What Keeps You Going When You Hit the Wall?
Posted by Jennifer Slattery
On Wednesday, Mary Hamilton talked about the “why” of writing–that inner drive that propels us forward and clarifies our message. Today she’s here to talk about reasons to stick with it, despite obstacles, disappointments, and set-backs. Once again, the question I posed in the title points back to your why. For me, I write for Christ, the Creator of the universe, the risen King, the bright and morning star. This encourages me to continually seek excellence, because He deserves no less than my absolute best. This week I’ve had some major rewrites and other responsibilities land on my desk, requiring long days. One afternoon, needing a mid-day refresher, I retreated to my “prayer closet” and proceeded to tell God how tired I was. As I prayed, I thought of Moses, and his forty years in the desert. I thought of Paul, and the intense and continual struggles he faced. I thought of David, fleeing from Saul. By reminding me of these stories–of these courageous men who continually poured out all they had to give–God showed me fatigue, at times, is part of the deal.
It occurred to me that there might be something worse for a writer than not getting published, something that would make me lay aside my pen or pencil, turn off my computer. What is it that stops me from writing? What kills my motivation, drowns my inspiration, to the point that I am convinced I have nothing worthwhile to say in print?
It is when my work doesn’t measure up. Even sought after, well-intentioned, constructive criticism can sap my confidence at times. I work on a piece for weeks or months, spend long hours going over the content, the sentences, the grammar, making it the best piece of writing I’ve ever done. Then, I find out the characterization needs deepening, the dialogue doesn’t sound different from one character to the next, the plot doesn’t quite follow—that’s what stops me. I want to chuck it all and go back to my knitting. At least there, I have a tangible product. Like maybe a cozy afghan to pull over me while I curl up and cry.
Why do I write even when it feels like I have nothing worthwhile to say? Even when the world seems to tell me it’s futile? Even when I’ve rewritten the same passage eight times and the editor sends it back again?
In my last post, I mentioned my son’s losing basketball season. Several years after that, he and I watched a game where the team’s 3-point shooter consistently missed his shots. The team was behind, but they kept giving him the ball. And he kept missing.
Frustrated, I asked, “Why do they keep giving it to him? He hasn’t made a single shot.”
“Eventually, it’ll go in,” my son said. “Just gotta play through it.”
Sometimes, as writers, we’ve just gotta play through it. We can’t see the excellence when we’re staring at the mediocre. But we keep playing through it, keep writing while the inspiration is dried up and our motivation is flatter than the floor of a basketball court.
In life, the hardest times result in the most growth. The Bible likens it to the purifying process for precious metals, applying heat so that the dross rises to the top to be skimmed off. Is writing any different? If we keep writing through the disappointment and discouragement and hopelessness, the impurities will slowly but surely be left behind. One day we’ll look back and see how much stronger our writing is, how much closer to excellence we are. Because we’re still writing. We’re still in the game.
A homemaker for almost 30 years, Mary L. Hamilton has been published in several Christian periodicals. She also wrote “Homespun Angel,” a Christmas play, and is currently working on a middle grade contemporary novel. In her spare time, she enjoys knitting, reading, and exercising. (Well, maybe not exercising.)
Mary lives in the Houston, TX area with her husband, three nearly-grown kids, and a dog. You can find her on:
Drop by and say hello!