#108: Keeping At It

Writing a book or even a short story is daunting, extremely daunting when you look at it for the very first time. It’s not that there aren’t enough resources. The Internet is full of advice from seasoned pros and people just starting out alike. There are way more books on writing than one could and should, really, ever read. Where do I start? How can I ever take all that information in? Do writers really think about all that in that much detail? That’s impossible!

Where do you begin? I’d argue that it doesn’t matter. You start doing something, then learn some other things. You may start being a pantser and then learn the benefits of outlining and never look back. You may read this one book and swear by it for several years until you read a different one and change your mind in an afternoon. It’s just part of the process. Over time, you try a bunch of things. Some will work; some will suck. You’ll keep those that served you well.

If you keep at it for a while, you realise that there, in fact, isn’t impossible at all. It really is, as Neil Gaiman puts it, about sitting down at the keyboard and putting one word after the other until it’s done. Writing a book is a hugely demanding and complicated process, but there is an odd simplicity to it as well.

You finish a few pieces eventually, submit them, get rejected. Next, you’ll get super excited about a new project. If that goes well, you’re thinking. It might be the next Hunger Games. You spend several months on it and never finish. You realise that there will always be people way ahead if you, and you will never be able to learn it all or do it as well as you’d hope to. If writing were a straight line to success, everyone would be a writer. Nobody said it would be easy.

You just have to keep at it. You have to keep showing up, keep facing the blank page. And that’s the hardest part.

You keep hearing about perseverance. On a podcast, a writer mentions that it took her seven years to finish her first book. Another says that he drafted six full-length novels before breaking out. Then you read a story of a writer that kept writing story after story for 12 years before being picked up by a publisher at last. It takes time, sure, but it’s hard to appreciate just how bloody long 12 years are until you go through the process yourself. It really sucks when you’re on year four, and there are eight more to go. And who knows? Success might be two years out, or 25.

Writing is a journey. And to be on a journey, you have to keep going. I hope that this short essay will help you with that. And if it does, please pass it on.

What I am reading

Ever time I pick up a self-help book that was written a few decades or even thousands of years ago, it strikes me just how similar things were back then. Last year, I read Letters from a Stoic by Seneca. In one of the letters, he writes about Romans keeping a slave who was in charge of their exercise routine.

What? Isn’t that the thing that all modern executives in New York City do these days? Have a personal trainer to follow them around to essentially keep them alive?

Of course, slavery and employment are two fundamentally different things for the individuals, but from the perspective of society and its structure, some things seem eerily similar to me.

The book I’m reading at the moment was written in the 1960s by Peter Drucker. One of the points he makes early on is that meetings are almost always a total waste of everybody’s time. Well, that exactly is the mantra of the Red Bull fuelled development teams at any Silicon Valley’s startup. Back in the 60s, a computer filled an entire multi-level basement and was probably slower than your phone today.

Technology might have made giant leaps forward in the past 150 and particularly the last 30 years of the Internet. We went from steam engines to self-driving, electric cars, but a lot of the problems stayed the same. We may feel that the generations before us lived primitive lives (I mean, what did they even do without the Internet?), but things are probably a lot closer than we think.


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