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I'm in a philosophical mood today

The other day in kung fu class, something happened that got me thinking about writing and success.

What happened wasn't particularly extraordinary; in fact, it happens every class. I showed one of the instructors the form I'm currently working on, and she noted some areas I needed to work on. On this particular occasion, one of the things she mentioned was that I should try to bring more power to my strikes.

Hmmm, I thought. I thought I was putting power into them. But I know from experience that what I feel like I'm doing may be very different from what I am actually doing. Which is why we show our forms to the instructors in the first place--because they can objectively see what we, inside our bodies, cannot. Either I'd gotten distracted focusing on other elements of the form and hadn't put as much power into the movements as I could have, or I just wasn't skilled enough to have that power yet.

Which is just fine, because the instructor then showed me techniques for bringing more power into my strikes, which I proceeded to practice for the rest of class, and hopefully was a little better at by the end. :)

While I was practicing, I started thinking about the ways that whole process was like writing... and how it wasn't. Evaluating our own stories, I think, is almost as hard as evaluating whether we're doing a form correctly. We are too much inside the characters and the world to see how they look to outside eyes. Which is why we turn to critique partners and editors to give us that outside perspective and figure out where we may have taken a wrong turn, and how to correct that.

The difference is that with kung fu, as with many other things, there is one correct way to do things. The strike must hit one specific spot at one specific angle to have the desired effect; the block must be positioned and timed just right to best protect you.

But with writing... there are hundreds of "correct" ways. "Correct" doesn't really mean anything. Even the most basic elements--grammar, beginning-middle-end structure--can be played with and turned on their heads to brilliant effect. And you can see that every time you get feedback: what one person loves another person may hate; someone might want more of X while another wishes you'd take it out completely.

That, I think, is the hardest part of being a writer. Of any creative calling, really. You have only a limited ability to tell if you're doing it "properly" (whatever properly means), if you're getting "better", if one story outdoes the last. No one else can tell you that for sure, either. There is no certainty. There is no objective standard to measure against. We are, for the most part, fumbling in the dark, grasping towards what feels right and what seems to evoke that feeling in the people we most want to enjoy our work.

I'm writing this post because I think it's important to recognize that. To know what what we are trying to do, as writers, is really hard, even if it looks to the general public like we're playing around and having fun. To acknowledge that it takes a lot of strength to keep at it, to keep striving toward a goal that will never be more than foggily defined. To realize that the best you can do is to do your best, and hope that it takes you where you want to go.

And ultimately, you are the only one who can decide that, who gets to say where that is.


( 8 comments — Leave a comment )
May. 6th, 2009 04:16 pm (UTC)
Great post. It is really hard, you are so right. And some days I find myself wishing it was easier or I was better or both, and that only brings frustration. It is what it is, and I have to accept that and try to enjoy it for what it is.
May. 7th, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC)
Yeah, there's certainly a lot *to* enjoy about the creative process! And it's so much easier to enjoy that stuff when you can accept that, okay, there's no right answer, that's just how it goes. Unfortunately I think most people are wired to always be looking for that right answer. :P
May. 6th, 2009 04:48 pm (UTC)
Love this post. It is hard work--yet I'm always surprised when I'm exhausted at the end of a day of writing. I feel like I've just been sitting around all day, not acknowledging the mental energy I've expended.
May. 7th, 2009 01:33 pm (UTC)
So true! It seems like it shouldn't be that tiring, but in some ways I find a day filled with writing more exhausting than if I'd been physically active all day.
May. 6th, 2009 04:52 pm (UTC)
So true, Megan. I am finding that now as I revise a story that I don't know sometimes where I've gone crazy and other eyes can help me see that. Ultimatley though, it's up to me to fix...

Too bad there wasn't just one way, but then I guess story writing and story telling would be pretty boring.
May. 7th, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
Yeah, that's the flip side--the parts that make creativity frustrating also make it fun! I think now that we're at that professional level, where our writing has become a career, it gets harder to see the fun over the frustration because we feel so much more pressure to do things "right".
(Deleted comment)
May. 7th, 2009 01:35 pm (UTC)
Heh, if you ever find such a plug-in, please send it my way, too! :)
Alli Sinclair
Jan. 25th, 2011 08:23 pm (UTC)
A friend steered me to this post today after I received a critique letter basically suggesting I overhaul the whole book. I've had six other cp's go through it and this was the first one that had suggested this. It gutted me. And then my lovely friend Maureen sent me the link to your post and I read it, and now I feel like I can get back in the saddle. So thank you.

"We are, for the most part, fumbling in the dark, grasping towards what feels right and what seems to evoke that feeling in the people we most want to enjoy our work."

This really resonated with me, as I'm sure it did with others who have read this.

Thanks again for an inspiring and insightful post.

PS My word verification was robust. :-)
( 8 comments — Leave a comment )

My Books

Earth & Sky
(Earth & Sky #1, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2014

The Clouded Sky
(Earth & Sky #2, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

A Sky Unbroken
(Earth & Sky #3, science fiction YA)
Skyscape/Razorbill Canada, 2015

The Way We Fall
(Fallen World #1, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2012

The Lives We Lost
(Fallen World #2, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2013

The Worlds We Make
(Fallen World #3, apocalyptic YA)
Disney-Hyperion, 2014

Those Who Lived: Fallen World Stories
(Fallen World #3.5, apocalyptic YA)
self pubbed, 2014

Give Up the Ghost
(paranormal YA)
Henry Holt, 2009

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