to write my “better” story. I knew I could accomplish it in a matter of a few weeks, too! My fingers flew over the keys…the first 3 days!

They waited for my weakest moment. The moment my burst of excitement, drive and confidence wore thin. I was easy prey.

The most evil dark angel appeared with all of his needling and prodding to get me to quit. I could have listened. I was certainly tempted. I even took time to think it through.

“Should I drop this book? Maybe losing it was a sign that I shouldn’t be writing it.”

An image of myself ‘walking down the street, shoulders hunched forward, tattered clothes, messy hair, carrying a bottle of gin’ flashed in front of my mind’s eye…that would be me as a quitter.


So I got right back to writing my story. My fingers aren’t flying as fast and I’ll need to replot the majority of the book but, it’s a fabulous feeling.

When you have a setback – when a big ol’boulder jumps in your way – take another path or find a way to scoot around that boulder and continue on your way to reach your goals.

Whatever you do, don’t listen to those dark angels partying on your shoulder.


You may have reacted differently that I in a similar situation.

Care to share your reaction to a setback in goals or plans?


21 responses to “How Do You Handle a Setback?

  1. If we could protect ourselves from every single disaster, they would never happen, or we’d all have insurance policies for defective USB drives. A setback can also be an opportunity for a better result than you would have gotten with the first effort. Keep up the spirit, Marcia!

    • @ Gary Thanks, buddy! I can hope it will be better!
      @Sherry I passed over reading that post and now, based on your comment, I’ll have to go back and read it. How utterly timely it is for me! I’m doing the same as he, aided by very few notes on paper. I have to get over trying to write it the same way. Can’t happen. A new version should be better. Thanks, Sherry.

  2. Marcia, through CJ Lyon’s blog I was linked to an excellent post about John Cleese’s philosophy. The post referred to a time when Cleese had lost a script just prior to deadline. He wrote it by memory, best as he could recollect, but was astonished when the second was better. He credited part of that success to turning off the inner editor–no time meant no second guessing. But he lays even more credit to the subconscious. The script had time to ferment in his mind (I’m a believer in the fermentation process. Hic!) and so he was able to write a more polished script.

    I suspect the same happened with your manuscript.

    Yes, things happen for a reason. Keep the faith.

  3. How many setbacks am I allowed to list here? Haha. Well, some are more tragic than others, but I have never lost an entire manuscript. Dear Lord. I have had those writing relationships that turned out to be with nutcases (found out only after four/five months of hard work), a story that just won’t go right, personal setbacks, and then the “I wanted to be published by spring but it ain’t gonna happen til fall or later” setbacks. I read a post/comment about a failed project – just yell, “Next!” and move on (I think that was a comment by Vaughn Roycroft). I like to think that the new novel WILL be better. Don’t give up!

  4. I am so amazed and proud of your perseverance to continue on and start the book over. You’ve been a great role model for all us writers about hard work and believing in your dreams. Couldn’t be prouder of you, Marcia!

    • @Jess Thanks, my friend! You find out what you’re made of when you have a setback, for sure!
      @Lauralynn It was pretty awful! I just KNOW you would pick up and carry on, once you stopped crying. 🙂

  5. Oh my, I have never lost a manuscript. That had to be one of the worst feelings in the world! I don’t know if I could have handled it as well as you did. You rock!

  6. Find your wings
    growing under the skin
    of a weak moment
    and a weaker sigh …
    Look into the mirror
    and retrieve that lost spark
    that knows your smile …
    Kiss the path with your sole
    again …
    to find the soul
    within your own joy ..

  7. Pingback: Friday Stumble: How Many Things Can You Do With a Jar? « Sonia G Medeiros

  8. Ouch! I’m off to back-up all my work again on the external hard drive.

  9. I’ve lost bits of a manuscript, but never a whole one. Ouch! That would definitely require a few days of sobbing. I imagine it would be almost like going through the 7 stages of grief and finally coming to acceptance and moving on. Years ago, I wrote 4 first drafts, then got sidetracked by a stressful job and never got around to rewriting those drafts. I love the stories, so tried to rewrite them. But in the 5 or more years away from the manuscripts, I discovered I’d changed, my writing style had changed, and after several unsuccessful attempts, threw my hands up in the air, the first drafts against the wall (where they no doubt belonged) and am now rewriting the stories from scratch. Brand new words. It’s very freeing, but of course one has to get past all of the emotional despair first.

    Great post, Marcia. Wishing you much success on writing an even better story!

    • Oh, good for you, Sheila! At least you have the bones of the story. I think that would be fun! Thanks for the good wishes…I’m working on it!

  10. Holy cowbell, Marcia! I got the breath knocked out of me just reading the first part of this post. I am completely impressed that you’ve turned this into a positive, and I LOVE Sherry’s comment above. 🙂

    • Thanks, Jenny. I hope you never have to find out how that particular situation feels, though I know you’ve dealt with tough times yourself!

  11. Marcia, I’m far too Irish to have come so quickly to finding the positive. I’ve not lost an entire manuscript, but I have lost entire, finely-honed, multi-edited blog posts. I said lots of unacceptable words, I must admit.

    I just recently had Sheila’s experience of unearthing some manuscripts that I had tucked away. They were so unlike how I write now, it was like reading someone else’s work!

  12. Ugh! It’s an awful feeling and I have to admit, I wasn’t too ladylike about it. Good things hubs was out at the time.
    so cool about the old MS’s – are you going to rewrite them like Sheila?

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