A lot of people think that talent and potential are the two most important traits a writer can possess. While I agree they’re important, I think a third trait is often overlooked by all the craft books and creative blogging outlet: Grit.
Have you ever seen Amadeus? Yeah, the one with Tom Hulce playing Mozart and the scandalous scene about Venus nipples. That one. Remember how it made such a big deal about how Mozart was seemingly born with the ability to play music like an angel? Do you also remember how the king told him that one of his operas had too many notes? And how he struggled with his demons and had money problems? And how his work drove him insane?
If a virtuoso like Mozart had to deal with some problems, what do you think are the chances you’ll have to face some, too? Try 100 %.
Will your problems be worse than having a nemesis who hires you to write a requiem, which ends up killing you and then is played hauntingly over scenes of your death? I hope not. But I’m pretty sure you’ll deal with a lot of shit Mozart didn’t. Like people telling you your writing sucks and it’s the truth because you’re new and it’s supposed to suck. Or later, when you’re better, they still tell you they just didn’t fall in love. And then you’ll want to scream, “I didn’t ask you to love it, I just wanted you to give it a little slap and tickle in its naughty bits.”
Some day you’re going to wonder why you’re doing this to yourself. You’re going to question whether all those hours spent locked up in that guest room while your family goes on with their lives is worth it. You’re going to wonder how long it will be before your spouse loses patience altogether and not really be sure what you’ll choose when the ultimatum comes.
One night at 3am, you’re going to reread the pages your just wrote and your stomach is going to plummet. You turn a wrong turn back in Act One and this is the middle of Act Three and it’s ALL WRONG! You’ll bang your head against a desk. You’ll cry to the heavens and shake your fists at the unfairness. Then you’ll pull out the arts and crafts basket and start fashion yourself a satin sash declaring you the “Monarch of Sucktown.”
My exaggerated point here is that each of these moments–any many, many more–are tests for a writer. If you lose your nerve and take the exit ramp, you will have an easier life. Yeah, I just said that. Your life will be easier if you stop writing. You won’t have to deal with that doubtful voice in the back of your head anymore. You won’t have to see the pitying looks of people who already believe you’ll never amount to anything. And you certainly will have alot more money once you can cut down on the alcohol and cigarettes you swear you need to get into the zone. Your spouse and kids will stop tip-toeing around. They’ll enjoy your company for a while and tell you they’re proud you tried.
It might take a month or six. Maybe a couple of years. But eventually, that whispering voice? The one who spoke in soft tones while Doubt shouted? That’s Story, and she’ll start murmuring again eventually. Then you’ll have another choice to make.
But let’s go back to that night with the sash. What if instead of tempting yourself to quit, you gnashed your teeth, girding everything you could possibly gird and pressed on. Do you think when you’re on your deathbed, you would ever say, “I should have stopped writing that night. Creating destroyed me.”
I mean, I know it kind of destroyed Mozart if the movie is to be believed, and I suppose it’s possible for you, too. But …
In your life, have you seen more people who are sad and bitter because they pursued their dreams despite the odds? Or more people who are sad and bitter because they settled for a easy life?
Look, all I’m saying is that to live the life you want, it’s not easy. If it was everyone would be happy and fulfilled. Everyone who said they wanted to write a novel would and they’d be brilliant works of heart-touching prose and we’d all be millionaires and have lots of satisfying sex and never gain a pound from wine or chocolate.
Wake up, buttercup. Life doesn’t owe you your dreams.
You want to be a published author? You’ve got to chew sandpaper for breakfast. You’ve got to look at the odds and that stack of rejections and toss your head back and laugh a hearty laugh. You got a be a mutha-fucken bull and see criticism as a taunting red flag. You’re a minotaur and the query process is your labyrinth. You, my friend, will not be bowed. You’re a god damned writer and you’re going to find a way to tell your stories if it means scratching words into the dirt with your battered and bloody fingertips.
Or you could, you know, go watch TV and take up a hobby that’s safer for your ego.
I read something once that suggested if you’re having confidence problems, you should imagine yourself wearing a cape, like a super hero. That’s nice and all, but that ain’t gritty, friends. Remember that old meme about the Technoviking? Watch this shit and tell me that man would ever let a rejection stop him.
Now, that’s grit.
Do you think he was born knowing how to dance like that? Or how to intimidate an entire generation of internet users with just a look and a pointed finger?
Okay, maybe. Frankly, I’m not even convince he was born, so much as arrived fully formed from the planet Skaarsgaard to spread a message of peace, dance and ketamine. But i digress…
I’m not saying you have to dance shirtless through the streets of Berlin to prove your mettle. Just keep a writing. KEEP WRITING. No words written are ever a waste of your time. Even if you never get published, you will be a stronger, more interesting person for the experience. Trust me on this.
Or next time you think about giving up, I’ll send Technoviking over to stand above you and point at the screen until you fill it with words.