October 21st, 2013

Turning Whine into Gold: Put Inner Conflict on Your Team

By Kathryn Craft

Storytellers know that on the page, internal conflict is a writer’s best friend. But when that conflict emerges from voices inside the writer’s own head, where each wants to weigh in on the writer’s path and her way of walking along it, things can get confusing. Like a GPS whose discordant voices are offering multiple routes simultaneously, they may just slow you to a standstill.

 Might we not say to the confused voices, which sometimes arise from the depths of our being, Ladies, be so kind as to speak only four at a time?

~Anne-Sophie Swetchine

We writers are sensitive to these voices because of the way they intrude upon the deep, solitary thinking our craft requires.

If you think about it, every single decision in a writer’s life must be coughed forth from some internal compass. There’s no one to tell you when to work, or how to tell if you’re getting better, or how much social media is enough. Those who work in a company talk such things over at a water cooler, where the extreme position of others allows you to take a stance. If Ed is the pessimist and Julie the timid risk manager, you are free to be the forward thinker, the one who pushes the others by saying, “But why not?”

Those who work alone engage in those same conversations—in their head, where the voices playing devil’s advocate don’t feel so helpful.

Some of our inner voices obsess over the tough truths of our lives and call it like they see it. A writer is an entrepreneur whose business may fail for a decade or more before seeing monetary return. While typing away late into the night, a writer is a student earning no degree; an intern with no mentor. A self-employed dreamer whose bitchy boss and recalcitrant employee both live inside her own skin.

Her left-brained half—lets call her “L”— is constantly putting new programs in place to re-organize, compartmentalize, and otherwise tame her unruly life so that the writer can make good use of her time. L is the boss. She fills all the lines in the planner. She has a get ’er done bent.

Her right-brained half is innately improvisational. Prone to breaking into song at inappropriate times, R flounders between blind faith and unrelenting pessimism. L wants to outline, but R gets lost in the flow of writing and misses turning points. L says to record life before forgetting its rich detail and R flits away from the computer to go out and live it. When L dictates exercise every morning, R says, “You can’t make me.” Some days L gets a workout just chasing R around the room.

But two halves don’t make a whole. Move over, L and R. Other voices want prominence. Fear of Success and Fear of Failure will not be squelched. Needs Validation wants to duke it out with Needs to Call the Shots. Demands a Book Deal tussles with Writing is its Own Reward. And no matter how loud the Cheerleader yells “You can do this!” we hear the dirge of the Statistician: “Do you even realize how small the chances are of success?”

Oh, we know inner conflict. We have enough characters in our own heads to people an entire novel.

But when you get to the point where you’ve written something that every single one of them is truly proud of, a miracle happens. For a moment they will stop fighting for prominence, look in the same direction—and weep like babies. Because every single one of them helped you get where you are right now.

Writers have no need for a water cooler at which to whine about their work. We chose this life because it suits our natures. Yes, all of them. They may have different strengths, and different ways of going about things, but after decades of working together, my inner natures finally realized that they’re all playing for team Kathryn, and that they’re all desperately needed.

Internal conflict need not be maddening. If we can keep our natures pointed in the same direction and harness their teamwork, they are perfectly suited to transcend the difficulties of the writing life.

And then, the warm glow that comes from self-love and the palpable impulsion of inner teamwork will drive us deep into the length of the creative night, making all aspects of our chosen path much less difficult.

K: Well done, team.
R: Let’s go celebrate with an ice cream sundae!
L: But it’s only 8 a.m. and I have you scheduled for another 2,000 words…

Okay, ’fess up—I can’t be the only one. What inner nature are you struggling to overcome? What used to stymie you, that you’ve now made peace with it? Let this, for one communal moment in a solitary endeavor, be our water cooler…

kathryncraftKathryn Craft is a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com. Her debut novel, The Art of Falling, will be released through Sourcebooks 0n January 28. To read more about her book, check out her author site, KathrynCraft.com. Pre-order links are live at bn.com and amazon.com! Her second novel, While the Leaves Stood Still, is due from Sourcebooks in Spring 2015. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania literary scene, she loves anything that brings writers together—conferences, workshops, retreats, and blogs like Writers in the Storm. She also blogs at The Blood-Red Pencil and at her personal blogs, The Fine Art of Visiting and Healing Through Writing. Connect with Kathryn on Facebook and Twitter.

Author of THE ART OF FALLING Coming from Sourcebooks January 28

34 comments to Turning Whine into Gold: Put Inner Conflict on Your Team

  • Kathryn – this line hit me: There’s no one to tell you when to work, or how to tell if you’re getting better, or how much social media is enough. I think I’m too close to to see that, but wow, you nailed it!

    And you’re right; I get all the people in my head weep together sometimes. It sustains me for the other 99.5% of the time.

    Great post – thanks so much for blogging with us!

    • Laura, I knew you’d get that weeping part! Those of us with our ten year pins (and beyond) fully, deeply appreciate the intensity of delayed gratification. 🙂 I’m so proud of what you’ve accomplished, and so excited to join you in debut world.

  • The entire paragraph following this line hit me: Her right-brained half is innately improvisational.

    [Change “break into song” to “break into dance”, please and thank-you.]

    The Hubster often asks “What’s it like in that world of yours?” And, no, it’s not a compliment when he says it. I think he was born with no right brain. Lists and plans and discipline are his friends.

    I have a keepsake dishtowel with the saying “I love my imaginary world. People understand me here.”

    You nailed why I’ve said I’m not sure who needs to be fired first — my lax boss or her recalcitrant employee.

