Monday, 22 August 2011

Why Writing Is A Marathon Game, Not A Sprint

When I was a kid, I remember hearing a parable about the Japanese bamboo. Yes, Japanese bamboo:)

Bear with me.

Basically, the story went like this: A woman decided to grow some Japanese bamboo in her garden. She planted the seeds, and started watering the ground. Nothing happened in the first year. Or the second. Ditto the third. By the fourth year she was resigned to failure but stubbornly hopeful. By the fifth year, she was way beyond frustrated, and entering into the giving-up phase dreaded by gardeners everywhere *shudder*.

But - for no reason other than that aforementioned stubborness - she finally thought: 'what the heck, I've been watering those darn seeds this long, why not finish the fifth year on a hopeful note?'

And thus was born the parable to crown all parables. For - at the end of that fifth year - the Japanese bamboo began to grow!

That is an understatement.

It actually shot up towards the sky, in a miniature 'Jack and the Beanstalk'-beanstalk kind of way; that bamboo grew a whopping 80 feet in 6 weeks!

Now, our determined heroine's neighbours were very impressed by this tall bamboo lording it over its shorter relatives on the street with such casual arrogance. They vociferously complimented our heroine on growing such a plant of 80 feet in a mere 6 weeks (secretly, of course, they were hoping she'd give them some tips on how she'd accomplished this miraculous feat).

Our astute heroine corrected their assumptions at once. That Japanese bamboo grew 80 feet, she said kindly, not in 6 weeks but in 5 years and 6 weeks.

Get it?

Lol yeah, it's another of those 'persevere and you shall prevail' stories:)

What can I say? I'm really a big believer in determination winning the day. The tortoise and the hare, anyone? No matter how much talent someone has, someone with less talent who works harder than their talented counterpart will someday - not only draw even with him - but probably surpass him.

Heck, talent itself is probably tied very closely to how much practice a person puts into their field of interest in the first place. Practise makes perfect, after all. Hmmm, I'm full of cliched sayings today, eh? They're true though:)

Writers who see their job as a marathon game instead of a quick sprint will ultimately sustain writing as a bona fide paying career in the long-term.

Not so the sprinters of our writerly world - at some point, they're gonna lose the fight. They won't have the stamina, nor stomach, for a long engagement with that blank sheet of paper - not when the rewards for their hard work don't seem sufficient.

But, you see, some rewards are just a long time in coming. Once they arrive, they more than make up for the investment of time and effort put into reaping those rewards.

My surfing days of late have brought me into contact with lots of information about writing, talent and determination. Much like the 'bamboo tree' parable, what I've read so far fits in perfectly with the concept that investment in practising your craft makes all the difference between realising talent/potential and causing it to stagnate.

For those who'd like to read more on the value of putting in the time to build talent, you might enjoy the following blog posts: Dean Wesley Smith's 'Talent is a Myth', Amlokiblogs' post on the need for 10,000 hours of deliberate practice for one to achieve success, and the many valuable points raised in David Gaughran's post 'Word-of-Mouth In Action', including the need for writers to keep producing work in order to have a lengthy career in the publishing world.

Before I tuck in for the night, I'd like to make one thing clear: I do believe that there is such a thing as talent and that it is an important ingredient for success. But I also believe that someone who's apparently not talented in a certain craft can stimulate or build talent by exercising their interest and drive to acquire the skills needed to exercise that craft.

At the end, more important than talent is the determination to push through whatever challenges are thrown in the way of your dreams and - quite simply - working your butt off to achieve 'em. Hmmmm, now, if only I can follow my own advice...:)

What do you think? Does talent trump hard work? Or vice versa? And would knowing the answer to these questions help any writer (or artist, really) to achieve success in their chosen profession?

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Thursday, 4 August 2011

More Rhyme Whisperer Goodness - 'As the Moon and the Sun'

My current immersion in literature of many genres and times - and the state of mind produced by this exposure to a more artistic environment than usual- has made me think of a time not too long ago, one that produced some of my better pieces of poetry.

'As the Moon and the Sun' has become one of the most popular of my poems. It was written about seven years ago. At the time, it was just another poem; one I enjoyed writing, but just another poem.

I've since realised how valuable this poem is to me, how much importance I've always placed on the uniqueness of the individual. And the fact that inspiration can find us more easily if we just accept ourselves for who we really are.

Whenever I feel a bit lost or overwhelmed by people or circumstances, or whenever something good happens because I decide to take a risk and trust my own judgment instead of giving in to those niggling doubts and fears of failure that can assault our senses on the best of days, this is the poem that always comes to mind.

It reminds me that it's important to give oneself space and time to appreciate one's own mind and ways - and that it's smart to seek inspiration and live life to the fullest as an individual as much as someone who's part of any kind of community.

It doesn't diss the value of being with another, I think, but perhaps it's a reminder that the individual should not be neglected in the pursuit of societal goals or ideals.

For those who need that boost of indivualism right now (with perhaps a touch of the romantic thrown in to sweeten the pot), I hope 'As the Moon and the Sun' strikes a chord with you too:

‘As the Moon and the Sun’

Don’t give me too many prizes,
Or I might forget I knew your kiss,
Just touch me as you did this morning,
And forgive me as you were forgiv’d.

Don’t shower me with such coy shyness,
Life’s own nature is too short,
Just speak, and speak out very loudly,
My mind can’t love what’s never thought.

And comfort me each time I falter,
As I comfort you for your own sake,
But, forget the seeking of my glory,
Forget the path that I should take.

The only road that you should travel,
Is the one that’s meant for you,
Do not mistake our living union,
For a union of one heart; ‘tis two.

