I’ve been struggling with my writing lately. That’s nothing new — writing is hard, and all writers go through periods when the words don’t come as easily as they should.
In the beginning, my approach was reverent, almost mystical. I really bought into the moth-and-flame analogy, that I was somehow a mere vessel for the notions that poured forth like fresh wine when I was young and raw. That was before I knew that a real writer doesn’t sit around waiting for inspiration before starting to type.
A pro hits deadlines. A pro makes word count without padding. A pro tries to ease a little something more into the story: some subtext, a little allegory, maybe a motif.
I tell the young writers under my charge that, in the beginning, there will come times when they will believe that their creative output is actually getting worse. I know this because it’s happened to me so many times, might even be happening right now.
I tell the young writers — and also the young musicians, singers and other artists who are patient enough to listen to me babble on — that this is an important point in their creative development, because it means they’re starting to notice how good they’re not.
It means they’re getting better.
I’m keeping that in mind during this lull in my own creative flow.
When I started, I would sometimes type all night. I filled notebooks with all manner of observed minutiae, half-formed insights, seedlings for stories I never got around to writing.
When I was in the meat of it, I’d sometimes put down 10,000 words a week for publication, some of them assembled in such a way that I would still consider them good, though I know well how good I wasn’t, how good I’m still not.
Writing is hard, I always remind the young people, one of those endeavors that, like long-distance running or banging one’s head against the wall, feels best when it’s time to stop.
And if you’re doing it right, you’ll never be as good as you aspire to be, but you’ll keep getting better at it, even when you think you’re getting worse.