June 22nd, 2015

Embracing Paradox as a Writer

Kathryn Craft

Turning Whine Into Gold

Kathryn CraftTo embrace paradox we must hold two seemingly conflicting concepts as equally true. Wisdom literature is rife with paradox, suggesting that we receive through giving, gain through losing, and live through dying. “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it,” said Mahatma Ghandi.

Experienced writers know this truth. Comedians make use of the inherent absurdity of paradox all the time, from Ellen DeGeneres’s “Procrastinate now. Don’t put it off,” to George Carlin’s “If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?”

As a literary device, a paradox asks the reader to puzzle through a challenging concept. Consider these examples:

All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” This statement from George Orwell’s Animal Farm certainly has the sting of political truth about it.

The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb,” from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, makes us think about the way nature both gives and takes our lives.

Child is the father of the man”—this phrase from William Wordsworth is a concise way of saying that all childhood experiences lay the groundwork for our future lives; in that way our childhoods “father” us as adults.

As a reader, does the notion of paradox excite you or make you toss your literary cookies and run for the hills? As a writer, you’d best make friends with it, because the writer’s life is full of paradox.

A few for your consideration:

  • Writers must have intense focus but breadth of perception.
  • Writers must believe in their salability even as they receive rejection after rejection.
  • All published writers must believe in their worth, yet few will receive life-sustaining paychecks.
  • Fiction writers make things up to seek the truth.
  • Authors must invest fully in their product while detaching from its commercial and critical success.
  • Setbacks and reversals are manna for the creative mind and have their own rewards.

Sound crazymaking? It’s the way of paradox. Yet artists are well suited to its challenges; we are used to being both “this and that.” In any one writing session we might be both mother and child, healer and destroyer. A powerful wizard or a humble shoemaker.

If we writers have the capacity to embody all characters while bringing any one scene to the stage, why are we always trying to give the businessperson the hook—especially when she might be the one holding the key to commercial success?

Writing is an art and publishing is a business, and your happiness (and perhaps your sanity) depends on embracing both. Accepting this challenge as the current way of the publishing world is freeing. Think of this the next time an editor tells you, “We honor your process and want to give you all the time you need, of course, but if you could turn those edits around in a week that would be great.”

By pursuing publication you are choosing to move into new digs, and they are located right on the corner of Bohemia and Wall Street. When you look down at the intersection from your second-story writing room, will you see only traffic crashes and bloody casualties, or the flow of opportunity that now surrounds you? The choice is yours.

There is a Buddhist saying: “A moment of stress only holds on as long as the heart does not let go.”

Ah, paradox.

Which of the listed paradoxes do you find most challenging? Can you find a way to love that challenge? Share the love in the comments.

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About Kathryn

10685420_966056250089360_8232949837407332697_nArt of FallingKathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy.

Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.

Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.

Twitter: @kcraftwriter
FB: KathrynCraftAuthor

26 comments to Embracing Paradox as a Writer

  • Wonderful as always, Kathryn. Once upon a time I had security, stability and predictability … I was also miserable, angry all the time, and hated what I did. My challenge was simply … why should I be so good as so many things I dislike when I could be great at one thing I love? When I let go of the security, I embraced the insanity. Perhaps I’d be one of the teeny-tiny few who made a living at what I truly loved. Perhaps if I stopped embracing stability, I’d finally feel secure in who I really am.

    A good friend once asked me … “If no one ever read a single thing you wrote, would you still want to write?” Like a musician who spends a lifetime practicing to play to no one?

    Yes, yes, yes … I am crazy enough to admit that I’d write no matter. That I would always worry and I would not be able to walk away from this. I’d always think I should have had the courage to start earlier. So I invest in my product even knowing it may never give me financial security. And I might always resent that doing what I love might lead me back to what I truly hate … selling me like I was a two bed/two bath luxury coop on the Upper East Side when all I could afford to live in was a rented apartment on the wrong end of the West Side. 🙂 Oh, well … I always loved to learn and hated “schools.” 🙂

  • Oh, Kathryn, LOVE this! Especially, “Fiction writers make things up to seek the truth.” As a writer, I use paradox all the time. It’s what fascinates me enough to spend 7-9 months writing a book. The knife’s edge of humanity – good people, making bad choices – bad people doing good deeds . . . You fed my soul this morning – Thank you!

