Sometimes, the right words of encouragement arrive at the point when you most need them.
In writing workshops, when pressed to write (without thinking too much) in response to creative writing prompts, my writing reveals some beautiful phrases that retain spontaneous energy and emotional authenticity, the magic every writer wishes for. I believe in these small beauties…they embody a promise: I can produce good work.
I’ve been trying to cultivate the same playfulness, the letting go, in my regular writing practice. For the first few years, it seemed easy (easier?). But, the more I study the craft, the more I practice and revise, the more I read and read to understand the deeper aspects of literary technique…well, the harder it is, it seems for me, to echo the spirited performance on the page.
I’ve contracted, what Philip Pullman so accurately diagnoses in his essay, Heinrich von Kleist: “On the Marionette Theatre”, subtitled, Grace Lost and Regained, a “self-consciousness” in my writing. Through knowledge, I’ve lost the “wonderful freedom and expressiveness—the natural grace—[children] bring to such things as painting [writing]”. I’m verklempt.
And I’ve been lamenting and grieving the loss…mourning I will never regain my original (and beautiful and spontaneous) innocence.
I’m stuck in the gap perfectly articulated by Ira Glass:
“What nobody tells people who are beginners — and I really wish someone had told this to me . . . is that all of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste.
But there is this gap. For the first couple years you make stuff, and it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase. They quit.
Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing that we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is do a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you will finish one story.Ira Glass
It is only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You’ve just gotta fight your way through.”
Philip Pullman’s essay intensifies Glass’s gap to illuminate my short-sighted grief over the loss of childish creative abandon: “if we want the wisdom that comes with experience, we have to leave the innocence behind.”
What is most encouraging though, and has lifted a weight from my shoulders I hadn’t realised I was carrying, Pullman explains, “ …eventually, after great study and toil…[there] will be better, deeper, truer, more aware, in every way richer than…[what one] could achieve [as] a child.”
And then this in my email inbox (there’s no mistaking serendipity), Robert McKee’s latest update about the reality of writing story:
“No matter your chosen medium, remember this: it will take you ten years to master your art…It takes many years of work, but the disciplined writer knows that given determination and study, the puzzle of story yields.”Robert McKee
Prescription: keep working.