Wednesday, March 18, 2009

Making words and toothache, and how they both hurt quite a bit.

Yesterday I pulled out my paints and made a big mess of colours. It was the first time in a long time, and it felt good. Also a little scary. Plus it gave me time to think.

That morning, I'd rather unsuccessfully squeezed out about 750 words (250 short of my daily required quota, if I'm to fulfill my writing pledge for this year, and let's not talk about the fourteen days I've missed writing already this month). Every one of those words was painful. Getting them from brain to fingers to screen felt rather like trying to run a marathon through quicksand. The sludge kept pulling me down.

At lunchtime, I took refuge in a little paperback mystery novel. The supposed powers of distraction only added to my misery. The book was nothing earth-shattering, certainly never destined to be a classic or even a top seller, and yet it was immensely more readable and more real than anything I've ever been able to shake from my pen.

That's an agonising realisation to make, but it was also strangely enlightening. I realised that the reason I've been finding my writing goals so hard to reach is not because it's hard to spew a thousand words onto a page every day (it's not; plus, a thousand words usually takes more than a page, in case you were wondering). Rather, it's painful because it's horrifying to write a thousand bad words a day. Bad writing is painful. Understanding that one is making bad writing is even more painful.

It couldn't have been just coincidence, then, that I read Justine Larbalestier's latest blog post that night. She said:

There’s a certain misery in the air right now. I’m reading it on other writer’s blogs. I’m feeling it myself. Seeing it in tweets. Hearing it in late night conversations in bars. It’s kind of everywhere. So many writers I know, or who I follow on line, or in interviews, are grappling with their own self worth as writers. If I’m not selling am I still a writer? If I can’t get published am I still a writer? If my contract got cancelled am I still a writer? If my next book doesn’t do as well as my last book am I still a writer? If I don’t win awards am I still a writer? If reviewers hate my books am I still a writer?

Obviously, she is speaking particularly to published authors, the people already considered by most of us to be already making good words. But her advice rings true for anyone. It rings true for me:

All you can do is write the very best book you can.
It will get published or it won’t. It will find its market or it won’t. It will sell or it won’t. It will win awards or it won’t. None of that matters if you’ve written the best book you can.

Every act of creativity involves taking a risk. We don't really know that what we're undertaking will turn out lovely and beautiful. Well, maybe Bach had that kind of confidence, but most of us don't. Most of us just jump out into the water and hope we'll remember how to swim. Not even gracefully; we just want to stay afloat.

All I can do is try to write the very best words I can. I might not make something brilliant, but the question at the back of my mind asks, "Will you be able to stop, even if you stink?" The answer is: most likely, no.

I take courage from that phrase about genius (was it Einstein or Edison who said it?): genius is 1% inspiration and 99% perspiration. Since genius isn't what I'm aiming for (I gave that hope up long ago), I figure the equation for making something really, really good might be half a percent inspiration and 99 and a half percent perspiration. Inspiration is everywhere; the perspiration bit is up to me.


  1. Love your blog's new personalized header... So cute and quirky and you-ish! :D

  2. You are, with a single doubt, a writer, all the way through.
    All of your words, including, and possibly even more-so because of the bad!, attest to that.

    Don't give up.
    In the end, we are not doing these things for our own satisfaction, but for God's.
    ...and I am always, always comforted by the thought of Emily Dickenson- all alone with her thoughts until after she was gone, and we are all together with her lovely, lonely thoughts.
    You are already a thousand times better off than Miss Dickenson- you are not alone.

    p.s. Acts 20.24

  3. Staish -- thank you for that comment. Just... thank you.

    Meaghy -- I'm glad you liked it -- but, alas, I've already changed it. Again!


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