Turning Whine into Gold
My writing gratitude list, today:
Wow. I am so full of gratitude this morning it’s hard to stop at three.
That was not always the case.
Eighteen years ago, after my first husband’s suicide, I made many trips to the bookstore, seeking the advice I needed to patch my soul. I had to pull myself around for my young sons, my clients, and the bevy of farm animals who depended on me. On one such trip I sought Sarah Ban Breathnach’s Simple Abundance: A Daybook of Comfort and Joy.
Oh, how I wanted those long-abandoned concepts back in my life.
These emotional states, Ban Breathnach said, could be reached through gratitude. I needed a lot of help, so I implemented her advice in three ways.
In the early days, my nerves were so jangled that all I could do was put one foot in front of the other—literally. Inspired by Ban Breathnach—and begrudgingly at first, I’ll admit—I infused my aimless walks with gratitude: I am grateful for the breeze against my face, the rustle of leaves through the trees, the muscles that power each step. Such commonplace joys so often get buried within the bustle of our lives.
While my mind slowed to a more meditative place on these walks, every now and then a Great Blue Heron, with its crooked neck and six-foot wingspan, flew overhead. Had they just moved into my rural Pennsylvania neighborhood, or had I been too preoccupied with my problems to notice? My curiosity led to research. At sixty million years old, herons exemplify extreme survival ability. Their method of hunting, standing stock still in shallow water awaiting frogs and fish, teaches us balance and patience.
I am grateful for the Great Blue Heron and its survival lessons for the writing life: to observe keenly, to wait patiently while what we need comes to us, and to be aggressive when opportunities present themselves.
Reaching a place of gratitude while walking a country road was an easy place to start. The beauty and resiliency of nature was only a heartbeat away, my challenge was no greater than the next hill, and much-needed, exercise-induced endorphins were flooding my brain. But later, when I climbed into bed alone and exhausted, my anxieties—the echoes of trauma and failure, uncertainty about what was to come, and questions about my own fortitude—insisted on swelling to fill the silence. Even as I deeply desired the salve of sleep, my brain raced. My eyes stayed vigilant. Overwhelm engulfed.
This was when I needed gratitude the most. I kept a journal by my bed and insisted, every night, on infusing my soul with more positive thoughts by listing ten things for which I was grateful. Honestly, while feeling victimized by a turn of events, this list was often, “I am grateful we have groceries. I am grateful for my house. I am grateful for my dog. I am grateful we are alive, even if it doesn’t feel very good right now”—and then I’d repeat that fourth one six more times.
I am grateful that with consistent practice I learned to recognize and cherish small moments of beauty and grace, and that I can apply this skill to remembering all that I love about the writing life.
Grace was my attempt to pass along some of this healing to my 8 and 10-year-old sons. Before dinner we would hold hands (to symbolize our unity) and take turns listing three things we were grateful for (to share our individuality). Well, chips off the old block, those boys. It didn’t take long until they figured out a formula: “I’m thankful for our house, Mom, and Max. Amen.”
Clearly we needed additional ground rules. Now, the three things listed had to be individual to experiences they had that day. This challenged them. It took longer. They were not grateful for this opportunity—at least not at first. But Ban Breathnach promised that when gratitude becomes a habit, the spirit lifts, and our lives bore witness to this simple truth.
I am grateful that my sons and I moved beyond that fear-filled time and were able to set big goals of our own choosing. Writing for publication was my chosen challenge, and it remains my joy and my privilege.
Gratitude is the antidote to whining. We belittle our profession, our creative potential, and our great big hearts if the only things we writers share with one another are our fears and frustrations. Doing so puts us in danger of hardening to life’s moments of magic. Our professional exchanges deserve nurture; negativity can pull our colleagues down even if all we meant to do was extract their comfort.
But joy? That’s ours to find, and no matter what else is going on in your life or career, small moments of it are always within reach when adopting a posture of active gratitude. Why not give it a try?
