Make It Look Easy

Make It Look Easy

This summer, I had the pleasure of seeing a performance of the classic ballet "Swan Lake" at Lincoln Center in New York City. My favorite part of the ballet is always the music; as someone who struggles to understand physical art like dance, I'm much more able to "get into" the musical artistic space. And what a space! But the ballet, too, was astoundingly beautiful. The more I see ballet, the more I'm struck that this art form seems to be based on the idea of Making It Look Easy. A great deal of the training, torture, and eventual mastery is based on the goal of making each plié and jeté look effortless, as though the ballerina had simply decided to take leave of gravity. In a ballet, part of the standard of excellence is this effortlessness; but it's a standard that we expect in all art forms, particularly writing. Ultimately, we can't just work really hard; we have to make all the hard work disappear on the page.

Showing Your Work ... At First

How does a ballerina look so graceful and light? It doesn't happen overnight. Anyone who has seen one of those dance montage movies knows that the life of a ballerina is a hard one. Dancers of all types must put in long hours in the studio pretty much every day for years in order to get the desired, effortless look into their movements. In the same way, a writer can't expect to be effortless in his writing when he is just starting out. There must be many hard efforts and failures, many hours of strengthening muscles, before the writing begins to seem natural and easy. In fact, to the writer himself, it will probably never be easy - but, with this continuous dedication and effort, there will come a time when it looks easy.

The first step, therefore, is not to care about making it look easy. The first is just to write - and write and write - without trying to hide your work. Think about all those math tests you had to take in high school. You were always told to show your work so that the teacher knew you were learning the technique. In writing, too, to learn the technique, you need to show it at first.

Gradually hide your work.

Then there will come a time time when you're sensitive enough to see all of this work and effort as clumsy and pedestrian. You'll be fed up with your own grunts and sweat. Now here's where the really hard work begins. You'll have to start tucking away all those techniques you learned and hiding them in your writing. The ballerinas and ballerinas, too, must start to become lighter than air on their feet. The leaps they make are beautiful not because of the air they catch, but because they make it seem as though they are floating, not lunging.

Start by cutting out the explanation. Every line in which you simply explain how smart you are should go. Every line in which you helpfully explain a metaphor for the reader should go. Every bit of description that you struggled with but ultimately left even though it was kind of a half assed job should go. When all you're left with is the easy, more natural lines, the ones you're really proud of, then you have a foundation that you can work with. You'll just have to keep building and destroying and building again on this foundation. But by the end, you'll have a work that is not only beautiful, but also looks as though it sprang naturally out of the soil.