Putting in the work

Hey all,

Sorry there was no second post in February (though if you think of it like a normal month with 31 days it’s kind of like I’m under the wire?), but I got sick about half-way through, basically had to stop life to get better and then had to spend most of the rest of the month catching up and preparing for some exciting things that are coming for me in March, one of which is a writers’ workshop I’ll be teaching on editing (March 19th in Madison if you want to come).

Now, as anyone who knows me knows, I have yet to publish a novel. I’m certainly working daily towards that goal, but for a variety of reasons, it just hasn’t happened yet, and since one of the topics I’m going to be teaching on is professional editors, I have to say I was a little intimidated while making my notes, to say nothing of the fact that I felt a little like a phony. Students trust that you know what you’re talking about when you teach a class, and here’s me, teaching on something I haven’t even experienced. I was pretty stressed about it (before I go too far, I will say that I did talk to the lovely Cara Luecht, who is published, so I’m not going to be making things up, and I will tell my students where I am in the process so they aren’t deceived or anything), but then a friend of mine said something that really changed my perspective. She said I was a good candidate to teach the class because I’ve “put in the work.”

And honestly, I have.

This summer I’ll have been working on Machine for about a decade. I still remember writing in a spiral bound notebook while volunteering for summer school the summer after my freshman year of high school. I remember dreaming up adventures for Rick and Cog during chemistry my junior year, and the thrill of writing the last page five days after Thanksgiving, 2009. Since then it’s been years of re-reading, re-writing and editing (and later, once the pride and naivety wore off, actually editing), and while it’s still not there, I have put hours upon countless hours carving, cutting and re-gluing to get this book where it is today.

And that feels really good.

I know it won’t change the world. I know it may not and probably won’t be the best book I’ve ever written. But I have put in the work, and as much as I don’t have any shiny medals to show for it, I do have the scars and blood and tears, and those are even better.

I don’t tell you this so I can feel good about myself, although despite the hurdles I still have to leap, I do. I tell you this so that you won’t give up on whatever it is you love. Everything I have ever accomplished that I have loved has taken work, and often times a lot of work that didn’t actually seem like it was accomplishing anything. But the longer I live, the farther I can look back on my personal journey, the more I can see that even small steps move you in a direction. Even tiny steps or detours are better than standing still.

Ira Glass has a famous quote about the creative process, which I absolutely love, and would like to share here:


What I love about his perspective is that you can acknowledge what drew you in about your craft in the first place. Not only that, but you can have grace for yourself while you’re in the gap. I want to be a good writer, I have always wanted to be a good writer, but now I can give myself grace for when I am not a good writer. Not that I will leave bad work as it is, or expect others to do the same, but that I will recognize that to get where I want to be I have to, you guessed it: put in the work.

A perhaps even better exploration of the concept is found with The Long Game series by Adam Westbrook, video essayist of Delve TV, included below. He says that the gap years that Ira Glass talks about above are not only normal, but almost universal of everyone we consider a “genius” today, from Leonardo Da Vinci to Van Gogh. And, if you think about it, that makes sense (especially in the light of video 2). They say it takes about 10,000 hours to become an expert at something (in fact, this man is trying to prove it with golfing), so in order to do something well, you have to put in the work. And, as I learned from my friend, the work is often the reward itself. I love writing. I enjoy the work, it challenges my thinking, and just doing it at all makes me happy. It’s an autotelic experience (see video 3 in the Delve series below), where the reward is the work itself.

And that’s important. So please, watch the videos, learn from them, share them if you want, and don’t give up even if your work isn’t good. Even if nobody’s listening, reading or watching. Find the thing you want to do and put in the work.

The Long Game Part 1: Why Leonardo DaVinci was no genius from Delve on Vimeo.


The Long Game Part 2: the missing chapter from Delve on Vimeo.


The Long Game Part 3: Painting in the Dark from Delve on Vimeo.

2 thoughts on “Putting in the work

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