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Wednesday, July 25, 2012

The Value of Adversity

Courtesy of VinnyPrime
Like death and taxes, adversity is an inevitable part of life.

This is especially true when you're building a career as an author. Adversity will come at you from within and without, and sometimes from both directions at once.

But if used right, adversity and setbacks can become powerful catalysts that build instead of tear down. That create instead of destroy.

The first bit of adversity happens when a writer sits down to write. Sometimes it's a matter of discipline. Never is the urge stronger to check my email and message boards than when I've just sat down to write. Especially if I'm researching something on the Internet.

Sometimes adversity comes in the guise of fear--fear that is rooted and so deep that we don't even recognize it for what it is. It's common for creative types to be taught early on by well-meaning people who love them that making a living spinning tales out of words isn't going to happen. That it doesn't pay well and it isn't reliable (depends and depends), so why not choose a healthier, safer thing to dream?

But that's the thing. Most creative enterprises aren't safe, because the artist/writer/sculptor/etc. puts a piece of themselves into everything they make. Saying something, seeing something through the unique lens of your own perceptions, isn't safe. Because once you do, once you share that with someone else, there will be plenty of people who will come along to tell you that you're wrong.

Some of those people are invaluable. They point out our weakness and show us the flaws in our work so we can correct them. They tell us where we're strong, and then show us how we can be even stronger. They help us become better than we could ever be on our own.

And there are the other types who, possibly from fears of their own, see nothing but cracks and flaws and how it's all wrong. These are the people you will need to learn to recognize and shut out, because they can be detrimental to your well-being. Nothing is so perfect that it can't stand to improve, but nearly everything has a spark of beauty in it--even if that spark is buried deep and requires time and patience and persistence to find.

There is a third group who just may not be the person for whom your story was meant.  Every story is not for everyone, but there is a story for every person. The trick is in finding it.

Dealing with outer adversity that comes from critics is a lot like gathering a group of people together to view the Tower of Pisa. Some will find beauty in the lines of the tower. Others will discover the wonder of a building that stands like no other building they've ever seen before. And others will see only the flaws in the architecture, and rather than savoring the moment, will focus on the fact that one day gravity will have the final word.

Each of those perceptions is valid and true for the person experiencing the moment. So what should the architect do? My guess would be to share in the wonder, revel in the moment, and use it as a learning experience to be more careful about his calculations in future projects. Even so, the Tower of Pisa would not be standing today if additional work hadn't been done later on to stabilize it.

So, as a writer, we see something. We say something. We make loads of mistakes in the beginning. Not all of our towers that tilt will be salvageable, but neither will they all be complete disasters. Learning to let go of the need for perfection is an important step in releasing ourselves from those fears that keep us down, allowing ourselves to learn and grow from the adversity that comes from a document that is covered in red.

The same is true of hardships and setbacks that come, not by way of critics, but by way of life. In many ways, the stages of life where we face difficulty brings who we are into sharper clarity. There's nothing like hardship to show us where we're strong and where we're weak.

But we can use those times to refine how we see the world, to broaden our own perceptions, to give proper life to the story burgeoning within us, to better understand both ourselves and our fellow humans.

It isn't by seeing the world the "normal" way that enables people to change it. It's the very act of looking at the usual scenery from a different angle or with different eyes that allows us to peel away another layer of truth.

Adversity is hard. It can be heartbreaking, and sometimes it harms more than it heals. But we have a choice. We can use it as a tool to make us stronger, better, more able teller of tales. It can only destroy us as far as we allow it.

And sometimes what looks like devastation is really just a new opportunity waiting for someone to come along who can recognize it for what it is.

Danyelle Leafty| @danyelleleafty writes YA and MG fantasy. She is the author of The Fairy Godmother Dilemma series (CatspellFirespellApplespell, and Frogspell), and Slippers of Pearl, and can be found on her blog. She can also be found on Wattpad.


Jeanne Lowery Meeks said...

So true. Good insights.

Diane Darcy said...

Nice insights. I've never thought of the writing life quite this way, but as I read this I kept thinking, yes, I've dealt with that... and that...