Tag Archives: Susan Fletcher

Grit and Magic

Photo by Eric Ward on Unsplash

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

Grit and Magic

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

grit and magicWhat 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.

Lighten Up and Play

“For me, finishing a novel requires a kind of dogged persistence. It’s a long process requiring a suite of hard-won skills. But when I approach a book with a sort of grit-your-teeth determination, I can crush all the life out of it. My best writing comes when I lighten up and approach it in a spirit of play. For me, writing a novel is a delicate balancing act of craft, persistence, passion, and joy.”

What wise words from Susan Fletcher,10_22 author of Falcon in the Glass and many other fine novels. They are part of an interview on The Enchanted Inkpot, which you might want to check out more fully. She has lots more to say that’s wise and helpful and just wonderfully human.

I often hear from folks who say about this blog, “What you said was exactly what I needed to hear today,” and what Susan says here is exactly what I needed to hear today, too.

I’m good at the grit-your-teeth determination part of this writing business Susan speaks of, not always so adept at play. I do take satisfaction, a lot of it, in this good work I do. And I’m drawn to my writing with real fervor. But sometimes—well, to be honest, more often than sometimes—I forget to play.

Every other week, I take part in an Interplay group, a gathering of artists of various genres who spend two-and-a-half hours dancing and telling stories, all of it free form. The dance is whatever happens to your body in response to the music and the moment. The stories usually take off from the last word handed to you by the story of the person next to you, so there is no opportunity to preplan. You just pick up your word and step off into space, your arms stretched to catch whatever life-wind is blowing.

For someone for whom stories are a way of making a living, something that must be planned and prepared and aimed at a particular publishing slot, it is an exercise in letting go, especially letting go of judgment . . . of myself and others. Whatever comes tumbling out of my mouth is fine. It’s more than fine. It’s a gift to myself and to the group.

We begin each session sitting in a circle and checking in, responding to two questions: “What feels good in your body today?” and “What are you playing with?”

The “What feels good in your body” question is an interesting one. We are a group of mostly beyond-middle-age women, and I have been amused to realize how often we use our mention of what feels good—“my left big toe”—as a way to comment on what doesn’t feel good, a much more interesting topic. (On hot flashes, our leader, an ordained minister who had hot flashes for fifteen years, said, “The way women’s bodies are designed is my absolute proof that God is male.”)

But the first time I encountered the question, “What are you playing with?” I was thrown. Playing? I’m supposed to be playing?

I’ve been doing Interplay for a couple of years now, and I no longer have to go scrambling through my mind to come up with some play to report. And that’s less because I am playing more—though I may be, at least a bit—and more because I’m redefining my life to recognize more of what I do as play.

Planning, shopping for, preparing and eating a meal can be the deepest kind of play for me. Certainly walking our two dogs, paddling around the edge of a small lake in my kayak, taking my youngest grandson to The Children’s Theatre, going clothes shopping with my fifteen-year-old granddaughter, snuggling with my partner at home in front of a movie . . . all those things are blessing and play.

And this novel I have in front of me, the one I started over after nearly 200 pages, the one where I can’t quite get the beginning to work . . . can that be play, too?

Step one, ungrit my teeth.

Step two, take a deep breath.

Step three?

Maybe I’ll write another blog. It’s so much easier to give advice than to take it.

But tomorrow, I promise myself, I’ll play with the novel.