I will have to start this article with a disclaimer: while I have direct experience of writing my experience of prospecting for gold is far from that. But from what I have learned about writing and prospecting for gold – albeit by different means – these have a lot in common.
- To begin with in both writing and prospecting for gold you have to persist. Striking it lucky at the outset is not likely: gold is rare and writing talent needs to be developed. Many start looking for gold or have a talent but the gold has to be found and the talent needs to be nurtured, expanded and refined through long practice. Persistence is what brings success in both cases.
- What gets you through is hope, even against reason. It is not easy to persist; in fact only the hope for favourable outcome – finding an obscenely large nugget of gold or writing an insanely successful book/blog/screen play – makes you get up in the morning and continue. You know that success may not come today, nor tomorrow; for that matter success may not come ever. Deep down you keep hoping.
- Both writing and prospecting for gold are hard work. Prospecting for gold is clearly hard emotionally (doubt) and physically (digging, machinery etc.). Writing is hard emotionally (am I good enough?), psychologically (I feel so down because I haven’t finished my manuscript) and physically (sitting at your desk for a long time takes its toll on your health).
- Both writing and prospecting for gold are ‘dirty’ work. In both cases one ends mostly with mud: when prospecting for gold literally and when writing figuratively speaking. Any writer who is honest we themselves would admit that most of what they write is not very good. But just like prospectors for gold wash off the dirt to be left with the precious nuggets, writers re-write, edit and polish their texts. Even then, most of what writers publish is at best average and only few of their creations are really outstanding. Some don’t have even that!
- Success if about focusing on the gold not on the mud. Yep, writing generates mostly (a lot of) mud. What writers should keep in mind though is that mud is not what they are looking for; they are looking for gold. Don’t allow the fact that some of what you wrote today is rubbish discourage you! Wash off the mud and if there is no golden nugget somewhere there start again! Emotion has no place in this process; only hard work and focus.
- Wisdom is about learning to distinguish between gold and mud. It is hard to work out standards particularly if these are high and apply to a highly creative and uncertain activity. Distinguishing great writing from outstanding writing is a matter of practice.
Great writing comes with hard work, focus and pain. But it is so worth it!