Turning Whine into Gold: The Writer’s Spirit is Forged in the Fire

by Kathryn Craft

Kathryn Craft

Kathryn Craft

Last week I had to un-friend someone on Facebook for violating my right to pursue happiness.

I can only assume he’s had enough of reading about the growing excitement for my debut novel, coming out in two short months now. Perhaps, after years of trading a time card for money, he can’t relate to what I’ve given up to chase this dream for more than a decade, and how I feel to see it come true. It’s only a book, he may be thinking. What’s the big freaking deal?

I don’t need to explain it to you. You’re a writer.

But under a business promotion for my blog post about a new organizing strategy, sorely needed now that my life has gotten crazy-busy, this man wrote, “Just go get a job!” and “Earn your own money and quit being a leech!”

It’s a head-scratcher. I have always made money from writing-related businesses, paid my taxes, and have never asked for a dime from him. But clearly, I can’t let him write such things on my Facebook feed—even if he is my brother-in-law. I deleted his posts, and as a preventative measure, un-friended.

I did not whine, then or now. I simply defended, with equanimity, a boundary that had already been tested too many times. Because what my brother-in-law doesn’t realize is that he isn’t saying anything new. I’ve heard this before from multiple sources—and one of them is inside my own head.

I’ll admit I’ve fantasized, from time to time, about walking into a corporation and plopping down my resume. They’d fawn over my advanced education and obvious leadership skills and say, “You’re worth $75,000 a year to us. Furthermore, we’d like to pay for your health insurance!”

And then I come to. My first husband worked in the hotel business, and before his suicide I watched his sensitive soul shrivel under ridiculous work conditions beyond his control. His efforts lost all meaning, as did, in the end, the money he earned from them.

I say, go after the work you love. This isn’t simple cheerleading—believe me, the stakes are high. How you spend your time is a vital decision that each person must make for her/himself, and revisit as necessary. If he is unhappy, I hope my brother-in-law does the same.

I got the better of my inner corporate wannabe once and for all in 2010. That year, as a New Year’s Resolution, I said, “What if I simply accept, for the next entire year, that I am on the right path, without second-guessing myself?” A bold decision, you might say, for a novelist who had already racked up almost a hundred rejections.

But you can’t argue with the results. Words meant to burn me grew easier to take as my inner fire grew strong. My husband, who waffled similarly about my contributions to the household, got on board like never before—and, inspired by me, followed his passion and started his own business as a financial consultant. I said less hateful things to myself. Surrounded myself with believers. The next year I got an agent, and within a year after that she sold my debut novel. I just signed the contract for my second.

All storytellers know that change comes about due to external pressures. I’d thank my brother-in-law for his, except that what he offered was too little, too late. His spiteful comments were just little flies landing on my great big world and simply needed to be flicked off.

My spirit had already been forged in the fires of internal and external criticism. Despite my brother-in-law’s advice, turning back isn’t an option. I must live a life that is true to who I am, even if my happiness bothers others—because you know what?

Every single day I am excited to get out of bed and get back to work. That, my friends, is a gift. And once your writer’s spirit has been forged in the fire, it changes substance. You can no longer melt down, no matter how high others turn up the heat. There may be a quick emotional flare-up, and a cooling, but then, from within, will come the glorious re-igniting of passion.

I have long loved Marge Piercy’s brilliant poem “For the Young Who Want To,” which begins:

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

If voices like that haunt your creative life, I urge you to follow the link and read the rest of the poem.

Then get back to writing.

Because in her poem, Piercy concludes:

Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

Mm-hmm.

Work is its own cure because in this scenario, the worker is the one doing the loving. And love is always the greatest reward.

Have you too struggled on your writing journey? Share with us.

AofFgiftcardsAbout Kathryn

Kathryn Craft’s debut novel, The Art of Falling, will be released through Sourcebooks 0n January 28. If you would like to pre-order her book for holiday giving, she would like to send you one of these specially made cards to stand in for your gift until it ships. To receive your cards, go to her website contact form and send her your mailing address and number of copies ordered. Pre-order links are live at bn.com and amazon.com and through your local indie bookstore.

