Have you ever noticed how the best writing reads like it sprung from the page spontaneously with an undeniable clarity and logic, like it wasn’t so much written by the author as discovered?
Watching the closing ceremonies of the Olympics with my wife and daughters last night, it was impossible not to realize to how hard every one of those athletes had trained and worked and sacrificed to get there, not to mention their families and friends. Clearly, they were uncommonly focused on their goals.
But less obviously, in order to endure and continue, in order to transcend raw effort and brute strength necessary to reach the level of play, each of them also had to see the work of training as a process, and largely forget about the product, the result.
Like famed writing teacher Donald M. Murray said, this writing thing has to be about process.
Yes, your processing of life and all the seemingly pointless and repetitive pondering and pontificating is absolutely productive.
It’s true, but some part of you still doesn’t believe that. It’s okay. I have proof….
I make a conscious effort to focus on motivation in these little screeds, and the reason, my dear fighting writers, is that when you write, it’s absolutely essential to know your true motives. At least as much as is possible. And of course, that’s far easier said than done because we’re all strangers to ourselves. But in writing, we’re always teaching, and that demands a certain respect for the fact that often, though we’d like to be helpful, insightful and life-wise, we aren’t even aware of the most basic facts.
For instance, the fact is you have to first possess the instruction yourself before you can give it to readers. It’s one thing to know what’s right–it’s quite another to do it. And so many times, I’ll catch myself saying things to writers I myself haven’t yet mastered or put into practice.
The other day, I caught myself saying: “It’s important to write every day. Be sure to pay attention to your process and record the challenges and changes you notice. When you fail to write one day, set yourself a more achievable goal for the next day.”
Seems like practical, logical advice. Maybe I should start applying it….
Oh, sure. I’m busy with many other books. But everyone is busy. And maybe I’ve got too many stories roaming around my head, but who doesn’t? Those aren’t completely invalid, but they’re still just excuses.
Are you this way too? You’d rather serve as channel for the wisdom? Maybe see others benefit through you rather than be a direct recipient? Why do we do that? Why resist what we know we need? Is it fear of change? Simple laziness? Dogged immaturity maybe?
I think I know, at least in my case. It goes back to something I wrote a while back on fear of success. If I took my own advice and it worked, I’d be forced to admit the time I’ve wasted. And worse, I’d be responsible not just for that, but for the new path I’d be taking and for staying on it. I couldn’t slack off and use the old excuses for my limitations.
And maybe that honest assessment is exactly why I’ve needed this blog for 12 years.
I’ve also learned an essential lesson from all the piano lessons my grandma bought me and my mom forced me to do. Holding a lot at once to make it come out your fingers is never automatic. The secret is discipline, something none of us have until we learn it.
There’s the process of scales and chords and arpeggios. There’s the process of learning to read music. There’s the process of exercising and strengthening fingers, working through resistance, and becoming aware of all the things you must remember. And who knows how long it will take? But even as that’s all slowly happening, there’s the process of synthesizing it all as your grasp grows.
It’s the same with learning a sport or learning to read or to drive or to write. The process of learning requires processing, and it is productive because that’s how you come to possess the learning.
Processing is how we learn to apply our new ability to produce results, the product of our training.
New York Times bestselling author Elizabeth Gilbert shares that Tom Waits taught her “about the process of songwriting that can apply also to the process of making art, the process of writing a book.”
She said Tom said, “Every single song has its own individual character and you can’t treat each song the same way, because it wants to be treated differently and there are songs that are like scared birds that you have to sneak up on over the course of months in the woods.”
I think that’s true of stories and playing piano and great sport performances as well. There are times when the work and the sweat and the hours of hammering on technique and process fall away and all that’s left is the unvarnished beauty of an artist at play. And that’s what I want to see when I read–that’s what we all want to see and want to produce.
But to get to that product, we have to first love the process.
Just do your thing today, writer. Show up. And speak the words for the love of this incredible higher purpose…