On Sisyphus and Writing… by Katie Frawley

I’m thrilled to feature a guest post by Katie Frawley, discussing the ups and downs of writing picture books, plus how to persevere. Katie’s debut, TABITHA AND FRITZ TRADE PLACES, will be out from Two Lions in January 2021. Seriously, how cute is this cover? -Laura

Take it away, Katie!

This one’s for the writers. ALL the writers. Even you. (Especially me!) If you’re reading this, you’re probably a writer. Either that or you just enjoy lurking around literary blogs, spying on the rest of us. That’s cool too.

For many of us, when we begin pursuing our literary dreams, we do so in the shadows. Furtive notes, scribbled in secret nooks. Innocuously labeled word documents, hastily closed when someone walks past our computer screens. Twelve year old-style diaries (complete with lock and key), where we squirrel away our precious ideas.

We don’t tell our friends or family. We’re embarrassed! After all, we’re not REAL writers…not yet. Like Pinocchio, we’re waiting for the Literary Fairy to come along, wave her magic wand, and make our dreams come true!

For some, this magic moment might be when we win a particular writing contest. Or signing with a literary agent. Maybe it’s that first book contract. Or a second. Or a third. Maybe it’s earning out your advance. Or landing a series. The truth is, we’re always moving the goalposts forward. And that’s as it should be! We writers are not the type to rest on our laurels. But the really tricky part of pursuing our writing goals is figuring out how to sustain ourselves during those long and painful stretches BETWEEN the big moments.

Take signing with an agent, for example. Signing with an agent is a huge accomplishment. You have made it past one of the industry gatekeepers. You have a professional in your corner who believes in you and your work. Did it make you happy when your mom said she loved your manuscript? Sure! Still, isn’t it so much better when someone who DIDN’T give birth to you validates your accomplishment?

But after you’ve popped the champagne, tweeted the good news to everyone on #WritingTwitter, and called all your critique partners, you are instantly working toward the next goal: a book contract. And, I’ll let you in on a secret…don’t tell anyone…lurkers, look away. The dirty little secret of publishing is… it’s gonna take a minute. My critique partners and I like to joke about “publishing years.” You know how you calculate your dog’s age in dog years? Publishing has its own mystical and wondrous clock too. We’ve all heard stories about stories that are snapped up instantaneously by some lucky editor. (Elise Parsley, creator of IF YOU EVER WANTED TO BRING AN ALLIGATOR TO SCHOOL, DON’T, had a mindbogglingly speedy journey from signing with her agent to her first book deal.) But for the vast majority of writers, we’re going to be waiting… a while. It could be years between signing with your agent and selling your first book. Or between selling your first book and your second. Or between any of the wonderfully wonderful moments we writers work toward. We can feel a bit like our old Greek pal Sisyphus. You remember him from high school English, right? Poor old Sisyphus was damned for all eternity to roll a boulder up a hill in the underworld, only to have it roll down to the bottom and start all over again.

BOY! This all sounds bleak. I am literally likening the life of a writer to the eternal damnation of an ancient Greek tattletale.

So what are we to do? Quitting isn’t an option. Complaining isn’t terribly useful. (Bear in mind, kvetching to critique partners is not mere complaining. It’s an absolutely essential emotional ventilation system. Find your writing people early and hold them close.) Well, we can look again to Sisyphus for a clue.

French philosopher and writer, Albert Camus, discussed the absurdity of life and the plight of man through a Sisyphean lens. Life is full of toil and struggle. It’s brutal, punishing, and often futile. And yet, Camus finished on this hopeful note:

“I leave Sisyphus at the foot of the mountain. One always finds one’s burden again. But Sisyphus teaches…the struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man’s heart. One must imagine Sisyphus happy.”

In the same way, we writers (even you literary blog lurkers…you know you want to join us) must find joy in the struggle. Don’t tell yourself you’ll be the exception to the rule. This will only set up unreasonable expectations which will lead to despair and burnout. And don’t get mad when you see the exception to the rule tweeting out her baffling good fortune on the internet. Tip your cap, wish her well, and pick up your burden again. Open the laptop. Grab the pen. Kill your darlings. Send that query.

By all means, celebrate those big moments when they come along! You’ve earned them! But don’t count on those highs to sustain you in your writerly labor. Hold the joy of hard work and the knowledge of future achievement in your heart as you toil.

Push that boulder up the hill…and be happy.

Katie Frawley studied English at the University of Florida (GO GATORS!) and earned a Master’s Degree in British and American literature from Florida Atlantic University. Before having her children, she had the distinct privilege of teaching English to rowdy teenagers. When not banging away on the keyboard, Katie can be found testing new recipes with her miniature sous chefs, shooing iguanas away from her garden, or reading picture books to a captive audience on the couch. Katie lives in Fort Lauderdale, Florida with her husband, four (soon to be five!) children, and a handsome mutt named Nantucket. You can find Katie by visiting her website: https://katiefrawley.wordpress.com

If you want to show Katie some love by pre-ordering Tabitha and Fritz, you can do so here!

https://bookshop.org/books/tabitha-and-fritz-trade-places/9781542008549 (Independent Bookstores)

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/tabitha-and-fritz-trade-places-katie-frawley/1136971339?ean=9781542008549 (B&N)

https://www.amazon.com/Tabitha-Fritz-Trade-Places-Frawley/dp/1542008549 (Amazon)

If you enjoy my blog and want to connect, you can find me (Laura) on Twitter and Instagram!

2 thoughts on “On Sisyphus and Writing… by Katie Frawley”

  1. Thank you Katie for the dose of reality and words of encouragement. You need to hear that you’re inspirational. Super congratulations on your book – I’ve pre-ordered and can’t wait to read it.

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