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.
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?
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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, 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 Writing, both from Writer’s Digest Books.