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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.

When Writing Really Is Hard, Know You Can Do Hard

Sometimes writing is easier than you think; sometimes writing is harder than you like.

In my last post, I quoted from Carl Sandburg’s poem “A Father to His Son”:

Life is hard; be steel, be a rock… life is soft loam, be gentle, go easy.

When life is soft, we need the wisdom to go easy, and when life is hard, we must be willing to persist.

You Can Do Hard

Fortunately, you can persist. You can do hard. I know you can.

hard work carry on writers blockEvery once in a while, I meet former students and we chat about their writing. 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 that she loved it.

That writing was hard wasn’t in my class notes or lesson plan. It 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.

You Can Do Failure, Too

success overnight writer's blockIn a culture that celebrates instant success or hard-won success, but always and only success, it’s essential that we remember that writing is hard.

We must resist the cultural suggestion that there is something wrong with us if we fail or if writing doesn’t come as easily to us 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 you can do hard.

It takes being willing to fail and keep failing better (i.e. using mistakes to improve).

It takes being willing to keep going until your ten-year overnight success arrives. And then it takes knowing that one success won’t exempt you from future hard days and failures.

What would be hard to do in your writing today? Where might you fail? What are you waiting for? Go do the hard thing.

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2 Comments on “When Writing Really Is Hard, Know You Can Do Hard”

  1. Mary E McGinnis May 26, 2016 at 10:31 am #

    Very helpful. I remember “back in the day” when I was preparing for my first marathon, Runners were giving tips on , basically comfort, switching gloves ,etc. Finally one elite Runner spoke up and said, “Marathons are suppose to be hard”. That always stuck with me, and got me thru a lot of races. Thanks.



    • rosannebane May 26, 2016 at 4:56 pm #

      Thanks for your comment Mary McGinnis and for sharing your experience with getting through the hard stuff.


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