The Writer’s Balance

November 24, 2017

A guest post by Stephanie Raffelock

It takes courage to get up every day and write. You have to love what you are doing and you have to believe in yourself to do it.  It’s humbling for me to be the perpetual student of craft and of story. And sometimes on a good day, the best that I can muster for my life’s passion and purpose is insecurity and a lot of caffeine to meet the real and self-imposed deadlines.

The thing I know for sure about writing is this: Muses and inspiration tend to be sporadic at best, and unreliable at worst.  The courage part of writing is working it everyday, anyway. Don’t think I haven’t dreamed about how a dry martini or other consciousness altering accutromonts might stave off the existential loneliness of writing. Unfortunately those things are unreliable too. So how does one buck up and balance the solitude, the glacial speed of professional career development and the other demands of this art form?

When In Doubt, Serve:

I have two mission statements for my writing life.  One, I’ve already stated– get up every day and write.  The other is to find ways to be in service to writers through support, encouragement and educational resources. The second part of my mission statement has provided me membership into a large literary community.  And that is where I find balance.

Support:

Attend local library events. Intellectual gatherings that foster ideas and creativity are essential, and can inform your writing.  Support independent bookstores. Get to know the clerks in these stories and talk to them about your favorite genres. Get recommendations. Create an ongoing dialogue. What sells? What’s the most popular women’s fiction? Have you discovered anyone new that I should know about?  Don’t wait until you want your self-published books on a shelf in their store.

Encouragement: 

None of us can hear positive comments enough.  It’s important to honor the writers in your community. Look for what’s good in other people’s work and share that–we all get enough serious criticism. Celebrate the person who got an agent. Celebrate the one who self-published. And celebrate the individual going to their first writing conference.  These are shared successes and here is where true inspiration comes from.

Education:

Share your talent, skills and abilities with your community. Do you have time to read a book to a group of kids at the library, the bookstore or an assisted living center?  Can you make recommendations for good writing books with authority — because you’ve actually studied the book yourself and it’s helped you? I’ve lost count on how many times I’ve recommended Larry’s books to writers that I knew were struggling to figure out that damn novel format, and each time that I did, I knew I was doing that fellow writer a solid.  Are you continuing to educate yourself through constant reading? I like to read independently published writers, small press writers who aren’t household names but have wonderful stories to tell. It’s important to know what truly moves you and not just what’s trending.

Here’s the Bottom Line on Balance:

Writers think way too much about what they can get. Can I get an agent? Can I get a book contract? Can I get a hundred likes on my author page?  To be truly balanced as both a writer and a person, “what can I give” needs to be part of the equation.

Here’s a personal illustration: This past summer, my book was making the publisher rounds, courtesy of my wonderful literary agent.  She had said to me, “Stephanie, I just know that the right publisher is out there for this book.”  Two months later she sent me 35 rejection notices. And although most of those rejections were filled with encouragement, praise and support, because there was no forthcoming book deal, I was crushed.  This happened two days before the writer’s conference that I attend every year in Portland.  I had wanted to enter that conference, a woman triumphant, but instead, I walked through the door with my head down and my tail dragging.  But that only lasted for about five minutes.

I sit on the Board of Directors for that particular conference (Willamette Writers.) I direct the Young Willamette Writers program and there were lots of people depending upon me that weekend.  So my attention shifted quickly because I had 16 kids to chaperone through the writer’s conference. Sharing in the excitement of being in service to those kids took the sting out of the loneliness and rejection that come with the writing territory.

What drives me, satisfies me and keeps me going as a novelist in the becoming, is that I do the work; I am as authentic and truthful as I can be; and I have balance in how I give my talents back to the world.  You don’t have to wait to be a published writer in order to live the writing life. And to me, part of the writing life is what you give back.

It is only in the authentic fullness of life and gratitude for the gifts we are given that we become better writers, and better people. So, by all means make writing the goal. Constantly search for the sweet spot that is that ineffable quality of voice that makes good writing so compelling. Continue to study and practice all of the time. And balance all of it with the joy of what you can give.

Stephanie Raffelock is an aspiring novelist who writes about the transformational forces of life. She served an internship at The Boulder Daily Camera, and has been published in The Aspen Times and Quilter’s Magazine. She is a regular contributor on SixtyandMe.com as well as a contributing writer for The Rogue Valley Messenger.  Stephanie is the Youth Programming Director for Oregon’s Willamette Writers, and maintains a board position with Southern Oregon University’s Hannon Library. You can reach out to her at stephanieraffelock.com and @Sraffelock.

*****

Note from Larry: given it’s the Thanksgiving weekend, I wanted to share a bit of good news, for which I am thankful.

