Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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May 26, 2014

Writing Agreement # 1: Be Impeccable with Your Word

Turning Whine into Gold
By Kathryn Craft, @KCraftWriter

Last year, Janice Gable Bashman and I co-wrote an article for Writer’s Digest Magazine, The 7 Deadly Sins of Self-Editing, that turned out to be quite popular. Apparently sinning resonated with writers (go figure!) who recognized that greed, lust, gluttony, pride, sloth, envy, and wrath might be waiting to trip up their creative souls.

But recognizing pitfalls is only half the battle when seeking a fruitful career and a meaningful life. We know what to avoid—but what should we be reaching for?

The Four Agreements, Kathryn CraftMany years ago I found great answers within the Toltec wisdom that inspired Don Miguel Ruiz’s 1997 book, The Four Agreements: A Practical Guide to Personal Freedom.

It’s a little book with a big message. Embracing its wisdom improved all aspects of my life. Today, however, I want to look at what the first tenet has to offer us as writers.

Be impeccable with your word.

Editors love authors who meet their deadlines. (Think about the implied threat here: cross the line and your story is dead.) Doing so shows you are respectful and focused and humble enough to see that publishing is a business concern much larger than your story alone.

Editors, however, will not be the only people to whom you will make commitments. As you take your rightful place within the time-honored lineage of artists who have passed on their knowledge to those who need it, the conferences, community groups, and other writers to whom you’ve made promises will also laud you for honoring your commitments. That said, everyone misjudges from time to time. If you can’t meet an obligation, renegotiate it as soon as possible to preserve your relationships.

Above all else you must act with integrity toward yourself.

Only by keeping your word to yourself can you can be the person you want to be. If you want to be an author, that means showing up at your chosen job so you can pursue your writing goals.

Is this important? We’re creatives after all—if we aren’t in the mood to write today, can’t we switch it up and watch TV instead?

Not if you told yourself you would write. Keeping your word with yourself is the only road to inner peace.

Interestingly, it is also the only road to achievement.

As someone who witnessed her husband’s self-destruction, I know a little something about the stakes here. To ignore this agreement is to introduce dangerous psychic dissonance into your life, which is the result of believing one thing, and doing another.

If you cannot hold yourself to your word and meet your writing goals, you are setting yourself up for a lifetime of inner failure.

Think ten years down the road. Who will you be?

a)      a family joke
b)      an imposter
c)      a failure
d)     a dreamer
e)      a working writer
f)       a recorder of truth
g)      a go-getter
h)      an inspiration

I’ll take “e” through “h,” thank you.

To succeed in writing you must show up and do the work you’ve identified as your life’s mission. Or renegotiate the terms of your commitment, and find a life that you can live with greater integrity.

It’s okay to say that you will journal and learn and doodle for another year or two while your kids are little. It’s okay to say you’re going to work for one hour each day instead of pretending you can churn out an unrealistic word count.

I know for a fact that this sounds a lot simpler than it is. Writing is hard. Finding time to do it is hard. But whining doesn’t get you published. If you are ready to ramp up your career, you will have to raise your expectations, then meet your obligations to self.

I’ll explore the other agreements in future posts. For now, feel free to use the comment section as an opportunity to shout your personal truth to the universe.

What are your current writing and career goals, and how do you intend to keep your word to yourself?

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About Kathryn

Kathryn Craft, The Art of FallingKathryn Craft is the author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and a second novel due Spring 2015. 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 now serves as book club liaison for the Women’s Fiction Writers Association. She hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing. She lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA. Although a member of The Liars Club, she swears that everything in this bio is true.

56 comments on “Writing Agreement # 1: Be Impeccable with Your Word”

  1. Hi everybody,
    If you stop by and read, even on Memorial Day, thank you—you're a real writer all right! As luck would have it I'm on the road until early afternoon, so my comments may be delayed, but will be eager to get back to you later today!

  2. I don't get Memorial Day brownie points as I'm in Sweden and on my lunch break, but I definitely didn't feel like writing this morning, and powered through all the same!

