Albert Einstein’s Three Rules of Work:
1) Out of clutter find simplicity.
2) From discord make harmony.
3) In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity.
When I found a piece of paper that I’d saved with these three suggestions from our boy Albert, I started thinking about how effectively they applied to the work we do as writers. It didn’t take me long to come up with some ideas for ways we might make use of these concepts as we strive to improve our craft. Here’s what came to me:
1) Out of clutter find simplicity: For most of us, there’s no way to get around it — launching a new project often seems to be anything but simple. Ideas jump into our heads and start fighting for attention. Minor characters raise their voices and insist on being given center stage. Clumsy plot points gum up the works and weaken narrative drive. All in all, first drafts can be messy and unruly. Yet, once we have even a rough story in hand, our job becomes clear: out of the confusion, we need to find simplicity: a clear, consistent theme; a strong story arc, and a handful of characters to spotlight.
2) From discord make harmony: There’s more than enough discord in the world already — why add to it? For me, one of our jobs as writers, especially in fiction, is to create coherent, fully realized worlds that have their own inherent logic and inner rhythms. Of course, these worlds include notes of discord; without them, there would be no conflict. But to satisfy our own yearnings as writers and to fulfill our unspoken promise to readers, I believe that the highest notes our novels and short stories strike must be expressions of harmony in some form or another.
3) In the middle of difficulty lies opportunity: Writing is a risky business — and it’s not easy. All along the way, on the long path from coming up with an idea through bringing it to life on the page, there are obstacles to be overcome: flawed structures, weakly motivated characters, plot snags, poor pacing — you name it! We can let these problems overwhelm and frustrate us, or as my good friend and mentor Rob Gilbert says, we can get fascinated. If we get fascinated, intrigued, excited about tackling whatever ails our work, then the chances are very good that in the midst of difficulty we’ll discover an opportunity — some new approach that makes our story better, stronger, truer. As an old saying goes, “It’s not our aptitude but our attitude that determines our altitude.”
So let’s strive for simplicity, harmony, and keep an eye open for opportunity. And write on!