Turning Whine into Gold
My writing gratitude list, today:
- The excitement (and relief!) of a new story gelling on the page.
- The women who attended my spring writing retreat, so generous with their encouragement, feedback, and gin and tonics.
- Last night’s kayak adventure with them on a glassy lake, after dark and guided by a full moon, that encouraged us to use our senses in a different way.
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.