The Slow Road

There is a myth in a lot of fields, especially from people looking in from outside, that you need talent to get anywhere. Perhaps talent helps, but I doubt it at this point. In fact, I doubt that anything helps except the grit to work hard and keep working hard at it while learning everything possible.

My mother is fond of telling people that I’ve always had a talent for writing, which is flattering but untrue. What I’ve always had is a delight in words and wordplay, which isn’t enough to sustain any sort of career beyond professional crossword puzzle creator. (And perhaps not even that.)

I still remember the crushing disappointment I felt when I sent out my first story in my early twenties and received a rejection that said, in essence, this is scintillating prose but there is no story here. Were I able to counsel my former self, I would have told her that such a nice rejection letter was something to be prized, not a source of misery. And to write more. Oh, and perhaps take a course in story structure. Sadly, time travel moves only in one direction, so I can’t send wise words backwards.

The myth that writing requires talent or that talent helps was incredibly damaging to me as a baby writer. After that disappointment, I took the easy route. I wrote for business. Years of writing drab technical documents, instructional design materials, and business reports pounded the scintillation right out of my prose.

When I started writing fiction seriously again a few years ago, I wasn’t even as good as that young, tender me who didn’t understand story. What I did understand, though, was how to work, which was a gift from watching my parents work hard in their business and a long career in an intense field. It turns out that grit, the willingness to keep working at it, is the most important thing.

Dean has a blog post today that reminds me again of what I love about Dean as a teacher. He places the highest value on the thing that is the most important: writing. He says he was the worst writer in many of his classes, but he worked the hardest and now he is the most successful.

Most of his courses are about getting out of your own way so that you can write. He talks about myths that impede progress. He talks about fears that can stop a writer cold. He is incredibly unromantic about writing. Which is exactly what I need.

If you ask me how my writing is going on any given day, I’m likely to grunt and say, “slowly, it’s going slowly.” It always is. It takes a lot longer to build a story than it does to consume one. That’s as it should be. Ultimately, the joy is in doing the work or it isn’t anywhere.

I hope you are able to clear away the obstacles in the way of your art today. Be well, friends!.

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