Note from the me: I think this blog that I guested over at Routines for Writers is valuable enough to repost on my site. I think you can read this and insert your own “hard” spots. Read on.
“It’s too hard.”
That sentence has come out of my mouth too many times over the summer. Probably beginning before summer, if I’m honest. It’s time to deal with it. Guest blogging for Kitty provides an opportunity to explore what I’m actually saying, why I say it, and so what anyway?
The premise: writing is hard
- I don’t finish ______ (insert “scene,” “book,” “rewrite,”) because it’s hard.
- Getting the scene to run free but not too free is hard.
- Taking the critique is hard.
- Dealing with the “no thanks” from an editor is hard.
- Getting some buzz about my ms without a contract is hard.
- Making myself sit down consistently when I’d rather ride my bike, learn to make vinegar, or play with my friends, is hard.
What if it IS hard?
And what if it simultaneously means being hard isn’t bad, evil, miserable, or impossible?
“Precise language,” if you please
With a nod to The Sound of Music, I started “at the very beginning; a very good place to start.” I reviewed the definition of “hard,” all the while thinking of The Giver by Lois Lowry and the community rule to use “precise language.”
|HARD: as listed on Dictionary.com :difficult to do or accomplish; fatiguing; troublesome: a hard task.
||difficult or troublesome with respect to an action, situation, person, etc.: hard to please; a hard time.
||difficult to deal with, manage, control, overcome, or understand: a hard problem.
||involving a great deal of effort, energy, or persistence: hard labor; hard study.
That definition sounds like writing, doesn’t it? Synopses may be difficult to deal with, characters are hard to manage. It’s fatiguing to spend hours at the computer. It takes a great deal of effort, energy, or persistence to stay in my chair (whether inside, outside, by a lake, etc.) or to decide which of the myriad of techniques to use to solve the problem with my work in progress (wip.)
What if, however, I have replaced what the word means (denotation: simply what the word means) with my feelings associated with my experience of the word (connotation)? Relax, no English lesson follows. Keep reading.
“Pain is inevitable, misery is optional.”
No matter how hard (there’s that word again) I try, I can’t make the denotation of “hard” say “impossible,” “evil,” “miserable.” It isn’t there. So, as I continue to ruminate, “hard” does not have to be “bad.” Or miserable. That part is the connotation I’ve been applying to it. Hard/difficult/troublesome is what it is. Reaction—emotional loads to the word—is my choice. My habit.
In his book, The Feeling Good Handbook David Burns presents thought-provoking information and illustrations about why we keep doing what we’re doing. He states we keep habits because they work for us on some level, whether healthy or toxic. I think his ideas can be applied to calling writing “hard.” See if what’s written below resonates with you.
If it’s hard…
- I don’t have to do it right now. I can do something that has a quicker “pleasure” return for my efforts. (Just about anything, including cleaning the linen closet, is a quicker return when I’m stuck on “hard.”)
- then I have an excuse/rationalization why I haven’t moved forward and…
- Finished a proposal
- Refocused a novel as suggested by my agent
- Finished a rough draft
- Sent a proposal out
- Written a query letter
- Signed up for a conference where editors and agents will be
- written anything!
- I don’t have to write/finish this story because I really don’t want to write the story, I want to write/do (insert whatever) instead. (Refer to Excuse #1)
Notes to self
It’s fascinating when supporting ideas converge serendipitously from divergent sources. My sister is a member at the phenomenal Greenfield, MA, YMCA . Equally phenomenal at this facility is the nutritionist named Brian Wilson. Phone calls with my sister allow me to live Brian’s wisdom vicariously. Wisdom such as, “When faced with a choice (in my case, moving ahead in some way, any way, with my fiction writing), ask yourself: “Will doing this or NOT doing this move me toward the person I want to be? Or in the direction I see myself moving? Or the direction I want to see myself moving in?
For our purposes: will avoiding the “hard” part of my wip for weeks/months, move me in the direction of “finished” that I want? (If you’re not even sure you have direction, check out Put Your Dream to the Test, by John C. Maxwell and The Everyday Visionary by Jesse Duplantis. It’ll help you.)
On a recent mountain biking adventure with my husband, as I was pushing my bike up yet another deeply rock and rooted portion of what could barely be called a road, I was once more aware that life is a series of “bits.” As long as my bike is moving forward, bit by bit, I am moving forward. It doesn’t matter if I’m riding it, walking it, or pushing it. I’m still getting ahead. Of course, my goal is to ride more and push less. If I were to say, however, “it’s too hard,” and we stopped going, we would lose out on all the bits. We would miss the pungent smell of hot sage, the cobalt blue sky bannering over us, the beauty that is Utah. We would miss, as my husband says, feeling fully alive. Even when we’re trying to stay upright on a bad road.
Interesting. I just called it a “bad” road. In reality, it was—as you have astutely realized–a “hard” road. Difficult to ride, but no evil, misery optional. We opted for joy and moving forward. By bits.
While I now acknowledge that work is hard, I must equally embrace that “hard” is not bad. Nor is it impossible. But…and I’ll include you in this question. Why bother to begin the inevitable struggle to change?
The payoff is to transcend. To finish a book I—you?—have been working on for too long. To write fresh words past the first chapter/first 100 pages/draft I—you?—have avoided too many times. To break out into the fresh, cold water of a truly traveling stream instead of wallowing in the same stagnant side pools. Going forward!
So there it is. Yes, what I have been whining about is correct. Writing is hard. It simply is what it is. With all its transcendent potential.
- What if you made a list of the “hard bits” in your current work in progress?
- What if you then take that list and pick one thing?
- What if you take that one thing and start to look at it in even smaller bits?
- What if you work on that one bit today?
Time to transcend.
Kathleen Damp Wright caught, rather than sought, the moniker The What If Girl. She’s a fiction coach for beginning and multi-published writers, writes her own fiction, and blogs inconsistently on her website In addition, she gets to teach writing to fascinating junior and high school students in an educational co-op. Living in the Wasatch Mountains, she writes and plays and not always in that order. Follow her on Twitter.com also as The What If Girl and tweet her with your fiction questions. Leave a comment on her web site if you’re interested in her fiction coaching services.