17 Feb

The Answer is In the Work

Posted in Conferences, Kid Lit, SCBWI, Teen Lit, Writing

All you have to do is glance at the twitter feed for the SCBWI Winter Conference in NYC (#ny11scbwi) to know that Sara Zarr seriously rocked the house.  There have been numerous recap posts about her talk.  My favorites include:

Jenny Torres Sanchez [Read. Write. Suffer.Sara Zarr at SCBWI–VALIDATION!

Candy Gourlay [Notes from the Slushpile] NYC 2011: Sara Zarr gives the speech she wanted to hear.

Now it’s been two weeks since the conference and as I sit down to write this post, I can’t shake that feeling of dread… that feeling that no matter what I write here, it could never do justice to the AWESOME that was Sara Zarr’s actual speech.  With that in mind, I have come to the conclusion that I will not do a recap.  Yes, I have pages and pages of notes.  Yes, I could give you a long list of all the amazing things she said.  But I could never manage to recreate the energy that filled the room while she said it.  So rather than try and fail miserably, I will simply try something else.

“The answer is in the work.”  Even as I write this post, I realize how true Sara Zarr’s statement is.  The answer isn’t some elusive thing floating out in the ether.  The answer is in the work.  All the things Sara Zarr listed as being essential to a fulfilling creative life are simply ways of taking the focus from neurotic writer-selves and channeling it toward the work.

Here are some of the qualities that Sara Zarr mentioned that lead to a fulfilling creative life (and obstacles that get in our way):

  • Sustainable
  • Engaging (as opposed to Disenchanting)
  • Invites Company but Knows When to Send Company Away (as opposed to Inviting the WRONG Company)
  • Faith-Based (as opposed to having a Lack of Faith)
  • Gives Back (as opposed to being Self-Obsessed)
  • Practice and Craft are central (as opposed to emphasizing Process or the Commodification of Creativity)

As I look down that list, I realize that writers will tap into all of the qualities of a fulfilling creative life the moment they focus on loving the work.  If you love the work, it will sustain you and engage you even when the people around you are not supportive.  If you love the work, you’ll invite good company into your circle of trust and send the bad company away.  If you love the work, you’ll have faith that someday, good things will happen even if the present moment kind of stinks.

“The true goal to strive for is to love doing the work.”  ~Sara Zarr

Notice also that all the obstacles that oppose those good qualities of a fulfilling creative life can get knocked down the minute we start loving the work.  If we love the work, it’s hard to be self-obsessed or to commodify our creativity.  The work will have inherent meaning to us, not just meaning defined by what other people think of our work.

Ultimately, writers need to love doing the work and believe that there’s enough generosity in the universe to go around.  In the words of Flannery O’Connor: “People without hope do not write novels.”

In closing, there is a line in that movie Pushing Tin, and it sums up the writing experience for me.  This one air traffic controller is returning to work after having a meltdown and his therapist has given him a mantra: “It’s a big sky, there’s lots of room.”

I feel like that mantra captures the writing life beautifully.  This isn’t a zero-sum game.  OK, it might be if your end-goal is to have a #1 bestseller or win some prestigious award–but that doesn’t necessarily make for a fulfilling creative life (and can lead to a lot of stress and neuroses).  But if the goal is to love doing the work, then there’s plenty of good stuff in the universe to go around.  It’s a big sky.  There’s plenty of room for everybody.


Comments on this post

  1. Lindsay N. Currie says:

    Great post! I'd heard that her talk was fantabulous. New follower BTW, glad I stumbled across your blog from Kari Marie's:)

    1. Cacy says:

      Excellent points!

      1. Shaddy aka Cheryl says:

        Thanks a million for sharing these positive thoughts. Love ya for it!!

        1. Ghenet says:

          I loved this speech so much. It got me so excited to work on my WIP. 🙂

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