“What was that?” I’m always curious about what bit of wisdom or nonsense filtered through my mind, came out of my mouth, and stuck in another person’s mind.
“You told us that writing was hard.”
“Did I?” I cringed inside. How de-motivating. Why did I say something so depressing?
“And that was okay because we could do hard,” she added, which allowed me to stop cringing. “I always remember that when I get a rejection letter or can’t figure out how to make a section work. I tell myself ‘Yes, this is hard and I can do hard.’ And then I do!”
She was doing the hard work; she was showing up and maintaining her writing practice. She’d published, but that was almost a side-effect. What mattered most to her – and to me – was that years later, she was still writing, still doing what she loved. Even on the days when it was hard to remember she loved it.
It wasn’t an observation I’d given a lot of thought; it wasn’t in my class notes or lesson plan. That writing is hard seemed self-evident to me. That the aspiring and emerging writers in my class could do the hard stuff was also evident to me, but perhaps not to them, so I encouraged them that they had everything they needed.
In a culture that celebrates instant success or hard-won success, but always and only success, that self-evident truth needs to be acknowledged lest we think there is something wrong with us if we are not always successful, if everything doesn’t come as easily as it seems to come to everyone else.
In “The Power of Failure,” an essay in The Soul of Creativity, Eric Maisel observes “…failure comes more often than success does. It is not easy to build new worlds. It is the opposite of easy.”
Maisel warns that if creative people never talk openly about failure, it’s devastating when we fail.
But if we do not think about the place of failure in the creative process, then when we write a miserable first novel or draw people who look like ducks (when we wanted them to look like people) we’ll chastise ourselves, retreat from future efforts, and shut off our creativity.
If we do not understand that failure, mistakes, missteps, wrong turns, bad ideas, shoddy workmanship, half-baked theories, and other sad events are part of the process, if we romanticize the process and make believe that creativity comes with a happy face, then when we encounter our own rotten work we will be forced to conclude that we do not have what it takes. But we have what it takes. What it takes is learning and recovering from our mistakes.
It takes knowing that writing is hard AND that you can do hard.
What would be hard to do in your writing today? What are you waiting for? Go do the hard thing.