Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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December 28, 2015

Story and the Longest Night

Kathryn CraftKathryn Craft

Turning Whine Into Gold

 As I reflect upon the challenges 2015 thrust upon me, the dark chill of the winter solstice sets an appropriately gloomy stage. It wasn’t all bad, of course. May 5th brought the publication of my second novel. Other highlights existed. But much of my year was marked by accumulating personal loss, professional disillusionment, and financial setback that rocked my typical equilibrium and sorely tested my optimism. For kicks and giggles, at the end the Universe threw in a badly sprained wrist, which even now is turning my typing into a painful scramble.

On most days I shore up my faith by thinking of myself as a character plugged into a story so grand that I’ll never have access to the whole of it—at least not while I still reside in this earthly realm. But I had lost my ability to meet adversity with any form of equanimity. As the nights grew longer grief had me holed up, detached, and unable to find my footing.

Is that enough whining for you? It’s enough for me. Good riddance, 2015. I don’t even want a do-over. I want to move on.

But moving on isn’t so easy when your resources are drained, is it? Inspiration flees. Creativity shrivels. Problem solving eludes. How, exactly, do you turn whine into gold?

I found solace in the form that never fails to inspire: story.

Here are some of its many healing elements.

crystal ballStory creates meaning. In story, tough circumstances can create a purposeful progression toward a final note of hope, even when the protagonist herself cannot appreciate this.

 Characters will always reveal themselves. Even when I was clearly in no shape to pen a magnum opus, and wasn’t feeling at all like myself, there were many less demanding tasks that reminded me of my character. I taught a few workshops. Recommended a worthy new author to my agent. Blurbed a debut novel. Signed stock at my local indie bookstore. Continued to support my fellow authors with reviews and social media promotion. Helping others is like opening a spiritual faucet that allows a backflow of grace in your direction.

A story has more than one character. Even in the movie Castaway Tom Hanks’ character had a relationship with a volleyball. I was not alone in my slog through the grief’s mire; others have blazed a well-worn path to firmer footing.

Change always requires conflict. Unless we-as-protagonists want our stories to end in the same place they began, we must change. Change exacts from us many deaths: our outgrown roles, our old ways of thinking, our expectations of how we thought our lives and careers would progress. Death is hard to accept—that’s why we’d rather read or write about it rather than struggle with it ourselves.

Conflict is inevitable. Because no two characters are identical in backstory motivation, personality, or spirit, how they pursue their goals will eventually cause their paths to intersect in a way that causes conflict—even if they’re on the same team. Story encourages us to accept this inevitability.

A good story is always hardest on the protagonist right before the climactic fight. You can only take so many hits lying down. Living through my own dark moment made me see it was time to get up and fight for the life I want.

I do not intend to suggest that reading a story will heal those suffering from clinical depression, which requires medical intervention. But 2015 reminded me that there are times when even the most diehard optimists can’t see beyond the crush of external complications. Somehow I forgot story’s promise: that the most impactful gifts can smell like fear, taste like defeat, and sound like heartbreak. These gifts can be poured into a new story. They can change us, perhaps painfully, but for the better.

We live within seasons of change. In the coming weeks the sun will rise earlier each day, and stories will continue raising new questions. Even at the end of a beloved plot line, readers and characters alike wonder: what will happen next?

Let’s find out, shall we?

Happy New Year to all of the readers here at Writers in the Storm!

What are you happy to leave behind in 2015? What are you approaching with optimism in 2016?

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

30 comments on “Story and the Longest Night”

  1. Kathryn, thank you for such an insightful post. Without going into too much detail, it came just at the right time for me. I'd been internally whining for some time (can't do it out loud, not with a retired Navy Chief for a husband, LOL!), and your statement about the most impactful gifts coming in the disguise of adversity really hit home.

    Thanks again. You helped more than you can know.

    1. I'm so glad to hear this, Newt. Thanks for affirming the underlying assumption of our chosen art form: if we dare to put ourselves out there in an authentic way, someone will relate.

