I’m not big on Author Fan pages on Facebook, don’t have one myself (haven’t written anything worth a page. So far, anyway). But I ‘Liked’ Elizabeth Gilbert’s page at random and haven’t regretted it.
Yesterday, I saw a post on her page I want to share with everyone (who hasn’t seen it yet, cos she has a gazillion followers):
Somebody asked me the other day if writing was easy for me.
When I hesitated with my answer, they asked, “I mean…has it gotten easier over time, as you’ve gotten better at it?”
And still I hesitated with my answer. Because the truth is, I’ve never asked my work to be “easy”; I just want it to be interesting.
(By which I mean — I want my writing to be interesting for ME. If, as a side effect, my work eventually becomes interesting to you, that’s awesome. But mostly, I am just trying to interest and educate and occupy and challenge and delight myself.)
Often writing is indeed quite difficult for me. But I’m not sure that’s the point, and I know it’s definitely not a problem, because all the really interesting things in life are difficult — love, wisdom, growth, compassion, learning, travel, loyalty, courage, endurance, transformation…
The post goes on, and if you’re on Facebook, I encourage you to go read it, whether you’re a writer or not.
In my writing and in life, I’ve often found that I have to keep going, even when (especially when) I reach a breaking point. Be it writing, swimming, household chores, hiking, research– the best part is after you climb that one seemingly insurmountable hill– the other side’s where that gorgeous sunrise is at, or that wonderful dizzy feeling of making your 10th lap (I learned swimming two years ago, so), or that shiny house or that nugget of information. In writing, especially, every time I’ve pushed harder to a more painful place, or to a higher word count, I have found something worth keeping.
Because stories come to me– I don’t make them up. On days when they don’t come, I wait and I work, till they do. So, as Ms. Gilbert says:
Whatever it is you are pursuing, whatever it is you are seeking — be careful not to quit too soon. Don’t quit the moment it stops being easy, OK? Because that moment? If you stay in it and then stubbornly push past your fear and resistance? That’s the moment where INTERESTING begins.
Do you stick at stuff till you reach ‘Interesting’ answers, levels, revelations? Any experience you want to talk about when you quit, or when you didn’t quit and came upon something worthwhile? Heard of Elizabeth Gilbert? What are your thoughts on her?
You have great posts with great information! Thank you, for sharing this with us.
I love your post. I always write everyday. When I write something and there is no idea to continue the writing, I just relax for a moment. And sometimes the idea suddenly shown up. For me, it’s really interesting. So I don’t wait till things get interesting but I write something and make it interesting.
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Good thoughts for writers from Elizabeth Gilbert.-Bill M
Good thoughts for writers. – Bill M
I always write first for myself because that is the only way I can get down to that place I need to get too and it is hard! But the second draft is more enjoyable because at least by then I have SOMETHING to work with! I enjoy it sometimes a great deal, ad at other times, it is just. . . Hard! Thank you, Damyanti, for sharing your thoughts and Elizabeth Gilbert’s.
I could not agree more Damyanti.. There are times you just hit a rock and you can’t seem to gather enough courage to start over again. Your post really opened my eyes.. Thanks 😉
Keep making greatness
When I was in my twenties, I was laughed at for making my work (sculpture) so labour-intensive. I didn’t have the language to explain the satisfaction of pushing beyond the first, apparently OK, level of the work. I learnt to know there was something more interesting to be found, so thank you and Elizabeth Gilbert for putting it so well.
Thanks go to Gilbert, not me. I just shared her views, because they resonated with me.
That is a great read. It should always be a little hard if it is to be interesting.
My blog posts are what they are, but short stories and other, longer works are as good as I can make them, and the one rule is that it has to be cool. It can be happy, sad, fun, or exciting, but it has to make me look at it, nod, and say, “I liked that.” I think some writers twist emotional strings for the sake of effect but it doesn’t jive with the story. It’s tempting — who doesn’t take shortcuts now and then — but you don’t want to do that.
As far as writing goes, I set things aside rather than quitting on them. There’s very little that I think is such dreck that it can’t be salvaged into something better.
Interesting, or lack of it, is definitely a motivator or deal-breaker for me as well.
Great advice! I needed that encouragement today!
Thanks for an inspirational post! I love it when things get “interesting.” It sure beats boredom.