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47 Responses to Turning Whine into Gold: The Writer’s Spirit is Forged in the Fire

  1. Laura Drake says:

    Oh Kathryn, a kindred soul. Most here know my story – 15 years, 413 rejections.
    Now, 7 books under contract.

    I’ve watched many writers struggle (it’s easier than watching my own, no?) and I can’t tell at the beginning who will keep going, to finally achieve their dream. They all whine, angst, and struggle to learn. But I believe what it comes down to in the end, is Marge’s poem conclusion above. You have to love the writing itself. Love it more than the idiots like your BIL, who’s comments are more about him than you.

    Love doing it more than anything else – even on those days you hate it.

    I’m so sad for those who take their opinions of themselves from others, because it’s a fatal flaw in a writer.

    Believe.

  2. What an amazing testament from a woman of substance. Forged in fire…. Kathryn, you’re my hero!

    • Sandra what a sweet thing to say. Trying to picture myself as a hero and the only apt picture that springs to mind is “Underdog”—anyone remember him? He’s my kind of hero!

  3. Kerry Ann says:

    You have every right to pursue your happiness, and anyone who rains on your parade should be un-friended. (I still think it’s bizarre “un-friend” is now an accepted word.) You should be excited, proud, nervous, and reveling in the support of family and friends. Unfortunately, there will always be friends and relatives who can’t understand chasing the creative dream—I shiver just thinking about how many people I know who haven’t picked up a book in decades—they will never get it.

    Keep re-igniting that passion. Wonderful post. I’m off to read the rest of that brilliant poem.

    • Kerry I hope you love the poem as much as I did! I read your comment to my 24-year-old son, who was eating breakfast beside me. He said, “I fear I’m going to be one of those people who only picks up a book once per decade.” I reminded him that he promised to read my novels—and that he had just added to my dedication to publish regularly!

  4. Betty Bolte says:

    Kathryn, you are indeed an inspiration! I’ve been trying to be published in book length fiction for many years, during which I’ve been published in nonfiction and short story while I have worked to hone my storytelling capabilities/talents. Fiction is a different animal from any other kind of writing, that’s for certain. There are times (heck, yesterday?) when I have considered giving up, but then characters talk to me and I realize that I can’t give up something that is such an integral part of who I am. I’m thankful this year to realize that my hubby wholly endorses my focus on writing romantic fiction as opposed to tech writing/editing which paid the bills and gave me a pat on the back, but did not speak to my soul like writing fiction does. I applaud you for your conviction in your talents!

  5. Thanks Betty, and I applaud you back!! We need all of our various communities, like the readers of this blog, the Women’s Fiction Writers Association, and any and all other congregations we seek out—even the small group of believers in our own homes— to help reflect back our passion when our connection to it gets tenuous. You are lucky to have your husband’s support.

  6. Kathryn, thank you so much! I have passed this along to my critique group as we struggle to make our families and non-writing friends understand the need and the passion for writing. Being a writer isn’t just what I do, it is what I am.

  7. “Being a writer isn’t just what I do, it is what I am.” Powerful words, Carol, and paradoxically the reason criticism can at once be so painful and so insignificant. Thanks for spreading the word and I hope your friends resonate with the message as well.

  8. marsharwest says:

    Bless you for hanging in there, Kathryn. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’m impressed that you had the guts to un-friended your BIL.

    I know of few writers who sell that first book. The cool thing is that you (and I and many others) hung in there long enough to hone our craft and find that publisher who loves our work. Now we have our own stories to share to encourage those who come behind us and feel like quitting.

