Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Time, Work, and (What Else?) Macklemore


The greats weren't great because at birth they could paint 
The greats were great 'cause they painted a lot.

The simplest answer to "what advice do you have for young writers/writers generally?" is "just write more." No matter how many times we hear it, we still seek out other answers, wanting them to inspire some kind of breakthrough. Even after three books I still dig through the Internet or writing books searching for some other answer, but the hard one is the simplest one is the longest term one is the best one-- return to the keys or the notepad or whatever you use to write and do it, and then do it again.

It's like a marriage-- some days it's magic and it just works. Some days it feels hard. And some days it feels like trying to drill a hole through metal with a sewing needle. But as with marriage, what helps you through those impossible days is the commitment of time. When I married him, I promised him time, all the time I was able to give him, and he promised me the same. I promised to devote myself to learning the depth of him instead of experiencing the breadth of other people. And to the craft of writing, I also promise time and devotion and learning. A lifetime of practice, as much as I can give it.

Sometimes I feel like I'm just wearing away at my days, pushing toward this goal or that event or that deadline, and I forget to enjoy what I'm doing while I'm doing it. And I do enjoy what I'm doing, every word in every line, every line on every page. The work of writing is what I love, tangling my thoughts together and then struggling to untangle them. I even love the constant failure and the constant reminder that working through failure is possible and necessary and even lovely. It's so much like life, love, friendship in that way.

Put those hours in and look what you can get
Nothing that you can hold, but everything that it is.

With this last book I got the gift of time, a full year and a half to make it happen. And about halfway through the process, I realized that time was making it possible for me to love what I was doing while I was doing it, instead of just running toward a deadline as fast as I could. The time let the book steep in me, so to speak, building strength, and even now that I have been through several rounds of revisions I'm ready, even excited, to read through it again. (It helps that this time it's copyedits, my favorite things.)

I'm not here to discuss the book itself, or build it up, or dramatize it-- it will be a creative failure in some ways and a creative success in others and that's just the way books work. But what I'm talking about, here, is the one area in which this work will never be a failure: the process. In the process, I was open to criticism but I still knew what was important to me; I worked at a steady pace and I stopped when I needed some time to think; I let myself rest and I made myself work; and I loved it, and I did it every day.

I heard "Ten Thousand Hours" yesterday and those lines up above--put those hours in and look what you can get/nothing that you can hold but everything that it is-- really struck me. Working without resentment toward that work, and the time it takes, is important for all writers to learn. When you finish a story, all that work doesn't add up to something that you can grasp, that you can see-- even if you get a finished book at the end, it's not equal to the hours. But what you will get is the work itself, the joy and the peace and the struggle of it. For me, this last book was a quiet winter, a series of cold walks to and from the local coffee shop, a giant stack of paper next to my Christmas tree, a secret I kept even from my family and friends, a few teary-eyed nights on the couch as I read through the end again and again, and a realization that I have changed and so have the things I am interested in writing about, even though I wrote about the same characters.

I don't really have a point here. I was just thinking today, look what I got from that time and that work-- days that I loved living, words that I loved writing, work that I loved doing. It's not bad. Not bad at all.

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