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Friday, April 3, 2015

A Writer's Code Words: Discipline and Perseverance, by Susan Oleksiw

The warmer weather in New England means one thing in particular for me. I get to take my walk
without putting on boots, gloves, a hat, and a heavy coat, which by now so obviously needs a trip to the dry cleaner's that I'm embarrassed to wear it. In March and April I have the pleasure of walking unimpeded by heavy clothing. I can pretend that those sad looking crocuses really do promise the end of winter.

After months of miserable winter weather I can also enjoy nodding to other walkers, people who are strangers to me because I haven't seen them since last September. My husband and I both marvel at the number of people who get out for a walk on the first few warm days in March and April. But he's too preoccupied with the current problems of his printer to take it any further. Not me. I follow the thought right into the world of writing.

Today, in this mild day that feels like spring, but isn't, I kept thinking about two words, discipline and perseverance, which define the commitment to writing as well as to walking through the wintry days as well as the warm, sunny ones. These are the code words that keep writers going when we are sick of the story we're working on, no longer think it's worth finishing, or can't figure out how to finish it. The characters sound stupid and insipid, the plot has holes in it, and the sentences sink faster than the Lusitania. But we stick to it. We finish that story, that novel, that essay, and let it sit and age just long enough before we review and revise. And, to our utter amazement, the story isn't all that bad.

In every story I write there is a moment when I question if the story or novel is good enough. This is different from beginning a project and knowing that it isn't going to work; that's a professional judgment that comes after long hours of trying to get it right. Finishing a story requires the same steady determination that pushes the runner to add a mile this week and another one next week, or urges the walker to climb the snowbank to get to the road, or to avoid oncoming cars on an ice-slick street.
 
Right now I'm finishing up another Anita Ray mystery, and I can see the end. I don't want it to come too soon because I still have a lot of loose threads to tie together, and I want the bow to be neat and orderly. This takes another kind of discipline--the ability to restrain myself from bolting for the finish line. There is nothing worse than enjoying a story all the way through to the last few chapters and then have the writer rush the ending.

Anita Ray has grown into a thoughtful woman who assesses the world around her, gathers details into a larger picture, and readies herself for the confrontation. She isn't impulsive, though her Auntie Meena thinks otherwise, and she isn't reckless, though her fascination with violent death worries her relatives. She takes her time, sticks to her investigation, and holds on to the end. 

Discipline and perseverance.

These two words carry the runner, the walker, and the writer to the finish line.


13 comments:

Jan Christensen said...

So true about those two words, Susan. And thinking, at some point while writing a story, that it isn't going to work. I have both a short story and a novel both at that point right now. It will take discipine and preservence to see me through.

Susan Oleksiw said...

I wonder if perseverance isn't a skill to be learned as well, a way of thinking that ensures that you will keep going no matter what. You have my sympathy if you have both a novel and a story unfinished. I'm afraid I'd fail to finish both. Thanks for commenting.

Jacqueline Seewald said...

Hi, Susan,

I recently finished going over the copy edit for my next Five Star novel and that does take perseverance since the original edits took so much time and effort. Most of today I was going over the edits for a different novel which will be published by another publisher in July. It does demand much self-discipline. There always seems to be something that can or should be improved.

Susan Oleksiw said...

Congratulations on your forthcoming books. I do find going over edits requires lots of self-discipline. The process is tedious but has to be done. Thanks for commenting.

Karen McCullough said...

I'm glad I'm not the only one who gets to a point in the novel where you despair of it ever being worth anything. I seem to do that with every novel I write. But I also find that if I persevere I do end up with a story I'm proud of despite my personal dark moment in the writing of it.

Marian Stanley said...

Don't always have these qualities, though I strive towards them. I guess one of the pleasures in finishing a story is partly to do with having somehow managed to find the necessary discipline and perseverance along the way!

Mary F. Schoenecker said...

I loved the last line, Susan. Your words resonate and are particularly meaningful. I once said persistence and perseverance were my guidelines for writing. Thanks for sharing yours.

Patricia Stoltey said...

Hi Susan. Your comment about the temptation to bolt for the finish line hit home with me. I'm often so sick of a story (and so eager to begin a new one), that I desperately want to wrap it up too soon. I must remember your two code words!

Marja said...

I'm chuckling because I can relate to every point you made. And you said it so well. Thank you for sharing your thoughts and letting us know that we're not the only ones who feel this way.
Marja McGraw

Carole Price said...

Two important words indeed for writers. You hit on every point that goes through my mind as I push my way to the end. As ready as I am to end my current WIP, I try not to rush it.

Susan Oleksiw said...

It's always nice to hear that others can relate to what I'm feeling and experiencing. Writing is such an isolated and isolating experience that at the end of the day I wonder if I've fallen off the earth and been forgotten. Thank you all for reading and commenting and finding something true to your own experience.

Sharon Ervin said...

Your words define the difference between a writer and a dreamer who dreams of writing, talks her ideas to death, attends conferences and workshops, spends hours on social networking, but never puts her butt in the chair to pen her story. I don't blame her. Any discipline in life is the same. Talking about doing a thing is so much easier than actually doing it.

Susan Oleksiw said...

You are so right, Sharon. If writing a book or story were easy, we'd be flooded with them, even worse than we are now. And the writing life has expanded from the chair and desk in the corner of the kitchen to an entire world of "support"--conferences, groups, social media, events. But, as you know, writers write. Thanks for commenting.