It has been said to me frequently by other writers that in order to withstand the rigors of writing for publication, we have to fall in love with the writing itself. We need to love the process. It is the process that will always be with us; the editing and book launching and getting authors to write blurbs – these will be short seasons that pass. They aren’t what we’re here for. We’re writers. We’re here to write.
And as much as I try to love the process, there’s a pressure that often gets in my way. The pressure of making my best work.
Don’t misunderstand me – it’s good to make excellent work, to give writing the best that I have in me. It’s good to edit and polish, criticize and critique, hone and practice. That is vital. That is important. Without an eye to challenging our own work, without looking for the ways we can grow, we won’t. But my ultimate goal is to write for hope, for joy. Books and stories have given me fresh eyes to see the beauty in my own life and I want my writing to do that for others, and I want the piece I’m writing right now to be that piece and I forget that I have decades to fulfill this goal of mine.
I may want to be remembered as a writer who inspired hope into those who felt drowned in the mundanity of their lives, but I have a lifetime of writing ahead of me. Possibly, even hopefully, the one manuscript I have right now will not be the only one I produce. After all, I have no plans to stop writing if/when this book finds its publisher. And so, this book, this writing, this project can take on its own perfect, most excellent shape without being the exact embodiment of everything I want to say in my writing. I am allowed to say more, later. Maturity will have a different voice, a deeper voice. There are experiences and moments and decades and conversations and heart-changes that will never fit into the one manuscript I have written right now.
I can polish and edit until this book is perfect, but I need to avoid the trap of needing to fit all of my words into this one project. I have more memories than there are pages in a memoir. I have more essays than there will be posts on my blog. I have more thoughts than there will be entries in my journal.
I think we who are artists underestimate maturity. We think that when we finish our PhD, we need to have achieved the pinnacle of clear, scholarly thought. We imagine that when we are published, we will have established who we are as authors. We sit down to the long game of seeing a project to completion and we think that project needs to be the completion of us – we forget that there are often so many, many more years ahead. We forget that people change and grow and our voices, our art, will change and grow with us. That we will change and grow with our art.
So don’t forget to close the chapter, sometime. It’s ok that some pieces are left out. Hone and edit and critique your work but remember that if it doesn’t not say everything that’s written on your heart, that’s fine. Your heart can say so much more than a book, an essay, a painting, a pottery vase could ever convey. So keep creating. We know in our minds that one project is not the end, but remember too that it is not the grand summary. It can express one thing you had to say. The next project will take it further, will add a new tambre to your voice. This is ok. This is maturity. This is knowing which work must represent which ideas, which growth. When you’ve published one book or sold one painting, you haven’t finished talking and we haven’t finished listening.
Hold fast, keep walking. Close a chapter and smile about it. There is more ahead than you can imagine.