How much are you willing to work for it?

Supposedly George Frideric Handel wrote “The Messiah” in just over three weeks. Mozart could whip out a minuet over coffee, hand it over to a creditor and thereby take care of his debts. And some composer whose name I’ve forgotten apparently would write out orchestral pieces one entire part at a time—the flute part, beginning to end; then the oboe; the clarinet; and so on down through the brass, percussion and strings—since he had the entire thing worked out in his head!

These are the kind of stories I heard when I was studying music composition in college (back in a prior millennium).

Amazing, right? Apocryphal? Perhaps; although it seems pretty well established that Handel did write the Messiah in an incredibly fast burst of creativity. And there’s no doubt that Mozart was phenomenally productive in his 36 years on earth.

But truthfully, these kinds of stories may have done me more harm than good. I can’t relate to such seemingly superhuman creative output. How many of us can? These stories further the idea that creativity is magical, or effortless, or perhaps entirely the province of god-like geniuses.

But it’s not. Sure, there are geniuses out there, and sure, for some creativity does come easier. But stories of exceptional creativity held up as anything but that—exceptional—serve only to distract from the reality of what any significant endeavor requires: hard work, perseverance, and sweat.

The day you realize it’s time to start over

Since December, I’ve been working on a new draft of the final act of my novel, and much of it is coming together well. But the last few weeks have been spent on a critical passage that sets up the climax, and I’ve started having serious doubts about it: Some pieces were feeling a bit contrived. Some character motivations didn’t truly make sense. And a critical incident didn’t seem entirely logical, believable… or even physically possible.

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So it was time for a conference with one of my go-to writing critique partners. That’s right, my thirteen-year-old daughter, Carolyn. Her credentials? Poet. Short story writer. Lyricist. If I’d written as much as she has back when I was her age, I’d no doubt be a better writer now. But no time for regrets, it’s time for a consultation.

It was just the two of us one night, so I asked what she wanted to do. She suggested we go to the fancy Starbucks and write. Well, twist my arm! After an hour or so of writing, we headed over to Breakfast in America for burgers and to talk over our respective works-in-progress.

When it was my turn, I laid out the situation of the scene I’ve been concerned about. As soon as I got to the critical moment, she looked at me and said, “Oh, this is what’s going to happen, right?” and proceeded to predict precisely where the painfully predictable scene was going.

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Ignoring the voice that says, “Quit”

Well. I thought yesterday was a challenge… but sometimes things get harder before they get easier! Used a tree’s worth of kleenex today. Fought off a persistent headache with some big guns. And believe me, if I hadn’t set myself a writing goal, it would have been movies on the couch all day long. As it was, I only left the apartment to go for a short walk this evening to get some fresh air. (And chanced upon some good breakdancers doing their thing at the Trocadéro across from the Eiffel Tower.)

 

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Sorry, this isn’t from the Trocadéro, but I didn’t take any pictures tonight. Hope you don’t mind.

Let me tell you, the excuses and rationalizations were nipping at my heels all day. You’re 200 words OVER your goal for the week–that means you can quit with fewer words today. Or heck, just quit whenever you want and make it up tomorrow… You’ve done enough, call it a day…

But I made it. And discovered things about the plot, my characters, and the world they live in that I never would have if I hadn’t spent so much time with them today.

And even wrote 250 more words than I was aiming for.

 

Stuck in the middle

Anyone who’s ever started anything knows: beginnings are exhilarating, endings are fulfilling (hopefully), and middles… Yeah, the middle can be a slog.

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Sometimes in the middle, you can’t even see the end…

In my college days, a number of times I hiked the Manastash ridge trail in central Washington State before dawn to catch the sunrise. It was the same every time: Getting up and heading out in the dark to hit the trail? Yes! How exciting! And then at the end, standing at the crest while the sun inched up over the horizon and the dawn light filled the valley below? Awesome. (It was the nineties, so everything was awesome.) But slogging up the seemingly never-ending trail in the shadowy, predawn half-light with a head full of bleary thoughts? It went something like this: What am I doing here? I should still be in bed! I’m starving and my side aches… I really don’t even like this trail!

No doubt about it: the middle is hard.

I’m into day three of five days of focused writing–my Audacious Writing Week. (And I actually got a head start on Sunday evening, and I’m thinking I’ll extend into Saturday… but either way—I’m smack in the middle.) Today was most definitely more of a slog than the previous two. The novelty has worn off; now it’s feeling more like a grind. And a face-filling head cold has decided to come my way which means I’m propping up the kleenex industry and drinking loads of seltzer.

But I’m still on pace for my goal. And in the midst of just trying to get my 3,000 words down, I even had some unexpected–and welcome–character and plot breakthroughs. And I guarantee, without the goal in mind, I wouldn’t have gotten those breakthroughs. Perseverance pays off. And even though the middle can be a grind, I managed to cap off the day with an evening with friends. Now to get some sleep. Tomorrow’s coming.

Got a goal driving you? Has perseverance paid off? Leave a comment!