Crime writer Patricia Cornwell (of the best-selling Scarpetta series) said in a recent interview that writing is hard work; that “it isn’t just sitting around fantasizing, or having a drink with somebody and talking about how cool it would be if you write a story. It’s work.”(italics mine, because of course I agree)
Cornwell also said, “And research isn’t easy. But if you’re going to have a character who’s a musician, you should learn everything about that you possibly can.”
As an aside, The Angry Woman Suite (see sidebar), does have a musician; a pivotal character—and guess what? I don’t play an instrument or even sing (at least you wouldn’t want me to), and I don’t remember how to read music … everything this character (Francis) does in the way of music was researched.
But what really, really struck me about the Cornwell interview is when she said this:
“You don’t become a writer—you are one. And if you really are a writer, it’s like telling a songbird to shut up—you can’t … (and) you have to be willing to be bad at something to be good at it.”
So this is what I thought (and not for the first time): What kind of person is willing to really suck at something and feel like a total failure, and yet still get up in the morning and go back to her or his personal challenge?
A freakin’ masochist, that’s what.
My brother is a self-described non-athlete. He also just summited Mt. Whitney, the highest peak in the contiguous United States. He said it was the hardest thing he’s ever done. The first time he tried climbing Whitney, he lost part of his gear. Back down the mountain he went, crestfallen. The following year he tried Whitney again, but his hiking partner got altitude sickness, so back down the mountain he went with his partner, because that’s the kind of guy my brother is.
This year, like the two years before, he trained for months, hiking and climbing in San Diego’s backcountry, and the Sierras. He and his partner agreed that if one became ill, the other would continue to the top.
Why’d my brother keep plugging away at this mountain?
Because that mountain was calling for my brother’s personal best, and my brother heeded the call.
It’s the call that goes out to each of us; to all athletes, professional or aspiring, and to all writers, seasoned or fledgling. You name the job or challenge, the call’s there. It’s the call that makes every morning a promise, and each day an opportunity to go a little farther and a little higher than the day before.
Patricia Cornwell also said this (about being sucky before you’re proficient):
“You are going to trip over your own feet … (and) you will never be good at writing the first time you try, any more than Nadal hit a tennis ball the way he does now the first time he picked up a racket…. The only way you get better is to just do it all the time. And if this is the inevitability of how you express yourself, you’re still going to get up after failures.”
And you will climb mountains.
Image credit: kamchatka / 123RF Stock Photo