I was writing an article recently in which I told the story of an achievement I’d made. I wrote the story once, and then deleted it. It sounded arrogant. I rewrote it, then deleted it. Too self-deprecatory. I rewrote it again. No dice. Too jumpy.
Does this ever happen to you? You start writing a story you think should be easy. Then, something goes wrong, and you have to change the tone. But you still don’t like it, and you end up having to rewrite it from scratch?
In times like this, I would like writing to be easier. I would like mellifluous stories to flow through my fingers effortlessly. But the reality is that there is no secret to easy writing. Sometimes, it’s just hard and there’s nothing you can do about it.
By the time I finished the article, I had spent four hours thinking over and re-thinking that small little story. And that was just a story from my own life. Imagine how much harder it would be if I had made up the story from my own imagination.
How to Get the Words Right
We should expect this kind of labor when we write.
When the team at Pixar was writing Toy Story, they worked on the film for a year-and-a-half before realizing the first scene wasn’t working. Woody wasn’t likable. They had to scrap the entire opening and re-write it from scratch.
Ernest Hemingway rewrote the last page of Farewell to Arms thirty-nine times. When George Plimpton asked him, “What was it that stumped you?” Hemingway replied, “Getting the words right.”
Stories Require Labor
Andrew Stanton says, “Stories tell you what they are—you don’t have a say in what bones you’re going to get, and when. You just have to have the intestinal fortitude to acknowledge, Oh, my stegosaurus is actually a T. rex.”
I love that: intestinal fortitude.
Do you have that when you write? Are you willing to write and re-write and struggle with your story until it finally falls into place? Because that’s what it takes sometimes.
We would all like this writing thing to be easy, inspired, and full of daily accomplishments. The reality is that most of the time, story telling is labor. Digging is unglamorous work, but you can’t find buried treasure unless you dig.
How do you discover your stories? Do they ever require labor?
Spend some time laboring on a story today. Remember, this isn’t meant to be a finished piece. It’s practice. You can labor on a work in progress or something new.
Write for fifteen minutes. Post your practice in the comments section when you’re finished. And if you post, be sure to comment on a few practices by other writers.