Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Jane Kirkpatrick on "Hardiness"

Last night I had a chance to listen to writer Jane Kirkpatrick at a local women’s dinner. For those who don’t know, Jane is a Christian novelist who writes about the lives of historical women. She’s also “local” to Eastern Oregon…she and her husband have a ranch out of Moro, in the brakes of the John Day River. Jane has published 19 books and has two more getting ready for publication.

Because of the crowd, I didn’t have time to do more than introduce myself and drop a business card, so I didn’t have time to ask her some of the questions I’d prepared. I did draw many gems from her presentation, though, and I’ll share a few here. Even though Kirkpatrick was speaking generally, much of what she said can be applied straight to the writing life. Go figure…she’s written 21 books!

One of the things Jane does in her writing is look at people who have undergone difficulties and dig into the difference between those who let the difficulties shape them into something better and those who simply become cranky. The quality she uses to describe the admirable people is hardiness. According to Kirkpatrick, hardy people understand:

A hardy person makes a commitment and sticks to it. To make a commitment is to make a promise, but it’s also an old banking term that means, “To make a deposit against which you can later draw.” When a person—whether a pioneer woman or a writer—makes a commitment, then Providence moves.

Hardy people understand what they can and cannot control. We often can’t control our environment, but we can control our attitudes. People who control their attitudes do so by getting clear on what matters, having the courage to act, increasing their curiosity about what works and what doesn’t, and increasing their compassion toward themselves and others.

Everyone faces challenges at some time in their lives, but hardy people face their challenges and look for ways to make the worst possible into the best possible. To draw the strength to do this, they return to their goal…their commitment.

Hardy people understand that they can’t do it alone. They need each other. A point that struck me was how often we forget that when we allow family, friends and colleagues to do something for us, we aren’t the only ones being served. We give when we allow others to do for us. So why are we so afraid to ask for help?

Kirkpatrick had a wonderful metaphor for this. If you’re as tool-challenged as I am, you have no idea what a coping saw is. Jane had one with her and showed us how it works. A coping saw is used to fit things into tight places. The blade is both strong and flexible, and can change direction quickly without a lot of friction. The blade can also be removed from the handle, put through a hole, and then reattached on the other side. That is, it can go through, not just around.

Aren’t those wonderful gems? I hope you can take something away today and apply it to your own writing life. And, if it gets too difficult, remember something else from Jane.

“You don’t have to write a novel [today]; just pen the first paragraph.”

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