Private Victories

First, the answer to your question is yes. Yes, I am aware that speaking publicly about a private victory renders it somewhat less… private. But I don’t care because I’m not trying to brag. I’m trying to offer hope.

In Steven Pressfield’s The War of Art, he tells a story about how… well, why I don’t let him tell it?

“I washed up in New York a couple of decades ago, making twenty bucks a night driving a cab and running away full- time from doing my work. One night, alone in my $110-a- month sublet, I hit bottom in terms of having diverted myself into so many phony channels so many times that I couldn’t rationalize it for one more evening. I dragged out my ancient Smith-Corona, dreading the experience as pointless, fruitless, meaningless, not to say the most painful exercise I could think of. For two hours I made myself sit there, torturing out some trash that I chucked immediately into the shitcan. That was enough. I put the machine away. I went back to the kitchen. In the sink sat ten days of dishes. For some reason I had enough excess energy that I decided to wash them. The warm water felt pretty good. The soap and sponge were doing their thing. A pile of clean plates began rising in the drying rack. To my amazement I realized I was whistling.

It hit me that I had turned a corner. I was okay. I would be okay from here on.

Steven Pressfield – “The War of Art”

I had a moment like that for myself this morning.

I’ve been trying to write fiction, on and off, since I was seventeen. I sort of fell into it when my girlfriend at the time told me about Na-No-Wri-Mo. National Novel Writing Month. You write a 50,000 word manuscript in 30 days. I’m a fast typist, I thought, how hard could it be?

So the first piece of fiction I really attempted was a novel, and I say “attempted”, because at the end of 30 days, “Junkies, Queers, and People Who Live Near Cuba” was not so much a novel as a 50,000 word stream-of-consciousness… thing… with a story spine so weak no chiropractor on the planet could have saved it. It was shit. I’m not just saying that. But I didn’t care, because I’d got the bug.

In the twelve years since then, I’ve never gone more than a year without trying to write something. I tried my hand at a couple of shameful screenplays. Started dozens of very similar and very dubious novels and short stories, abandoning them all long before they were either finished or any good. I tried to write by the seat of my pants. I tried to outline until I was blue in the face.

The only thing I neve did was manage to write anything I actually liked when I was done with it.

Until today, that is. This morning, I wrote a scene that – whilst it’s still so far from good it’s not funny – I actually liked. But that’s not all. Not only did I like it, I actually had this very strange, very unfamiliar – and very pleasant – feeling whilst I was writing it that that… I know what I’m supposed to do now.

Because it’s one thing to know the theory. I’ve known for a long time now how – in theory – stories work. I know the rules, the principles, the commandments. I know them like the back of my hand. But so what? There’s a very big difference between “knowing” the theory of something and being able to actually do it.

Again, let me stress this: I didn’t write anything good yet. But for the first time in my fiction writing journey, I had the feeling that rather than flailing around desperately, I had at least one of my hands on the steering wheel. And it very felt good.

That was my private victory. And I share it with you today as a tale of hope. If you have something you don’t feel you’re getting anywhere with, then unless you’re crazy you feel like giving up sometimes. Maybe most of the time. Well, I ‘m here to ask you – on behalf of the rest of the human race – please don’t. Don’t give up. Keep studying, keep practicing, keep inching forward, no matter how far away from any kind of glory or recognition – or in my case, actually being able to do the thing you want to do – you think you are.

At some point it will come together for you. It will click. And the only mistake you can make is to give up before it does.

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