There’s nothing more humbling to me as a teacher than to watch the process of writers in action.
Martha Alderson and I are just back after our first intensive plot & scene retreat at the Mount Madonna Center in the Santa Cruz mountains. An on-going light-hearted joke, that was at the same time serious, kept surfacing when we’d encounter an error or confusion: “X happened, because we’re suffering from the human condition.” It became my mantra for the weekend. We all experience the human condition—joy and pain, elation and terror, frustration and delight, error and success—it’s how we suffer and grapple with our being human that makes meaning of it. This applies very neatly to our writing.
How we suffer and grapple with our plots and stories makes meaning out of them. If you get stuck and quit, then the meaning goes into hiding. If you feel called to tell a story but you walk away, the story gets trapped in limbo (and, I’d argue, inside you, taking up energetic space). It’s a bold and brave enterprise to plunge into story-making and keep going when it gets hard. A nice parallel for our own lives, isn’t it? Better yet, when we make meaning for ourselves, we create meaning for our readers. Making meaning is a way of connecting and lifting up dark experiences to the possibility of being transformed in the light.
I came away from this weekend with an even greater sense of the importance of developing a solid writing practice, and committing to the writing process versus trying to rush a product out to the fickle market in the hopes of riding a hot trend, or worse, tucking it away out of anxiety or fear and living with the loneliness of not writing it.
Because trends and acceptance, agents and publishers, are always changing. By the time you finish your book, the publishing landscape may be completely different than when you started. As such, the only thing that remains constant is your relationship to your writing and your good habits.
What’s more, your story (or stories) are calling you to write them. Stories are deep, powerful forms of translation: you, translating your particular vision of the human condition and relaying it to make a connection for others who might not have the words.
If you’re discouraged or afraid, feeling rejected or stuck, it’s not the end of your process; it’s simply a crisis or a dark night. A time to rededicate yourself or rally allies to help you reach an epiphany. And the only way to do any of that is to make the writing process as important as the product. To remember the value of your hard work. To commit.
Martha and I watched, facilitated, supported and also just stood back in awe, of eighteen people so committed to their stories and the process of deepening and revising them, that they drove hundreds and flew thousands of miles to take a few days away from the world to delve into this process. And though no experience is ever perfect, I feel confident that grappling with the work had an impact on their stories and their spirits that they will feel. And of course you don’t have to go so far to commit to your writing, either. It’s always there, waiting for you to go deeper.
What matters most is not that you are published, or that your vision is perfectly executed yet, but that you are working on it and committed to finding your way through. Commitment is what produces results, or as I like to call it: persistence. Persistence is commitment driven by purpose and passion.
Successful writers are persistent writers.
And yes, for those who are curious, we are doing the Writer Path Plot & Scene retreat again next year, 2015! We’ll have dates and registration for you soon; check back on the website: www.writerpath.com