Y is for Yoda

Many of you may have seen the strange little illumination making the rounds online, of the curiously Yoda-like figure appearing in the manuscript from the 14th century. There is no explanation for this. It is just pure nerdery.


I don’t find this all that surprising. I happen to have a deep affinity for Yoda. My favorite Star Wars quote (and I’m sure the favorite of many of you) is “Do or do not. There is no try.” This is what comes up any time you search for a Yoda quote (I know, I just did it). It is by far the most likely candidate to appear on a t-shirt or coffee mug.

But what does it mean? What can this strange little hippy-dippy gnome-like creature teach us? If you haven’t seen the film, let me enlighten you (no, really, I know there are people who haven’t!). Yoda teaches Luke to become a Jedi by a method similar to that used in the Karate Kid (I know, really dating myself now, huh). Performing seemingly unrelated and mindless repetitive tasks and proving once again that wisdom is wiser than a punk kid. Yep.

And it works. Yoda teaches Luke that indeed, a rock is no different than a spaceship, in terms of what you want to move. It is just a thing. Size doesn’t matter. Just believe you can do it, and there. Bam.

By now you are thinking, what does this have to do with writing? Well, aside from the beauty of the illuminated manuscript pages, a lot. The main point is to keep going. Do not look over at the next person and say they are doing it better. Do not compare your work to a spaceship. Do not think that this is too hard. Do not give up.

It’s a lot harder to do than to say, I know. But it is a fundamental thing. At AWP (honestly, last reference to AWP, I swear!), The Loft Literary Center had a booth where you could write down an item, seal it in an envelope, and leave it in the basket, and then you spun a wheel to take an envelope. The color the wheel landed on corresponded to the color of the envelope you could take. The messages were written on the color of paper corresponding to the type of message it was. I wrote a message of encouragement (yellow). When the wheel landed on purple, that meant I got to choose a six-word story from the basket of envelopes (a purple envelope). A bit complicated, but the upshot of the story is that I wrote a piece of advice on my paper, put it in my color-coded envelope, and then tweeted it out to get people to come to the booth. My advice: Don’t give up. The only difference between a writer and an author is the author didn’t give up.

AWPLoft game

It’s true. How many times have you heard the story of a writer who trudged through the motions for years? How many tried countless agents (well, not countless – they always know exactly how many!), sent out dozens of manuscripts, tried again and again, to the detriment perhaps of all else? Famous story: When Stephen King got the letter that Carrie had been accepted, he had just had his phone shut off. There are many many other stories like this.

And yet, Fahrenheit 451 was written on a pay typewriter, in the basement of a library! How did he even have time to do corrections? How many people today are writing a classic using their library facilities? To judge from the folks using the banks of machines at my local library, I would say not many, but I would also bet that I am wrong. There is always a way to do something that you really want to do.

Like Yoda says: Do or do not. There is no try.

How can you accomplish something unless you actually believe you will be able to accomplish it? How can you be successful without visualizing that success? How do you continue to try without believing that you will succeed?

The answer: very hard to do. You almost cannot.

Just Do It. Oh yeah, there’s another slogan for you. But you don’t need another slogan. You don’t need a ‘Wax on, wax off’ teacher. You just need to believe in yourself.

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