  2. Oh, Kathryn, I'm so sorry for your struggles the past year. But you have a golden line here I'm going to keep close to my heart:

    the most impactful gifts can smell like fear, taste like defeat, and sound like heartbreak.

    I wish you nothing but the shining best for you in the coming year. You deserve it. You inspire so many - may it come back to you, manyfold.

    Here's to 2016!

  3. Kathryn, it seems, at least for me, that each time I read you words, I am left with a new sense of clarity. It is so easy to get stuck in your own muck. I've been sitting idol waiting for the words on the pages to unravel themselves, but they need me. I need me to forge on. So I'm dusting off the cobwebs, shaking off the self-pity and hitting m reset button. Thank you again for your insight and wisdom.

  4. I'm sorry you had such a rough year, but I love this blog. I especially love "story has more than one character."

    May 2016 be as triumphant as 2015 was trying.

  5. Kathryn, your words leave an imprint on my heart in the best possible way. It is the wise and caring companion(s) on our journey in this life who have the lived insight and compassion to encourage us to "live through the dark moment and then get up and fight for the life we want." Beautiful. Timely. Thank you.

  6. Thank you for sharing your insights with us, Kathryn. Your posts are always so Zen, but this one shares the grit that gets in our eyes and between our teeth in such a human way. I wish life wouldn't throw you (and us) "curveballs." Yes, change requires conflict, or we'd stay comfortably numb, but our lives can't get better without change.

    The best of everything to you in 2016!

    1. Such an evocative comment, Fae, what with grit and eyeballs, lol. I love reading comments written by writers! 🙂 And I appreciate your point: I'll choose sadness over numbness any day.

  7. Strong women whine on the INSIDE. Digital communications don't lend themselves to nuances; and from the outside, we tweet and comment like all is well. Thanks for sharing, Kathryn. We are all in this together. Here's to 2016! May the good outweigh the bad and the ugly!

    1. Thanks for stopping in Sandra, and so true about the public face we use on social media! Holding that impression together is important yet exhausting, and I'm sure I'm "hiding" behind a very thin wall here at WITS. But if we aren't real with one another, real solutions can never be found, right?

  8. Thankfully, my year has not been as traumatic as your own, but it's still one I'll be glad to see the end of. Your blog really hits home on how being able to write a story can help you make your own going forward. Good words to live by and start a year off with. Thank you.

    1. Here's a bonus. T. S. Elliot wrote,
      “For last year's words belong to last year's language,
      And next year's words await another voice.
      And to make an end is to make a beginning."
      These words found there way to me today from a fellow member of a Facebook group, but if I'd heard them earlier I would have included them in this post!

  9. While writing my memoir awaiting edit, I had occasion to revisit the inventory of events over my lifetime. They encompass the range of good things and bad, good feelings and bad, good luck and bad, and good attitudes and bad. Thing is, it adds up to a wonderful life, even the knocks! Why? Along each plot point of my existence I had passionate feelings.. Each feeling meant i was a alive, each one propelled me to pray from the depths of my heart and either rejoice, aspire, strategize, or the gamut of mental machinations it prompted. When I added it all up, I concluded, Jesus, I've had a helluva life. Further, my life, like fictional characters, would have been boring without the conflict and mountains climbed and valleys traversed, Philodphers and theologians struggle over the meaning of life: but to me, i fulfilled my existence because I dared to feel,

  10. You're are so right that sometimes the most influential gifts can be the most painful to receive. I try to remember that for a lump of steel to become something useful and meaningful it must first be thrust into the flames, beaten to within an inch of its life and then plunged into cold water. Sometimes we're the lump of steel and life is the sadistic blacksmith. May 2016 be gentler on you.

  11. For me, 2015 started out like bright shiny toy ... full of promise and potential, not to mention fun. About half way through, fate swiped away that toy and gave me a shovel and a deep ditch. I'm determined, as I sense you are, to stand in the sunshine again and reflect it. For now, it's shoveling time. I'm sending you positive energy to move beyond your challenges!

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