    A fantastic post, and such great advice. I struggled a bit with keeping that word to myself for a while, always reasoning that it didn't really matter whether I wrote today or tomorrow or next week, but finally it hit me that it mattered to ME, and so it should! Very well put, thank you!

    1. Hey Claire, thanks for joining in from Sweden! You might not get Memorial Day but you get a quick answer from me, because I'm still not out the door.

      One of the most indelibly painful types of memories, to me, is of being stood up. It's humiliating to think that you weren't worth this other person's time. If we don't show up to our own dates with self, we're slowly inflicting that same pain, yet always explaining it away. But the shame accumulates, nonetheless.

      We should be kinder to ourselves, right?

  3. Kathryn, this is probably the ONLY problem I don't have! Being not the smartest student, I learned early that a strong work ethic could take me farther than much smarter students who refused to commit. I've seen this in writing too...

    Now, if I'd just begun believing in myself twenty years earlier than I did, no telling where I could be now. On the other hand, I'm SO grateful to have done it when I did.

    See? Told you I wasn't the brightest bulb...

    A beautiful post. Thank you so much for sharing your wisdom with us here on WITS.

    1. Ditto Laura... my kids thought I was brilliant because as a 29 yo college freshman I did my BA and a little short of my masters in three years. I told them I was nothing more than the average student who learned early I had to work harder and longer. I keep proving that ... it might be harder and I might take longer but since you are a perfect "h" in that list ... I thank you for being there to remind me. Slow and steady does indeed win the race.

      1. Wow, Florence, that's impressive! And there is NOTHING wrong with letting your kids think you're brilliant...at least for a little while... 🙂

    2. I bet you've already been an inspiration to so many, Laura. Fulfilling promises to oneself can be a tricky business when you have a family. Good for you! And I do think that the hard work does add up to belief in self, don't you?

      1. Absolutely, Kathryn. Slowly but surely, keeping your word to yourself builds self-esteem. Finally, at 40, I had the guts to start typing out the story in my head that wouldn't let me alone. A late bloomer is better than a wallflower!

        1. Laura I so look forward to meeting you and the rest of the WITS team in person one day! And who cares when you bloom? The important thing is that you do it before taking those stories to the grave.

  4. Lovely post, Kathryn! Happy Memorial Day to you and all of the WITS crew! My writing goal is to write 2 books each year with the understanding that family time is very important to me as well as time to pursue nonwriting interests like hiking, playing my guitar, needlework, etc. These interests help ground me and keep me sane, but they've been shoved aside because of focusing on writing to their exclusion. I'm aiming to reintroduce a better balance in my life right after I finish revisions to two historicals I need to get out the door (so in a week or so). Thanks for your reminder to be true to myself!

    1. Betty—oh my gosh, two books a year? Are these category romances? I can't wrap my head around cranking out two historical stand-alones a year—wow! Remember to live, my friend.

      1. Kathryn, I'm working on balance, I promise! Between the contemporary paranormals and the historicals, I think I can do one of each in a year and still breathe. 😉 I can't imagine writing 8-10 books in 2 years like some ladies I know have signed up to do. That's too much for me and I recognize that.

  5. Kathryn, thanks so much for this post. This week was particularly difficult. I am, as some might call me, a later bloomer. I came to this life after, after, after ... career, kids and retirement. I decided at the onset that I wanted to be a traditional writer ... after all I am a bit older and cherish many of the old traditions. However ... of the hateful ... but, still,yet or ... wait a minute. Three days ago I was feeling a bit "old" ... what's the difference anyway. No one expects me to do anything short of crocheting a baby blanket for my daughter's "expected" baby girl. At this rate I might make the record books as the oldest published writer.

    Then I went to Facebook. Feeling down I sometimes go there and find nifty ditties put on by some of the writers here ... then I saw an article about a man who published his first book when he was in his NINETIES. He had written books and destroyed them. He had found every excuse not to publish. But when his wife of seventy-something years died, he decided to try again and was finally published by Random House, London. Harry Berstein published The Wall at 96 !! He published several others before he died at 101. Never too late to find a dream.