You may remember my little side project last year, a relationship book entitled Chasing Bliss. Earlier this year it was named the winning entry in the Relationships category at the 2017 Next Generation Indie Awards.

If you’re looking for an awkward moment in your life among friends and family, write a book on relationships. I could do a reality show on that one.

The book’s website is HERE.

Chasing Bliss FRONT cover final jpeg (1)

12 Comments

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12 Responses to The Writer’s Balance

  1. Great advice, Stephanie. I’ve enjoyed helping other authors online. On the “real life” side of things, I’ve gone to a few local author book signings and events, but the introvert in me keeps me from doing it more often. Your post reminds me I should though, because I would love the same in return were I in the author’s shoes. (And I have been in those shoes. Book signings can be a lonely gig. 😄)

    Congrats on the Chasing Bliss win, Larry!

  2. Carrie Rubin, you have certainly been an inspiration and touchstone for me over the years. I delight in your successes. Most writers are introverted to some degree — and we help ourselves as writers and people to stretch a little beyond our comfort zone. Thanks for taking the time to comment. Big cyber hugs comin’ your way.

  3. Kerry Boytzun

    A thoughtful, caring post, Stephanie. Thanks for that.

    Any chance you have to mingle with humans will be more rewarding (or annoying) than anything online, including the much ballyhooed blog.

    A fulfilling life will beat a wealthy life every time (but if you’re dirt poor, the former may buried under trying to eat).

    We’re reading Larry’s Chasing Bliss which has been informative and entertaining (so far it’s the Top Ten ways to lose your man or woman to the “competition” that of course, had nothing to do with your behavior). I personally know people who would benefit greatly IF–they actually considered the alien, completely ridiculous notion, that just maybe–their partner’s behavior was initiated by yours. Another way to say it: these people don’t think they’re perfect–they ARE perfect.

    Just ask them.

    Life can be ironic, like people getting together at a bar to discuss issues of alcoholism (it’s the OTHER guy that has the problem).

    Recently we went to a writers conference which was invigorating and encouraging for many reasons. The camaraderie was fun–with those that wanted to SHARE themselves. Some wanted to be present…others not so much.

    Stephanie, I applaud your desire to serve others. Only caveat I can add is to only try to help those who seek it out. Sometimes this means throwing some bait in the water, but if they aren’t interested–forgetaboutit.

    Thanksgiving…it’s not the day before Black Friday.

  4. Kerry, thanks for a thoughtful and well-rounded reply. I hope I run into you at a writer’s conference one day. We can sit in the bar and I’ll tell you about the time that I donated all of my old L.A. cocktail dresses (do they still call them that?) to a charity thrift store whose proceeds and purpose was to serve alcoholism rehab. The irony was lost on me until a couple of days later. Sometimes your heart can be in the right place, and you still need to think it though. Good wishes and good will.

  5. Sandy

    What a thoughtful blog, Stephanie. Very nice!

    And for you, Larry ~ rapid high 5s. For the win which is the whipped cream on top of the larger victories of taking the risk, sticking to your passion and navigating the awkward moments that add luster to the living of life. Awkward moments are great fun to look back on. Keep stirring the pot ! ~ Sandy

  6. Thanks, Sandy. (And thanks to Larry for all he does for writers in our community.)

  7. Sorry I’m late. A deadline is nipping at my heels. I always enjoy your insightful, encouraging articles, Stephanie. Little advice? Drop the “aspiring” from your title. You’re an inspiration and a damn fine writer.

  8. You just made my day, Sue! Thanks for the advice and I’ll take it! Biggest of hugs and onward, sans “aspiring.” 😉

  9. MikeR

    Also remember that Charles M. Schulz wrote 17,897 “Peanuts” comic strips during his lifetime … one at a time, by hand.

    Every day at the same time he did the same thing, and it started with doodling with a pencil on a little note-pad. “Some days, nothing would come.” Some days, ideas came like a torrent. Then, one strip at a time, he developed and drew the final product. He had a well-honed process that ensured that he never in his life missed a Syndicate deadline, even when he had open-heart surgery.

    I think that many writers become discouraged when they unintentionally set expectations for their (lack of …) process, wasting their own time with “pantsing.” Or, they expect that the first idea they came up with at some particular moment is the one that they should pursue, and they DO pursue it with great gusto … instead of efficiently looking-for and then considering other alternatives. An outline, a story or scene “sketch,” is a very powerful thing. When you’re venturing into unexplored territory, but you have a PLAN, you tend to keep going.

  10. OMG, I almost forgot … Way to go, Larry!!!! Well-deserved too. Congratulations! Chasing Bliss is one of my favorite books.

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