    Thank you! I feel normal now. I knew I was in good company on WITS. People understand me here.

    • Gloria! I’m so with you! My husband says 50% of the time I live in my own world. I think it is more like 70% of the time, but who’s really calculating?

      I often find myself saying “You should hear it in here, it’s crazy!” and I point at my temple. 🙂

  • Gloria oh my yes, we understand you here, haha!! I laughed so hard at your line “And no, it’s not a compliment”! Hahahaha, enjoying it again! Thanks for your comment.

    And I need one of those dishtowels.

  • Brilliant post, Kathryn!
    The paragraph that spoke to me most:
    Some of our inner voices obsess over the tough truths of our lives and call it like they see it. A writer is an entrepreneur whose business may fail for a decade or more before seeing monetary return. While typing away late into the night, a writer is a student earning no degree; an intern with no mentor. A self-employed dreamer whose bitchy boss and recalcitrant employee both live inside her own skin.

    That’s where the voices are loudest for me. Feeling like I have to justify the time I’m spending with nothing – YET, because it will 🙂 – to “show” for it (other than the completed manuscripts and contest wins and rejection letters … but those don’t necessarily count for family, friends, neighbors because “you’re STILL trying to get that agent/book deal/best seller/fill in the surprised comment?”).

  • It takes extraordinary self-belief. Along the lines of a calling, really. Faith that what you have to offer is needed by the world, in whatever way that you will not be able to see clearly. That because you are, you must. The rocks in this foundation can get mighty slippery as the years add up, I know. And if you have to answer to an outside critic, like a spouse or a parent, it can get even worse. That’s the subject of my next post—the external conflict!

  • Loved this blog because it’s so true. For me, I’m constantly having to justify why I have to write to myself. I’m a very practical and well organized person in every way but NOT when it comes to writing [I don’t count the way I organize everything in folders on my computer}. I have to set aside what one part of me says “isn’t” needed [the writing] to very happily sit down and write my heart out heart out.

  • Sharla Rae, imagine how much time we could save if we didn’t have to have this same argument with self every day? If, as Nike suggests, we “Just do it”? My New Year’s resolution one year was to simply accept, for one full year, that I was on the exact right path as concerns my writing. I’ll have to admit I floundered here and there—but it was so freeing!

  • Kathryn, Thank you for writing this. It was one of the best blog posts I’ve read all year and I’m happy to tweet, fb, etc about it. You called it as you see it – and boy does your left and right brain hold true – especially to this writer. Getting everyone to agree (inside my head) doesn’t always happen, but when it does, YIPPEE… again, thanks for sharing your thoughts with us. V

  • Virginia, thanks so much. You’ve made “our” day .

    But of course one of my particularly feisty inner voices wants to be heard here. Not prone to submission, this part of me doesn’t want to accept that all my voices must agree—it wants me to allow that each has a valid perspective that should be honored, and look for the ways that each contributes to the team.

  • janieemaus

    So thought provoking. I love it when my characters take over and take ME on a journey.

  • Oh my gosh, Kathryn! You are my newest hero!!! I love that you spent a year reminding yourself that you are on “the exact right path.” I am on that bandwagon as of right now!

    Wonderful post, and, yes, there is so much internal drama between my L and R and the twins, the Fears, oh, everyone in there just loves to have a say! But I do love it when they all align. It’s like the planets aligning and making perfect starry points in the sky, you know? It feels that universal and complete. Thank you for your lovely post!

  • Brilliant article Kathryn! I used to really battle with Needs Validation. I’m learning little by little. Now when I find myself asking other people what they think, I don’t listen so hard. I still listen, especially if I truly value the person’s opinion on the matter (which I do if I’ve asked them), but I find I don’t need to hear it as much. I can be my own Validator!

    Part of it has to do with confidence. When I’m truly confident in a project, I don’t need that external validation so much.

    Thanks for the fun read!

    • We can convince ourselves we ‘re big girls now, and all that, but Needs Validation still wants to soak up any compliments she gets. Like now. 😉

      Thanks, Claire! And just to validate your lack of need for a validator, good for you for meeting your own needs!

  • My husband says I live in Wendy World (I have also had colleagues say that!). Sometimes it’s a bit lonely living in that place, the natives are restless and people seldom come and visit. Posts like this one, and blogs like this one, remind me that I’m not alone.

  • Luckily I’ve stopped having to justify my behavior to my husband. Like if he’s been talking for five minutes and I look up with that blank look on my face, he knows to start over, lol. 🙂

  • […] Kathryn Craft (Writers In The Storm Blog) with Turning Whine into Gold: Put Inner Conflict on Your Team […]

  • My “R” half constantly thinks up other things that just must be done before I write. It’s very annoying, a difficult habit to break. My “L” half isn’t strong enough to stand up to that ornery “R” dictator.

  • What a great post, describes the writer’s life like it is.

    My most annoying voices are the fears. Fear of failure, fear of success – and yes, they can co-habitate together. It’s the darndest thing to live with.

    • Carole, you’re a step ahead of the game by realizing those fears aren’t either/or—just like you can be both an introvert and an extrovert. All sorts of opposites can exist within us!

  • Kathryn, that was such a joy to read! I can relate to a lot of it, but what I especially love is your characterization of “L” and “R” lol SO perfect!

  • It’s good to know I’m not alone. I truly enjoyed reading your blog. We all suffer silently while our L and R duke it out. LOL All the best.

  • Well worth reblogging. That is exactly what goes on in my head.

  • Thanks for the comment, Liza. Even when alone, we are never alone with all those inner voices!