    I don’t look back too much at those awful rejections or flat out ignoring of a submission or those dreadful comments on contest entries. Most folks were trying to be helpful, pointing out areas I needed to work on. But still the pain of rejection was a real pain. They make celebrating so much more joyful, whether it’s your editor saying, “I’m having trouble focusing on editing, because I’ve gotten so caught up in the story.” Or the neighbor who kept commenting to her husband on a trip, “Oh, she can really write!” Or the sale of the next book. What a joy! Certainly something I count among my blessings, being able to write and for people to read my words and find their own joy in that. I’m also one of those blessed with a supportive husband. My heart goes out to all of you who don’t have that support at home. Great post, Kathryn. Happy Thanksgiving to all

  9. Thanks for this note, Marsha. “Now we have our own stories to share to encourage those who come behind us and feel like quitting.” We writers so often think of our legacy as our published works—as in essays, short stories and books. But our legacy can be from within the industry as well. Our blogs, advice, and spoken stories add to our legacy within the long chain of wisdom handed down from writer to writer. It behooves us to think about how we will step up into that role, and looks like you already have.

  10. jamiebeck says:

    First of all, thanks for sharing such personal stories to make your point. I can’t tell you how much I needed to read this today (having just taken a beating recently with some critiques of an early draft of my current WIP). This path is really hard, and I’ve known hard work in my ‘prior’ life. I suppose once I get published (notice the optimism…LOL), I’ll still get beat down with bad reviews now and then, too. There’s no pleasing everyone.

    Your brother-in-law’s nasty remarks, while harsh, aren’t any worse than some of the truly cruel negative reviews I’ve seen some people post on Amazon or Goodreads. It always amazes me how cowardly people will say such hurtful things behind the mask of a screen (things they’d never say to your face). It’s a big downside to technology. But at least you turned that spiteful remark into motivation. A great lesson for all.

    Congratulations on your upcoming debut and the second book deal. I love the cover of the first book. Good luck with promoting it.

  11. Brilliant post, Kathryn.
    Thank you!! I’m going to leave it at that.🙂

  12. I think this is one of the most powerful blog posts I’ve ever read, and an amazing way to start my week! I have gotten mostly positive feedback from people who heard I was writing a novel, whether friend or stranger, with one glaring exception. My sister. When I hit 50,000 words on my first novel, I said to her, “I’ve already written 50,000 words . . . Isn’t that amazing?”

    Her response? A catty, “Well, if they’re any good. Otherwise it’s just a lot of words.” She’s never once asked me how the book is coming, or even what it’s about. And, she is an avid novel reader.

    I have not un-friended my sister, lol. However, I have ceased to mention anything about my novel writing efforts to her. I’m now looking for an agent for the first novel and hard at work on my second.

    Won’t she be surprised when I finally get to announce my first book deal!

    • Leslie what can I say other than that family dynamics can be weird! Sometimes our family members can take our aspirations as judgement that they aren’t trying to do more with their lives—when really, you are just trying to express who you are! Oy.

      But yes, keep on heading toward that first book deal and she will see what real determination is all about—and I hope she’ll admire you for it.

  13. Kathryn … I thank you and everyone for being so forth coming. To quit would be for me so redundant. I did that. Quit writing twice … to raise kids … to survive raising them. I also went bankrupt three times, lost it all three times and after the third ended up alone with nothing but debt and regret. So what on earth can anyone take from me now? Money? Nope. Never got much of that back after the last crash. Self-esteem? Hell no. I’ve known about a dozen of your BIL’s and they can’t take it away from me anymore unless I want to give it up.

    I come here for the same reasons everyone is so glad you talked about this today. I come here to find likened minds and spirits. To know that Laura did it after 15 years … someone else did it after 10 … after 100 or 500 rejections. I also believe that the blogging community for writers has become a support system that keeps us striving when we might have already given up.

    Thanks … every time someone shines a light at the end of the tunnel … a lonely, discouraged writer sees it and knows there is hope🙂

    • Florence, did you see in Writer’s Digest this issue that multiple best-selling author Chris Bohjalian and his wife once sold their living room furniture so they could pay the bills? You’re in good company.

      Not everyone can handle the uncertainty of a life born of enacting one’s passion. It takes a kind of reckless courage. But oh, what a ride! And oh, what a story.

