I’ve been having trouble writing lately.
That’s not really news – I think most writers have trouble writing. Especially when they’re young, busy, and unpracticed. But that doesn’t make it any less upsetting.
Most writers, I believe, will tell you what they have trouble with. Plotting, dialogue, character development – thesis choosing, quote integration, analysis, most writers can give you a list of their pitfalls, the places where they go wrong again and again. For example, I usually have trouble with writing actions, analyses, and conclusions, but I’m usually pretty good with quotes, internal narration, and dialogue. Those parts, the parts I don’t have to slave and agonize over, are the fun parts. The parts that make me want to keep going.
But I wonder, is it really these parts, the easy parts, that keep drawing me back? Is it really the hard parts, the slaving and the agonizing that I dislike? There’s something to be said for hard work, for knowing you fought a worthy opponent, one you had to tackle and wrestle and fight with. One you had to lose to and learn from and grow. Something that makes you humble.
In his book, Letters & Life, Bret Lott spends a significant amount of time talking about humility and how absolutely essential it is for good writing. A good story, he says, is just that – a good story. It stands on its own, proclaiming its worth and value to anyone who will listen. It does not need its author to support it. If anything, a good story gets better the less you notice the author’s presence.
I’ve been having trouble writing lately. But not for the traditional reasons – my writing, when measured in terms of simple mechanics and ability – has, on the whole, improved. I’m getting better. The problem is that my stories are not.
What good is a talented author if the stories they write are obsolete? What good is a well-written paragraph, or sentence, or argument, if the words themselves are not worth telling?
Mechanics are important. So are theses and arguments and theory and comprehension. But the most important part of writing, far more than your commas or paragraphs, far more than your analysis or pages upon pages of references, and far, far more important than the person telling it, is the story itself.
You’re just a proud parent, cheering and smiling from the sidelines. You may be praised, questioned, congratulated, maybe even a little revered, but at the end of the day, you’re not what’s important. The story is. After all, that’s what everyone is here for.