Monday Motivation: The courage to ask for help
Writing, we all agree, is a lonely business. We toil away in solitude, dreaming up our characters, and plotting our stories. We gnaw at our thumbnails waiting for inspiration to strike. As Hemingway is said to have remarked* (and I’ve often repeated), “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.”
Whether blood is involved or not, though, what writers generally insist on is that their work is essentially solitary, their writing reliant on no one but themselves.
But, as I and my fellow writer, Patrick Mork, point out in our book, Step Back and Leap*, excellence is often the consequence of working with others. I’ve written before about the joys and the virtues of brainstorming with friends or fellow writers – but today I want to extend that argument a little.
Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, or of a lack of talent. It is simply a recognition that it’s sometimes (I would say, usually) necessary to seek another and often a contrary view in order to enrich your own.
Here’s what we say in the book:
“Every time you experience something truly new, you’re pushing against the boundaries of the familiar. You’re venturing into new territory. You’re taking risks, including the risk of failure. It takes cojones, as the Spanish say or, simply, the courage of a hero.
“And what do you need most when you’re about to step out of your comfort zone? Advice. Support. A road map. Courage. Confidence. Someone who can sometimes challenge our perspectives and help us see things we might not.”
Help comes in many guises, of course. It can be found in books. Want to write like, yes, let’s invoke Papa again, Hemingway? Then read The Old Man and the Sea, then read it again; read his short stories, read anything of his you can lay your hands on.
Or you can turn to friends to discuss an issue that you’re grappling with in your writing. A character in your story is obsessed with the idea that the world is a simulation, but you’re a little uncertain of the logic (and the physics) involved? Then talk to someone who possesses that knowledge (like one of my sons, for instance, who can offer an apparently irrefutable argument that we are indeed all part of a computer simulation).
Need a little legal advice for a client charged with murder? Talk to a friendly lawyer or, better, a friend who’s a lawyer. You can call this research if you like, but essentially what you’re doing is seeking help.
Or – since this is the age of artificial intelligence – you could even sign up (it’s free!) with ChatGPT or Bard (that’s Google’s new chatbot) and ask it (him? her?) for help. Of course, you have to be a little wary since chatbots (like everyone else) are not entirely reliable.
Step Back and Leap was not written specifically for writers, but the advice it contains is applicable across the spectrum of human endeavour. Asking for help, we point out, achieves a number of things. Here’s our summary:
“Asking for help does three things: it flatters the person you’ve asked for advice; it raises an expectation in their minds that you’ll take their advice, or at least respond to it creatively – and therefore makes you accountable in some sense to them; and it helps you create a road map for your future growth.”
* But the attribution is controversial. There’s also evidence that he borrowed the words from a sportswriter he knew well, a man called Red Smith who, when asked whether turning out a daily column wasn’t difficult, is said to have quipped: “Why, no. You simply sit down at the typewriter, open your veins, and bleed.” And then there’s Paul Galllico, who is also credited with the observation. Here, as so often, the truth will remain forever elusive.
* *Available on Amazon both as a paperback and an ebook. Here’s the link:
Step Back and LEAP: 9 Keys to Unlock your Life and Make Sh*t Happen eBook : Mork, Patrick, Beynon, Richard: Amazon.co.uk: Kindle Store