“Do you not see how necessary a world of pains and troubles is to school an intelligence and make it a soul?”
“Everyone gets a chance to be a hero in a potentially great story.”
Sure, you know John Keats, but Ed Agresta? Well he’s a motivational coach with an inspiring free phone hotline called Power Thoughts (Call 609.660.8156; you’ll hear Ed and he’ll invite you to hit the #2). Ed said something recently that really stayed with me. He was talking about adversity and seeing it as a catalyst for growth in your life. Then he said this, “Use it. We all have it.” Now, I get the “we all have it” part of adversity. But the “use it” idea — now that’s a challenge.
How, practically speaking, can we use adversity? How can we turn it into a “catalyst for growth” — a tool that spurs us to change and improve, instead of grinding us in the dust and making us feel powerless? After pondering this, I’ve come to think that Ed was saying something pretty basic, but profound: when adversity comes our way, when it smacks us over the head, we still have the ability to make a choice about how we’ll respond to it. In a nutshell, we can use it or let it use us.
On the writing front, adversity — defined as ill fortune, misfortune, or a trial — comes to us in many forms: We can find ourselves stymied by a writer’s block or we can hit a rough patch in our writing, where nothing works and our prose limps along on feet of clay. We can face revision decisions and feel like throwing our pages up in the air because we’re so confused and frustrated. Or we can read something wonderful by someone else and be plunged into paralyzing despair because we fear our story will never be as good or as popular or as….whatever. Or we can polish our prose and buy it dancing shoes and send it out into the world only to have it meet rejection and face the need to pick ourselves up off the floor and rethink our story.
I could go on, but it’s painful and I know you get the picture. At some point, if you’ve been writing for a while, it’s likely that you’ve faced all these trials in one guise or another. Here’s the rub: Adversity comes with the territory. If we’re striving to write dangerously, to get out of our comfort zones, to do something that matters to us, well, the world is going to smack us down. Not once, but more than once.
So let’s take Ed’s advice: When adversity comes our way, let’s use it. If we get rejected, let’s use the pain we feel to make our characters experience their pain more deeply. If we feel envious of another writer, let’s use that to push ourselves harder. If our revision stalls, let’s take a pause that refreshes or ask for help so we can get back on track. When adversity hurts us, let’s make sure that that’s not the end of the story. Let’s compel it to help us as well. And then, let’s write on!