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Tuesday, 17 September 2013

The Staircase In The Rubble

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The Staircase In The Rubble
(A Post Regarding Commitment And Motivation)

Let’s talk about writing.

Writing is difficult. It requires a huge amount of dedication, focus, commitment, patience and stubborn will. It’s the reason that there are far more wannabe writers than there are published authors. Somewhere along the line, we all realise that it just isn’t working.

Everyone here knows what I’m talking about. Three pages of scene-setting and opening dialogue later, that fantastic plot idea you had just seems that little bit less gripping. Your characters are flat and flavourless, your descriptions even more so. Online writing techniques prattle on about the characters springing to life on the page, but yours remain lifeless. You’re staying up until 2am rushing to finish that short story for submission tomorrow, you’re too focused on the static word count to have any hope in hell of increase it, and the story just has nowhere to go. Like a lone firework against a darkening sky, it flares once and then disappears forever.
We’ve all experienced failure, and far too many of us have welcomed that failure with open arms, eager for the excuse to stop trying. It’s all too easy to give up when you’re surrounded by the rubble of your past efforts. They litter your workspace, all different shapes and sizes, breaking into your concentration and filling your mind with doubt whenever you attempt to begin a new project.

We all have our own rubble piles, none of them the same. I’m looking through mine right now.

Wow. I’ve written so much shit.

Browsing through, I spot a document stored in a forgotten part of my drive. “
To Speak Of Death”. Last edited over three years ago. The ideas were there, in scrawled notes and bullet points. Beyond that, I’d written four pages of sub-par prose before apparently losing the spark of inspiration and saving it away with no intention of coming back to it again. The thing about rubble is that it just doesn’t have any integrity. I look at the work and I know that I can improve upon it. I’ve come a long way in three years. It’s a good idea - why not rewrite it? But the spark has long since faded away. I feel no interest, no pull towards the story anymore. I hold the piece of rubble in my hand and it crumbles and sifts through my fingers.
What many aspiring writers don’t realise - until they become more experienced - is just how truly demotivational it is to begin yet another project, knowing that before long it will merely become yet another piece of rubble to add to the heap.

But I want to tell you something. All the pain, the frustration, the despair - these are all tools to master just as surely as similes and metaphors. They serve to condition you, to improve your writing until the day arrives when you realise that you - YOU - have succeeded. And it
will arrive.
If you’ve always been one for deleting your past works, then I’d advise you break out of that habit right now. That rubble pile is the most powerful and inspirational learning device that you could ever dream of. Trust me.

What happens is that you fail. And then you fail, you fail some more, and then you do some failing on top of that. Good. That’s supposed to happen. That’s what every successful writer before you has spent their time doing. Build up that rubble pile. What you’re trying to do is to build a mountain from your past attempts.

When considered
by itself, a writer will instinctively compare the quality of an old piece of writing to what they feel they could do now. It’s human nature to want to feel that a tangible improvement has taken place over time. What this does, unfortunately, is present the false image that everything you have ever written is poor-quality rubbish. However, when one considers their collective works as a whole, then they begin to see just how much commitment and dedication was involved in what they have done. They begin to understand that the rubble is far from useless.
To Speak Of Death”, looking at it on its own, seems like nothing more than an imitation of success. But looking through everything that I’ve ever written, I see just how proud I should be. Alone, the rubble crumbles into dust. But together, the pieces support each other, and against the face of the mountain you see the outline of a staircase begin to appear. The ideas begin to coalesce into a mental bank of astonishingly defined imagination.
The rubble is the fuel for your stories, and failure is the prelude to success. It
will happen, but only if you spend enough time adding to the rubble pile. Think about a few of your favourite authors. Yes, all of them have their own rubble piles, probably far, far larger than your own. That's what makes them great.

Practice enough, and maintain the dedication of a true writer, and the staircase will eventually appear. And the view will be very different from the top of the rubble pile, looking down at the wealth of experience, of ideas and plot twists and descriptions and pure, simple imagination.
So don’t be dissuaded by failure, because failure is nothing more than fuel for your writing. Keep working on the staircase in the rubble.

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