Thursday, October 25, 2012

The Perspiration of Writing: A Guest Post by Kathy Leonard Czepiel

Attention aspiring authors!  This guest post may be especially helpful to apprenticing writers.

Today's guest is the recipient of a 2012 creative writing fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.  Her short fiction has appeared in many literary journals including Cimarron Review, Indiana Review, CALYX, Confrontation, and The Pinch.  I'm pleased to present a guest post by Kathy Leonard Czepiel, author of a book I've recently added to my TBR list, A Violet Season, a historical novel about a Hudson Valley violet farm on the eve of the twentieth century, when women's roles were just beginning to change.  Ms. Czepiel teaches writing at Quinnipiac University in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and their two daughters.

The Perspiration of Writing: A Guest Post by Kathy Leonard Czepiel   

You’ve probably heard that famous quotation from Thomas Edison: “Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration.” The same could be said of writing.  Much of what we do in the process of writing is less inspired than it is hard-earned. This bears pointing out because sometimes aspiring writers imagine they have to feel inspired in order to get to work.  The ancient stories of the Muses, the nine goddesses of the arts who are said to inspire poets and musicians and other artists, reinforce that belief.  If your muse isn’t feeding you her song, you won’t be able to write, the myth goes.  But I don’t know any successful writer who works only when her muse is singing.

In fact, it’s just about true, for me at least, that inspiration drives only one percent of my writing life.  The inspiration for my novel, A Violet Season, came from a surprising revelation I received in my twenties while working as a newspaper reporter in my hometown.  I learned that my town and a few towns around it had, at the turn of the twentieth century, been known as “The Violet Capital of the World.”  There was almost no evidence of that booming trade remaining.  I was inspired to learn more, and eventually, many years later, to write a novel about a mother and daughter living on a violet farm.  Built upon that initial inspiration was the work of crafting an intriguing plot and believable characters, researching many details of Victorian America and what was happening in the world at that time, figuring out how to frame the story and pace it and put it together into something people would want to read (even be unable to put down!).  Perspiration.

How we writers do our perspiring varies tremendously.  In addition to being a writer, I am a teacher and a mother, pulled in many directions at once, so I find I must schedule my writing time carefully and honor it faithfully.  I do not prescribe to the “you must write every day” credo, because my life simply doesn’t work that way.  Some days I teach, and some days I write.  When I’m writing, I am not checking my e-mail or touching base with Facebook.  I am at work, just as if my boss were looking over my shoulder.

I usually begin my writing mornings by rereading what I wrote last, in order to get back into the groove of my story. I also usually have a plan for what I’m going to do next, either because I’ve thought about it for awhile, or I’ve written a flexible outline. I almost never feel good about what I’m writing when I start, but about fifteen minutes in, I generally find my sea legs and sail off into the oblivion of the morning, and ultimately have to cut myself off when my time is up. Almost always, I could keep going. I wouldn’t necessarily say I’m inspired, but at least I feel as if I know what I’m doing. Some writing days are devoted more to research, or to revision, which requires less straight sailing and more tacking back and forth over the same chapter or page or paragraph or sentence again and again.  All of this requires perspiration.

That’s no complaint.  It’s how we humans get stuff done.  And at the end of the morning, when you’ve created a new chapter or a better page not because your muse was singing but because you were hauling from one word to the next, well, that’s a satisfying thing.  A job well done.


Kathy, thank you very much for being my guest, and for your post, which encourages us to work hard (or harder), to be dedicated and persistent.  Inspiration is but the spark, the catalyst, for the real work ahead, in writing as in many other things.  I wish you inspiration and a healthy dose of perspiration in your future writing endeavors!  

Author photo by Chris Volpe.  Inspiration/perspiration photo by the author. Comments are welcomed and appreciated.


  1. So many authors have to work a day job - I'm amazed at their perseverance. I bet Kathy is a great professor.

  2. Very interesting!! I'm making sure A Violet Season is on my WishList :)

  3. Interesting and informative post, I think the illustration of those manuscripts combined with the light bulb is truly inspirational.

  4. Interesting post and I like the shot of the books with the lightbulb. It's inspiring to hear how authors juggle day jobs, family and writing!

  5. This certainly good news for those of us who would like to write but are waiting for a muse to drive us. The muse of hard work seems to work. Excellent advice. Thanks for the inspiring post.

  6. Thanks, all, and thanks to Susan for inviting me! I'm glad this was helpful. For those who are struggling with that work/writing balancing act, I published a longer piece on why you don't have to write every day in the August issue of The Writer magazine. Unfortunately, it's not available online, but here's a link to the website:

  7. I think she makes a good point -- you have to treat your writing like a job or it won't get done! Thanks for the good advice.

  8. Kathy's book not only sounds fantastic, but I love her words about how much work it takes to be an author. Like many, I've always had the dream of being an author. I have many ideas, but am not sure how to tackle it. It inspires me that just putting in the hard work will be me a long ways toward the goal.


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