  14. Thanks Jamie. Criticism always tells you more about the critic than it does about you. Unfortunately that means we can’t believe the good reviews and discard the bad, as much as we might like to—they are all speaking to the likes and dislikes of others. We must depend on an inner gyroscope to carry on. This is the challenge for the dancer protagonist in The Art of Falling—as technically proficient and passionate as her movement appears on stage, she never quite developed that inner balance.

    Case in point: On Friday I got the very best possible kind of review from Shelf Awareness, from a reviewer who clearly connected to my novel: “Book clubs, take note: it’s not every day you find a story as moving, thoughtful and discussion-provoking as Kathryn Craft’s The Art of Falling.” But I also got a one-star rating from a reader on Goodreads—who somehow was able to post it twice!—and this woman rates highly all the same authors I enjoy. Who can explain such things? Yet while reading each, I had the same sense that I’d done the very best I could with this story—and only that will see me through.

    P.S.: Thank god readers are all different in this regard since that means there is a room in the world for a wide range of books!

  15. Thanks for sharing this, Kathryn. I’m so fortunate to have a husband who thinks I’m a wonderful writer and supports me in my dreams. I’m retired so that helps keep the guilt at bay as far contributing an income for the household. As great as DH is, once I sold that first book I could tell he respects my writing time more and views it as less of a “hobby.”🙂 And I’m okay with that, it’s just the way he’s wired.

    A couple of people did not celebrate my success and I now view it as a projection of their own disappointed, frustrated dreams that haven’t materialized. If I keep that perspective, it stings less.

    Now off to read your organization strategy!

    • Haha—moving on to business by the end of that comment, love it!

      Deb, my first husband called my writing me “volunteer work” even though I was a dance critic who was paid for my writing from day one. I wonder what he would have thought had he been alive to see that I quit that after 19 years to pursue fiction full time? I front-loaded that endeavor with 13 years of unpaid work! But oh the joy of success!!!

  16. True be told, keep writing as a hobby.That attitude makes success great if it happens, but still okay if it doesn’t happen. If you can quit writing, go ahead. Write because you enjoy writing, but don’t quit you day job.

    • Michael, if that works for you, go for it! We writers have all been blessed with the creativity to figure out how to “make a living” on our own terms. As long as we are contributing our fair share to our country—and household, however we’ve negotiated that definition—I’m not sure there’s any one right way to do it.

      My husband and I went to the Maui Writers Conference in 2001. A writer we spoke to after said how envious he was—he’d never be able to afford Maui, but how he’d love to go! My husband asked him what he drives, and the answer was a new $26K car. My husband answered that he’d never paid more than $1500 for a car in his life. We all make choices!

  17. Constance Campbell says:

    Thank you so much for sharing your story. It is inspiring and comes at an eerily perfect time for me. All the best with your debut.

  18. donnagalanti says:

    Kathryn, WOW. What a powerful post to us writers who are forging ahead – often making sparks but no fire yet. And this is an even more powerful goal to take on: “What if I simply accept, for the next entire year, that I am on the right path, without second-guessing myself?” A bold decision, yes! As writers, we have already have a naysayer in our head that can add to the multiple ones around us so that is the first naysayer to “be flicked off”.🙂

    And as we are the only ones who can make our words into something beautiful that is uniquely our own, so are we the only ones to forge our fire through our determined spirit and make our dream happen. (But I will continue to snort at your phrase “His spiteful comments were just little flies landing on my great big world and simply needed to be flicked off.”) BRAVO!!! Flick away, my friend. yes! As writers, we have already have a naysayer in our head that can add to the multiple ones around us so that is the first naysayer to “be flicked off”.🙂

  19. Donna thanks for your comment! I suppose if I were a tad more mature I would have said that a little fly landing on my great big world could be ignored, but I too love the visual of flicking. What can I say, maturity is a work-in-progress.😉

  20. Teri Goggin-Roberts says:

    Go Kathryn! Flick away! 2010 was a big year for me as well. I was diagnosed with breast cancer and decided to chuck the “someday folder” in my head. I quit my (lucrative, benefits paying) job working for corporate offices of a large health system and follow my writers heart. Shortly thereafter, I began writing my first novel. I’m SURE people thought I was nuts, but they didn’t have the heart to question a cancer patient.🙂 My husband was beyond supportive. Now, over three years later, my cancer is gone, I work as a consultant to that same health system (writing) and am a month away from submitting that novel to agents (rewritten countless times). Sometimes you just have to leap–and flick. Can’t wait to read The Art of Falling!

