Turning Whine Into Gold
Every now and then, a bit of life wisdom hits you and takes seed. That’s how I felt a decade ago, when author Regina McBride and I were talking about the disadvantages of the writer’s life being conducted at home. “Home” to the majority of people is the place where you go to unwind after a long day of salaried or clock-punched work. So when those people notice that you are always home, they immediately assume you’ve had more than your fair share of couch-flopped soap opera watching.
Enter the expectations of extended family members, others in the neighborhood—even your spouse and children—who believe that in comparison to them, you clearly do not have enough activity to fill your days. After all, they are busy out in the world, while you are at home letting your imagination wander. Regina said she was constantly entertaining requests to watch other kids, to volunteer at school or sports teams or Scouts, to run errands for elders, teach Sunday School, sing in the choir, write newsletter copy or speeches for nonprofits (since writing comes to you so easily anyway).
If we said yes to all such requests, we couldn’t possibly achieve our writing goals. We have to believe that these goals are not frivolous, that they are worthy of our protection. So it’s handy to have a comeback tucked in your back pocket. Regina’s impressed me. She would tell them:
“I’m going to pass that opportunity on to someone else. Writing is the way I hope to make a difference. I am already doing my part.”
That quote saved me numerous times while powering up my writing career. Practice it. We need an answer at the ready because to stumble is to pick up your neighbor’s dry cleaning.
I am not suggesting that writers are lazy or insensitive to the needs of others. It’s quite the opposite. We feel the need deeply, and we always think we can do more. Since we’re highly capable, we know we can affect change. Where does our obligation to do so end?
A thin line exists between extreme capability and madness. Many bright, sensitive multi-talents end up imploding their psyches and surrendering potential author careers to a bloated sense of civic imperative. A successful author platform can help us impact change by bestowing greater power, but our work is so time-consuming that we must choose carefully how best to wield it. Even writers who lollygag at home all day, it turns out, need nourishing food. Sleep at night. A break from 24/7 responsibility—and another title, lest they be forgotten.
I’m revisiting this topic after reading the following quote from Sister Simone Campbell, executive director of NETWORK, a lobbying organization founded by a group of Catholic sisters. Simply put, the woman does a lot, but writes:
“All of creation is one body. I’m only just a little piece of it. But the freedom of knowing that means I just have to do my part. I don’t know how to communicate how freeing that is.”
That nugget came to me in the middle of my own personal March Madness—a term I’ve co-opted that has nothing to do with basketball. My 6 a.m. to 10 p.m. schedule was jammed to the max—and then, into my inbox, dropped the ten, 10-page manuscripts I forgot I’d said I’d critique for a contest. I had two weeks to turn them around.
While my alumni magazine assures me that most of those in my year are enjoying retirement, I accept that many writers have similar schedules. It’s all important work. Worthy work. But where does it end?
Think about that today, as you race through your busy life. We can conceive it all. We can feel it all. But maybe we don’t have to do it all.
Maybe being a storyteller is our part. Maybe it’s enough.
What are the misperceptions you’ve encountered about your writing life? What additional activities have you deemed “worth it,” and otherwise, how do you guard your writing time? All great comebacks welcome!
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Kathryn CraftKathryn 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.