What three things are you grateful for in your writing life today? Please share!
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Kathryn Craft is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks: The Art of Falling, and The Far End of Happy. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” will appear in the forthcoming guide from Writers Digest Books, Author in Progress, available now for pre-order.
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 leads workshops and speaks often about writing.
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You've expressed so well how gratitude enlarges us, encourages us to see the world and its inhabitants.
I'm grateful for my parents, who fostered a love of words early in my life. I'm grateful for online and real life writing friends who keep me honest. And I'm grateful for my characters, who keep my life interesting.
Thanks Elizabeth! Love, honesty, interest—great list!
Kathryn, again you continue to inspire me. Thank you! For today I am grateful for the ability to give and receive kindness of others. For the gift of a skilled surgeon who put my spine back together again. And for the patience of others when I have lost it for myself.
Hi Alice, oh the ability to receive is not always as easy as you'd think, is it. Good one. And so glad to hear the surgery went well. Now your outer spine will be in alignment with your inner one.
I'm grateful for a day job that lets me write between tasks. (I'm married to the boss.) I'm grateful for kind words from a reader last night. And, I'm grateful for technology that connects me with other writers. (And makes the SASE obsolete!)
LOL Kathy I love #1. Milk it! I have a tougher relationship because I work for myself and my boss is a bitch. 😉 Love your second two and agree wholeheartedly!
Three things, eh? Here goes:
1 - The encouragement of my awesome writing friends.
2 - The wisdom of my awesome writing friends.
3 - The generosity of my truly awesome writing friends.
Thanks for kicking off the writing week so perfectly, Kathryn! Off to seek to be worthy of friendship!
So Vaughn, do you think writing friends are important? LOL. As a like-minded writer, I couldn't agree more. Thanks for being an awesome writing friend!
Excellent post. I am grateful for these reminders you've shared with us. I'm grateful I have something to share with my friend, a mother of two boys, whose husband committed suicide 12 days ago by driving his car into the Allegheny River. I'm grateful my own husband, following a heart attack 23 days ago, is sleeping peacefully in our bed right now.
Always grateful to see a comment from you, Hana. My heart breaks for your friend and her children! So sorry to hear. I'm sure that upped your gratitude quotient for your own husband's safety.
I am grateful for the stories that are in my head, I am grateful that I have the ability to put those stories to paper, I am grateful for my stubborn determination that won't let me quit. Can I add a fourth? I am grateful that I have the wisdom to be grateful, even if I sometimes need a little reminder. Thanks for a great post, Kathryn!
Adding a fourth is the very picture of a grateful heart, Stephanie! And ah, stubborn determination: our taskmaster and very best friend. Good one!
Kathryn, for ten months I've been brooding over the terrible loss of my writing "life." Gone as I had known it ... time was no longer a friend.I decided to feel sorry for myself and still I am at odds with the all too familiar battle ... time vs. survival.
This morning I am delighted to find your name in my email. Delighted because only ten days ago I finished The Art of Falling. Found by a member of a book club I also had to give up ... my closest friend knew if I began reading their suggested list I would at least be engaged in part of what I had loved so much. "Start by reading and start with this book." She didn't now I knew the name of the book and the author.
So this morning, I am grateful that the crisis that threw me for a loop is almost under control ... that I have started with the goal of reading at least one book a week ... and that I am so damn lucky to know the women in this group and you.
Wow, Florence—this brought me to tears! I am grateful that you shared this with me and that you found a book that might inspire you beyond crisis. I've had a tough year as well, which made me particularly sensitive to your phrasing, "Gone as I had known it." So true for me. But I have skills that have not forsaken me, and a love for story that won't quit, and steadfast writing friends that will see me through the process of rebuilding a writing life that I love. Wishing you the same.
Reading this reminded me that I need to slow down and REALLY smell the roses. I used to spend a lot of time looking at and hanging around flowers, and photographing interesting architecture. I haven't done that in a long time. I'm grateful for being reminded that I still have time to find time. Thanks.
