The title of this post will resonate with anyone who spent a few weeks at Summer Bible Camp when they were kids. If the song stays trapped in your head just long enough for you to consider pulling your hair out, dial up some Patsy Cline on the ol’ iPod and you’ll be fine.
About ten years ago, a friend of mine decided to learn a musical instrument. It’s something she had always wanted to do, and she was looking forward to the challenge. A decade into it my friend continues to struggle, to push forward, to insist on learning – even though she may have peaked around 2002. I asked her if the struggle brought her joy. Her reply, which continued non-stop as we walked across town, included these snippets:
“It’s not about joy, it’s about satisfaction.”
“I’m f***ing tired of people telling me it takes a long time.”
“I want to learn how to do it right. There’s no point if I’m not doing it right.”
As we reached Whole Foods and she stopped to take a breath I squeezed in some snippets of my own:
“I suck. My goal is to suck less. And maybe, one day, I won’t suck at all.”
That, of course, is the Mimm version of Beckett’s idea of ‘failing better’.
At first she interpreted my comment to mean I didn’t care. That I was going to write, no matter how bad I was, and give little thought to improving.
“No, that’s not it at all.” I said. “I want to be the best writer I can be. It’s just that right now – I sorta suck. I’m not that good. But I can see the road ahead of me, I know what I have to do, and I’m happy to do it. It brings me joy to do the work.”
Even when I’m ready to throw my laptop onto a bonfire I still love the process. When I feel guilty for not meeting my word goal, when I feel guilty for saying ‘no’ to friends – underneath it all is joy.
I’m not certain my friend will ever understand what I was trying to tell her. Tempering the guilt, frustration, anger and struggle in the process is the giggling joy that bubbles up when words that I’ve selected fall together and create a meaningful sentence. There has to be some joy.
Speaking of Joyful Sucking…
Last week I mentioned the book Structuring Your Novel by Robert C. Meredith and John D. Fitzgerald. When you research the book online, you’ll find a scathing review from a ‘successful screenwriter’ who insists he never would have tried had he listened to the advice of this book. Good for him. My experience with the book has been just the opposite. It’s the anti-thesis of the ‘touchy-feely’ collection of books I was railing against last week. It’s a book of clearly written, step-by-step advice for the new-ish writer. I’ve been working through the questions that appear at the end of each chapter – just like homework. I’ve stopped floundering and have begun to focus. I hate floundering. Structuring Your Novel has moved me into the next phase of my Master Plan: Sucking Less. And that, no doubt, is a cause for joyful celebration.