The Pleasures of Trying Hard

by | November 18, 2014 | General | 5 comments

By Donna George Storey

“Nothing great was ever accomplished without enthusiasm.”

–Ralph Waldo Emerson

I’ve long been aware of the many derogatory terms used to describe people who enjoy intellectual pursuits. “Brain,” “egghead,” “nerd” and “geek” come to mind. But in the past few years, my academically-oriented sons have mentioned another label they are sometimes given by peers because of their genuine interest in their classes—”try-hard.”

I looked up “try-hard” in the Urban Dictionary and the official definition suggests a person who is trying to be something he or she is not. However, it seems to me that the high school version of the insult is less complicated. It merely refers to someone who makes an extra effort when she does something, someone who cares about the quality of the result rather than simply completing an assignment with as little investment as possible.

I can see an argument for doing as little as you need to do to get by when it comes to a required subject you don’t connect with on a deeper level. A lot of what we do in high school and even college involves pleasing the teacher and not necessarily ourselves. However, this put-down seems to be directed at any effort to excel. While this attitude might seem the height of cool in school, it can mean trouble later on, especially with a creative endeavor like writing erotica.

Perhaps because reading a well-written story is an effortless experience, too many people believe that writing it must be effortless, too. Those of us who actually write stories know better, of course, but there’s still a small part of me that buys the myth that true artists are beguiled into a trance by their muse and great art thus flows effortlessly from their souls. Or in other words, it is in-born talent, not hard work that makes a creative work soar.

This disdain for creative sweat reminds me of an Italian word, sprezzatura, that I stumbled upon back in my high school days when I was both a nerd and a try-hard who loved to read anything I could get my hands on about the Renaissance. Sprezzatura was described in Baldassare Castiglione’s sixteenth-century bestseller, The Book of the Courtier, as “a certain nonchalance, so as to conceal all art and make whatever one does or says appear to be without effort and almost without any thought about it.” The perfect noble courtier should appear to dash off a brilliant sonnet on a whim or execute a high-stepping court dance without breaking a sweat. Of course to pull this off, he had to practice and ponder in private for hours on end. Thus, ironically, the perfect courtier’s sprezzatura made him a try-hard in the official sense of the word.

The movie montage might be another culprit in our lack of understanding of how much time and effort it takes to excel. How many movies have you seen where the protagonist aspires to a lofty goal, but for the sake of cinematic flow, months or even years of hard work must be condensed into a minute of brief scenes showing her transformation from raw novice to skilled expert? Intellectually we know it was supposed to take a year, but emotionally we internalize the sense that just by wanting something, we can get good enough to wow the world in sixty seconds.

Again, I know that anyone who’s actually tried—hard—to write a story knows how much musing and shaping and word-crafting and editing is involved. Anyone who’s written many stories knows that skill increases with experience, but it’s still hard to face that blank document and make magic on the page, harder still to draw something fresh from within. And I’d bet many of us wonder if this challenging task is easier for other writers, those who are more talented or lucky or truly touched by greatness as we must not be since we have to try so damned hard.

Sure, maybe there are demigods like that out there, but I’d suspect not. And the truth is, I don’t want to read a story that was dashed off with little thought or effort. I want sweat and doubt and endless revisions. Now and then a story might flower beautifully in an afternoon, but that can only because the seed of it was germinating for months, maybe years. As a reader I give an author my precious attention–minutes, hours, even days of my life I can never get back. The author had better deserve it! And because I deserve this effort as a reader, then I owe it to my readers to give them the same.

Besides, no matter what those high school kids say, sweating and striving and and learning and caring about our writing is one of the most profoundly pleasurable and deeply satisfying ways to spend our time on this earth.

Don’t you agree?

If so, then keep trying—hard!

Donna George Storey is the author
of Amorous Woman and a collection of short
stories, Mammoth
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey
. Learn more about her
work at

Donna George Storey

I want to change the world one dirty story at a time. When I posted this mission statement on my website, I hoped my cheeky ambition would make my readers smile. I smile every time I read it myself. And yet I’m totally serious. I truly believe that writers who are brave enough to speak their truth about the erotic experience in all its complexity—the yearning, the pleasure, the conflicts, and the sweet satisfaction—do change the world for the better. So if you’re here at ERWA because you’re already writing erotica, a big thank you and keep on doing what you’re doing. If you’re more a reader than a writer, I encourage you to start dreaming and writing and expressing the truth and magic of this fundamental part of the human experience in your own unique voice. Can there be a more pleasurable way to change the world? I'm the author of Amorous Woman, a semi-autobiographical erotic novel set in Japan, The Mammoth Book of Erotica Presents the Best of Donna George Storey  and nearly 200 short stories and essays in journals and anthologies. Check out my Facebook author page at:  


  1. Lisabet Sarai

    In my meat-space life as a professor, I'm sometimes asked to offer graduating students words of wisdom, based on my superior experience as their elder. ;^)

    One of the things I usually tell them is that if you decide you're going to do something, give that thing 100% of your effort. I say that they'll get out of life what they put in, and that slacking will come back to bite them in the end.

    I also tell them to choose carefully when they're about to commit to doing something (since once they commit, the work starts) and to choose based on their passion, not based on what their parents want or on the social status of the career or activity or on whether it's going to make them rich or famous.

    I don't say these things because they sound good. These are maxims that have proved true in my personal life. A job half-done brings little joy. You talk about doing things to please others, and I suppose that's sometimes necessary, but even then, devoting your full effort to these required tasks makes it more likely that you'll derive at least some benefit, in terms of knowledge, pleasure or both.

    And of course it's true of our writing.

    • Donna

      Very wise words, Lisabet! And I totally agree that doing your best work at anything, even something you might not have chosen to do, gives you skills and experience that are useful for your passions. Your students have plenty of pressure to be rich and high-status, they definitely need a different perspective. That's what quarter-life or mid-life crises are all about, finally figuring out exactly the things you mention here!

    • Donna

      YESSS!! Nothing could illustrate my point better.

  2. Fiona McGier

    I tell high school students that there are two different ways to choose a job: bread money and passion. Most artists can't support themselves on their art, at least initially, so they need a bread money job to put food on the table. If you can combine a passion with a way to make a living, you're a very lucky person.

    I've had jobs that paid well, but I hated what I was doing most of the time. I've had jobs I enjoyed but the pay sucked. Now I have 3 p/t jobs that I mostly enjoy, but none of them pay very well, which is why I have to have 3 of them. Sigh. Mom and Dad told me not to get an English major in college…they said I'd always be poor. Now they're both gone, so they're not here to say, "I told you so!: anymore.
    I guess there are worse things than feeling like your life's passion has no monetary value to society.

    Kind of like being a Mom…lip-service says motherhood is sacred. If that was true, women would be paid by the state to rear their kids with every possible advantage. Instead poor women have to work multiple jobs, and their kids are warehoused in cheap daycare. Why is it that caring for and educating children, our future, seems to have no value to society?

    But I digress. Great post.

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