What’s the Use?

Back in the 1980s, motivational posters were very popular. One that seemed to turn up frequently was a picture of a kitten hanging from a tree branch. The motivational caption read in bold letters: HANG IN THERE!

In my last post, I wrote about the gathering force of a new project. An energy begins to build inside you. It’s similar to excitement, but there’s more to it than that. You all know the feeling. It’s a creative pressure seeking release. We learn, as writers and artists, to control that force and make it work for us.

It’s akin in some ways–as I fumble for more metaphors–to taming a wild and beautiful horse. So much grace and physical power all locked up in an explosive package.

That, my friends, is your next book, waiting to happen. It comes to you shyly, then darts away. You’re patient with it, calm with it. You let it flee, knowing that if it has any merit it will return. And it does. You work with it, and feel it respond.

At last, you have your plot outlined. You have, in effect, slipped a halter ever so gently over the creature’s head.

You’re ready for the next step … ready to write … and

INTERRUPTION!

CHAOS!

CRISIS!

Can there be anything more frustrating than how life, people, and the weird timing of events beyond our control all converge on us just when we’re trying to get a new project launched? (In fact, just as I typed the word Interruption, lo and behold, it happened to me, and this blog post was suspended for 10 hours before I could resume work on it.)

How can you concentrate, much less remember what you were trying to convey? How do you recapture the mood, flavor, and ambiance of that scene you were about to write?

Should you go barking mad? Should you pitch a hissy fit? Should you stew in silent martyrdom? All those emotional states are, in themselves, a distraction pulling you away from full concentration on your manuscript.

Steven Pressfield calls this effect Resistence. You may have an entirely different term for it. The point is that you mustn’t let it smother your project.

Whatever you have to do, fight to knock chaos, distraction, interruption, etc. away from you. Writers must learn to be ruthless. We were put on this planet to write, but life isn’t interested in our destiny. It will get in our way more than we can believe possible.

Frustrate a writer at this delicate, critical moment of beginning–even worse, frustrate a writer too much, too frequently–and it can be tempting to abandon the story altogether, muttering, “What’s the use?”

Beware of such a feeling. It’s defeat. It’s dreadful and demoralizing. Fend it off as much as you can. Don’t let it win.

Because there is a use for what you’re trying to do. Your story does matter and it’s important for you to express it to the best of your ability.

Like the kitten clinging to the branch, hang in there.

5 Comments

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5 responses to “What’s the Use?

  1. I think that, to be a writer, you have to dictate the circumstances and not let them control you. It’s easier said than done, but personal experience has told me before that that’s the way to go.

  2. Thanks for this. Needed it.

  3. Bill M.

    Very fitting for all aspects of life. Alone time. Something that seems to always be in short supply.

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