Post 2032 Obstacle Ode
“Impossible tasks attract me. It’s good to create obstacles. I, at least, don’t work well without obstacles.”
Robert Bresson, French filmmaker
When I first read this quote, I did a double take. Someone who’s attracted to impossible tasks and doesn’t “work well without obstacles” — what’s going on here? Then I started thinking about a comment a wise Yoga teacher once made: Without grains of sand irritating oysters, we would have no pearls. In the same way, obstacles can actually be valuable aids in our writing.
First, they can toughen us up and help us ratchet up our intention and drive. Let’s face it, when everything is perking along nicely, it’s easy to get complacent or sloppy or lazy. Instead of searching for that “bon mot” — that better word, we make do with one that isn’t all that exciting but does the job. On the other hand, when we hit a roadblock, our attention is ignited. We’re stopped short. We have to regroup and reconsider. And the very act of pausing may open us up to a fresh approach — one that may ultimately prove more alive and exciting. In order to push past the obstacle, we also have to recommit.
Second, an obstacle can actually turn into an opportunity, if we know how to reframe it. Obstacles usually trigger negative self-talk, doubt, and anxiety — we feel they are quite simply an annoying roadblock that we have to somehow overcome. We meet them with resistance and they resist us right back. But what if we could reframe our view of what an obstacle is? What if we thought of obstacles as pearl makers — as opportunities to create something better — a more complex character, a more exciting plot, a more ambitious story. What if we saw an obstacle as a challenge — a dare to surpass ourselves and to think bigger and better?
And finally, what if we saw obstacles as friends instead of adversaries? Instead of blocking in our path, they may actually be pointing the way to a new and more fruitful line of attack or avenue of awareness. In a story, there’s no growth without conflict. In the same way, for us as writers, we need obstacles to strengthen our commitment and craft muscles. Rejection, thorny plot points, characters who don’t cooperate: confronting and overcoming all these obstacles forces us to bring our A-game to the page and can even push our A-game to the next level.
So let’s take a different approach the next time an obstacle comes our way. Let’s relax and reframe: Let’s see obstacles not as stumbling blocks, but stepping stones. Instead of trying to shove them off the road, let’s smile at them and ask their help. Let’s challenge them to reveal the gifts they have to give us. Let’s drop the irritation and go straight to the pearl. And then let’s all write on.