    After reading that I felt like a young chicken and also thought of how dreams keep following us until we finally answer the call.

    So, I tucked my latest rejection on my first mystery into a saved file on Gmail and wrote another chapter of my WIP and then got three orders from my Etsy shop in the mail, did five more inches on my baby girl's blanket and later I'll be doing to a Memorial Day picnic.

    Remember, a moving target is harder to shoot 🙂

    1. Florence,

      I saw that meme on Facebook about the man in his nineties and cheered! You've inspired so many with your wonderful blog and I'm certain it's only a matter of time before the world will enjoy your longer works too.


    2. Moving target...love that! I saw that piece on FB too. Most inspirational. And Laura Ingalls Wilder was in her mid sixties when she published Little House in the Big Woods—all the others came later—and after her family lost all its money in the pre-Depression stock market crash. Sounds familiar...

    1. Elaine I was just talking to my (second, midlife) husband about the fact that "weekend" has never held any relevance to me—with home-based businesses fit around the kids, I've worked every day of my life. He said I didn't need a weekend—that they are for people who have soul-sucking jobs, so they can recharge their batteries. So I can relate to your statement. We are blessed to do work we love.

  6. You are so right!!! Thanks for the inspiration and the reminder that we must show integrity to ourselves and our own writing, besides to those outside our little writing room sphere.

    1. roughwighting: It took me longer to learn to keep my word to myself because I'm so socially motivated. I tend to do for others before myself. It's quite a balancing act, one that is *slowly* teaching me to watch how much I promise to others.

  7. Ah yes, deadlines. Good reminder. As I thought about your words, it helped me re-set my deadlines so I could accomplish all I need to. Spending today working on the editing that must get done!

  8. "Above all else you must act with integrity toward yourself." <-- This!!!
    If we don't believe in ourselves and our writing, if we don't take ourselves seriously, how can we expect others to?

    Another fabulous post, Kathryn!

    1. Thanks Orly. I've heard that some yet-to-be-published writers will even write up and sign a contract with themselves to finish a draft by such-and-such a date. Doing so is a way to take yourself seriously and also start to learn how quickly you can produce finish material.

  9. I've already logged 1115 words this morning. When a person keeps the word they make to themselves, this sends a powerful message to the subconscious. The message is that you are serious about what you are doing. It gets easier once you stop slacking off.

  10. Great article Kathryn. It presents a clear either / or decision point. We must write to become writers. TV and other distractions will get us nowhere. I would have to disagree that writing in a journal is a fail. I use a quick journal entry to allow myself to start the day with writing when I just can't get going. After a short throw-away journal entry, I'm in the right mindset and can get on with my current writing project.

    1. Ivan: Since journaling has played a key role in my life, I was so taken aback by your assumption that I think journaling is a "fail" that I had to go back and see what I wrote! I can see how you might have misinterpreted my comment because, as it turns out, I didn't give enough context. What I meant by mentioning it here is that if your goals are too high given your current other commitments, such as to your children, it's better for your writer's soul to create goals that will allow you some measure of success than to deal with the constant sense of failure that aiming too high will bring. So when I said it's okay to say you'll journal for a year or two, I don't mean that is worthless in any way—you'll definitely be growing as a writer, but you and your family won't be suffering from your constant frustration. I'm with you—I love journaling and still use it at times as part of my writing practice.

      And before I'm misunderstood yet again, let me say that many women can juggle kids and novel writing. It's just not for everyone, and a mom who whines will have trouble raising children who don't!

  11. Great bog Kathryn I have people think I'm nuts because I do NaNo every year and have made the goal several times. I recently figured out where and why i never actually finish a story. I get x amount of words/pages whatever and have to share them. I get suggestions and critiques on those when I share and all at once I'm rewriting them bogged down forever doing this. I'm determined to finish this story. I've done the ending but it's scrambled up in the middle where I leapt from point a to x to c to r and so on. I would write as many words based on what I had in mind for an event and then hop around. No more I'm trying really hard to go straight through.

