The Ups and Downs of Writing

Library-Fantasy-Books“It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all, in which case you have failed by default.”
-JK Rowling

This was a hard post to write. Maybe it’s because I feel swamped. I’m finishing the first revisions of my novel. I also write a weekly blog, I’m teaching, and I’m making comments on a friend’s novel. Whatever the reason, I wasn’t sure I was going to be able to come up with something new and fresh. My well was dry. Creating is like life, sometimes you hit a smooth patch and everything is going great. Then for no apparent reason, everything is turned upside-down.

When things aren’t going well with my writing, the first thing I feel is fear. I’m not good enough. I won’t ever have good ideas again. What I have to say isn’t relevant. If I look fear in the face, it usually backs down and I can move on.The first thing I do is stop beating my head against a wall, and go do something else for awhile. I’ve read any number of suggestions by writers who find themselves in this situation. My favorite sabbatical is reading, because I’m bathing in someone else’s creative vision, and what inspired them speaks to my muse. Most of the time it doesn’t take long, and I’m filled with ideas.

But sometimes the opposite happens. I’ve got too many ideas, and focusing them into a coherent piece is a struggle. That was a big problem for me when I first started writing. I had lots of ideas, but I didn’t know how to transfer them to the page. At that point, I wasn’t a very good writer. It was discouraging, because I knew what I wanted to say in the pit of my stomach, but somehow when I got my fingers on the computer keys, the words didn’t come out the way I’d imagined. However, I followed the advice of a writer acquaintance of mine. “At first you’ll write crap. That’s normal. Just keep at it. One day you’ll know that what you’ve written is good.”

Being a writer is difficult, because we want to sell our work. But, the fact is that writing, or any creative endeavor is a process that can’t be rushed. In a way, writing is like mining. You have to be willing to go to the depths to find the gems, and then polish them up so they reflect the facets of the message you’re trying to get across. It’s hard not to be impatient. I don’t know about you, but I’ve often wanted to publish my work even though it’s still a rough diamond.

One day I was feeling the pressure to finish my novel and quickly publish it, so I apologized to my husband for taking years to finish the book. He said, “What you’re doing isn’t easy, or fast. It takes time to create a work of art.” I think I cried, because he gets it. Though I shouldn’t have been surprised, he’s an artist, too.

Over the six short years I’ve been writing, these are things I’ve learned about the creative life: I must never give up the work, even if what I’ve written that day is bad. I have to trust my instincts, and forge my own path. My work isn’t going to be like anyone else’s, so it doesn’t serve me to compare myself to anyone else. There will come a time when I’ll know that what I’ve written is good, but that doesn’t mean I can rest and do the same thing over and over again. I have to keep growing, and striving for excellence, even though some days I’ll miss the mark.

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