On getting to the next level

Every single stage of my writing career has been a pain in the ass.  I think the last time my love of writing was pure and unadulterated with any concept of “why does this have to be so hard?” was when I was five and the lightbulb went off in my head and suddenly I could write in sentences.  All of the labor that had gone before — identifying the letters of the alphabet, naming their sounds, sounding them out into words, figuring out how to hold the number 2 pencil in my hand so I could form large, awkward letters on my Big Chief tablet — all of that was overshadowed by the fact that I could make sentences that anyone could read: my parents, my teacher, my siblings, a total stranger whose name I didn’t even know.   Just as intoxicating was the fact that I could make things up — I could lie through my teeth — and no one got mad at me as long as I prefaced the bald-faced lies by saying, “This is a story.”

Sometimes I forgot to preface the lies, but I was five, what do you expect.

From then on, though, the process of getting to the next level — figuring out how to put those sentences into paragraphs and the paragraphs into chapters, how to make a plot work, how to create characters, how to write dialogue — has been a pain in the ass.    On the non-fiction end, it’s been the same: figuring out how to write effective queries, putting together book proposals, writing and promoting books — all one enormous pain in the ass.

Which is not to say that the process has been unrewarding.  Obviously it has been or I’d have given up a long time ago.  I’m just saying that getting to the next level may be joyful, it may be fulfilling, it may feed some deep inner need for meaning, but it is also plain hard work.  A lot of the time the work goes nowhere.  Half the time I’ve got nothing to show for all those words I spill on the page except the understanding that this is not working.  Which, in the end, isn’t all that useful a piece of knowledge.

Because I have a bizarre affection for the Stoics (“be of good cheer, all men are mortal”), I found it very comforting when a friend of mine recently pointed out, “We’re way past the stage where this is going to be easy.”  Which, as a mantra, may not be as catchy as “Just Do It” but I like it better.

1 comment

  1. Hi Jennifer – This reminds me of a Better or For Worse cartoon on my bulletin board. Character Michael, a writer, emails his story to his editor, then dances around the room in delight. Wife enters. "It's great to see you in such a good mood. You must enjoy writing." Michael: "Let's just say I enjoy having written."
    Ditto, ditto, ditto, Michael. But to enjoy the retrospective, you have to slog through the present. Thanks for your post.

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