Turning Whine Into Gold
To embrace paradox we must hold two seemingly conflicting concepts as equally true. Wisdom literature is rife with paradox, suggesting that we receive through giving, gain through losing, and live through dying. “Whatever you do will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it,” said Mahatma Ghandi.
Experienced writers know this truth. Comedians make use of the inherent absurdity of paradox all the time, from Ellen DeGeneres’s “Procrastinate now. Don’t put it off,” to George Carlin’s “If you try to fail, and succeed, which have you done?”
As a literary device, a paradox asks the reader to puzzle through a challenging concept. Consider these examples:
“All animals are equal, but some are more equal than others.” This statement from George Orwell’s Animal Farm certainly has the sting of political truth about it.
“The earth that’s nature’s mother is her tomb,” from Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet, makes us think about the way nature both gives and takes our lives.
“Child is the father of the man”—this phrase from William Wordsworth is a concise way of saying that all childhood experiences lay the groundwork for our future lives; in that way our childhoods “father” us as adults.
As a reader, does the notion of paradox excite you or make you toss your literary cookies and run for the hills? As a writer, you’d best make friends with it, because the writer’s life is full of paradox.
A few for your consideration:
- Writers must have intense focus but breadth of perception.
- Writers must believe in their salability even as they receive rejection after rejection.
- All published writers must believe in their worth, yet few will receive life-sustaining paychecks.
- Fiction writers make things up to seek the truth.
- Authors must invest fully in their product while detaching from its commercial and critical success.
- Setbacks and reversals are manna for the creative mind and have their own rewards.
Sound crazymaking? It’s the way of paradox. Yet artists are well suited to its challenges; we are used to being both “this and that.” In any one writing session we might be both mother and child, healer and destroyer. A powerful wizard or a humble shoemaker.
If we writers have the capacity to embody all characters while bringing any one scene to the stage, why are we always trying to give the businessperson the hook—especially when she might be the one holding the key to commercial success?
Writing is an art and publishing is a business, and your happiness (and perhaps your sanity) depends on embracing both. Accepting this challenge as the current way of the publishing world is freeing. Think of this the next time an editor tells you, “We honor your process and want to give you all the time you need, of course, but if you could turn those edits around in a week that would be great.”
By pursuing publication you are choosing to move into new digs, and they are located right on the corner of Bohemia and Wall Street. When you look down at the intersection from your second-story writing room, will you see only traffic crashes and bloody casualties, or the flow of opportunity that now surrounds you? The choice is yours.
There is a Buddhist saying: “A moment of stress only holds on as long as the heart does not let go.”
Which of the listed paradoxes do you find most challenging? Can you find a way to love that challenge? Share the love in the comments.
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Her work as a developmental editor at Writing-Partner.com, specializing in storytelling structure and writing craft, follows a nineteen-year career as a dance critic. Long a leader in the southeastern Pennsylvania writing scene, she hosts lakeside writing retreats for women in northern New York State, leads workshops, and speaks often about writing.
Kathryn lives with her husband in Bucks County, PA.