Sticking to writing has never been easy for me, but it sure as hell has been interesting. And during my very final edit of my first novel, I found myself thinking “This is a really good book.” Hard to beat that for being interesting!
Thank you for sharing this post. You gave me a boost on a rather slumpy writing day.
She is definitely my writing mentor. Following her page on FB is like having creative inspiration every day– so I personally love it. Her book The Signature of All Things was incredibly good, very different from the memoirs that she is so well known for but in a surprisingly awesome way.
I look it up– I read her memoir, but found the Bali part a little underwhelming. Haven’t read anything from her since.
I don’t often feel touched/inspired by posts, but I really connect to this one, particularly as I’m writing now only to challenge ad please myself. Thanks so much for sharing it! 🙂
You’re welcome, Lexa. This post spoke to me, too, so I thought of sharing it.
Another great discussion, Damyanti. The name Elizabeth Gilbert didn’t resonate with me until one of the above commenters mentioned the Eat, Pray, Love book, of which I’ve heard but not read. It’s a good quote, and it’s really similar to something I was coincidentally reading recently, from Anne Lamott’s Bird by Bird. I will distill that here: “For me and most of the other writers I know, writing is not rapturous. . . . the first draft is the child’s draft . . . almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts.” Lamott’s well worth reading if any of you haven’t already. And, to address your other thoughts, I have given up on things [or people] in many different spheres of life that I shouldn’t have, and then I’ve not given up on things [or people] I should have (or that I should have abandoned sooner). That’s life, regardless of writing, isn’t it? Knowing when to barrel forward and when to call it a day.
Lamott is a favorite of mine– I’m so glad I picked up Bird by Bird right at the beginning of my writing journey. Yes, on your last line– having that knowledge is so difficult, but so rewarding.
I am not a writer but i know I don’t quit. i may go away from it for a while to get renewed energy but I always finish and find it thrilling when i do especially when it was a challenge
Great motivation. Thanks.
One of the reasons I write is because it’s interesting. I learn at least one new thing every day, usually more than one. I like what you said about stories coming to you. They come to me, too. But in a novel, I sometimes have to make up the things that tie them together. That said, the characters are very real. The situations are very real. My job is to transfer what I see, hear, and feel in my head to the page. Not easy, but oh, so interesting!
I found this post so helpful Damyanti. I’ve been getting a bit demoralised by my lack of book sales and needed a boost. And this has helped to convince me to keep going, that I mustn’t give up – because like you say things can get interesting. I also need to write for the love of it first and foremost. This post reminded me of that so thank you!
(I will check out the author you quoted too!)
Wonderful post^_^ It’s nice to have a following, but I similarly see it as a by-product of writing, not the end goal. I want to write about things that interest me, not someone else. If you like it too, as a reader, great we can enjoy it together. I love the challenge of writing and crafting.
I just listened to Tim Ferris interview Maria Popova and her strongest conviction is that she writes for herself. Interestingly, this is why she doesn’ invite comments. Her writings are a kind of diary that people seem interested in reading.
Love Brain Pickings. Best blog ever.
Elizabeth Gilbert is fantastic. I don’t think writing is ever supposed to be easy. It costs us something. And there is always a point when we come to what I affectionately call the “middleness” of the work, where we want to give up, because it just doesn’t seem all that interesting anymore. Some of us do give up. But the ones who don’t will find that crossing the “middleness” bridge will be a victory that will see us through to the end, to something greater than we could have known we would write. (Like you, my writing comes to me, but I don’t wait for it to come…I pursue it every day.)
I do wait for it, but I write other stuff when it is still making up its mind 🙂
Thanks for sharing. I started out writing with relative ease and was posting every other day. And then work and life got busy, I started doubting myself and I also kinda ran out of inspiration. But this is a great reminder to continue writing- it’s not easy and I’m not sure if it’ll be interesting but it’s better to write than give up- for me and for now at least.
I absolutely love Elizabeth Gilbert. Eat, Pray, Love was a turning point in my own life. She also has a super inspiring TED talk that I make a point to watch every few months or so: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=86x-u-tz0MA
Anyhow, the funny thing is that I have a FB author page–but I hate using it. I find them to be a bit pretentious for Indie writers such as ourselves. The only reason I created it was because I had reached capacity on my primary account and FB wouldn’t let me add more friends. But now they have the “follow” option, so I use the author page less and less.
