How to Thrive and Survive the Writing Life

Posted on October 27, 2016 at 6:00 am

By Claire Rudolf Murphy

On October 30, longtime writing friend Sarah Conover and I will present a session on the writing life for the NaNoWriMo Readiness Conference. After two days of sessions about elements of craft at Moran Prairie Library, ours will be the final event of the weekend.

I teach in a graduate writing program and work with many new children’s writers. Those that are successful are the writers who keep writing after graduation and keep learning about their craft. I can say the same for my many longtime writer friends. So that’s what Sarah and I will feature in our session.

First, we’ll discuss how to develop and maintain a personal writing life and secondly, offer suggestions for the many ways to improve your craft. I have watched Sarah use many different tools over her career to help her improve as a writer, and she will share those with you. I will lead the first section, which could also be called “Writing Past Dark: Envy, Fear, Distraction, and Other Dilemmas in the Writer’s Life.” I won’t be getting that deep. But the above is the title of one of my favorite books on the writing life.

I have shelves of books about craft and use them often. I also believe that if we don’t have a strong sense of what routines work in our writing life and don’t keep adjusting them often as needed, we will not sustain our writing. For me, keeping a positive, focused attitude about my work is key. As Bonnie Freidman writes in Writing Past Dark:

“Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing . . . and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties.”

So that is the crux—for me. I want to write great sentences, paragraphs, and whole books. But that will never happen if I don’t keep a regular writing schedule. So during my segment, participants will identify what works in their writing life and what needs changing.

Friedman also addresses another important concept—how we need to make time for our writing, even if we haven’t achieved an outer sign of success. We need to focus on process and find satisfaction in the journey. Sometimes the writing comes easily when we get in the flow and focus just on our work. That’s why NaNoWriMo is appealing. Just write a novel for the whole month of November and don’t stop to worry. Just write.

But there are so many demands in life—to support ourselves, take care of our health, our families, have fun. Sometimes it’s tempting to skip the writing time. But the only guarantee we have in our writing life is the time we put in every day.

One of the toughest aspects to face is rejection. Freidman reflects on that fear: “I live in dread that the story I am currently writing resembles those that have been rejected . . . it feels as if my new writing comes from the exact same place.”

Maybe you are nodding in agreement right now. I am. But Freidman offers us comfort: “Our finest writing will certainly come from who we already are and how we already write.”

Trusting our voice and our unique talents is how we can keep writing. Friedman concludes the book with these words:

“To love our lives right now—that is the transformative success. To see what is already beautiful—that is what is the astonishing strength.”

This makes me want to get right back to writing, to experience my own transformative success. I hope you will join Sarah Conover and me on October 30, as we look at writing journeys and discern together what will bring us to the next step.


Claire Rudolf MurphyA daughter of the West, Claire Rudolf Murphy is the author of sixteen award-winning fiction and nonfiction books for children and young adults, including Marching With Aunt Susan: Susan B. Anthony and the Fight for Women’s Rights, My Country Tis of Thee: How One Song Reveals the History of Civil Rights, illustrated by Bryan Collier, and the upcoming nonfiction book King and the Kennedys. Claire’s passion is researching and writing stories about outsiders in American history, characters who have persevered over incredible odds. Claire began her writing career in Alaska, where she lived for 24 years. Today she lives and writes in her hometown of Spokane, Washington, and teaches at Hamline University‘s low residency MFAC program, Writing for Children and Young Adults. Claire also enjoys sports, music, and time outdoors with her husband. Her two grown children and first grandchild live in Seattle.

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