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!
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.