Monday, May 17, 2010

Clarity of mind means clarity of passion, too; this is why a great and clear mind loves ardently and sees distinctly what he loves. Blaise Pascal

Sustaining Passion
A mini workshop with author Suzy Vitello Soule

I’ve never met a writer who didn’t love writing. Come to think of it, I’ve never met a musician, artist, photographer, actor or creative entrepreneur who didn’t absolutely love getting knee deep in creativity, period. How fun is it to wake up every day knowing you’re living out your dream, your purpose? How truly awesome is it to experience that spark of brilliance that will set you on a path toward completing an amazing piece of work? How rewarding is it (or will it be) when you see your work published? How validated do you feel as a writer when you receive glowing praise, or a “Thanks for writing that. You changed my life.” It’s a gift. Savor it. I’d love to tell you these good vibrations will stay with you all the days of your writing career…but they won’t.

We’ve all had those days when curling up on the couch with a pizza and the TV fixed on Bravo sounds like THE best idea ever. I’ll fess up; I’ve had a few of those days in my past. We’ll think, “Man, NOTHING is happening with my work. This novel is just not moving forward. I’m not getting the feedback I was hoping for; I’m not getting ANY feedback. Maybe I’m just not meant to be a writer. Maybe dad was right, I’ll never make a living this way.” Hold up. Take a step back, breathe and just relax. Even when you do what you love, you’re going to have those days that really make you second-guess your passion for writing. It goes hand in hand with the great days.

It’s our third week focusing on Passion. Last week we chose a mantra to help us wake up and create mindfully; the week before we discovered Passion as a fuel that propels our actions toward success. This week, we’re talking about how to sustain our Passion for writing when the going gets tough or mundane.

We get disconnected from our passion for writing when something gets in the way of our dream, plain and simple. So what is it? Think about your day. Maybe you can’t say no to people who want a piece of your time. Maybe you’re not able to write until the kids go to bed and by that time you’re too exhausted to form a sentence. Maybe the couch, the remote and a large glass of pinot sound like a perfect remedy to a stressful day. Whatever it is, it isn’t writing. Experiencing these frustrating disconnections frequently lead to lack of clarity (Where is this project going? Where am I going as a writer? What sort of writing career do I want?); lack of confidence (With all my obligations, I’ll never be able to realize this dream. This is not the writer’s life.); and waning passion (I’m not feeling it today). That’s where distractions introduce themselves as very convenient alternatives to stepping up your game and making things happen.

Author Suzy Vitello Soule writes for a living. Her work has been published in various journals, including Mississippi Review, Better Homes & Gardens and Willamette Week. Her personal essay, "Dancing With the Paper Rose", was included in the anthology The Spirit of Pregnancy, by NTC Press. Suzy has won several awards for fiction and poetry, including The Atlantic Monthly’s Student Writing Award, STORY Magazine’s Famous Fiction Competition, and Willamette Week’s Short Fiction Award.

Suzy lives in Portland, Oregon where, for the past several years, she’s hosted a high-caliber, weekly writing workshop whose members include Cheryl Strayed, Chuck Palahniuk, Monica Drake, Chelsea Cain and other blurb-worthy colleagues.

Recently I asked her how she keeps her passion for writing alive when the going gets tough. Here’s what she had to say.

“If you keep looking for a qualifier inviting you to the perfect writing life, forget it. There never WILL be enough time. The writers I know who are the most successful are not the most talented ones. They’re good enough, don’t get me wrong, but book deals, placing stories and essays regularly, authoring articles, living a Writer’s Life generally, is about three things, and they are very Boot Campy:

Saying No

Focus: Distilling those big ideas into a story, essay or poem. In order for the muse to do her thing, you have to gaze upon her unblinking and penetrate the artifice. You’ll encounter many “false friends” (Anne Lamott calls them ‘shitty first drafts’ I believe), but see them more as indicators for the way in, rather than obstacles.

The Lit Coach: Suzy’s attention to Focus here goes hand in hand with Clarity, one of the most important virtues I coach writers through. You must know what breed of writer you are, what type of work you want to be known for, your brand and where you see yourself going as a successful writer before you embark on this journey. You wouldn’t take off cross-country without a road map, would you?

Discipline: The guts to prioritize writing above happy hour, matinees, baking Cub Scouts cupcakes, getting a mani-pedi. Whether it’s word count, page count or the clock, goal-setting is imperative. Establish a routine and stick to it!

TLC: Yes, yes and YES! Another virtue I spend quite a bit of time on with my clients. To be successful at anything takes Discipline. It starts with taking 100% accountability for your actions. We’ll get more into this later, but the bottom line is, we are the sum of our choices.

Saying No: Sometimes it’s as simple as putting your phone on vibrate and stashing it in a drawer. If you’re going to finish that novel, you’re going to have to learn to disappoint people, and be okay with it. This is so hard for women in particular. I like to think of it as “No is the new Yes!”

TLC: Agreed! Saying “No” to others is saying “Yes” to yourself. It’s great to help people out and we should when time permits or we’ve scheduled it into our day, but dropping your creatively productive time over and over to do someone a favor will get you off track and feeling frustrated by the end of the day.

Even though these ideas sound stark and cold, they will lead to results that will bolster your confidence and get you through the tough times, and, once developed, they become easier.”

This is the life of the professional writer. These habits take time to build, however. It’s a major commitment not only to the craft but also to your career. You absolutely CAN make it as a writer with some attention to Focus, Clarity, Discipline and Time Management, all of which we’ll be discussing with more depth in the coming weeks.

It boils down to this: when you spend more time doing what you’re passionate about, which for our purposes is turning your writing into a career, the more clarity you’ll have, the more confident you’ll feel and the more in love with writing you’ll be! Yea!

Here’s your weekly exercise, writers: Carve out one hour of non-negotiable writing time every day. Stow away the phone, no texting allowed, no status bar updating and no email checking! Just write like you mean it and see where it takes you. Have fun with it!

As always, good luck and let me know how it goes!

You can find out more about Suzy Vitello Soule by visiting or


  1. Thank-you for this. I often forget just how much I want to write because I allow my writing to be pushed aside. I will need to make a better effort to stay focused from now on.

  2. I know what you mean. We tend to think of it as a luxury, like reading. Even if your aim isn't publication, it's necessary to have that yummy sensory time to refresh your senses. Enjoy!

    Thanks for the kind remarks and for following!

    Happy Writing!

    p.s. let me know if you're able to carve out that hour. i'd like to know how it's working for you.


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