by Kathryn Craft
Turning Whine Into Gold
Each of our fictional characters carries a spark from our own souls, it is said, and this is certainly true of me. My character Angela Reed, from The Art of Falling, is fond of celebrating. Any old thing, really, as am I (although it would be of great benefit to my waistline if I could think of ways to celebrate other than beer and pizza—but I digress). What endears Angela to readers is that she celebrates despite living with cystic fibrosis, a condition that severely limits life expectancy. Given these circumstances, how can she exhibit such an abundance of spirit?
Yet family members of those who have lived with cystic fibrosis often tell me that their loved one was just like Angela. This brings to mind similar stories from those who have traveled to third world countries, where death doesn’t even bother to hide, but is present in plain sight. A joyful spirit can prevail despite extreme challenge.
Anxiety and ennui, it would seem, are first world problems. Divorced from the need to seek a clean drink of water or enough food to fend off starvation, our minds worry over past events and project our fears onto what might come rather than rest in the fact that, right at this moment, we have much to celebrate.
This seems especially true of writers. After all, we spend most of our time in our heads, drumming up conflict. We bring fading memories of past dramas back to life in full living color to fuel our stories, and then worry whether the result of this effort will be good enough to justify the chance to do it all again.
Our poor brains. Our poor, bruised souls.
Yet we need not be poor in spirit. Here are seven techniques for restoring spirit through celebration.
1. Celebrate your mission. The writing life is hard. What on earth made you sign up for this challenging activity? Write it down and post it in your writing space, where it will motivate you when times get tough. Your mission will remind you of the joy and meaning that your writing can bring.
2. Celebrate your perspective. By the time someone is drawn to the writing life, she or he has typically lived through trying circumstances—abuse (physical, emotional, substance), dysfunction, bullying, mental illness—that made them feel like an outsider. That’s good. An outsider looking to fit in is a keen observer of the human condition, and therefore owns a great perspective from which to write a novel. Forgive the abuse, accept it as part of your life’s journey, and celebrate the perspective gained.
3. Celebrate your faith. In a 2003 keynote address at a writers’ conference, author Katherine Ramsland said something I’ve never forgotten: “It doesn’t matter what you believe, it matters that you believe.” In the publishing industry, where external rewards are so uncertain, we must remain grounded in the personal rewards we reap for our efforts. Delight in word count, the sudden insight, that perfect metaphor, the mute character who unveils her voice. Worry that you aren’t good enough or worthy enough is neither helpful nor honorable; put in the effort to earn your stripes and celebrate the faith that will see you through.
4. Celebrate your positive feedback. Do you keep a feel-good file? I do. It is filled with thank-you notes for especially appreciated pieces I wrote while I was a dance critic, praise from mentors and contest judges, and heartfelt missives from readers about what my stories have meant to them. I can’t recall the last time I looked through it, but just knowing it’s there is a comfort. My 4- and 5-star reviews remind me to celebrate that I have readers who truly connected with my work.
5. Celebrate your accomplishments. As word count comes and word count goes, we can easily convince ourselves that we are going nowhere. Update a personal version of your resume every year to prove this isn’t true. Maybe in-depth workshops inspired significant revisions on your first novel, or you had articles or short stories published, or you received a royalty check. Such forward movement proves you have not been spinning your wheels. Review your efforts and pat yourself on the back—then pass along what you’ve learned to the writers coming behind you.
6. Celebrate your health. So many of us take our health to be the unacknowledged foundation of our lives—until it isn’t. Every now and then, pull yourself out of your head and check in with the rest of your body. Are your eyes dry? Does your back hurt? Is your stomach churning from too much caffeine? Does your head ache from last night’s wine? While you can, celebrate the health you have with an after-lunch walk, late-afternoon yoga, or start tomorrow with a trip to the gym. If your health is precarious to the point that such activities aren’t possible, simply focusing on breathing in and breathing out can ground you in gratitude for the present moment: right now, you are alive and safe and all is well.
7. Celebrate first world status. When your mind races and a balanced outlook escapes you, get up from your desk and go outside and do something with your hands. Mow the grass, weed a flower bed, plant some vegetables—anything that can remind you of the toil and hardy spirit that allowed our ancestors to survive by day and then drop, bone-weary, into bed each night. Your writing life is a privilege of the technological age. Despite the fact that most authors earn income below the poverty line, we are literate and cultured and we know that books matter. Celebrate your contribution to the literature that makes the world a better place.
But I don’t have time to celebrate! I have promotional blog posts to write and contests to set up and plot holes to fill and a new novel to conceive! My problems are urgent and need to be solved!
True—but have you ever noticed that you solve problems much more effectively when you’re in a good frame of mind? Divorcing your sense of well being from external events, imagined or real, will help you celebrate all that is right in your life. Learning to elevate your mood will reduce strain on your interpersonal and business relationships and help you enjoy the writing life—no matter what problems come your way.
Let’s make today’s comment section into one big celebration!
How have you moved forward in your writing over the past year, and how did you/do you plan to celebrate?
Let’s do this!
Kathryn Craft is the award-winning 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.
Copyright © 2023 Writers In The Storm - All Rights Reserved
Such good advice! My third novel will be released in July, and you helped me realize I'm more focused on the work of marketing than on celebrating the milestone. Today, I start planning the party! And, I breathe.
A third novel is a true accomplishment Kathy. Congratulations! This post + party = perfect!
EXCELLENT advice. I find that if I'm 'down,' my writing creativity falls to the ground. Even though writers are supposed to be morose (and drinking..?), I find the opposite. We writers need to celebrate our creativity to spawn more creativity. Joy, laughter, love - all are devices to be used in our writing. So yes, I celebrate my ability to spend hours writing every day thanks to the support of my husband; I celebrate my students in the creative writing classes I teach, who show me newfound enthusiasm as they find their 'writing voice'; and I celebrate the blogs of others who express the joy of writing, as you do here.
