Here’s a classic story I love about an experiment of Alfred Russell Wallace, a botanist and contemporary of Charles Darwin. A quick detour: Wallace had independently developed his own theory of evolution at about the same time Darwin did. Wallace was ready to publish when he found out that Darwin had started his experimentation six months before he had. Wallace, in an act of grace, deferred to Darwin. And so it is Darwin posterity now credits with one of science’s greatest theories.
And now, the story: One day in his laboratory, Wallace was observing a newly born Emperor laboring to free itself from its cocoon. The struggle was enormous: life and death hung in the balance. As he watched, Wallace wondered, “What would happen if I assisted this process?” So he picked up a small knife and made a slit down the length of the cocoon. In Wallace’s own words, here’s what happened: “The butterfly emerged, spread its wings, drooped perceptibly, and died.”
Later, Wallace and other scientists would learn that it is the struggle that prepares the butterfly to live, because in that struggle, a butterfly’ wings are coated with a substance that strengthens its wings. When the butterfly was robbed of the need to experience the pain and intensity of its struggle to be born, it failed to grow. It lacked the strength to survive.
So often, our impulse is to turn away from obstacles and adversity – to avoid them.
And there are plenty of them in our field of play: writing knots we are struggling to unravel; stories that seem limp instead of lucid; ungainly plots that clunk along.
And all these are only the craft challenges!
Obstacles also abound on the publishing front: developing a polished draft; finding agents and publishers; mastering the ins and outs of self-publishing – the list goes on and on.
And yet, all these stumbling-blocks – all these adversaries on the writing road — are often among the greatest assets we have at out command:
Obstacles irritate and challenge us: They force us to get out of ou comfort zone.
Obstacles push us in new directions and forces us to find new approaches.
Obstacles remind us that anything worth doing takes time, effort, and persistence.
So let’s take the other road: Let’s see these obstacles as opportunities to grow, to strengthen, and to excel. Let’s spread our wings and all write on!