…on passion and work

Growing up, I took piano lessons. Although I reached quite a high level, I always believed I wasn’t a musician. I loved playing sonatas by Mozart and Beethoven, but it often felt like an effort to practice technique. I had this idea that with passion, the work of practicing technique would surely be easy. When I found the day-to-day slog of honing my craft arduous, I assumed I was just not a musician; I wasn’t passionate enough.

Now that I am older, I my understanding of what passion is — and what passion does for us — has changed. I always believed that it was passion that drove one to create. While passion may lead us to creation, we still have to work in order to create.

Now, work is just a word. But to me, it has long been linked with the idea of grinding away for someone else so I can be paid by someone else so I can pay someone else for services. I’ve associated work with drudgery, and believed that passion is what saved us from this drudgery.

I’ve been writing for as long as I can remember. I’ve spent years dreaming up ideas then waiting for the passion to see them through to completion. I rarely finished things, though, because I was all about passion, and not about work.

Last year I finally committed to finishing a project. I wrote and submitted a full-length screenplay to the Nicholl Fellowship. I didn’t win. I wasn’t expecting to — it was an exercise in getting something done.

I happened to be in LA at the time of the Nicholl winner’s awards ceremony, so I excitedly went up to the Samuel Goldwyn Theatre in Beverly Hills. It was there that one comment in a speech shifted everything about how I had previously thought about passion and work.

To a room full of screenwriters, the speaker basically suggested this: A mechanic doesn’t go to work and wait for the muse of creativity to sit on his shoulder. He gets to work, fixing things. And so it is with the writer. We shouldn’t be going to Starbucks with our laptops only to sit and wait for our muse. Writing is work. There are problems to be solved, and it is our job to solve them.

Hearing this changed everything for me.

Writing, like any art, is a craft, and we must approach our craft with discipline. I can’t always count on passion to fuel my writing, but I can remain steadfast in my work of solving problems on the page.

Unlike my seventeen year-old self, who was waiting for passion to motivate her to play scales, or my twenty-something self, waiting for passion to write her novels, I now approach my work with patience. As I do so, my passion dances in the space created by discipline.