I know from personal experience how amazing and freeing it is to have a supportive spouse. That is well worth celebrating! I get much sustenance from teaching others as well--reminds me of how much I have to give. Thanks for your kind words about the post!
I'm the eternal optimist, Kathryn. I very seldom cannot find something to celebrate. When I do, I'm going to refer to this sage advice. Thank you.
Yes Laura we're two peas in a pod that way. It takes a lot to push us under, but when it happens, we need all the help we can get!
I love the idea of a "feel good" file. Praise from readers, complimentary rejection letters, placing in contests. etc. When my manuscript suddenly smells like it belongs in the garbage bin, it would be good to pull that file out as a breath of fresh air.
Yes Densie, try it! So angry I never printed out one private message from a reader that was particularly uplifting, so I could revisit it, but just thinking about its gist brings a smile.
You are very inspiring, Kathryn. I keep a feel good file along with some special cards and letters from my students and my own children.
I'm glad you feel inspired, Susan. And yes--those feel-good notes from our children are so important to keep as well.
Just tweeted this. Uplifting, encouraging. Great.
Then I'll celebrate your signal boost! Thanks for tweeting, Carol.
Thank you. I needed your message.
Wishing you peace and a firm grasp on your accomplishments!
I do not celebrate enough. I am doing all of these things!! THANK YOU!
Then make up for lost time, Katie, by celebrating in song! Haha!
I'm polishing the last of my edits on a manuscript that is finished and have fallen into fear of "what ifs..." Also I've been resenting that a family matter is taking me away from my computer for the next three days and have been in an unproductive funk. Your words inspire me to use that time away to concentrate on ways to celebrate my accomplishment rather than waste time worrying. Thank you.
Smart choice, Lori. No point resenting your commitment to family--it's something else to be celebrated!
Kathryn, I loved this post. I had a sister who died of cystic fibrosis. She died quite young, because this was a long time before they really had effective treatments for the disease, but she had such spark that her personality was HUGE. She never once let her illness define her, and so we tried not to, either. You've got a great list of reasons here to celebrate. I'll add one more: I celebrate the fact that I can read writing by authors like YOU. Thank you.
Oh I loved hearing about your sister, Holly, thank you for sharing. We can't control our genetics, only our approach to the life we've been given. Thank you for your kind celebratory words!
Great blog, Kathryn. I have posted above my computer a Christmas card someone sent me that simply says BELIEVE. I see it everyday. I'm celebrating the one-year anniversary of the e-book publication and the six-month anniversary of the printed version of my first science fiction book, HONOR'S BOND. And I still believe!
Love this! Congrats on the anniversary and thanks for sharing!
Your post hit the nail on the head for me. Today I celebrate a milestone for my manuscript after years of the loneliness of believing in my story, even on days I failed to believe in myself. But it was your belief that living through adversity is a blessing that I have had the largest struggle with. The most difficult challenge of my life has been to maintain a sense of self while the world plays and replays messages about the misfit. In the depths of agony, seeing this as a strength was not on the radar. You are so right: this is precisely why I turned to the page. Many people have marveled that I've been able to write through the hardship of the last few years. In fact the dream, the outlet, the insight, the deep introspection of writing has been my salvation. Today I have a finished manuscript and now start the query process - the hardest yet. My discipline and hard work may or may not be recognized; I need to borrow the "BELIEVE" card. Today everyone I love is happy and healthy and a celebration of this milestone will happen over steak and wine this evening. This morning I'm celebrating with my first post - ever. My novel, with a working title of SECONDARY INTENTION, is about four nurses, self-dubbed THE NIPPLEHEADS. I'm standing up today, to be counted in the company of writers. Hi writer colleagues, I'm here!
I love everything about your comment Di! Yes, you are here among your fellow writers, who see you, and hear your pain, and applaud your perseverance! as to the celebratory wine: *clink*
Great advice, Kathryn, as I'm reading through notes from my first Beta reader for my first novel. Right on time!
Readers willing to provide feedback are as worth celebrating as the completion of the draft. Congrats!
Oooooh, I sure like the idea of a "feel good file." Of course I'd probably lose it. But perhaps if I kept it on the computer...
A friend of mine lost her entire digitized feel-good file in a computer crash that erased her Outlook program. I like a physical one—touching their surfaces even "feels good"!
But see, as a tech girl, I'd say: That's what backups are for!
Great reminder, Kathryn!
My mission is the one thing I never faltered on. I'm not always great about celebrating the successes along the way, but working on that. 🙂
Not wavering on your mission is how you got published. There is much excitement now but if times get tougher, remember to celebrate!
I can't thank you enough for this enlightening post, Kathryn. For days I've been bogged down with the question, "Why am I not getting anywhere? What am I doing wrong?" so much that I couldn't sleep and let myself drown in the pool of dejection. Every small thing started affecting me. Then I shifted my focus. Took a break from writing and social media, started spending more time with my loved ones. It felt so wonderful to know that there are people who believe in me. I changed my eating habits, reduced my caffeine intake, and the result is a healthier lifestyle.
I'm saving this post and putting it up around my desk as a reminder. Thank you for encouraging a positive outlook in life.
These all sound like wonderful steps to take, Parmita. Glad you are regaining your equilibrium and that you are removing the obstacles to your optimism. Keep up the great work!
This is a fantastic post - especially the first world status. Now and even when I lived in a cramped apartment, I would remind myself that with all of the modern conveniences I live better than all the kings and queens of antiquity!
Good point Laurinda!
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