Old beliefs seem to be baked into us. Which is okay if the beliefs are correct, but often, they’re just not. “Bundle up before you go out in the cold or you’ll get sick.” “Always stretch before you exercise.” “If you’re upset, you’re just tired, so go to bed early and get some sleep.” The truth is, germs cause illness, not cold weather. Stretching before exercise has recently been proved risky. And while sleep does help us deal with problems, it doesn’t do away with them. Sometimes we have good cause to be upset, and the cause is not lack of sleep.
But more subtle beliefs are just as hard (or harder) to slough off and often return to challenge us, even if we know better. One of my challengers is, I suspect, common to lots of writers (and probably people in other fields as well): the belief that some authors have a certain spark of creative magic I don’t have. Not literal magic, of course, but a secret, a key, an ingredient that propels them to success.
My old belief results in (1) comparing myself unfavorably to writers who are more popular, or who are supported better by their publisher, or who are younger, or who have ideas that rock the publishing world, and (2) sending me on a search for the magic, the key, the secret, the one insight that will put me in their company. As a consequence of (1), I see myself as unworthy and unable, or as the victim of the system. As a consequence of (2), I waste my time on a wild goose chase, following pathways that lead nowhere.
For a long time I chased that goose, searching for the key to get in, the one piece of knowledge that I don’t have, the puzzle piece, the connection that would put me over the top as a writer. I believed that if I just found that missing piece, then whatever I wrote would come easy. I would be right on the mark. I would be successful. My search eventually circled me back to where I started from.
Back at square one, I found two old, plain keys that were there all along. They’re not even close to magic, and they certainly don’t guarantee that I’ll ever land right on the mark or that I’ll gain instant success, but they do open a door that exposes the missing pieces in my work.
So what are the keys? Hard work and persistence. A piano teacher once told me she would much rather teach a less talented student who worked hard than a super-talented student who refused to practice. The truth is, most of writing is practice, and it does not come easy, even for established, best-selling authors. True, as with any art or skill, writing gets easier with experience, because the basics come more naturally, but each work has its own fresh challenges.
Speaking of challenges, I admit that old beliefs still challenge me. Even now that I know the keys are hard work and persistence, I still have the impulse to put successful authors on a pedestal and think they know some secret I don’t. Yeah, I know it’s not true, but some old beliefs die hard.
© 2012 Karyn Henley. All rights reserved. Photo courtesy morguefile.com