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
Presents the Best of Donna George Storey. Learn more about her
work at www.DonnaGeorgeStorey.com