Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 23, 2017

5 Ways Writers Can Survive A Quake

Kathryn Craft

The city of Tokyo is in a precarious spot, balanced at the juncture of four tectonic plates. Even as Tokyo’s inhabitants conduct daily life and continue to build upward, somewhere in the back of their minds they are anticipating a sudden shift in any one of these plates that will remove the ground beneath them.

Today’s publishing world is similarly positioned. Its author inhabitants are trying to build careers on top of shifting plates outside our control—we might name them Publisher, Agent, Reader, and The Economy. You might think you have everything aligned—your perfect advocate will find your work its permanent “publishing home”—but this is modern capitalism, not family life. When a market shift occurs, everyone must scramble to protect their bottom line.

It is difficult to build something lasting on uncertain ground—but it’s not impossible. Since Japan is the world leader in anti-seismic building technologies, let’s look at what the adaptations they’ve made can teach us about building a sustainable publishing career.

A foundation concretized with writing craft and business savvy is a great start, but might not be enough to keep your career from crumbling in the case of a quake. Because here is what Tokyo’s architects have learned about concrete foundations: when poured over a shifting world, they are prone to cracks.

In response, these architects are developing new strategies. Hydraulic dampers allow the façade to absorb seismic energy. Base isolation technology lets the building separate from its concrete foundation so it can float, then settle. Looser bolting systems allow movement. New super-elastic alloys can pull a twisted building back into position.

In other words, from the outset, they are building flexibility into their design.

Build flexibility into your career design

How can you build the type of flexibility into your writing career so that it might withstand sudden market shifts? Here are five ideas that can be employed at any stage—but the earlier you can embed them into your growing career, the less damage a quake will inflict.

  • Get real. Accept that you alone are the architect for your career. Editors and agents can be valuable advisors, but they have enough buildings going up that if one topples, they have others to work on.
  • Say aloud: “I am not my fear.” Career quakes might not threaten life and limb, but the fear of losing respect, earning potential, and self-concept is real. Use a looser bolting system to that fear. Feel it and let it go. When you settle back onto your base, you’ll realize that you are the same career architect you were right before the quake was felt. You might have a bigger challenge before you, but since the days you first began digging your foundation, you have grown in the skills needed to tackle it.
  • Ask: How can this challenge help me? Quakes shake things up. How could that inspire you to find new building materials? Could you write in different genres under different names? Try different forms, such as screenplays or essays? A setback need not diminish you. It could inspire you to grow.
  • Seek the support of other writers. When your high-rise optimism cracks, writing friends can pour on the flexible perspective that allows your twisted sense of self to regain its shape. Through valuable give-and-take, friends can tether each other’s buildings to safer emotional ground.
  • Love the writing. Career stagnation need not equal writing stagnation. If you love to write, do that. Stockpiling projects in itself creates the blocks that build a career. On the days when writing is all you have, the deep satisfaction it brings needs to be enough.

Today’s authors build careers on shifting soil, that is a fact. But adaptations created by Japanese visionaries suggest that sudden shifts needn’t tear down a career. We can plan for ways to absorb the shock when the inevitable happens. Then, while others turn a blind eye to the rumbling from below, you’ll be able to use your greater emotional flexibility to keep reaching for the sky.

To buoy each other up, let’s share: What moments of deep satisfaction sustain you as a writer? What methods have you used to shore yourself up when a setback rattles you?


Kathryn Craft


Kathryn Craft  is the award-winning author of two novels from Sourcebooks, The Art of Falling and The Far End of Happy, and a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft. Her chapter “A Drop of Imitation: Learn from the Masters” was included in the writing guide Author in Progress, from Writers Digest Books. Janice Gable Bashman’s interview with her, “How Structure Supports Meaning,” originally published in the 2017 Novel & Short Story Writer’s Market, has been reprinted in The Complete Handbook of Novel Writingboth from Writer’s Digest Books.

30 comments on “5 Ways Writers Can Survive A Quake”

  1. Kathryn, this soooo speaks to me! Love this especially: Stockpiling projects in itself creates the blocks that build a career. On the days when writing is all you have, the deep satisfaction it brings needs to be enough.

    Yes, I stockpile and some days writing is all I've got indeed!

    When I am feeling lost in my writing or going through a deep disappointment in my author career where I need to shore myself up again I do 2 things:
    1. Write a list of all my writer accomplishments since I started writing novels 8 years ago - including all I've learned and the friends I've made along the way.
    2. I go to the woods and take my notebook and just free write - me and the words and the paper and my hand connected my imagination to the page to create something new. In creating something new I remember why I started writing to begin with. This glimpse into my beginnings helps shore me up for new beginnings that I must now face.

    Thanks for the post!

    1. Donna as someone who also used to do resumes for people, I completely agree with number one—there is such power in updating your resume to see how far you've come. Love the idea of reconnecting to your beginnings as well, since a writing career is nothing if not a constant stream of beginnings. Thanks for sharing.

  2. Kathryn, thank you for this!

    'How can this challenge help me?' Wow - paradigm shift. Not very often does a piece of advice make you see something in a new way. But looking back, I can see every lesson had something I needed to learn in it. Why do I fight so hard to avoid something that is there to help me? *headdesk*

    I just need to not panic, step back, and look at some forest, instead of all those trees. So needed this today.