    • Teri, nice to see you here! I’ve heard women who say that they were sure that their cancerous cells were filled with stress—I’ve known many who made big life changes in similar circumstances, when reminded of how fleeting and precious are their hours. Which is ironic, considering how long it can take to get published in book-length fiction! Yet all those hours of writing have benefits of their own, and the investment is in something that will outlast our temporary stay on earth.

      Good luck on your revisions, and many blessings as you send your ms back out into the world. And I will add to my bulletin board a privately understood addition: “Leap—and flick.” Thanks for that!🙂

  21. Melissa Lewicki says:

    Wonderful post. I love that poem. Going to go look it up now. Thanks.

  22. That poem changed my life, Melissa. Enjoy!

  23. Kathryn, I agree with others that this is a powerful post. In the past at my husband’s executive parties or dinners, I’ve been on the receiving end of a few sneers, rolling eyes too. I put them down to envy. It takes guts to cut away from the heard and follow your own dream. More power to you and all writers!

  24. Laurie says:

    “What if I simply accept, for the next entire year, that I am on the right path, without second-guessing myself?” Excellent! I’ve learned to treat writing like a job. That helps. That, and not second-guessing myself.

    • Laurie, I’m fortunate to have a husband who sat me down when I started triple-guessing myself and said, “If you want this to be your job, treat it like your job. Make it your priority every day.” When I get comments from neighbors or family about “Why are you so busy or stressed or tired or whatever,” my husband smirks and responds with “she has a lot – A LOT – of people to take care of everyday.”🙂

      • Laura Drake says:

        Orly, so that means you’re starting that new book today, then, right?
        The Cheerleader.

        • Ladies, what’s with these time stamps? 1:21, 2:15, 3:28?!! Don’t any of you sleep?

          Orly I love what your husband said—read it to my husband (when we got up sat 5 a.m., a scant hour-and-a-half after Laura’s comment!) and he laughed out loud.

          I once heard best-selling author Hank Phillipi Ryan, who is also a newscaster, speak about writing as a job and I “got it” in a whole new way. She said her job starts at on camera at 6 p.m. She can’t show up at 6:10 and say “Sorry, I just wasn’t feeling it today.” She’d be fired! She says that writing was your choice of job but that you must take it just as seriously. Bingo.

  25. littlemissw says:

    I was truly shocked when I read this post and that your BIL had written such horrible things. But then, I’m very lucky…my husband is very supportive of my writing. I fit it around my three year old and 18 month old and all that being a stay at home mum entails and he still calls it, ‘our future’.

    I suppose, at the end of the day, what people say is only a reflection of them and their life experiences, not you or yours.

  26. Littlemissw: your husband’s words are so sweet—that writing is “our future”—they brought a tear to my eye. Thank you for sharing them! This Thanksgiving, let’s bless all the husbands and wives and writing organization volunteers and blog owners who support the work of writers!

  27. Karen Call says:

    ‘m by far my own worst critic and am having a tough time getting through it. My husband IS supportive and I no longer have a day job. What AM I waiting for? Thanks for writing this, it’s a boost for me.

  28. Reblogged this on heatherzhutchinswrites and commented:
    I needed to hear this message, Gentle Fictioneers, and I think you do, too. Enjoy! I gotta go read the rest of that poem.

  29. Pingback: K: A Kathryn Craft Post “The Writer’s Spirit is Forged in Fire” #AtoZChallenge | Abby J Reed

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