Here’s something I’ve noticed and you probably have too: The harder I work, the better I feel. It’s putting in more effort, not less, that gives me real pleasure and a sense of satisfaction. When something comes too easily, it just doesn’t seem as rewarding.
Why is that true? I don’t know the answer, but I’m sure that it has to do with the fact that most of us are only tapping a fraction of our potential. When we push ourselves and work harder than we ordinarily do, we dip into that ocean of unused potential and it gives us a glimpse of the vast powers we have at our command. And it’s a heady feeling!
Right now, I’m working my way through lots of notes my writing group has given me on various chapters of my YA novel. It’s slow going because I have to go back over each chapter several times and rework some sections, move others, and make some tough decisions. It’s hard work, but whenever I finish a chapter I feel that it’s improving. This is painstaking work for me, since I’m not really a detail person, but I can see the fruits of my labor. And it’s worth every hour of time I’m putting into the process.
Lately, I’ve been reading a lot lately about musical lyric writers. It’s fascinating, because they all had such different ways of working. Lorenz Hart, who wrote a raft of classic songs, would dash his lyrics off very quickly. Oscar Hammerstein, on the other hand, was by nature a slow worker.
It sometimes took Oscar weeks of starts and stops to come up with the lyrics for Carousel or The Sound of Music. I’ve seen a few examples of his songs in progress. Seeing where he began and where he ended up is so instructive! How satisfying it must have been when he finally came up with lines like: “Raindrops on roses and whiskers on kittens/Bright copper kettles and warm woolen mittens.” These words flow off the tongue, but must have sweated through the pen!