Terri I love these interests, which could give your writing such an interesting perspective. Our "other" passions feed our writing in so many hidden ways.
That I'm almost finished with my "Hard Times in the Heartland" manuscript. Woo Hoo!
Sally, i think that counts for reasons 1 through 3. Congratulations!
Kathryn, I'm always thankful for your posts! Pinned & shared. 🙂
Thanks for boosting the signal, Linda!
Great post! I'm thankful I saw and read this post! 🙂 I am thankful for a family who is supportive of all my writing goals, and I am thankful for that my manuscript is nearly ready for publication!!
Thank you for devoting your precious gratitude to my post, Charity! And a supportive family is so important, I well know.
Kathryn, your post lifted me so, thank you so much for sharing. Looking purely at the practical, I'm grateful I listened again to the voice that I muted years ago, the voice that said I should 'try writing' 😉 Second, I'm grateful to the teacher in school who taught me how to type, and lastly, I'm grateful to my husband whose earnings paid for the computer I now write with. Much much more to be thankful for, but for now, this is my 'practicalities' list 😉
I will be re-reading your post in the days and months to come, thank you sincerely.
Best wishes - Nikki Weston
Nikki can you believe I dropped typing in college to get a 4.0? No one has ever given a hoot about that but I could have used typing every day of my adult life! Who knew that people other than secretaries would one day type, LOL! ? Practicalities matter!
Laughing at this. I was the star student in my high school but somewhere along the line took a typing class, which taught me an immensely valuable skill that I use every day.
Your words are SO true: "We belittle our profession, our creative potential, and our great big hearts if the only things we writers share with one another are our fears and frustrations." I raise a glass (darn, it's only water at my desk) and say "Yahoo!" ... "Way to go!" ... "You're a treasure chest and your stories are diamonds, rubies and pearls!" ... "Three cheers for the joy of being a writer!" Thanks for helping us stay out of the shadows so we can bask in the light.
No worries, Christipher--I'm drinking a glass of wine. Cheers!
I am grateful for the husband who supports my writing whole-heartedly. I am grateful for the ideas that swirl inside my head. I am grateful that my success as a writer is limited only my determination.
Lovely list, Little Miss. Love that last one. Thanks for sharing!
I'm grateful for writing prompts which form a space in which to engage the deeper crevices of my soul. I'm grateful for inspiration from God, from others (including you, Kathryn!), from nature, from the ordinary. I'm grateful I'll get to participate in your Fall writing retreat again this year. 🙂
Thanks Lisa! I'm sure you'll inspire the retreaters as well.
I am grateful for the book SIMPLE ABUNDANCE and how it's appearance emphasized the importance of loving where you are, of finding that garden in your heart that you can nourish. And of course I am grateful for your friendship. Lovely post.
Ah Beth, so you know this book? So much for the hurting soul within it.
I am grateful I saw your post today and took the time to read it. Your post touched my heart and reminded me, we are not alone in the vicissitudes that life throws at us. I am grateful for writers like you who share their hearts and souls to help other writers through the journey. I am grateful for a husband who can't wait to read what I write and encourages me that I can be a bestselling author one day.
Thank you Wendy. To be part of someone else's gratitude list is an amazing feeling. And a supportive--and enthusiastic!--husband is such a gift.
Thank you! I've always believed writing was a spiritual expression & you articulated it so well.
And knowing the spirit always benefits, we are already successes!
My life has been full of immense stress over the past couple of years, and it's so easy to whine and feel sorry for myself. Thanks for the reminder to be grateful for what I do have. Here's my list for the day: I'm thankful for a husband who supports and encourages my writing ambitions. I'm thankful for the wisdom of my middle daughter, who was here to encourage me this past week. And I'm thankful for a clean, comfortable space in which I live and write. Hugs to you and all the other writers on this thread.
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