The Happy Writer, Writing Discussion

May you also be frustrated

I’ve been involved with dance for 27 years. I started with ballet and moved on to other types of dance. Picking up choreography should be easy by now, right?

Not really. The past two weeks I’ve had my ass handed to me. There’s one particular dance that I just can’t wrap my brain around. My feet don’t want to go in the right place. When I concentrate on my arms, I end up missing my mark. If I concentrate on my feet, I get my arms in the wrong position. I can’t seem to keep everything in my head at once, and some movements completely baffle me.

This is my fourth season with my current dance group, and despite my previous training, I’m still a novice with them. Many of the other dancers have been with the group more than a decade, some for almost 20 years. It’s terrifying to feel like the weakest dancer, that I might mess up the rehearsals, screw up the show, to get yelled at, to be a disappointment. It’s stressful struggling to keep up, and learn faster. I’ve lost sleep over it. I’ve considered quitting.

I’ve been in the other position, the seasoned dancer, but it’s all relative. It feels good to be confident that you know what you’re doing, but it’s also boring. When it’s easy, when it becomes routine, when I’ve stopped learning, that’s when it’s time for me to jump ship. The challenge is why I keep coming back.

When you’re surrounded by extremely talented people, you get pushed to do better. Maybe you’re not going to be the best in that group, but you may find that you’re capable of more than you believed.

The same thing applies to writing. We all have certain things we’re good at, and might come easy to us, but the writing should be frustrating at times too. The frustration is a sign that we’re still learning, and that we still have things to learn. It’s a sign that we’re pushing ourselves further than we have before.

I will get this. It might take me a while to learn this dance. It might take doing it every day until the movement is in my body, but even if it seems daunting, I know I will get this. I’ll be as good as I am capable of.

May you also be surrounded by talented people. May you also be frustrated.

What’s one thing that frustrates you when you write? For me it’s story beginnings.

14 Comments

  1. I’ve been completely frustrated lately and I really needed to hear this. Right now, it’s with a new beginning. I’m usually so excited and jump right in, but this one is more of a struggle and it’s because I’m out of practice. But that’s okay, I won’t back down.

  2. I’ve been in that place, or something very like it. In High School and College I was almost always was one of the top-5 smartest people in the room, so-to-speak. (I really do try to be humble, but it’s not prideful to say it like it is.) But when I went to grad school to get my MBA at a top-20 ranked institution… well… let’s just say I wasn’t one of the top-5 smartest people in the room anymore. More like a middle-of-the-road average joe. It was… disconcerting. I worked hard to earn my place at the big kid’s table through grad school.

    Frustrations in writing, right now? Um. Everything? I guess my constant worry is that overall I’m just not talented/skilled enough to hack it, to write something that’s worth reading. The only prescription I have for that particular anxiety/frustration is to keep writing… and hopefully even if I’m talentless/maladroit with my words, I’ll get better. Hopefully.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      It will get better. That’s a common fear that all writers have, I believe, and you’re right, the only solution is to keep writing. Good luck Stephen!

      P.S. Honestly, I think writing will always be difficult and frustrating. Maybe certain parts will be easier, but on the whole, still difficult.

    2. Stephen: I had a similar experience with Calculus. I took it in high school and did very well. So, I took it in college (planning to be a math major) and hit a brick wall. And I was in a class with students who mostly hadn’t taken it in high school. I’d thought I had a leg up because of the HS course, but it didn’t help at all. (I eventually became an Engish major 🙂 ).

      Theresa: I agree that it never really gets easy. I forget where the quote comes from, but you never learn how to write a novel; you just learn to write the novel that you’re writing now. That’s partly not true, but it’s partly true, too.

  3. My challenge is concision. I don’t get frustrated when I’m writing, but I sometimes get frustrated after the fact when I look back and see how long something is. Sometimes it really needs to be that long (as we’ve just been discussing over on my blog — one of my mystery stories ended up a lot longer than the others, but it really needs to be longer). but sometimes it’s because I put in scenes which really didn’t need to be there (as we’ve been discussing over at Laura Stanfill’s blog: http://bit.ly/HT7AUB). I’m doing okay with this on my current project, but I do think I’m the only writer who wants to boast about how small his word counts are. 🙂

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Ahh I believe you are the only one I know that wants smaller word counts! I tend to write sparsely, so I have trouble filling word counts normally. I wish I had your trouble hehe.

  4. I wouldn’t have thought to call it frustration, but I can see what you mean.

    I consider this a personal flaw, but it’s true: if I really and truly suck at something, I usually give up on it. I don’t deal well with frustration for very long.

    But if you frame it as “challenge”… well, there’s more hope. ;P

    And as for how this plays into my writing, I would say that the idea of being surrounded by others that are “better” than you is a good guideline for finding crit partners. But, even more ideally, you should each be better at something than the others, meaning that you can offer a strength to the others in the group, the same way you are trying to learn from theirs.

    1. T. S. Bazelli Author

      Challenge is a good word for it too! Though I suppose I always associate challenge with frustration.

      Good points about crit partners as well. I don’t have as much experience in that, but YES. There are some things we can teach, but also things we can learn.

  5. I hope your body has somewhat recovered.

    My central frustration now is that I have a significant problem with narrative focus. The good thing to know is that I do work through my frustrations. Although, it can take an annoyingly long time. I’ve had a lot of people remark that my characters come off emotionally cold (particularly in short stories or longer work) and that finally has made progress. However, one would think that narrative focus was an easy topic to master, but it is frustrating and I suspect going to be slow progress like the emotional warmth.

    1. It is frustrating when it takes you longer than you expect it will. There are some things that can’t be rushed. I’ve found that out with this particular dance as well. I’ve been practicing… a lot… and yet I still can’t seem to get it right.

      1. Good luck. I’ve done a lot of Scottish Highland and Irish step dancing and many (most?) of the other dancers had a lot of ballet dance as background which seemed to result in very different things that would plague me vs. them.

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