For three days I struggled.

I was desperately trying to give body to an idea. One I was sure would be beautiful.

I was trying like mad to paint with words.

I was splashing them around the canvas, hoping they’d form a shape similar to the one in my head.

I pushed the paint-or-words-or-whatever around, replacing one with another, changing the colour of them, reordering them, starting from scratch, rewriting, rewriting, rewriting.

It was a struggle.

I was sure it was hopeless.

Looking at what I’d done I’d feel empty. The work wasn’t coming together. The image in my head barely resembled the one on the canvas. The image I was trying to bring to life was nothing more than a noise of ascenders and descenders, stems and arms, eyes and tittles.

Then it started to change.

By force, I think it had to. I’d spent so much time staring at this canvas, this stupid canvas, hoping to get something to come from it that eventually, much like the million monkeys writing Shakespeare, something was bound to come out of nothing through effort.

An intoxicating elation swept over me as the image in my head was appearing in my words, on my canvas, by my hand.

The happier and more relaxed I became, the clearer the picture became. The more sense the sentences made. The more the story moved.

I don’t know how many words I wrote to get to this point. I could easily find out but but it’s a meaningless number to me. How many words did I write? How many birds can fit on a tree? How many hairs are there on a dog’s toe?

I don’t care how much effort was put in.

I don’t care because it was worth it.

Whatever the number would be, how ever many words I smacked out, how many minutes I spent, it was worth it because I found elation before burnout.

I found the happiness before I wanted to give up.

The desire to give up will never leave, and we can’t fight, nor ignore, it forever.

But the more we work, the longer it’ll take to arrive.

A year ago I would have burnt out on the third attempt at this essay that was finally taking shape.

Ok, I’ll be honest, I’d have burnt out after the first draft started to flail about.

But I’ve logged so many words and so many hours now that I can last a little longer.

There are authors who can work on a piece for decades, rewriting and changing and tweaking and rewriting and editing and starting over.

How? How can some artists slave away at an impossible task for so long?

Practice. They practice the failure, the pain, the frustration. They get good at managing it, at stretching it, at pushing it as far as it can go before they end up broken.

No one likes the feeling of their efforts failing them. It wouldn’t be martyrdom to their craft, it’d simply be masochistic.

They’re able to survive their work not working for two days because they survived it for one day. And the survived one day because they survived an hour.

We build up to it slowly. It’s a barrier that improves its resistance a minute at a time.

We learn to survive the frustration and in doing so we learn how to develop our craft. It happens slowly, but it happens.

Embrace the struggle, but let go of it before you break. Recreate your works until you’re happy with them, but don’t let the frustration become all consuming and capable of dismantling whatever inspiration and motivation you have.

So what do you do when you stop? Do you abandon the project or start a new one?

I can’t tell you, I’m sorry. It’s always going to be different for each of us and for each project. I’ve abandoned hundreds of essays because they broke me. It took too long (because I was too arrogant, or stupid, or unlucky) before I realised that they broke me simply because I didn’t know enough, that I had to go out and gain a better understanding.

So maybe that’s what you do. Gain a better understanding of the problem you’re trying to solve, and try to sketch out a better solution, one that is more evident than the one you’re trying to force into existence.

Or just have a glass of wine. Or a bottle. Read a book. Meditate. Watch a movie. Play a game. Recharge. Even a thirty minute chat with a friend over a cup of tea can work wonders (it has for me twice in the last month).

Don’t be discouraged that you can only face the pain for a few hours or days. Don’t be ashamed that you fall out of the race earlier than you’d like, earlier than your peers, earlier than anyone else. They’ve just had more practice dealing with the pain.

The next time you feel like giving up, keep going. Go as hard as you can. Fight through the tiredness, fight through the pain, the restlessness, the frustration. You’ll either find the solution you’ve been looking for, and in the process have pushed your creative-endurance further, or you’ll brush up against burnout.

It’s win-win. You either get what you’ve been looking for, or you have an excuse to relax and recharge and come up with a new plan.

Both mean you get to have another go at it.