Thursday Thoughts: When Writing Gets Harder

It’s hard not to become discouraged–as a writer, as a college student, as a red blooded human being. There are just those days where everything is too much, where it’s not so much the straw as the hay bale that breaks the camel’s back. Maybe this is the flip side of passion, the dark side of the moon, the doppleganger–whatever it is you want to call it. Discouragement, this nemesis that haunts us is difficult to escape. It dogs us and refuses to release us from the clinging gray tentacles it thrusts around us. Maybe it is because discouragement walks hand in hand so often with disappointment. I believe one of the sharpest pains one can feel is that of disappointed dreams. Maybe it’s because we hold our dreams so dearly, so close to our heart, afraid the eggshell-thin protection around them will be shattered before they have time to fully form, much less take wing. Disappointment is something everyone can relate to–no matter how old or young, rich or poor, successful or unsuccessful.

But, the funny thing about discouragement is that its opposite, encouragement, is often the medicine that can quickly bring us back to life. From personal experience as a writer (I struggle, especially today, not to put that into quotations) there are days when I want to print out everything I’ve written for the sole purpose of tearing it into tiny, snowflake-sized pieces. Luckily, dragging and dropping files into the electronic trash bin has never appealed to me as therapeutic, so even my worst failures of writing are lurking somewhere in my hard drive. One of the things that is so appealing about writing is also one of the things that makes it so blasted hard to have a sense of security as a writer–the subjectivity of writing.

This is not to say that there is no such thing as “bad writing;” there most certainly is. I’ve written my fair share of it to be able to assure you of that. But “good writing” can be good without being marvelous, without being memorable. In my current creative writing class, we have to read parts of our pieces aloud and, after everyone is finished, each student has to say something they remember from one of the pieces that was read–an image, a description, etc. Of course, the last people to read are usually the ones people remember, especially when our professor puts them on the spot. There is nothing like that little thrill that goes through me, however, when someone repeats one of my phrases back to me. It’s a silly little thing like that, something so insignificant, that gives the other little voice in your head ammunition. The bigger voice of discouragement and doubt can always find an example or a possibility to shout about. But the little voice of assurance is much quieter. Quieter, but often infinitely more powerful.

I sent a draft of a story to a friend a while back, hoping against all odds that I can shape it into something to submit at part of my application to Graduate school. She returned it today and I waited until I got home to read her lengthy email and to open the attachment with all of the corrections. Reading her email, I knew all of her points were completely correct–touching on my weak spots and the things with which I constantly struggle in my writing. Opening the document and seeing the glaring red of comment boxes and edits was difficult all the same. As I scrolled to the bottom of her email (which was all phrased in the kindest and most constructive of terms) I was pleasantly surprised. She told me how much she enjoyed my writing among other compliments. Those few sentences were like a weight being lifted. My friend is a talented writer herself–more talented than I am, in my opinion–so her words were not those of obligation. They gave that little voice of assurance something to work with.

Sometimes, that’s all we need. A kind word from a friend, a free hot tea at Panera, friendliness from a waitress or an acquaintance–they are things we take so lightly on days when the sun is shining and we feel like we can conquer the world. But, on days where it seems like the camel’s back has been broken for the very last time, sometimes those little things can truly make all the difference in the world.

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