Writing through the rough spots – Kimberly Stuart

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By Kimberly Stuart

Let’s be honest, shall we? This writing gig is for the birds. It’s ridiculous. It garners an inconsistent, often paltry paycheck, if there is pay at all. It demands an outlandish number of hours alone, in front of a laptop, wearing the Class of 1994 sweatpants that definitely should have found a home at Goodwill by the end of 1995. And it requires an emotional fortitude of Churchillian proportions in an age of online reviews and general mean-spiritedness.♥

There are perks, of course. A writer can, for example, throw around words like “Churchillian” and suffer minimal social setbacks. A writer is allowed to spend an inordinate amount of time with fake people living in her head and no one gets particularly nervous. Writers get really proficient with the use of commas and semicolons. That’s pretty great, right?

Maybe you’re sick of the grind. Maybe you’ve tried to quit writing (multiple times!) but something keeps pulling you back to the beautiful insanity of it all. If you’re in a season when you really want to quit this writing endeavor, when you’d prefer to just step away from writing and take up a more sensible profession or hobby, allow me say a few words before you turn to basket weaving or Irish clogging. Here are some ideas to keep you writing when the going is tough:

1.Join a group and hug it out.

OK, maybe not actually hug, unless you’re from my dad’s side of the family. But find other writers who get what you’re doing and who will “hug” your work even when you want to throw it across the room. A good critique group can keep you writing, submitting, and editing, long past when your own intrinsic motivation wears thin. Find some folks with a similar commitment to craft and to honest feedback, and pick a place to meet. Before the end of that first get-together, get your first six meetings on the calendar. Give each other the freedom to evaluate continuing after those first six meetings, but stick with it at least that long and see if your writing (and productivity) takes a jump in the right direction.

2. Read good books.

It’s an unfortunate side effect of deadlines and word counts that our first love, the love of a good story well told, can take a hit when we are writing for a living. Build back into your schedule the delicious pleasure of reading good books, start to finish. Set a goal for how many titles you’d like to tackle this month, this season, this year, and then give yourself the permission to do it. Revisit the works that awakened you to the pull of story to begin with, and dig into the books you’ve wanted to read for ages but just haven’t made the time. Think of it as continuing ed., with a side of porch swing and iced lemonade.

3. Celebrate the victories.

Did you finish a particularly tricky chapter? Treat yourself to a lunch out. Finally figure out a plot point that has been troubling you for awhile? Go for a long walk and breathe in the sunset. Did you hear from an agent? Have a constructive talk with an editor?  Survive a deadline? Break out the champagne and indulge in gratitude for the moment. Do not wait for the huge advance or the signed contract or the literary prize to celebrate your writing. These milestones, while certainly worth toasting, are only a few of the moments to mark. Telling stories well is a coup, no matter where you are on the journey. Celebrate the victories, however small, and when the champagne flute is empty, washed and back in the cupboard, do what you’re wired to do and get back to your good, worthwhile work.

Kimberly Stuart is the author of eight novels, including Heart Land (Howard/Simon & Schuster), which is available now. Kimberly lives, plays, works and eats lots of chocolate in Iowa, where she makes her home with a forgiving husband and three wily kids.


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