    1. C.K.: I quit sharing first draft material after receiving misguided advice from a critique group. You might want to try this. I don't even know what my story is about until I review the first draft, and it's only when you have that big batch of words that will be your story's medium that you can start to carve out a story. There is so much discovery in the second and third drafts—and, as you learned, a lot of structural work to do. So do it unencumbered, because you will learn so much from your own story and its needs and demands. Only when I've taken the story as far as I can on my own do I seek outside feedback. Otherwise, you tend to "write by committee" without a unifying thread.

      1. Kathryn, thank you so much for your advice. I have an issue with this - I'm a huge planner, and I'm a real Type-A personality who hasn't yet discovered the understanding that no one, not even la Nora, gets it perfect on the first go-round.

        I have to beat this into my head...somehow.

  12. Fabulous post, Kathryn - I think I need to hang this over my writing desk: "Only by keeping your word to yourself can you can be the person you want to be. If you want to be an author, that means showing up at your chosen job so you can pursue your writing goals."

    "TO YOURSELF" is the key here. I can keep my word and put in 110% at the rock n' roll day job, show up for the PTA stuff, juggle all the other minutia expected of me, but when it comes to my own writing - and keeping my word to myself - I often treat it as guilty pleasure that can be relegated to the back burner. The boss of me (me) has been a pushover when it comes to that. So I either need to fire myself or give myself a promotion, ha ha.

    Thank you for these words today!

  13. Jess, I hear you, I argue with my inner boss all the time. But when employee and boss work together a lot can be accomplished!

    And of course it took reading your cut-and-pasted excerpt to see the editing mistake in that sentence! I am a "recovering perfectionist," haha.

  14. Kathryn, thank you for such an encouraging post. I also appreciate the comment replies by both you and others. I'm going to keep showing up for work (amwriting).

    Blessings ~ Wendy ❀

  15. Fantastic post - and so true. Thank you for the reminder that we must be true to ourselves, and our promises to ourselves as writers!

  16. Wonderful and inspiring post, Kathryn. Great perspective for me, currently struggling with reminding a routine and focus. May I assume your follow up posts will be here?

  17. Kathryn, I know I'm weighing in late here, because I had so much family around during Memorial Day, but wow, this post really struck a cord with me (as it seemed to with many people here). I have a deadline imposed by an editor in early July, and I'm determined to make it--while at the same time trying to write the best book (sentences, words, paragraphs) I can. Sometimes those two things don't go together, when the deadline looms and you're so determined to perfect the book...other times, the deadline is the thing that infuses me with energy to write. Thanks for reminding me to at least keep my butt in the chair.

    1. Oh Holly, I hear you! I worked on my first novel for eight years and then signed a contract for the second ten months later! On the literary end of the spectrum, no less. Then my due date was moved up ten days for titling purposes! Welcome to 17-hour days and tunnel vision. I was impeccable with my word, but learned a lesson: to preserve my eyesight, both literal and metaphoric, I need one year minimum to produce a book.

  18. These words are words best headed and I'm one of the worst offenders. I always give up my writing to stop and do what family is more important and I forget what is most important to me.

    1. A wise older friend once told stressed-out me that while everything I had cooking was great, there are only so many burners on your stove. You have to rotate some things on and off. But the one pot that must always remain is the one in which you create your physical, emotional, and spiritual health—otherwise you have nothing to give your family. So if you need writing to feel whole, Sharla, it is a prerequisite to being a good mother, mate, and role model.

  19. Great post, and one I need to get me serious about my goals and promises to myself. I find I let my writing time slip in the past few months because of many other things. Thanks.

    1. The most important thing is that you are honest with yourself about what your goals really are, and act accordingly. Writing is a great hobby; there's nothing wrong with being a hobbyist! But if you want more, you must put in more.

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