Just Keep Going by Lisa Geichman Prosek
I often wonder if it wouldn’t be easier to be mathematicians instead of artists. In math, there’s only one solution. Writing isn’t ever like that. There’s never just one sure, perfect way to write anything. So, no matter how devoted we are to our craft, no matter how many hours we have in the day, we’ll never really feel like our work is as good as we want it to be.
While some of the unrest stems from our insecurities, other elements of the trouble come from our continuous development as human beings and artists. Our insights about humanity grow every day as our taste, vision, and skills as writers improve. Because of this, we will never be satisfied with our writing. This process continues if we have one book published or ten produced screenplays.
One late-August afternoon in 2008, when I found myself struggling through a period just after my mother died and nothing I put onto the page pleased me, I ran across a passage in John Steinbeck’s Travels With Charley that changed my life:
When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another. One day’s work is all I can permit myself to contemplate and I eliminate the possibility of ever finishing.
But Steinbeck certainly did finish: The Grapes of Wrath, East of Eden, Of Mice and Men—masterpieces all.
So, I figure if a writer like Steinbeck can feel stressed about his work, it makes sense that the rest of us feel frustrated and sometimes even terrified.
But how did Steinbeck manage finishing his novels and screenplays? The secret that successful writers hold between the lines of their text is not that writing is easier for them. The secret is that they have developed strategies to discover their courage and to manage the stress and fear of the craft instead of letting those feelings manage them.
So, if we’re looking to a day when writing will be easier, when we can feel secure and happy and accomplished, I don’t think that day will come. But that’s what it’s all about. That’s what the cake tastes like. The icing is always a separate issue.
We have to work to develop and then hold on to our courage and persistence. We must actively cherish these pillars and let them flourish as capably as we can while we push ourselves to just keep going.
Lisa Geichman Prosek
Lisa Geichman Prosek teaches college-level academic and creative writing. She’s currently revising a screenplay and working on a memoir. She lives in Columbus, Ohio.
Follow her on twitter @LisaGProsek and her website lisageichmanprosek.com.