Back to your real questions about effort and interest: For me, the more I refine my writing the harder it gets–but Gilbert’s point is spot on, because while it is harder, it IS more interesting, and in the end I feel a greater sense of achievement. When I was younger I just wanted to spew out my inspirations, which often fell into cliches but I did not realize it at the time because, hey! It was new to me. Where once poems used to only take me minutes to write start to finish–now they take hours, days, months to complete. I actually experience a certain amount of anxiety with my process as it has evolved, because the more I refine my writing, the higher I reach. The higher you reach, the greater the expectation. The greater the expectation, the higher your risk of failure. That being said, it is a roller coaster of emotions within the process, but it is rewarding because I am mindful. I am conscious. I am attentive and actively engaging in my own growth as a writer to branch out and expand–to challenge myself in new ways.
Just yesterday, my new collection of poems. “Numinous” was published through Saint Julian Press. This collection was 7 years in the making. The last year was spent in a fierce revision and polishing process. I almost wanted to throw it away because my writing has changed so much from how I began that manuscript years ago. But the challenge was worth it: I have learned a lot along the way–not just in craft, but in patience so that I can be happy with the result. I hope that serves to inspire others on their journey to writing and publication.
Thank you so much for this post. It was an excellent and necessary discussion.
I had not yet discovered Elizabeth Gilbert though as a writer I concur with her quotes here wholeheartedly. We most certainly must, first and foremost, write for the love of writing, for ourselves, and indeed for anyone else who may wish to take a seat in our ‘theatre’.
I draw from my intense passion for writing these past fourteen years and what I have gained through the years is the emotional connection readers have with my words, as I have chosen to craft them. That passion for writing has evolved into a personal business venture helping others to take their writing to the next level.
Reader engagement is everything in terms of expanding one’s audience and to do so we need to foster interest through benefit to the reader in terms of information, entertainment, emotional response and generally a story, in whatever genre, that is compelling, memorable, beneficial or having value to the reader. From those benefits comes a sense of attachment, belonging, a part of a mutual journey.
Quitting is no more a choice nor an option when one’s passion is their virtual life force.
Thank you for this. Your large responses in your posts tells a story all of its own. Marvelous.
It depend on the situation
I like where she says that her work must first be interesting to HER. I have heard many writers say it. That write for yourself. If other people like it, cool.
Wonderful, insightful, as ever. I dont know if I totally agree with all Gilbert´s opinions but to raise the subject of effort vs pleasure in writing is always interesting. for me Writing is a road and sometimes i get off track, i get caught by…daily Life, almost forgetting how this road, track, journey….is essential. Your posts are always puting me right on the track. Million thanks.
Things ought to interesting.
A good reminder to help us in our writing journeys. Thanks for sharing!
Very interesting post. I found “be careful not to quit too soon” to be very thought provoking. “If you stay in it and then stubbornly push past your fear and resistance? That’s the moment where INTERESTING begins.” I wonder if I have stopped too soon in any of my endeavors. I don’t think I have. There is something about taking a step and looking back and thinking, “I’ve made it this far…I can do it.”
I had to think about that, but I agree. Easy would probably make writing boring. Nothing worth doing is easy. It’s always challenging, hard work, thought-provoking, or one of the cousins to those. I like interesting. That makes time fly.
Actually I think the easy/ hard polarity is one of the things that has to change in our world. I write from inspiration and the need to get the inspired idea into form. Sometimes the flow stops so I have to leave it for awhile and get back into life, thats when I experience or notice a change which causes new inspiration and I get back into the writing. Anything in life can be easy or hard, not for what it inherently is, but for our attitude towards it. Thanks for an inspired post
I’m currently doing NaNoWriMo this year and in the previous years, I’ve sadly quit those writing projects. In a way though, those experiences taught me how to be a better writer. This year, I’ve been able to push past the hard stuff, focus less on the word count and have a more rewarding experience by sticking to it. I totally love that quote and wholeheartedly agree with it.
Sorry, not on Facebook.
