Writers in the Storm

A blog about writing

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October 28, 2019

Protect Your Creative Life through Ghostbusting

by Kathryn Craft
Turning Whine Into Gold

Pursuing a career in writing is like moving into a house which is ruled by all things imagined. That can be super fun! But at this time of year, especially, we are reminded that this house—let’s call it a “publishing house”—comes complete with ghosts. And ghosts know when we creative types are most vulnerable to the fears they incite: when we are tired, stressed, and left in the dark.

Let’s just say there’s a lot of that in publishing.

A quirk of this house we’ve moved into is that there is no power company we can contact to hook us up securely—which means, as writers shift from writing for joy to relying upon it for income, they never know when the lights might go out.

It is up to us, and us alone, to hold the darkness at bay.

Image by Benjamin Balazs from Pixabay

Sometimes, we can make peace with the ghosts. Other times we’ve got to kick them out on their butts. On the most basic level, ghostbusting requires good nutrition, hydration, exercise, and sleep. Low energy invites a haunting.

You can’t shut the door on a ghost any more than you can shut a door between your brain and your body. It won’t help that you have an agent (who might drop you if you don’t produce) or a publisher (who will drop you if you don’t sell) or a publicist who believes in you (hey, you paid them to say that). Ugly spirits hover near, ready to swoop in whenever your force field drops, eager to make off with what confidence you have left.

Naming your enemy has power. Let’s call them out before they send you running in fear from the career you thought you wanted, and then create a vision of what exorcism looks like.

Nay-sayers. These vile spirits reach up from the grave and try to pull you down into the blackness from whence they came. Favorite sayings: “Everyone loves a debut author, but…”; “Beware the sophomore slump”; “That bestseller was a fluke.”

How to bust a nay-sayer: “Thank you but I need to get back to work.”

Statisticians. These ghosts want to flay open your optimism with pointed statistics: “No one under the age of 40 reads anymore”; “Bookstores are dying”; “The mid-list is dead.”

How to bust a statistician: “One-hundred percent of unfinished books fail in the market.”

Remembered voices. Damning opinions from your past are insidious because they’ve lived in your attic for so long. “You never could go the distance”; “Your problem is you’re just too introspective”; “Aren’t you a little young/old to be doing this?”

How to bust a remembered voice: “Hello, old friend. No time to talk.”

Social media dementors. These are the scariest and hardest to recognize as evil because Facebook tells us they are your “friends”—only they seem faster, prettier, sexier, and oh-so-much-more powerful than you. And if your envy causes your self-destruction? Oh well. “We both debuted three years ago, right? I have five more books out and three in the pipeline, how about you?”; “My publisher is paying for a twelve-city book tour—oh wait, you’re with ABC Books too, aren’t you?”; “My publicist cost $20K but was totally worth it—Oprah, Ellen, Kelly…”

How to bust a social media dementor: “Congratulations!” *add emojis* #postapicofyourcat #unplugphone #backtowork

Cheat facilitators. By tempting you to play unfairly, these poltergeists thumb their noses at your years of preparation in hopes that you’ll affirm their notion that no one should have to work all that hard in life. “Editing is just rearranging all the same words”; “I can get this in front of a film director if you make it worth my while”; “Just tell me what you want me to say in your blurb.”

How to bust a cheat facilitator: “Thanks for sharing!” #swingwide #keepeyesonownpaper

Passive-aggressive “Caspers”: These are ghouls that throw a friendly flowered sheet over their ugly heads. “I am your biggest advocate but trust me, you need to write a completely different kind of story”; “Bless your heart, aren’t you so cute to write another novel” *wink*; “I’d write one too but I have to support a family.”

How to bust a passive-aggressive Casper: #smile #eyeroll #nowwherewasi

True friends will reflect back your love and excitement for your work in ways that will make you feel stronger. But these ghosts—who sound a lot like humans you may have encountered—are driven by pure fear, and only by draining your positivity will they feel at home in your presence.

But here’s the challenge: these ghosts come with the “publishing house.” When you moved in, you brought with you both a positive, creative force driven by love and a negative, destructive fear that will threaten to tear you down, and their fight for dominion will be ongoing.

This is my last post for Turning Whine into Gold, a column intended to last six months but has had a good six-year run here at WITS. Thank you all so much for reading! I’ll still be popping in now and then. But if I could leave you with only one bit of wisdom, it would be this:

Love the writing.

If no power company exists to provide a secure connection, you must stoke your creative force from within to create your own light. When fear can gain no lasting purchase, the rest will fall into place.

Let’s get real. What other ghosts can you name that seem determined to steal your joy? When your energy gets low, how do you stoke your creative force so that you remember the love that started you down this road?

* * * * * *

About Kathryn

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.

24 comments on “Protect Your Creative Life through Ghostbusting”

  1. Sorry to get this amazing post up late! It's something all writers need to hear. Thanks so much, Kathryn...this "6 month" series has been one of my favorites these last six years. 🙂

  2. Kathryn, I was just reading over the questions at the bottom of your post and I realized one of my biggest joy stealers is time (the same as taking time for myself brings it back). To be even more specific...

    Over-commitment steals my joy and that is one I am in charge of...sort of. As a mom of a elementary school child, many of her commitments become my commitments. I've learned that I don't have to be the mom in charge of so many things. And that throwing a single sleepover for 4 girls is better than doing 3 sleepovers for 2 girls.

