Thursday, January 2, 2014
The Wisest Words Ever Spoken...
We (folks with blogs, that is) typically use these things for lots of different purposes. Some use them to motivate, others to demonstrate. Some to pontificate, others to illustrate. Some to sanctify, others to decry. I use this blog to throw out little nuggets of advice to aspiring writers (of which, even after thirteen books, I still am one). Said nuggets usually come from my experience or from classes I've taught at Seton Hill University. But today, I'd like to expand on one of the greatest lines ever spoken.
"Whether you think you can or you can't, you're right."
Regardless of what you think of the man who said those words (Henry Ford, by the way), wiser words were never spoken. Allow me to explain.
Writers are, by nature, an insecure lot. We spend our lives being told that a career in the arts isn't a "real" career path, and that expressive people and creative people are "weird" or "flighty." We spend an amazing amount of time on a craft at which, let's face it, few manage to make a living. We're told by everyone to have a "fall-back" career and are the butt of thousands of jokes about people writing the great insert-country-of-origin-here novel. We write things that are dear to our hearts and lay our emotions and souls bare on the table and invite strangers to stab it with forks. So it's no wonder that we, as a species, are insecure. It's no wonder that most of us develop substance abuse problems (look it up… Alcoholic writers. It's a thing.) and spend large amounts of time wallowing in self-loathing. Hours, days, months we spend closeted away in our writing spaces until we emerge, bearing more than a passing resemblance to Gollum, with our freshly finished "precious" in our hands, only to have the poor thing honestly critiqued (if we're lucky) by someone who may or may not "get it."
It is no mystery, therefore, that in a program like SHU, we get lots of folks who appear to be lost. "I don't know if I'm cut out for this" they'll say, or "this residency thing scares me."
Good. Fear is healthy. Fear lets you know you're alive. It's whether or not you decide to let your fears hold dominion over you that makes the difference.
What? You were expecting me to give a rah-rah pep talk? That's not my job. My job is to make you better. My job is to weed out the weak. My job is hold up the coldest mirror and light and make you realize that you're not as good as you think you are.
You're also not nearly as bad.
Self-doubt and fear can do one of two things: It can either push you beyond what you thought was possible, or it can push you further into your closet where you will continue to hide. Which one it does is entirely up to you.
If you think you can, you're right. Don't give in to the self-doubt. Don't give in to the fear. Get up, dust off your butt from the latest round of ass-kickings, and get back in the ring. Fight. Because there is no other possible outcome. Fight. Because you know you can win. Fight. Because a knockout is one breath away. Fight. Fight. Fight.
If you think you can't, you're right. Give up now. Don't go through the pain and torture of watching your creations shrivel and die under the harsh light of day. All the nay-sayers are right. Lay down. There's no point in taking another beating. Lay down. Because you know you can't win. Lay down. Because the odds are ridiculously against you. Lay down. Lay down. Stay down.
Me? I will fight. I fight every day. My mentality is one of stubbornness. Fueled by passion, rage, love, anger… I strive every day and pour everything that I am into my passions. You will never see me lay down. You will see me knocked down plenty of times. But I get back up every time.
If you talk to my students, their opinion of me varies in direct relation to how long they've worked with me. First-term students typically think I'm a cold bastard who drinks the tears of children and gobbles up stories for a snack. Graduating students typically understand what I was doing, and most of them think of me as a slightly unhinged, slightly sadistic, friend. I can stay this… The vast majority of my former students have gone on to publish their novels. And I contend that had little, if anything, to do with me. It was them. They thought they could. And they were right.