“The Pain Period”

I recently read an article on persistence and the value/necessity of it in success over at tynan.net.  The article is here.

I’ll quote my favorite part from Tynan here:

Here’s the progression of success as best I understand it:

1. Get an idea
2. Start working
4. Success

1. Getting an idea is easy. Everyone has ideas and thinks they’re so smart for coming up with them (myself included, of course). The thing is, the IDEA is probably the least important part. Why is Jay-Z a great drug dealer and a great rapper and a great clothing line creator? Is it because these are great ideas? NO. It’s because he’s a hustler (baby).

2. Start working. This is the fun part where you have 99 parts of your project, 50 of which are fun and easy. You work on those and feel great.

3. Pain Period. This is where I ALWAYS used to give up. Things stop going perfectly and it’s time to batten the hatches and start rocking. It’s time to put your WANTS aside and focus on the NEEDS of your project. THIS IS THE KEY PART! If you get past here, you succeed. If you don’t, you don’t succeed. Period.

I could write about 10 posts about this alone. Arnold Schwarzenegger talks about how his one skill is pushing through the pain period. And look! He’s a successful body builder, actor, and politician. Good ideas? Natural talents? NOPE. Just pushing through.

4. Success. This is the holy grail. People think that what you’ve done is easy once you get here. “50 cent is a crappy rapper. If I got to work with Eminem and Dr. Dre I’d be as good as him.” Yeah, but you know what? He PUSHED through the pain period of getting there and now enjoys success, which is a lot easier. You see the result, not the process.

It’s weeks like the one I’ve just had where I need to remember the whole “persist” thing.  Multiple rejections, half of them form letters, have come in.  My shoulder is still hurt, dulling my mind and making me cranky as well as making it tough for me to spend significant time typing.  I cracked a tooth as well playing DnD (don’t ask).  Generally it hasn’t been the best week ever.  And there’s the bigger picture, too.  Some days it feels as though I’m not getting any better, not ever going to sell anything ever again, etc…  It’s easy sitting alone in my office, drugged and tired and cranky, to despair and wonder if I’ve jumped off the high-dive without checking for water in the pool.

I think this is what is called the pain period, at least for me.  Not just the physical pain, but the constant doubts as well.  Tynan’s post is timely, as were Kristine Kathryn Rusch’s two posts on giving up on yourself, found here (Part 1) and here (Part 2).  I especially like Rusch’s point about giving up on yourself by degrees, a little at a time so that it is tough to notice the change of direction.  I think in the “pain period” that Tynan talks about, it is easy to do this, to lose sight of what you really want to achieve because success seems too hard to attain, too far away, with too many unknowns standing in the path.

These articles hit the spot for me exactly.  Keep writing, keep submitting, keep improving and learning and trying.  I just need to remember to hold these things in my mind.  This last week of disappointment and teeth-gritting has been a blessing in disguise in some ways.  It’s helped me think about what I want and where I’m going, helped me make those tiny adjustments to my goals and progress that Rusch talks about being so vital.  Every time I defeat the voice in my head that says I’ll never be good enough, that everything I write is worse than everything I’ve written, every time I press on beyond the doubts and rejections, I find a kind of success.  I don’t know that the “pain period” ever really ends, as each level of goal achieving will likely bring new challenges and ways to fall apart, but I believe with persistence it will get easier;  each success lining up, giving me more ammunition against the doubts.

It never ends.

7 Responses to ““The Pain Period””

  1. Jeff Baerveldt

    Sounds like you hit what George Leonard, in his book MASTERY, calls the “plateau.”

    Since plateau’s are the norm in life, we have to come to grips with them, and the only way to do that is to put our dreams and long-terms goals on the back burner and settle into the routine of steady practice.

    It’s a great book, and I strongly recommend it. Leonard puts a lot of things in perspective.

    Of course, you know the answer. Write. Finish. Submit. Just keep truckin along.

    • izanobu

      I’ve got that book on hold at my library 🙂

      Yep, I’m trucking along. I think with writing, too, it’s interesting because this whole four step process is repeated in miniature. You get an idea, start it, then the pain of digging through it and working out the kinks happens, then you finish and submit it (success!). Especially with novels, that middle pain part can last what seems like a very long time.

  2. Alex J. Kane

    I see this looming dead ahead myself, as well. I have this slight fear that what I’m doing might be total crap, and I’ve got far to go. It’s a very disheartening time, but it has pushed me to the point where all I care about is writing as many stories as possible. That’s good for productivity, and odds of success, but it does little for the ever-needy ego.

  3. D. M. Bonanno

    Man oh man is this ever timely. I’m definitely In Pain. 😉 But it’s where I need to be as i figure out what’s working or not. Good post.

  4. A.R. Williams

    Great post!

    For me, I think this also happens when I’m at a point where I need to improve. For instance, at the moment I’m trying to get better at my ability to show the characters internal thoughts.

    This is a personal weak area for me, so I can’t use comfort level writing and just do it without thinking. I have to slow down and focus on the mechanics of how to write this particular type of information. Often I look at writers I admire or write notes on the technique I want to learn.

    But there is a push through period, where I’m just learning to walk and haven’t completely grasped the concept yet. If I stick to it, that weakness will eventually improve. Sometimes, it takes longer than others to get the new skill set down to the point where I no longer have to think about what I’m doing.

    • izanobu

      I think you’re definitely right about that. I’m having a tough time transitioning from writing shorts back to writing novels (I’ve written two novels, so I know I can do it, geez). And the number of rejections that trickle in is of course growing due to the number of things I have on submission, so between health issues (hurt shoulder then cracked a tooth this weekend) and rejection, I’m probably just more down than I really should be (or is helpful) right now. It’s a slump, and slumps aren’t fun 😛

      But I know if I just put my head down and keep writing, I’ll finish this novel, hopefully learn something (I’m writing a genre I’ve never tried, though I love to read in it), and push through the pain/slump. Wee.

  5. Thomas K Carpenter

    Good post. The book The Dip by Seth Godin also talks about this. And that Dip/PainPeriod is always going to be where 98% of people cannot do it. Otherwise, they’d all be successful and then the price of success would rise. So it’s a natural evolution that you have to get past.

    I’ve definately had my moments of doubt too. After my last DnD session with some friends a couple of weeks ago, one of them was asking how the writing was going and after I explained all the effort I’d been putting in the last three years without any success it made me feel worn out. I had to get a pep talk from the wife to make me feel better.

    The hard part is we don’t know how long the Dip/Pain will last. I was just reading JA Konrath’s site and was surprised that he had written 10 novels or one million words before he made it. I have a messely four novels written (though longer than his) and only 700k words under my belt. It’s slightly depressing to think that I may be years away from my first sale and even after that I have to keep busting hump.


    So I have to tell myself the same thing I tell my kids when they get frustrated. I’m sure you’ll all get the reference.

    “Just keep swimming. Just keep swimming.”

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