    1. Word problems were never my forte, but even I can follow the math on that last one! 4<6 and that's a great awareness. Sometimes gobs of time can also be an enemy ("I'll get to that in a couple of hours...") , so I hope that carving out pockets will do the trick for you! Raising a child should be a joy that enriches your life!

  3. A brilliant post, Kathryn. There are so many people out there to tell us why our endeavors are doomed to failure and why this entire business is futile. They need to remember the old adage that those who think something is impossible need to get out of the way of those who are doing it.

    1. Ah, that's such a good reminder, Aimie! Which reminds me of this one: If you are the one who thinks it's impossible, it will be—so you might as well save yourself a lot of time and go do something else. That's why it's so important, in the low moments when we feel doomed, that we immediately invoke the ghostbusters!

  4. My biggest ghosts? "Anybody can write a book." "You can't do it," and " You call that a job?" My answer to these are "No, they can't;" "Yes, I can;" and "No, I don't. Let me know when you have something positive to say."

    1. Ha! Sounds like you have those ghosts pegged as the dirty, rotten naysayers that they are, Laura. But without hesitation or flinch, you can absolutely call writing a novel "work"—way more work than a naysayer would willingly take on. Keep up those healthy boundaries!

  5. Like Jenny, the biggest ghost in my publishing house is the clock in its walls. I've never managed to locate it, let alone master it. It steals my focus by spitting out random demands from dark corners whenever I sit down, boot up, and try to pry that next chapter out of my brain.

    1. And that clock has so many meanings, too! It's getting late in life, I have to sh** or get off the pot (wish I knew a more polite way to say that, lol), other people can crank things out why can't I, I had only 30 minutes and I've wasted 29 of them, etc. One thing that works for me is journaling longhand in a POV character's voice for a while before starting to type. Once I get invested in the POV and the character's dilemma, I feel compelled to write the scene. Let me know if it works for you, Eldred!

  6. Great suggestion for Eldred, Kathryn. I really like the journal idea. Oh, and I just approved a lovely comment from Aimie, so you'll want to do a scroll up the comments section for that.

  7. I have a different kind of ghost, in addition to most of the above: a writer friend in a similar boat as me, but she seems to always be "pumping" me for information about writing, publishing, etc... You name it , she's probably asked me instead of doing research for herself. So, I started distancing myself from her or "vaguebooking" her with my replies. I don't have time to do her research and she's perfectly capable of doing it. I'm not her PA. She has a way of acting like I owe her the information.

    Last week, she suddenly jumped ship and is now writing in my genre.

    So I'm deflecting because it drains so much energy to deal with her and I don't have time. I'm focusing on my writing. She wants to be a writing group of two. I just can't.


    1. Oh Denise, I know this one intimately. It's so hard, especially when you remember being the one who needed a hand up. A sort of dementor, I'd say, like a mosquito distracting you with her constant swooping and buzzing, all for the purpose of drinking from your creative blood.

      Ugh. Readers: don't be this person!

      The best solution I've heard of takes a little effort, but you'd only have to do it once to be all set for every other aspiring writer who wants to adopt you as her personal guru: Create a short list of resources to pass along. Like links to WITS and a couple other top writing blogs, contact info for a writing group if she's local to you, an organization or conference in your genre, links to a couple of book coaches or classes. Say this is how you learned, and wish her luck. Send it as an attachment so she knows this is a blanket answer.

      Then, when she comes back with her next dilemma—because you know darn well she will—say, "Oh that must be so frustrating, good luck with that!" or "Good things we're creatives, because it's all about the problem solving, right?"—and sign off.

  8. What a great essay, Kathryn! My favorite line: "Post picture of your cat." And if any of you are not at present associated with a junior citizen of the feline persuasion, but like that response, I will gladly send you a snapshot of my 27-lb. Maine Coon. Where does he sleep? Anywhere he wants. I am blessed because the thing my friends say most often is, "Type faster!" On a serious note, I will really miss this series and hope you come back often.
    James Preston

  9. Wonderful article! I was raised by a nay-sayer so I have lots of practice taking a deep, silent breath and knitting my sense of self back together again. People do the oddest things when they're insecure in their own skin.

    1. Hi Ellen, I too was raised by a naysayer. I like to say that her negativity and criticism forged my spirit in the fire—if I could emerge intact, the publishing world’s darker moments could hold no lasting sway. Hope it’s the same for you!

  10. This was fantastamundorific. I've met some of these ghosts and I've ordered a cord of aged oak wood and my fireplace is ready to be used and abused to keep the chill of the constantly swirling lingering ghosts away.

    1. I adore invented language (unless you slipped into an ancient ghostly tongue there)—thanks for this fun comment! May your ritualistic burning of the sturdy oak keep you strong.

  11. Kathryn, I have loved all your posts on WITS and will miss them. Thanks for sharing so willingly your wisdom and hard-earned knowledge. My ghost is that amorphous blob, "Duty." Duty to look after my not-healthy husband, train the dog, clean the house, all the zillion and one things I'm supposed to do, so I put them first. But I am learning to put my writing first. That's the only way I completed my one published book, but #2 is suffering from the same ghost again. I think I need a spell to banish it. "Bubble, bubble, toil and trouble...."

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