Monday, October 22, 2012

"You will be fierce. You will be a warrior."

Because Monday is a good day for things both uplifting and motivating, I will share one of my favorite videos.

Witness Ira Glass offering words of advice and encouragement to those of us embarking on creative work. You may have seen this before; it's a pretty well-discussed video, and rightfully so. I first saw it at an artists' social at my church about a year ago. Like lots of great advice, it presents a plain-language observation so true that, when you hear it, you're tempted to think you knew it already.

The gist of Mr. Glass's commentary is that people who do creative work get into it because they recognize and love other good creative work. Yet beginners get disappointed because they see that their own creative output isn't on par with the things they love and draw inspiration from.

Here's the bad and the good news. The only way you can close that gap between the things you love and the things you produce is to keep practicing. This means that you will produce a lot of work that is less-than-wonderful, and there's no shortcut around that. No amount of studying, lifehacking, or Tim Ferriss will take you from watching the races to running a six-minute mile without first sweating through ten- and eight-minute miles. Similarly, you will learn how to write really good stuff by first writing stuff that isn't really good. But the upside is that you will learn, and you will improve, if you keep at it.

This is why I love the part of the revision process where I catch a snippet of out-of-character dialogue or an overwritten paragraph of description and realize that I know how to improve it. Someone in a local writing group said that you improve not by writing, but by revising. If you want to get an idea of just how much you can improve from one draft to the next, turn on "tracked changes mode" and see how much red you have at the end of one round of edits. Then save your changes and do it again.

Last month, J. K. Rowling told the BBC that she wishes she could go back and revise portions of her Harry Potter novels. It's encouraging (or not, depending on how you look at it) that one of the best-selling modern novelists can look at some of her fabulously best-selling books and feel that same twinge that the rest of us get when we pull a two-year-old story out of the drawer.

These are the thoughts that get me through another draft when the courage (and the dewberry swizzle) runs out.

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