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Getting Back to Grateful

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photo by Cindi Albright

If there’s one universal truth about all types of writing and all types of writers, it’s probably that this is hard. Writing is difficult. If you pursue it with any persistence and passion, you’re certain to come up against obstacle after obstacle, even if they’re of your own making. And if you’re pursuing publication, many (too many) of them aren’t of your own making—and aren’t under your control. I’ll say it again:

This is hard.

It’s also wonderful. If we didn’t think so, we wouldn’t have chosen it, would we? Writing is wonderful. Not always, no. If we want it to be more than a casual hobby, we do indeed have to push through some harder and less-fun stuff. Even fun things have not-fun parts. But from the broad-view, writing is wonderful. It’s fun, it’s enlightening, it’s satisfying and important and good.

So how do we get back to that feeling of wonderful in those times when everything feels like heavy sludge?

The answer is easier than you might think. You don’t have to buy things or fix things or rearrange. You don’t have to take a hiatus. You don’t have to go to switch genres or go back to school. You don’t have to change a single thing you’re doing; you only have to change the way you look at them. How? Gratitude.

Don’t get eye-roll-y on me. Science backs this one 100%. SCIENCE! Taking the time to be grateful for what’s already here changes your mindset, your sense of contentment, your mental and physical health. And perhaps the best part is that it’s really freaking easy. It literally requires nothing but thought. No effort, no striving. Just stop and think about what you do have, what is already good.

Actually practicing is the key here. To most of you, this concept is not news. To many of you, it’s old hat. That doesn’t matter if you’re not actively practicing it in regard to your writing life right now. Knowing about gratitude is not enough. Neither is intellectually being aware of all you have. You have to take the time to actually sit and soak in it with intention and specificity. Not just know it but feel it.

A couple years ago I started a sort of gratitude depository (ah, poetry) where I placed sticky notes highlighting things I’m happy about, grateful for, proud of, etc. I call it my Joy Jar, and I’ve kept one each year since. (You can read about the beginnings of my annual Joy Jar here [2].) It’s become a tradition for me to go through all of the notes and read them on New Year’s Day, appreciating all the good the past year held before moving into the next. It’s been invaluable, and I highly recommend it to everyone for every facet of your life.

But more pointedly, writers, this is your ticket back to the happy train. This is (probably, maybe) not going to cure your writer’s block or change your editor’s feedback or get your book reviewed. But if practiced regularly and with real effort, it will change how you feel about those things—and how deeply they end up affecting the rest of your writing life (and life-life.)

It is possible to be thrilled to sit down and draft right after your agent dumps you. It is possible to be overwhelmed with gratitude that you get to stare at a blank screen battling writer’s block for an hour every night for two weeks on end. It is possible to look forward to writing your next manuscript when you just had to trunk your current one. It is possible to love what you do even when your heart is breaking.

Your gratitude doesn’t have to be public. It doesn’t have to be vocalized or written down, although that may help you focus it into concrete thoughts. All it has to be is… be. Be grateful.

Many of us forget what a privilege it is to be able to write at all. The very choice involves education, freedom, energy, ideas, passion, supplies, time, more. You could be grateful that you have energy. That your spouse, mom, roommate, or friends encourage you. That you have a functioning computer accessible to you (even if it’s at the public library). That you have an office, or a corner, or a favorite coffee house. That you can go back and edit your work without retyping entire pages. (I’m not kidding; typewriters really weren’t that long ago.) That you have enough good health to sit for a while, to vocalize voice to text, to think coherently. You don’t have to have all of these things to be grateful for some of them, or others. (You also don’t have to stop striving for what you still want in order to be grateful for what you already have.)

You can be grateful that a cat or dog sits on your lap every day, even if she gets fur in your keyboard. You can be grateful for protein shakes. You can be grateful for sunlight and a window it can shine through. You can be grateful for the squirrels who give you something to watch while you think. You can be grateful for your off period, your early morning hour, your lunch break where you can sneak away and get half an hour in. You can be grateful for a support system that helps you make NaNoWriMo happen. You can be grateful for an expert who takes the time to answer your research questions. You can be grateful for writer friends who know how hard this is, for an agent or mentor who sees your talent, for authors to read who show you it has been done before and therefore can be done again—maybe even by you.

These are easy things to say but harder things to stop and really, deeply absorb, but when we do, gratitude follows. Even in the hardest times, gratitude changes our view. How can we not feel fully, deeply grateful for the privilege of writing? And when we do that—when we remember to do that—how can we not shift our view of it from something on the to-do list or even a dreaded task that’s mired in angst to a special, thankful type of wonderful?

Do you struggle to keep perspective on writing? Do you have a gratitude routine? How do you get back to grateful?

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About Annie Neugebauer [3]

Annie Neugebauer (@AnnieNeugebauer) is a novelist, short story author, and award-winning poet with work appearing in over fifty venues, including Apex, Black Static, and Fireside. She’s an active member of the Horror Writers Association and webmaster for the Poetry Society of Texas. In addition to Writer Unboxed, she’s also a columnist for LItReactor. She’s represented by Alec Shane of Writers House. When Annie’s not frightening strangers with her writing, she’s most likely frightening her husband and their two cats, Buttons and Snaps.