The bloodsport of writing

One of the best examples I know of suffering for your art is Virgil’s famous poem, the Aeneid.

He started writing it in 29 B.C., and continued until 19 B.C. – and still wasn’t finished.

That’s an average of a line per day over eleven years.

Some days were good.  Words flowed, and well-formed ideas leapt onto the page.  Other days he sat and stared as doubt and self-condemnation welled up inside him.  He was never happy with the end result, and agonized over every line until his death, upon which he left instructions for the manuscript to be burned.

Bit dramatic for my tastes.

But I am tempted to hurl my laptop from the balcony on occasion.

I emerge from some writing sessions like Jean Claude Van Damme in Bloodsport, with the emotional equivalent of broken ribs and a giant cut that swells my eye shut.  Or like the guy whose face is the slow-motion close-up of a foot entering and permanently disfiguring it.

I’m deliberate about every comma, every break in the text.  Even then, when I finally push ‘send’, my finger hovers reluctantly above the button.  It’s as though my child is leaving the safety of the nest for the first time, “She’s too young!  She’s not ready!!”

Maybe some people feel 100% confident about their writing.

I guess that’s not me.

Anyway, the point is getting fit’s like that too.

It’s non-linear.  I’ve never met anyone who lost exactly two pounds per week for 26 weeks.  Instead, there are fits and starts.  For some people, the engine of transformation comes roaring to life in the first month, only to sputter and fall silent in the next.  For others, nothing visible happens until one day – months later – the fat falls from their flesh as though it were well-cooked steak.

Most folks land somewhere in the middle.

It’s an awkward (and often messy) beginner’s dance between progress and plateau.

All of this offends our aesthetic sense.

But thinking you need to be perfect is a trap.

If I needed to draft elegant prose every time I sat at my desk, you’d never hear from me.  But I write every day.  How?  I embrace ENTROPY.  It’s the principle that everything in the universe tends toward chaos.  Or, in my layman’s interpretation, the energy you put into something becomes a lower, less-organized form, but is never wasted…

Perfect is the enemy of good.

It’s action that counts.

If you’re not having the occasional meltdown, you’re not trying hard enough.

For all his hysterics, Virgil created works that endure two millennia later.

So borrow a page from his parchment, give yourself permission to fail, and be bold enough to take your best shot.

Happy Mess-Making,

Conor Kelly
conorkelly.com

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