Thursday, October 28, 2010

Guest in Progress: Carollyne Hutter on the Art of the Impossible

I love that my post inspired this excellent piece by writer Carollyne Hutter. Truly words to take forward with you today and onwards:

Doing the Impossible
By Carollyne Hutter

I want to follow up on Leslie’s excellent piece on Not Failing Better*, but Simply Failing by discussing doing the impossible. As writers, we are often told through articles, friends, writers, and others, that many things we want to do are impossible, whether it’s a style issue or being successful in a field.

We need to face these walls of so-called impossible and then tear them down. This happened recently in another area of my life.

When I was in college, I visited my brother in Germany and signed up for German classes there. Before I began the classes, my brother said: “It’s impossible for a nonnative German speaker to write well in German. You and I will never be able to do it.” Being that this came from my older, wiser brother, I took the words to heart.

When I returned to US, I was able to place in advanced German classes, where I excelled at speaking and reading German. But not at writing German. How could I? I knew it was an impossible task.

I continued my academic German studies through graduate studies in international relations at Johns Hopkins. Again I excelled at speaking and reading German. But not at writing German. How could I? I knew it was an impossible task.

This summer, I met an old friend for coffee in Munich. I hadn’t seen him in years and he told me he’s now working for the city of Munich.

I nodded encouragingly at him, thinking how I would enjoy speaking German regularly. But then panic seized me. My friend is British; his mother tongue is English. If he works for the city of Munich, at the very least he has to write memos or e-mails in German. The impossible task!

When I asked him whether he has to write in German, he nonchalantly responded, “Yes.”

Then he shrugged his shoulders and said, “That’s no big deal.” He paused for a moment and said. “I took classes.”

I stared at him and thought: I took classes, too. From the best universities in the nation. But the reason why I never conquered written German was because in my mind it was always impossible.

And with my friend’s words, an obstacle, a huge wall, which had stood in the path before I even started on the journey, was removed.

As writers, we all encounter these impossible walls. Close your eyes. I bet you can think of at least three things that someone told you or you read were impossible for a writer to do. Write them down.

Now think of three people who overcame these obstacles. Here’s what I came up with:

1. Impossible: You can’t be a good fiction writer without great descriptions.
Who overcame this: The Irish writer Roddy Doyle has minimal writing with almost no descriptions, and yet he creates vivid scenes.

2. Impossible: You can’t be a good writer and be good at technology.
Who overcame this: My friend Rebecca Flowers is an enormously talented writer and loves technology; she’s totally comfortable with it. She even produces her own radio pieces.

3. Impossible: You can’t be a good nonfiction and fiction writer.
Who overcame this: Ernest Hemingway was both a successful journalist and a trailblazing novelist.

So next time someone tells you that it’s impossible for a writer to do this or that, just shrug your shoulders like my friend did and say, “That’s no big deal.”

And remember what the Queen told Alice in Alice in Wonderland:

Alice laughed. "There's no use trying," she said: "one can't believe impossible things."

"I daresay you haven't had much practice," said the Queen. "When I was your age, I always did it for half-an-hour a day. Why, sometimes I've believed as many as six impossible things before breakfast." (From Through the Looking Glass).

About: When she’s not thinking of impossible things to do, Carollyne Hutter is a freelance writer/editor/communications manager in the Washington, DC area, specializing in environmental, health, and international development topics. She also enjoys writing fiction for adults and children (early readers, picture books, and young-adult novels). Please visit her website— — to learn more. You can contact Carollyne at


DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.