I was going to quit writing after I finished my trilogy. You know how that worked out…
Thank you for sharing this thing. Sometimes I’m too focus and too satisfy on being easy. I forgot that ‘Interesting’ is something I have to pursue. Thank you 🙂
I don’t really quit my writing projects, but I definitely put some on the back burner. My problem is that I start projects without any preparation and write myself into a corner that ends up needing a massive rewrite. I actually stalled on two stories and put them aside, but ended up combining them and they work much better together than I thought.
Sometimes I hit that writing block and I have to take a break and collect my thoughts. It’s frustrating at times, but, as with everything, it comes with patience. The end result is worth it.
I don’t see how I could lead an interesting life if I didn’t stick with things just when they get hard. And writing will never be easy; it’s a pursuit I’m committed to ‘from here to eternity’!
Excellent ponderings there. I think there is a challenge for me in pushing through that period when I become bored or disillusioned with an idea, and find a way to complete it and solve the reason why it isn’t as satisfying as it felt at first. That or writing it very promptly whilst I still have than initial excitement. But yes, most worthwhile parts of life are difficult.
Not heard of Gilbert, thx for the share. If its not interesting, I rarely do it. I mean there is some stuff in life one needs to push thru, tedious details and ongoing effort To Make Stuff Happen~ however, its the overall goal that is Interesting~ sustainability, community contribution etc
I quit when it stops getting interesting. for example, I quit students who think because they have paid me that I will take up the slack, such as their not learning APA formatting after three papers I have made the same corrections.
Have a learnt a lot about sticking with stuff during NaNo. There have been times when I have wanted to walk away. It’s best to give things time to settle before quitting. In view of where I am with NaNo this could all change and I could be quitting in style next week 🙂
I tend to stick with things until I’m satisfied. What satisfies me varies based on the thing.
What a cool sentiment. I should put that on my wall: “Don’t stop before it gets interesting.”
There is a zen proverb; if boring do for another 2 minutes, still boring, do for another 2 mins … lol
LOL. That’s great.
Oh, I love this so much. I’m in crisis today about this month’s Poetry Slam, and am going anyway, and planning to compete, and learn from others and stick around to see all the interesting that comes along!
I love the research. I dislike the writing up!
I agree with “it has to be interesting TO ME”. I am a trained writer. By that I mean not a university/English/classical literature/MFA trained writer. But that training is in the past. Now I write fiction and I write what I like and what I know (or have recently studied and learned) and what interests me. I suppose a classically trained writer could be assigned to write a paper or even a book on what does not interest them or that is out of their comfort zone using good writing tools and techniques. But egad that would be like (a Maynard G. Crebbs moment here) WORK!
Nice post. I like Gilbert’s writing and her thoughts here are provocative. Writing is difficult in the extreme for me; rarely does the perfect phrase fall from the sky. I think of writing as a three step process: figuring out what I want to convey, finding words to express it, then digging deep for the right words: precise and beautiful at once. The difficulty of the work is what gives it value. You can of course ask less of yourself, but what would be the point?
This may sound a little weird, but I’ve never had to wait for things to get interesting (at least in my writing) because I never begin a project that isn’t already rooted in interest of some sort. What catches my attention, what interests me, what makes me curious, is where I start. Granted, some essays and stories have to sit fallow for a while, but it’s not because I’m not interested. It’s just that I have to figure out what interests me specifically — which direction to go.
I’ve always thought it would be foolish to work on something that bored me to tears. If I’m bored, my readers will be bored. That’s part of the reason I’ve steered away from assignment writing. I have too few writing years left to devote them to other people’s subjects!
I haven’t read anything by Gilbert since Eat Pray Love, which was interesting since I was in Italy at the time, but it was so overly “Look at me!” indulgent (in an over-the-top kind of way, since memoirs by definition are kind of indulgent) that I haven’t read more of her work. But after this post, perhaps I should.
In response to your other question, sometimes it helps to take a break from a story and come back later. But I rarely delete anything I start. And if it doesn’t work the way I thought, I use excerpts for other things, like blog posts.
I actually find it hard to stick with things that aren’t ‘interesting’. I seem to be wired to crave challenges and mental stimulation. If I don’t get those in activity, for work or for fun, I start to tune out rapidly. Obviously, writing is just up my alley then.
Love EG. Actually referenced her in a post on writing details. Her latest novel, The Signature of All Things, was great, and very inspiring. I will like her on FB. Thanks for the tip.