So here’s a question. When you sit down at your desk, or wherever you write, what’s the attitude with which you approach the work?

Are you coming at the day’s words as one who really doesn’t want to be here, but knows they need to get something done, so you show up begrudgingly and jot down a hundred words just to say you did it? Or do you attack the page, firing off a thousand words in thirty minutes?

Margot Fonteyn said, “My attitude has never changed. I cannot imagine feeling lackadaisical about a performance. I treat each encounter as a matter of life and death.”

Now, I’m not saying you should go to THAT extreme when you come to work every day, but whether you realize it or not, your attitude when you sit down to do that day’s work has a huge affect.

I’ve got this day job–night job, really–that I hate. And it shows every day when I get there. I’m always in a grouchy mood, wanting to be anywhere but there, and the waves of disgruntlement and discontent radiate off me. I get my work done, but that’s all I do. If the line is down for a minute, there’s just as much chance I’m standing there, silently waiting for it to start up again as there is I’m doing something productive like cleaning my area or changing the trash. Because I just don’t care. I want to care, I’ve tried to care, but I just don’t. And that attitude comes through loud and clear.

But when it’s time to write every morning, man I’m ready to go. I’m smiling inwardly, my spirits are high no matter how exhausted I am from the night before at work, and I know I’m right where I’m supposed to be. That love for the work, that fire to get started, it comes through loud and clear as well.

And that carries over to every part of the process. No matter how slowly a story is coming along, or how mangled I feel the plot is, whatever the problem that’s keeping me from finishing this damned story already, my attitude is always positive because I know that, eventually, the plot will reveal itself, the twist will untangle itself, and no matter how stubborn a character or situation can be, there’s nothing better in the world than sitting at my computer, writing fiction. Even on a bad writing day, that’s still better than anything else I had planned for that day.

And on the good writing days … ho boy, that’s when the clouds part, and God smiles down on me. And I really feel a lot of that is due to my attitude about the work. At my old fast food job almost 30 years ago, they used to tell us to smile, even if we were taking an order through the drive-thru speaker, because the customer outside could hear your smile. At the time I thought it was a bunch of crap, but time, and doing work I love doing, has shown me that, yes, your attitude about the work comes through in the end product.

So when you sit down to get started every day, don’t let the bills, the spouse, the kids, the day job, the everything else get to you. Shrug it all off and just do the work you were meant to be doing, the only work you ever truly loved doing, and do it with a positive attitude knowing that, at least for these couple of hours, or however long, all is right with the world.

I got a text from a friend last week saying his computer was in the shop and it turned out he’d lost a LOT of recent work he’d done on a movie he was editing. It was an older movie he was working on a new cut of with some added effects and whatnot. He was, understandably, upset about the lost work.

Then I reminded me, all that work you lost was nothing. The movie was already done, you were just editing and revising. It’s another draft.

And the stuff he had updated, those updates were all “first draft” updates. Is it a pain in the ass to lose all that work? Of course.

But look at the bright side, I said, when you go back to do it again, you’ve already been through the process once, so you already know what worked and what didn’t, you already know how and where to make the changes you want to make. Now when you go back to do it again, you’ll have that experience already under your belt and it will make the re-do not only quicker, but cleaner and tighter as well.

I hope he came away from the conversation with a brighter outlook on a potentially bad situation.

We do this a lot, though, don’t we? One thing goes wrong and OH NO it’s the end of the world. When, really, it’s just a setback and all setbacks do is give us the chance to do it again, only better this time.

I once lost about 70 pages of unsaved edits when my foot hit the power cord and unplugged my word processor–remember those? I was pretty mad at myself and the power cord, but when I went in to do the work again, what I got was, I feel, so much tighter and more exciting.

If the setback is the only aspect of it we ever focus on, it’s going to make the work feel like, well, WORK. And doing what you love should never feel like that.

Setbacks like this can be a learning experience, and the chance to strengthen our craft and our process. It’s all in how you look at it and what part you choose to focus on. Stop worrying about how much work you lost and, instead, think of how much work you can get right this time. Every work of art benefits from editing and revising, and losing work and having to do it again, that’s just one more draft on the road to perfection.