    1. In the week since I wrote this post, I came across this gem from Wayne Dyer: "How strongly do you desire to truly know, beyond a doubt, that every problem you experience, including the very worst thing in your life, actually contains the seeds of the best thing?" Yup—paradigm shift. xo

  3. Thanks for this post, Kathryn. When I need a little boost, I re-read passages from my favorite writers. While I read, often a new passage of my own will superimpose itself, and I'm off! Sometimes I'll reread some of my own work. If it still makes me laugh or cry, I am reminded that I do have it in me. Or, like Donna, I'll head for the woods and see what meets me there.

    1. Janet thanks for stopping by today! I had the name of your former blog in the back of my head as I read Donna's comment! For those of you who might not know it, Janet's blog was "begin...begin again." Even the lower case letters seem meaningful, with their absence of ego. I see you've started a new blog now but wanted to say the old title struck me today!

      I think it always helps to read something you've written—and have a bit of distance from—before writing again. We can often astound ourselves! Of course then we have to allow ourselves a first draft effort, so there's that... begin...begin again...

  4. I'm at the point of yet another 'career quake' just now—a cancelled contract, a tightening market for the genre I was writing in. I'm trying to see it all as an opportunity to renew, reinvent, rebuild and see what comes next. Some days there are crippling aftershocks. Some days, like today, I see a post like yours, Kathryn, a signpost, and I know this is just the start of the next phase of my career, not the end. Thank you for reminding me! I saw a great program on NOVA last week (PBS) about how China's Forbidden City has withstood earthquakes for centuries—unique wooden design, fitted without nails, loose enough to flex and move when the ground shakes, and beautiful and graceful, too. Yes, that's how I want to rebuild.

    1. Oh thanks for sharing the info from the PBS special, Lecia. The way you describe those buildings—there'e such beauty in that approach, isn't there? Riding/writing along with the storm, as our blog hosts suggest. We see such changes all the time, so we might as well try to prepare for them, right? Not by bracing against them, but by standing with knees bent, ready to move to keep our balance.

      1. So hard in the moment of hearing bad news, to be sure, but we can always allow ourselves a private emotional reaction before forging on to learning what wisdom our situation holds.

  5. Great post, Kathryn! I think that in most cases, when we hear of a breakout success we hear "well my agent had just dumped me, and my editor didn't want my option book so I..." (fill in blank with some major career shift). These setbacks, while devastating, can often be blessings in disguise. Opportunity can wear the disguise of failure, so don't be afraid to pull off the mask. I think it's important to have a Plan B in mind and to always keep in mind that this business is gig-oriented. There is no such thing as permanence in publishing. Embrace it. And when these inevitable setbacks happen, allow yourself to have a reaction, get it out of your system, and move on. And a resounding hell yes to the comment about reaching out to other writers. We are our tribe!

    1. Thanks for stopping by, Aimie! "Gig-oriented" is a perfect descriptor. All across the job board, employers aren't feeling too paternal these days. It used to feel like, "If I could only get my foot in the door." Now, it's more like, "Okay, your foot's in the door but don't let it smack your butt on the way out," lol. But if we stay flexible, we can still build careers.

  6. This one really hit me: "How can this challenge help me?" We tend to believe if we're struggling, it's a bad thing. But what if it's something that helps you re-frame the situation and become more successful? Thanks for that insight, Kathryn!

    1. If I had to say that the key to my positivity is comprised of only one thing, Julie, I'd have to say it was my ability to re-frame! Glad you left with something to chew on. 🙂

  7. I wonder if we are constantly in a state of seismic shake up? This came at a good time for me. The take away for me: Don't let panic be the guide, and flawed though I am, I'm the architect of my writing career.

    1. Are we in a constant state of seismic shake up? Good question, and perhaps! After all, we knock our characters off-balance all the time to watch them struggle to right themselves. Maybe deep down we want to see what we are made of as well, so we invite the turmoil. Who knows? Your comment did make me remember though, that one of my favorite toys as a child was a bongo board that you tried to balance on while rolling back and forth. Foreshadowing of the woman to come? 😉

  8. I never got the hang of the bongo board, Kathryn, but I learned through my "other" career, the math teaching one, that just before the biggest "break-through" to a difficult solution, the brain is so befuddled there appears to be no answer to the problem. When I am in the totally befuddled stage, I try to remember that even as I sleep, my brain is working on a solution. Often, in the morning, I wake up with a clear plan of attack. And when that doesn't happen, I use one of my lifelines...and phone a friend.

    1. Can’t tell you how often I’ve used my lifelines, Fae! Great strategy. I’m a morning person so my brain is typically befuddled as each day wanes anyway—not a good time for any problem solving, including math!

  9. How interesting, and it’s definitely food for thought. Having lived in earthquake country (CA), I’ve experienced my share of quakes. I’ve also had seismic events as an author.

    1. Your comment puts career shakes into perspective, Eileen. I think I’d choose them over the dangers of a physical earthquake, where as per Fae’s suggestion, phoning a friend may not do the trick.

  10. First off, Kathryn, I love the new graphic! Awesome addiition to your already-awesome posts. 🙂

    The thing I like about being unpublished is that I get to wallow in the words without the pressure. It doesn't mean I don't work to make these words great, but I know I'm still in that golden creative space before publishing deadlines crash in. It is glorious! Someday, as a published author, I'll have to remind myself of these moments and work to recapture them.

    1. Yes you're right Jenny, you'll have to consciously remind yourself that you signed on for this! But it's an amazing chance to grow in the face of obstacles and really dig in to the work you love.

  11. Kathryn, perfectly timed post, as usual. The perspective change in acknowledging the world we are in as writers is essential. My favorite idea is "Love the writing."

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