One of my writing buddies had a rant last week when she was due to submit an assignment. Why the hell am I putting myself through this? She lamented. Who cares about my story? What difference does it make if I write this story? Or any story for that matter? I am such a crappy writer anyway.
I could feel her pain. I have asked myself the same questions a number of times. So many times I wanted to give writing up. Writing is an ordeal even for experienced and bestselling writers. New writers have very little chance of making a name for themselves, let alone earn an income from it.
What if we give up writing.
Sure the world will not come to standstill. No one will miss us because we haven’t been ‘discovered’ yet. Hardly anyone reads our blog articles and our short stories and novels are still buried in our computers. If we stop writing now the world will be spared of the rubbish we create and we will be spared the daily agony and can get on with our lives just like ‘normal’ people.
Except for one thing.
We will never find out what would have happened had we stuck with it.
The problem with giving up is that it is such a knee-jerk response. It is our first instinct when things get difficult. Our physiological mechanism to protect us from danger and undue hardship.
We tend to forget that, even at a time of grave danger, our inbuilt physiology gives us three choices — freeze, flee, or fight. Most of the time we choose to freeze (inaction) or flee (run away).
We rarely opt for the fight. It is because we tend to think the enemy is too big and too strong and the best chance we have of survival is to flee from it.
What happens when people stick it out.
Have a read of these three stories.
1. Carl Friedrich Gauss was born in Germany to poor, working-class parents. He didn’t know his birthday. His mother was illiterate and never recorded the date of his birth, remembering only that he had been born on a Wednesday, eight days before the Feast of the Ascension (which occurs 39 days after Easter).
So strong was his obsession with finding his birthdate that it led young Gauss to derive methods to compute the date of Easter, both past and future years. He eventually was able to figure out that he was born on 30 April 1977. His obsession led Carl Friedrich Gauss to become one of the most outstanding mathematicians of all time.
2. James Hutton got interested in meteorology and geology many years after successfully taking a degree as Doctor of Medicine and working as a physician, introducing experimental agriculture in his own farmland and establishing profitable chemical manufacturing business. He devoted 25 years of his later life “studying the surface of the earth, and was looking with anxious curiosity into every pit or ditch or bed of a river that fell in his way,” developing the theory that geological features were not static but underwent a perpetual transformation over long periods of time. James Hutton is now known as the father of geology.
3. When Claude Hopkins came into advertising, the advertising was a haphazard way of creating awareness for products and depended more on chance and exposure to sell rather than proven and scientific methods. He took disorganized marketing and added core principles to it.
What do all these men have in common?
They followed their obsession.
One of the common themes that most smart people have is “sticking with it”.
When you stick with a problem, you learn to solve it. Slowly and slowly you start getting better at it. Your learning accumulates and you start gaining confidence.
When I started my blog two years ago I couldn’t write even a few paragraphs. I agonized over them for hours. I wrote, and rewrote, and rewrote. It was taking me 7–8 hours to write 700–800 words articles. I would work till midnight to write while fully aware no one was reading what I was writing.
I thought it will get easier in three months, or six months or even a year. But it didn’t.
Then at some point late last year, I realized I am writing 1200 to 1500 words articles and I am doing them in much less time than before.
I had devised several little ways to improve my productivity.
I had discovered to break the writing process into small steps and to spread them over several days. I learned to do my research beforehand and save it in such a way so that I could easily retrieve it. I became regular, writing two articles each week.
At some point, the penny always drops.
t’s almost like one of those slot machines. It seems like you’re not getting anywhere in a hurry and then suddenly you have this gush of coins. But unlike a slot machine that mostly works against you, ‘sticking it out’ is almost predictable in its reward system. Stay with something for about a couple of hours every day, find a system to learn, and suddenly you will nail it.
Rather than stop writing why not do the opposite and “write a lot”.
You will be pretty hopeless in the first six months. And you’ll be just about average for at least a few years. Which isn’t to say that you will not get better. It’s just to say that you’re quite far away from where you want to be.
However, you are getting better in a small incremental way. So small that you don’t even notice it. Then one day, someone raves about the article you wrote, or poem you composed or the story you published.
And voila! your confidence soars. You realize you are not that bad after all.