Monday, November 23, 2020

Fostering Gratitude for Your Writing in Uncertain Times

Two of my private clients emailed me this week, saying they hated their books. I don't usually hear such strong statements, especially from experienced writers as these. But life, not just the books, had worn these two writers out. Family illness, the spread of covid, exhausting politics, and dread of winter combined with difficult revision tasks put them over the edge.

It wasn't that they really hated their books--I knew that, I'd read both manuscripts, and they were good ones.

It's just that the writers had lost their vision. Along with that went any gratitude about the privilege of creative writing and its gift in their lives,

I speak from personal experience: many times, I've felt at war with my books. The challenge of bringing my vision of a story onto the page proved too much for my skillset and my energy level. Books were no fun. They took too much time and effort. They never ended. Where was the glory, the joy, the amazement I'd heard other writers speak of--and I'd lived myself?

But it's rarely the book's fault. I've learned it's more likely a primal exhaustion within the writer herself or himself.

I have a good trick to mend this, to bring back the sense of wonder that we all need if we're traveling the long road that making a book requires. It's pretty simple and may seem too woo for some of you, but for me, it works.

And since we're in Thanksgiving week, as weird and un-thanksgiving it may be for you (it is for me), it feels appropriate to share.

A book-writing client taught it to me. She regularly notes on paper what she appreciates about her characters. Just a simple list, or a letter, or a stream-of-consciousness freewrite. As a newspaper reporter, her interviews are full of understanding of the people she profiles and their situations. She brings this to her writing, specifically to her characters.

She told me this spirit of appreciation sparks unspoken cooperation between writer and subject—whether that subject is memory, imaginative, or factual.

Another writer taught me a variation of this exercise: he writes down what he loves about his book. At first, he said, it was tough to do this, especially when he felt stuck. But he begins the list on his laptop and adds something every day.

I've tried both of these seemingly simple exercises and am usually amazed at the lift.

What's actually working in your writing life, right now? Do you have a great writing group, a good reader, a supportive spouse or partner? Do you have access to wonderful classes where you can learn skills? Have you honed great research skills during this home-bound time, which are coming in handy for your book? Have you learned to use Scrivener or another writing software that's making your writing life easier? Are you participating in Nanowrimo this year, and cranking out those chapters? Is your word count growing? Did you attend a pitch conference virtually and get some agent interest? Did one of your short pieces get accepted recently, or did you get an excellent rejection letter with some great feedback?

Make use of the annual holiday of Thanksgiving for your writing exercise this week, by writing each day for 2-3 minutes about what you appreciate about your book, your characters, your topic, your writing life in general.

Use this gratitude exercise to unblock your creativity for the winter to come.

Gratitude is simple, easily forgotten, more powerful than expected when you practice it. With our creativity, it fosters a kind of deeper understanding and appreciation about our lives, what we specifically offer the world, what’s unique about that offering and why it matters.

A week from now, see what changes have come. Sometimes you’ll noticing a lightening of spirit. Maybe there will be new opportunities. More awareness of what’s actually working, what you’re doing well.

This sounds like a lightweight activity. It’s not. It’s potent. When I forget to appreciate my writing, my book, the Inner Critic begins to strongly affect my writing.

I’ve learned to use this simple exercise as a way to keep myself on track as a writer and as a human being. Not just at Thanksgiving, but all year.

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