One of my dad’s favorite sayings is, “Good luck is the residue of hard work.”
Typically I would think of this in terms of sports. In fact, he mentioned it a lot in regards to my high school tennis career, as well as my brother’s baseball playing. And I could see what he meant. The ball catching the back line of the service box, or the hit staying fair when everything indicated it would go foul…we do catch breaks once in awhile, and it’s nice to think of this as a little payoff for all our practice and determination.
As I read through the rough draft of my novel, I’m realizing that this is also a little true of art. I work hard at writing. I sit down and write even when it’s difficult, even when I’m not “inspired.” One of the quotes I’ve always tried to let govern my life is from science-fiction author Octavia E. Butler: “First, forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.” When I feel like it’s total garbage popping up on the screen as I type, I keep going.
There’s a lot of not-great prose in my novel. At times, as I was reading, I could tell it was one of those days that I was just forcing myself to put words on the page. Now is the time to fix that, not six months or a year ago, when I hadn’t yet pushed through to the end. Another quote is from my junior-high and high-school creative writing teacher/mentor/coach: “You have to write a lot of crap in order to get something good.”
Let the angels sing…some of the good has come through! And it’s showing me that, as hard as I work, as hard as all writers work to draft and edit and polish their work, there’s still a little bit of magic involved. There’s still a little bit of, “Oh, wow, I didn’t even mean for that to happen!” Or, “Wait, I think I just wrote the last line!” (which totally happened for me on this novel, and it left me feeling pretty euphoric). My friend and author Emily M. DeArdo said of writing her memoir, Living Memento Mori: My Journey Through the Stations of the Cross: “I had no idea where I got some of the stuff for two chapters. It was like, this just dropped down into my brain.”
It’s the residue of hard work, right? Even in writing, we catch a break. The hard work is hard, and I’ve come to love it. But the magic? The ecstasy (and relief!) of it will never get old.