Lena Corazon

Flights of Fancy

Monday Inspirations: The Beginner’s Challenge

Today, I relaunch my Monday Inspirations series and take it in a new direction.  Rather than write about the things that inspire and shape the stories that I write, I’m focusing instead on inspiration in a broader sense.  Love, fear, dreams, faith — all these and more are on the menu in the upcoming weeks, so stay tuned!

This week, I’m thinking about the challenges that we face when we embark on new paths and leave their “cozy comfort zone cabins,” to draw on C.M. Cipriani’s wonderful phrase.  As Cipriani says, it’s easy to stay snug and bundled in our little comfort zone cabins, but if we want to make magic happen, we need to bundle up, abandon our comfy spots, and trudge outside

Image: Kenneth Cratty / FreeDigitalPhotos.net

Perhaps you’re like me, and you’ve harbored a dream of being a published writer for as long as you can remember.  Maybe you’ve always wanted to paint, or dance, or play golf, or learn to cook.  Leaping off into the unknown to tackle our goal is an incredible act of faith, but what we tend to not talk about is what happens when we reach the middle.

Many of us have been there, ruddy-cheeked and bright-eyed in the throes of creative passion, trying out our newfound skills and talents… only to get knocked flat by an unexpected moment of failure.  The short story that you thought was amazing gets rejected, the sketch that you labored on for weeks just isn’t measuring up to the brilliant image that you had in your head at the start.  For beginners, this middle point is treacherous, a morass of despair that can derail our attempts to achieve our most treasured dreams.

This is something that I’ve been contemplating as I venture further into the world of writing, blogging, and publishing.  I’ve never finished a novel; it’s much easier for me to brainstorm and plan, to write the first chunk, and then to obsessively polish and tweak it before moving on to actually complete the darn project.  I’ve been trapped by that nasty midpoint more times that I care to admit, so when I found this quote from Ira Glass, host and producer of radio and television show This American Life, I had to share it.  Glass, I think, sums up the conundrum perfectly.

The video below has some cool animation, but it can be a little disorienting at times, so I’ve added the full quote below the clip.

Ira Glass on Storytelling from David Shiyang Liu on Vimeo.

Nobody tells this to people who are beginners. I wish someone had told me. All of us who do creative work, we get into it because we have good taste. But there is this gap. For the first couple of years you make stuff, it’s just not that good. It’s trying to be good, it has potential, but it’s not. But your taste, the thing that got you into the game, is still killer. And your taste is why your work disappoints you. A lot of people never get past this phase; they quit. Most people I know who do interesting, creative work went through years of this. We know our work doesn’t have this special thing we want it to have. We all go through this. And if you are just starting out or you are still in this phase, you gotta know that it’s normal and the most important thing you can do is a lot of work. Put yourself on a deadline so that every week you finish one piece. It’s only by going through a volume of work that you will close that gap, and your work will be as good as your ambitions. And I took longer to figure out how to do this than anyone I’ve ever met. It’s gonna take awhile. It’s normal to take awhile. You just gotta fight your way through.

“You just gotta fight your way through” is going to be my new motto, my reminder that I won’t achieve my dreams without a lot of hard work and dedication. So roll up those shirtsleeves and commit yourself to the long haul. Creative brilliance is within your grasp, but you’ve gotta fight for it.

Have you ever struggled with the “treacherous mid-point”? How did you make your way through it?

14 Comments

  1. The mid-point…I have never got to one! I know what you mean about the planning stage being so infectious and then the first bit of wiritng flows and you want to make it perfect so you start to edit….that was the trap I started to get into with my chick lit book (before I stopped writing for a month or so!). I don’t have any solutions but wanted to let you know I know how you feel!
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    • I’m going to cross our fingers that we both have the will-power to make it through our respective WIPs! It’s funny – the novel I’ll be working on for NaNo is the one that I abandoned after I reached 25k. I was at the middle, and suddenly I was convinced that the whole thing was horrid. I still don’t have a handle on what the beginning should look like (though it’s getting slightly clearer, now that I’m figuring out the end), so I’m going to start writing in the middle. Maybe I’ll make it through this time. 😉

  2. I suffered from that for a long time. It wasn’t editing that stopped me, but ideas. I was a pantser without knowing it, when I should have been a plotter. Now I’m a plotter and I have a different problem. The minute the first draft is done, that’s it. I want to dump it and be on to the next one. I’m trying very hard to edit the latest one 🙂
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    • Sarah, this is actually what I’ve learned about myself. I’ve had good ideas for stories, and I would charge in, let the characters carry me forward… and then realize that I was standing in the midst of a swamp with no real structure, and no idea of how to achieve structure. The more I learn about story engineering and craft and whatnot, the easier things are becoming. It’s one reason I’m so excited about NaNo — this is the most prepared I’ve ever been before starting a project, and I’m looking forward to seeing if it will be easier to write.

  3. Oh Lena, how true. We have to keep fighting through. But we all seem to have similiar writing struggles, yes? You have a wonderful attitude. It’s great that we have a new group of friends to keep us on track and well motivated. Enjoyed your post!

    • Karen, I’m so happy to have new friends as well. Seriously, you all keep me jazzed and ready to go. I’m so happy to know that there are others who are in similar positions as me. 😀

  4. I have no idea how to figure out where I am in the process–except to say I’m definitely not at the end. I actually think a lot of my stuff is good enough, or at least within polishing range of good enough, but I have yet to make any money from it. Does that put me at the beginning? The treacherous middle? I’ll probably only be able to say in retrospect.
    For my own sanity I feel like it’s probably not a point I should dwell on–where I am in the process of being a creative.
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  5. This is a perfect post for the relaunch of your Monday Inspirations, Lena. It spoke to me. Fight, fight, fight.
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  6. Cue “Eye of the Tiger”. I feel so motivated right now with all the great encouragement on the internet, I really think I may be able to conquer the world.

    Great post – thanks!
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  7. Thank you for including me in this post! I have the same problem, starting a project and not finishing. It just doesn’t live up to my ideal, what I think (or know) I can do or at least what I know I want to do. It’s one of the reasons I like NaNo is because I’m basically forced to go through it and finish regardless of content. That first year I actually finished I felt so proud that I didn’t let things get in my way, I went on to complete 2 short stories and then that wall snuck back up (why doesn’t it think snuck is a word? It sounds like it should be a word… anyway) since then it’s been hard for me to finish again.

  8. Wonderful words of inspiration Lena! It may be just what I need to get me motivated for next week’s piece. Good luck with Nano! I think you have the drive behind you to finish a novel now. Keep plugging away and it will happen. I believe in you!
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  9. Reetta Raitanen

    November 2, 2011 at 7:53 pm

    Very inspiring post, Lena. It’s good to know that I’m not the only one struggling with unfinished projects. I’ve never gotten even to the middle of a novel due to poor planning or no planning at all. But I hope that armed with better craft knowledge, this NaNo will get me started on the good habit of writing daily at least. In current life situation winning NaNo isn’t very likely but all baby steps are still steps in the right direction.

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