No two writers are the same. Perhaps the process of creativity is one facet of the work world which is continually elusive, never really containable or describable. There doesn’t seem to be a pattern or formula that we can follow to replicate another’s success.
And yet we keep trying.
It seems I’m always comparing myself to other writers and spectacularly popular artists, trying to glean fresh inspiration and awareness from their example. It works up to a point, but there are only so many books to buy, videos to watch, and classes to take before I just have to sit down and face the page on my own.
I’m reading a fantastic book: The Forest for the Trees, by Betsy Lerner. Betsy is a book editor, writing to writers about the magnificent perpelxitude that is a writer’s life.
In a charming style that is so completely relatable, Betsy describes her perception of writers before she chose a profession that would grant her an intimate acquaintance with them – all the zig zaggy foibles, neuroses, and arrogance of them.
Now that she’s seen behind the curtain, those lofty perceptions are gone. But the fact remains that many of us continue clinging to this false perception that other writers are so different, so much more consistent and disciplined, so much more knowledgeable than we are.
We all – every one of us – is in process.
We all struggle sometimes. We all feel highs of elation when a perfect idea comes to us and the story seems to write itself. We all get stuck in the miry clay of creation, with that mysterious shape that could become literally anything. We all wonder if what we’re making will be any good. Or if it will be so good that no one gets it, and our treasured art is going to grace the walls of somebody’s poo palace.
Every masterpiece had to start somewhere. There are no straight lines on the graph charting the progress of a creative work – it’s jaggedy and unpredictable. But it’s always an uphill climb.
I’m cultivating a new appreciation for this remarkable, unrepeatable process.
Participating in a writers’ group is a super way to do this. Reading and critiquing the work of my friends (and being read and critiqued myself) allows me to get in on that process, to participate in the despair of a fledgling new script and the exhilaration of watching it morph into something wonderful.
I’ll never forget the first month of my ScreenwritingU class, we had to build a story structure around the germ of a concept for our script, and then share it. As soon as I began reading, my heart sank – how did I get stuck in a class full of terrible writers? This is going to be awful.
Gamely, I considered several offerings from my fellow students and did my best to offer some encouragement and distill my long list of critiques to just a few of the most basic (and – I hope – helpful) suggestions.
Fast forward six months, and I was amazed at how much better everyone’s scripts were turning out!
But you see, it wasn’t that these were bad writers in the first place. They were just in process. They were allowing me to see what they were making before it was finished, before they even knew what it would become.
It’s a sacred privilege, and one that should be embraced carefully.
So if you’re reading this and feeling overwhelmed by the latest amazing book/artwork/movie/performance you’ve compared yourself to, please be reassured. You will get there. We will all get there.