Part of learning to create things well is just practice—putting in your time, keeping at it, refusing to give up when you make mistakes, which you are going to do a lot. Nowadays, people are calling the willingness to persist like this: grit. And yet there is another aspect to this business of creating things—call it joy, or inspiration, or magic, or whatever. And this part has very little to do with stiffening your spine and pushing past difficulties. So, in Falcon, I tried to evoke that delicate balancing act of grit and magic. —Susan Fletcher
What a marvelous lesson Susan has framed for us, the balance between grit and magic. That balance is, I think, the most important factor in creating success with any kind of writing endeavor. It’s probably the key to success in most endeavors, but writing is what she and I know best.
Giving up so often presents itself as the next best option in the midst of writing just about anything. Especially anything long. (Though I’ve struggled through many a picture book text where throwing the whole thing out seemed, at some point, a credible option.) These are the moments when every word feels leaden, characters wooden, the whole ill conceived. Such moments come especially and most fiercely to writers who haven’t yet had the validation of publication, but they come to all of us, no matter how many times we have reached that goal. Every new project, after all, is a new chance to fail.
But how do you—how does anyone—come by grit? There are lots of practical answers, and I’m sure, if you are a writer, you’ve heard all of them many times. If you are a producing writer you haven’t just heard them, you’ve made use of them.
Set a schedule—a realistic one—and keep to it. Give yourself a daily goal, perhaps two hours or two pages, whichever comes first … and again, keep to it. Join a writers’ group so you’ll be embarrassed to show up with nothing to share. Or a class—or an MFA program—that gives assignments and expects results. Or find a critique partner to exchange manuscripts with. Or simply BIC … butt in chair. Day after day after day.
Remember, though, as Susan says so eloquently, being a successful writer isn’t all “stiffening the spine and pushing past difficulties.” Grit helps. It’s essential, in fact. Without it, giving up is too easy. But if the only reason you’re writing is because you are good at forcing yourself to write, well … I have one simple question. Why?
I’ve said it here before … I’ve always been annoyed by the Hemingwayesque remarks about “sitting down at a typewriter and opening a vein.” They smack of self importance, not to mention self pity. And if that is what writing is like for you, then what must it be like for the rest of us to read words written out of such agony?
If writing doesn’t come out of joy, out of inspiration, out of magic, then what’s the point? Surely there are better ways to spend a life.
I don’t mean that I stop writing when it begins to feel like work. Of course, it’s a lot more fun some days than others. What I do mean, though, is that the mere process of stringing words together, one after another after another, of creating a character in my mind and following her into her life, of watching a feeling moment unfurl itself on the page brings me alive as few other activities in my life can. It fills me with joy …and the deepest gratitude.
How many people are there who trudge, day after day, to work that is merely necessity? And perhaps that kind of trudge occupies your days, too, so that you can turn to writing only when the other is done. But whatever we must do to make it happen, when we combine the joy of creating—the magic of seeing words come to life—with enough grit to keep producing … well, that’s what I call a privileged life.