Fly the way the wind is blowing,
But steer it as you ride its’ wave,
And if our fingers meet upon it,
Do not hold so tight they break.

We might be one when we’re together,
But we are two when we’re apart,
And God’s plan to so unite us,
Can never work with half-played hearts.

Remember, thread and needle’s working,
Would never create a single stitch,
Unless they learned the rhyme and reason,
Of differing in their union’s reach.

So spread your wings and fly forever,
And as you fly, so too will I,
And we shall still turn to one another,
Under Heaven’s one brilliant sky.

For each sky holds in its’ blue grasp,
And even in its’ grey,
A sun of closed eyes at night,
And a moon that sleeps by day.

Each giving light for its own reason,
Each meant for purpose divine,
But neither getting in the glimmering path,
Of the other’s celestial design.

So let us not forget this truth,
We are two although we are one;
And the better one we shall become,
If we lived as the moon and the sun.

(Note: For those who'd like to read more of my poems, do check out my poetry ebooks. 'As the Moon and the Sun' is included in two of them: 'As the Moon and the Sun', and the longer anthology, 'Just Imagine'.)

Goodnight, and happy reading:)

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Wednesday, 3 August 2011

A path less travelled...

As August 2011 begins, I can't help thinking that this has been a mad half a year - full of ambition and ideas, thoughts of nature and the elements and art and artists, and all as starry and dark as Van Gogh's beautiful painting, 'The Starry Night'.

Why such a mad half a year? Well, I'd finally taken time off to pursue my studies:)

Yes, I've been quite jobless lately, and studying William Blake and Samuel Taylor Coleridge to boot:)

It's been fun so far. But while it's been crazily good not to have to wake up early every day and hurry off to work, I have to say it was really disorienting in the beginning to become a student again.

I'd always suspected that I'd come to rely far too much on the social outlet of work to provide me my sources of inspiration. And darn it, my suspicions were proven true so fast!

Left to my own devices, I found myself feeling quite lost. And pretty unmotivated to get new writing out.

But family and friends were there (thankfully!), as were interesting classes on authors I've neglected to read. Studying them is a humbling, humbling process btw, one which has made me realise just how ignorant a writer I am... and how much room there is for any writer to learn and grow.

And though the quiet day to day can be really uninspiring a context for writing or studying or anything, really, the solitary aspect of being a writer and student has had its benefits.

The reason I wanted to take this time off for myself in the first place was simple: I needed to surround myself with an environment that would stimulate artistic growth and good literary work. My day to day job before this was one that wasn't too hectic, but it was extremely dry and dull for me. It wasn't a 'painful' job, but it wasn't passionate either. It was simply - comfortable.

Only, being too comfortable can be quite hazardous to creativity, can't it?

Every single day, I could feel the pull of being a writer thudding deep inside me. But I was unable to give that imaginative passion free rein.

Even when I did take the time to sit down for hours and write - enjoying myself hugely in the process - I became aware of an urgent, wistful whisper playing at the back of my mind. It was a kind of warning that, if too much time passed, my writerly self would simply vanish without a backward glance beneath the quiet demands of my comfortable job.

The thought scared me. I loved writing too much. I wanted to become a successful writer too intensely to simply give up that dream without a fight. I just wasn't sure if the fight was one I was equipped to win. This doubt ended up diluting much of my desire to make it as a writer - I thought that failure to make a living at the writing trade would be the ultimate defeat. Faced with defeat, I simply gave up trying (a curse of the perfectionist, if you will).

But the desire to write can be a stubborn, obsessive one, and this time I'm glad that obsession has had a positive turn to play for me. Basically, I was faced with the choice of carving a strong career path that didn't involve writing, or taking the chance to chase my dreams and make them happen. I knew that something in my life needed to change drastically if I were to choose the latter path. But enough time had passed that, emotionally, physically etc, I was confident enough to take the plunge.

Doing something drastic is different for everyone, of course, and comes in many guises. For me, the drastic  change to my world manifested in the risk I took to leave behind a secure job so that I could further my studies in literature and reignite my passion for storytelling.

In taking this time off  - a time off that I've worked hard for many years to finance btw, which makes it taste all the sweeter:) - I've found my creativity growing in leaps and bounds. In fact, my initial hopes in this respect were quickly exceeded!

Not only has reading works of nineteenth century Romantics and debating literary theory  stimulated many, many thoughts creative - it's been an added bonus that exposure to works self-published by writers of old (and which subsequently went on to become classics) gradually influenced me towards entering the world of indie/self-publishing.

Now, a multitude of my stories/poetry have been sent out into the world. And they are actually finding an audience! What more could a writer hope for?:) I might not be the next millionaire writer out there - though I really hope that happens! - but knowing my audience exists is a huge motivator for my writer's soul:)

I suppose the question of the day is: How do you know when the right path has been taken, when the right step has been made in any endeavour?

Answer: You don't.

The important thing is, you have to follow your heart, dig in to acquire the skills necessary to make what you do the best it can be, and hope it all works out. If you must, have a back up plan. But make sure it is the back up, and doesn't become the only plan without you realising it/because you fear failure (which was my bugbear for the longest time).

Hmmmm, in the spirit of taking risks and paving paths that are often easily dismissed, I'm reminded of a well-known poem that's always been one of my favourites. I'm sure many of you love it as well. It captures a kind of magic - the magic of the moment if you will - promising that if you follow its shadowy trails, certain paths can change your life forever. I've loved Robert Frost's 'The Road Not Taken' since, well, forever! And I hope you enjoy it too:) -

The Road Not Taken

Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;

Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,

And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.

I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.

by Robert Frost

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