I pick things up off the ground. I’ve done it since I was a kid and I don’t apologize for it; over the years I’ve snarfed up all sorts of neat stuff: cash, cameras, trinkets, tickets, ephemera, found art and life-changing objets d’étrange.
Yesterday I found a yellow wrist band, the kind you wear for causes or adorn with mottos. This one read, “Live Wisely and Always Choose the Right!” Well, I’m constantly on the lookout for mystic messages from beyond, so I paused to contemplate this one. The right what? I wondered. Path? Project? Freeway exit? Or maybe it just meant “right” in an objective sense: When faced with two choices, make the correct one. Okay, well, that’s good advice and self-evidently worthy of a wristband, but in terms of mystic messages it didn’t much float my boat.
My day continued.
I met a friend for coffee and he recounted an encounter with a masseuse who had heavy hands and English as a second language. When he cried, “Easy, easy!” she barked, “Easy no help you!” I heard that, and I thought, Easy no help you? Hey, that’s the motto for me! I whipped out my Sharpie and inked it onto my wrist band. Turns out that material is pretty ink-proof, and I had to reapply my motto every fifteen minutes or so. Well, so, easy no help you, right? So let’s talk about what that means for us writerly types.
We start by noting that writers often exist in a have-more, need-more condition, where meeting our every (or any) writing goal perversely but reliably inspires us to engage bigger, harder goals – for instance how writing a kick-ass short story can whet one’s appetite to tackle a novel next. Some writers live with this itchy discontent and recognize that never quite being satisfied is just part of the hand they’ve been dealt. Others are happy to get good at one thing and then keep cranking it out, and if it brings them success along their chosen path, then I say, “Mazel tov.” Many writers, especially those who haven’t found their first success, don’t know which path to follow. Which choice will bring us success? We’d be happy to “Always Choose the Right!” if only we knew what the right was. Here’s where easy no help you can help.
Easy no help you. You build muscles by climbing. If it’s in your head that the writer’s road is always up, then the things you might write, or might think about writing, are the ones that will challenge you most but also help you most. Trouble is, doing hard things is, well, hard. And if something’s hard, we’re unlikely to be very good at it to start. Staring down the barrel of failure is, for many, an uncomfortable view. For some it’s impossible: The thought of writing a “failure” is so psychically painful that they end up just not writing at all. [Read more…]