Writing Is Easier When You Stop Trying So Hard

Writing Is Easier When You Stop Trying So Hard

Editor's Intro

While you may not be an author or aspire to be one, the information presented in this article about "trying too hard" applies to many other aspects of our life and of course to all levels of creativity. Whether your muse presents itself for painting, crafting, scrap-booking, song-writing, poetry, a business project, or any other creative project, she can't be forced to appear. She comes when the time is "right"—not necessarily when we think she "should”. On the other hand, when sometimes we just "sitwith the project, with patience and openness, to our delight inspiration/insights/imaginative solutions do appear.

Yet, isn't all of our life a creative project? Whether we are working on a project at work or at home, or whether we are planning a vacation or a garden? And haven't we experienced times when we're trying so hard to make something happen that it just seems like we're trying to make water run uphill? And our efforts are unsuccessful.

Mind you, making water run uphill today is not an impossible task; it just takes a lot of extra energy to do so. When things are not "flowing", it seems to me there's a hindrance of some kind. Maybe I'm not heading in the "right" direction, or perhaps it's not quite the right moment to focus on that project, or maybe the whole thing is "off". I've even noticed the signs in interpersonal contacts. When my husband and I are discussing a future plan and we just can't seem to agree (or end up arguing . . .) that's the clue that's something's off. It's just not the right plan or right time, and we may be trying too hard to make it work. Maybe it's best to just shelve the discussion and walk away until a later time.

If your project/plan/interaction is not running smoothly, if you're running into obstructions and trying too hard, receive the message here from Noelle Sterne's article. Apply its precepts to your life in general, and you'll see how her insights/suggestions/observations fit perfectly.   (Intro written by Marie T. Russell)

Writing Is Easier When You Stop Trying So Hard

by Noelle Sterne, Ph.D.

I usually know when I’m trying too hard in writing. When I review one of my pieces toward revision or sending out, the first sign is my quiet giggling to myself at the puns. The second is my murmurs of approval at the turns of phrase. The third is imagining readers’ gasps of delight at my ingenuity. The fourth, and most important, is the red-yellow warning flare that shoots through my brain—oh, oh, ego ascendant.

If I don’t heed that flare, I know it heralds disaster: I’m trying too hard. The work cannot help reflect this overconscious effort. Somehow, the technique, wordplay, and resplendent diction I so admire overpower whatever message I want to convey.

Don't Overdo It

In The Writer’s Book of Wisdom: 101 Rules for Mastering Your Craft, Stephen Taylor Goldsberry admonishes, “Try not to overdo it. . . . Beware of contrived lyrical embellishment and fluffy metaphors” (Number 36, p. 87). I would add beware too of eloquent, balanced rhetoric. And repetition for effect. And overly ripe similes. And too-intricate expositions. And too-pithy observations.

After devouring Eat Pray LoveI read a transcript of an interview with Elizabeth Gilbert. As she worked on her next book, she said, she produced 500 pages trying to imitate the bestseller in a similar breezy, flippant, and pseudo-deep style. After all these pages, Gilbert realized what she was doing and knew she had to junk the whole new manuscript. Then, no longer trying to duplicate the earlier success, she wrote a completely different and honest book, Committed. Committed was successful in its own right.

Trying With All Our Might

Like Gilbert in her post E-P-L foray, when we try, even with all our might, we end up failing or at least falling short. I think of a friend’s story about his father, who came from Italy, settled in New Jersey, and founded an automotive products store.

As a twelve-year-old, my friend helped his father after school in the store. One day, his father instructed him to unpack a shipment of tires and stack them in a certain corner for maximum display. The boy answered, “I’ll try.”

In his limited but effective English, his father bellowed, “No try! You do!” My friend did. And never forgot the lesson.

We Shouldn’t Try—We Do, Or Don’t

Our lesson? We shouldn’t try. We do, or don’t. Maybe it means not writing at all for a while, walking away, or actually shelving the project. Or writing a lot of nonsense first, accompanied by that horrid hollow feeling. Or using the slash/option method incessantly. This is one of my favorites/best practices/most helpful methods/greatest techniques for skirting stuckness and continuing to slog. Or going back countless times to excise, refine, replace, restructure, or even, like Gilbert, pitch it all out.

Trying means we’re writing too self-consciously, usually to impress or force. In contrast, doing, like my friend’s immigrant father knew, means total immersion. However many drafts we need, however many dunks in the uncertain creative mud we can dare, our success rests not in trying—but doing.

So, I tell myself this: Stop trying to be clever and knowing. Stop trying to beat out your writing colleagues. Stop trying to show off your wit and dazzle everyone. Stop trying to replicate your just-success. Stop trying to be so right.

All that trying cuts off your talent and expressive truth. Especially, that trying chokes off your honesty as a writer. I tell myself, and you too—turn away from all that trying, relax all your fevered labor, listen to your creative soul, and just write.

Subtitles by InnerSelf.
©2016 by Noelle Sterne, Ph.D.
Originally published in Children's Book Insider,
April 15, 2016, writeforkids.org

Book by this Author

Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams by Noelle Sterne.Trust Your Life: Forgive Yourself and Go After Your Dreams
by Noelle Sterne.

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About the Author

Noelle SterneNoelle Sterne is an author, editor, writing coach, and spiritual counselor. She publishes writing craft articles, spiritual pieces, essays, and fiction in print, online periodicals, and blog sites. Her book Trust Your Life  contains examples from her academic editorial practice, writing, and other aspects of life to help readers release regrets, relabel their past, and reach their lifelong yearnings. Her book for doctoral candidates has a forthright spiritual component and deals with often overlooked or ignored but crucial aspects that can seriously prolong their agony: Challenges in Writing Your Dissertation: Coping With the Emotional, Interpersonal, and Spiritual Struggles (September 2015). Excerpts from this book continue to be published in academic magazines and blogs. Visit Noelle's website: www.trustyourlifenow.com

Listen to a webinar: Webinar: Trust Your Life, Forgive Yourself, and Go After Your Dreams (with Noelle Sterne)