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Creativity coach, writing and creative process instructor, speaker, author of Around the Writer's Block: Using Brain Science to Write the Way You Want (Penguin/Tarcher 2012) and Dancing in the Dragon's Den (Red Wheel Weiser), Teaching Artist at the Loft Literary Center.

Maybe You Don’t have Writer’s Block: Maybe Writing Is Just Hard


hard work carry on writers blockEvery once in a while, I meet former students and we chat about their writing. A few months back, one woman told me she’ll always remember what I said in class years ago.

“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.

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4 Comments on “Maybe You Don’t have Writer’s Block: Maybe Writing Is Just Hard”

  1. crowdedhermit July 13, 2015 at 9:53 pm #

    “Even on the days when it was hard to remember she loved it.” Yes! My husband said something tonight along these lines, that writing is an art, and art is not always easy but if you are an artist what else can you do?

    Like

  2. Joel D Canfield July 9, 2015 at 10:36 am #

    I worked for other people for 30 years instead of starting my own business because I thought selling was a black art that went something like this:

    create product or service —> go down to the crossroads and perform Satanic ritual at the dark of the moon; something involving the liver of a black cat, perhaps —> sell stuff

    Then I realized that selling is a science (also art, but a scientific foundation) based on human psychology: understand what people want and need, and help them get it.

    Hey, that’s what I spent all my time doing anyway. Quit my worthless job, and started a company that still helps pay the bills 15 years later.

    Repeat the above delay and epiphany regarding writing.

    Wrote my first novel when I was almost 50 after wanting to write it for over 40 years. Discovered that writing is based on structure, that story has parts and process, it’s not JUST a gift of Muses, gods, or Freudian/Jungian synaptic nonsense.

    Of COURSE it’s hard. And doing it well is even harder. Depending on magic isn’t hard, it’s IMPOSSIBLE. I hate impossible, waiting for magic.

    But hard? Hard, I can do.

    Like

    • rosannebane July 9, 2015 at 3:27 pm #

      Thanks Joel for highlighting that writing is hard, but waiting for magic is impossible.

      Like

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