The past couple weeks, I’ve had a fresh burst of writing energy toward a new book project (coy look interjected here). I haven’t felt this writing vigor for a while, and I receive the gift with open arms.
But today, once again, I’ve come up blank. Zilch. Nada.
Amid the vast blankness, I’ve been handed time to think again about this maddening art I love. My cursor over on my other page sits there, blinking at me, taunting me – so I defiantly move over here to write down what I want to remember – and, if you are a writer, what I hope you’ll remember.
//surrender the quest for brilliance//
Most writers I know have flashing visions of receiving that gold-embossed envelope (okay, I have no idea if it is actually gold-embossed but that’s the way I conjure the moment) acknowledging, with accompanying accolades, that we have won the National Book Award. However, most of my fantasies are slightly less ambitious (but only slightly). I’d like to receive a phone call from my editor, breathless, over this masterful prose of mine she has just read, singularly unlike the work from any of her other vagabond writers. I’d like for The New Yorker to get in line behind The Atlantic, wrangling to publish this writer (me) who, “writes with unparalleled grit and beauty – a new literary light.” (And, yes, they are free to use my quote)
Dreams are fine things; I’m a fan. However, something gets twisted when we aim to write words that are monumental. Most of life is plain, simple, and most writers are plain, simple people. Our job is to give away what we have. Most days, that’s going to be a little trace of life, a whiff of love. A story here. A question there. Maybe we will stumble upon something that opens up new terrain, or maybe we will just stumble. Whichever, our writing must be true. If we aim for brilliance, chances are we will only create dull fabrications – because most of our days (and most of our words) are not brilliant but ordinary.
We can hope for brilliance – that’s a good hope, I think. But we do best to shoot for truthfulness and the hard work of simple, elegant craft – and then hold it out to the world with an open hand.
//read…but not like that//
Every writing advice I’ve ever seen says that writers should first be readers. True enough. However, we are tempted to read with a critical eye, comparing someone else’s skill to ours. This is all the truer when we face the deep abyss of our own lackluster writing, sitting there with nothing but the reminder of someone else’s “genius.”
Here’s the deal: every book you read, every article or blog post is not an indictment against you (but this blog post is, definitely). Seriously, we can’t read others through the eyes of what their work says about us. We have to move through our jealousy over others’ successes. Who can say why they succeed and we don’t. Or why they turn a sharp phrase or have such an amazing quick wit or are so freakin’ remarkable. Maybe they’re just a better writer. Maybe the timing was right for them. Maybe the Green Publishing Goblins just have it out for you, and you will always and forever be screwed (well, probably not that).
None of that matters. Really. Though the Amazon rankings suggest different, we are actually on the same team. We are all artisans of beauty, truth and goodness. And, God knows, our world needs all the beauty it can get. Thank the cosmic muse for every good word that finds it way free. And pray that here and there, along the way, you set a few free as well. I bet you will.
Cliche alert: Writing is hard work. Annoying, I know. Book club legend has it that Cormac Mcarthy wrote The Road in a single sitting. I doubt it, though that would explain the whole no punctuation thing – the man was in a hurry. (And if it is true, and McCarthy did write The Road all at once, first draft, forget my previous paragraphs – Cormac is a grade-A literary punk and I hope he rots in the very, very bad place for…ever.)
I feel like there’s much more to say here, but “hard work” pretty much sums it up. And my editors have always told me “less, not more.”