Sunday, March 23, 2014

Beauty Surpasses Pain

In February, I attended another mind-enriching American Night Writers Association conference in Mesa, Arizona. The keynote speaker was one of my favorite Regency authors, Sarah Eden. The woman is an enigma to me. Challenged with disabling arthritis that will affect her body the rest of her life, she faces the future with faith and encourages other writers to do the same.

Over the last month, I have reflected on the comments she left with us. They are fodder for the most discouraged of authors and have encouraged me to face the future with a different frame of reference. I share her thoughts  in bold type below and have included my comments on how her points have molded my thoughts.
  1. Don’t confuse lack of experience with lack of ability. As I anticipate building my platform and producing books that will appeal to a vast audience, I often cower and fail to attempt a project that will advance my writing career. I let the challenges of such lofty goals intimidate me until I believe I am unable to learn the tricks to advance my writing and platform strategies. The facts are: We can all become skilled if we at least undertake something new. We may not be perfect. We may make mistakes.  But with each bite of the proverbial elephant, we discover we have more inside us  than we ever anticipated.
  2. Don’t expect a gourmet meal on a fast food timeline. Perfection takes time. If I put forth the effort and attempt a new story, I might as well take the time to make it right. I’m rather an impatient person. I want to see results quickly. I sometimes skim over the necessary steps in my haste to the reach the end product. Eden says, “Great art always takes time.”And my experience has proven: working on somebody else’s timetable never produces the results I desire. So who says I have to write as fast as another author? Who says the faster I write, the better my work will be? I’ll be much more satisfied if I use my time wisely and work until I get the piece as perfect as I can make it.
  3.  Don’t settle for good enough. While I’m on the subject of perfection, I have to admit I am a perfectionist, at least some of the time. Maybe I am too much a perfectionist during those drawn-out moments and not enough of a perfectionist when my impatience kicks in. What a dichotomy! Balance is the key. Eden suggests we don’t puree the applesauce, but that we do take the time to revise our work. In the end, she says, “A writer never finishes a story; he abandons it.”
  4. Don’t approach writing the way you approach Halloween. We have to be ourselves. Joining trends or adopting someone else’s writing style only keeps us from discovering our unique voice. We can never really copy somebody else’s success anyway.  We must build our own worlds, find our own strengths, and start the next trend. 
  5. Don’t assume critics know what they are talking about. On the other hand, some critics are accurate in their assessments. But criticism must be ingested with a discerning palate. We will never please everyone, and judging by the way some writing is accepted by the public, criticism, or lack of it, is not an accurate science. A good way to determine whether we should heed solicited or unsolicited advice is to follow only those judgments that continue to surface from many different sources. Just don’t take to heart the manner by which some critics dish out their remarks. Disparagement, in all its forms, holds different weight in different circumstances.
  6. Don’t start polishing your Captain America Shield. Most of the time, I am my harshest critic. Hopefully I’ll never fall into this superhero worship of anything I do. We all must grow. None of us, at least the last time I assessed the menagerie of authors in the field, are perfect. We build our skills one line at a time, correcting one mistake at a time. 
  7.  Don’t take to the field if the marching band hasn’t arrived. We need each other in this insane goal of building worlds so others can enjoy them. Never believe you have to attempt the task by yourself. Join a writers group. Let others read your work and help you make your product better. If you don’t know how to build your platform, find someone who does. Nothing is beyond your reach when you surround yourself with friends. 
  8.  Don’t ever assume the zombies can’t find you. The hideous comments Sarah Eden has received from tactless individuals over the years, left me with my mouth agape. No one has the right to crush the life out of anyone endeavoring to become the best they can be. Yet, the world is a cruel workshop, and people have lost the art of kindness. So how do we keep our shield raised as we cross the battlefield? Eden suggests we plan to react or take hurtful comments in stride. At our most vulnerable moments, we should turn to our friends. Nothing can rid us of the sting of harsh judment, but we can make a valiant effort to deflect the assaults, even if we prefer to knock our assailants on their backsides.
  9. Don’t forget why you started the journey in the first place. In the midst of the battle, I often forget the joy and excitement of my beginnings. We are all aware of the difficulties of writing. Even though I’ve experienced the loss of a contract and have failed to meet the objectives of publishing one of my novels, I can’t allow myself to forget how much I love to write. Creating is everything to me. Odds are if I keep at my goals, I will eventually succeed. And if I don’t succeed yet another time, I’ll keep moving forward anyway. Maybe my family and friends will be the only ones to read my thoughts and taste of my creative voice, but I have gleaned a lifetime of enjoyment and learning from my craft. 
Eden ended her address with a quote from the French Impressionist painter, Auguste Renoir. Renoir suffered from arthritis and struggled to paint masterpieces despite his infirmity. His dear friend and colleague, Henri Matisse, after watching Renoir work through a grueling painting session, confronted him one day.

“Auguste, why do you continue to paint when you are in such agony?”

Renoir replied, “The pain passes but the beauty remains.”

How can we forget such a profound reminder that whatever our challenges as writers, we must continue the journey to reveal truth and beauty, even if our attempt is only for ourselves.


Empty Nest Insider said...

We went with our boys to watch spring training in Mesa years ago, and we all had a great time. These are all excellent tips, and I love Renoir's quote. Looking forward to seeing more of you, Peggy!


Peggy Shumway said...

Thanks for visiting, Julie. I love those spring training games.