  • Wonderful truths, Kathryn Craft.

  • Thanks Laura. Formulating my new novel right on that knife edge—don’t you love those kinds of stories?

  • For more: in a wild confluence of cosmic energy, my friend Therese Anne Fowler posted on another one of the top Writer’s Digest Top 101 Websites today—Writer Unboxed—on the same topic! http://writerunboxed.com/2015/06/22/strange-bedfellows/

  • You nailed this, Kathryn!

  • Fae Rowen

    I love how your posts are like the gentle unfolding of a bud, Kathryn. This one is no different with the paradox as we write, the paradox of the business, and the paradox of life in general. Thank you for bringing a hazy background into focus!

    • Unfolding of a bud—that’s beautiful Fae, you must be a writer! 😉 Funny as I was just researching Chinese names for my next novel and had come across the female given name Bao, which means “bud.” Thank you!

  • Holly Robinson

    This is an absolutely brilliant post, Kathryn! I especially love that last paragraph–so wise. We all definitely need to choose to see the opportunities in publishing, or we’ll feel swallowed up and miserable by that sense that we’re never doing enough on the business side–which, in turn, will derail us for focusing on our next manuscripts.

    • Yes, Holly. And I think it’s important for authors to see that they don’t have to make all the same choices as concerns the business side. If you are crippled by public speaking, for instance, there’s plenty you can do right from your computer. If blogging isn’t your thing, Your publicist may be able to get your just as many blog tour stops with a spotlight post that would require no input from you. Decide what you can love, and do that!

  • Gah! My heart is so full reading this. I’m just about to write a letter to a loved one who has chosen to diminish my writing life rather than support me because, this: “All published writers must believe in their worth, yet few will receive life-sustaining paychecks.” Writing is not just what I do, it is who I am. I have chosen to pursue publication because I believe in the salability of my work, and I’m fortunate to have been rewarded with a book contract. Does this mean I am headed for a sustainable career? I don’t know. I am working very hard to do what I can to make it happen, to ride the publishing rollercoaster with humor and grace, but there’s only so much I can control or influence. What I do know is that writing has been my salvation. It is what I am mean to do. I will continue to write my stories and tell my truth regardless of rejection or commercial success.

    And I see these paradoxes coming to life in my characters–the very conflicts that drive them forward–facing their fears in order to find and speak their truths.

    Beautiful, beautiful post, Kathryn. You have given me the courage to continue standing by my convictions.

    • Thanks for sharing this Julie—my heart is full in return. Whether we’re writing a novel or a blog post it is impossible to know in advance who might connect with your work. A novel takes so long to write but at least there’s the hope of income. A blog post takes me the better part of a day with no such hope. But comments like yours and some of the others I’ve received today, that say, “Yes, I hear you, you have connected,” are a rich reward.

  • Orly Konig Lopez

    Brilliant post, Kathryn.
    Two of the above spoke the loudest to me: “Writers must believe in their salability even as they receive rejection after rejection” and “Fiction writers make things up to seek the truth.” Thank you!!

  • Excellent, excellent! “Ramblings” posed a great question: if no one was going to read what you wrote, would you still write?” Why, yes, of course. But I’d still want people to read my work. Ah, paradox. You know, one of the really cool things about writing is that we get to think about this kind of thing. Note to Ms Christine — I am so sorry to hear about your loved one diminishing your work. They don’t get it. the people who contribute to this blog do.
    Ms. Craft, thanks for a great post.

    • Thanks James! And you’re smart to red all the comments here at WITS. They often amplify the content in wonderful ways! As did yours: while writing for publication you have to write like no one will ever see it. Perfect!

  • Thank you Kathryn and everyone for all the interactive comments.
    It’s made my day.

  • I’m raising my hand with Orly and Laura to vote for “fiction writers make things up to seek the truth.” Yes, that’s what I do, over and over. I also love the Ghandi quote. I’ve given that sort of advice before: never regret trying to help someone, even if your efforts fail. Giving advice serves as a reminder to oneself.

    Beautiful post, Kathryn!

  • Thanks Lorrie. We psychological fiction writers wouldn’t just have a it hole if we lied, our entire characterization a would fall apart and out stories would collapse in a heap. Right?