OFF. Yep, I said that. Sometimes we can work so diligently on a project that we lose sight of the larger picture. We’ve heard it again and again; and I’ve caught myself repeating it ad nauseum to my students. All writing is rewriting. “You have to edit and revise; and never fall in love with your first draft,” as I hand back that story with more misspellings than I can stand on the first page, no less. But you also have to know when to back away from your work and give that play, poem or essay a little breathing room. We also have to learn when a work is finished.
It’s a delicate balance to be sure. Let me be quick to point out that first, we must give our work the time and attention it needs to develop before we back away. No one can fully know when that moment occurs until we’ve developed those skills through trail and error. That’s what devotion to our craft brings. With time, we become intimate with how we create, hopefully while learning how to remain open and flexible enough to savor those serendipitous moments when everything flows effortlessly. Right?!
Not even close most of the time! But when it does flow, we have to ride it like it’s the last time it will happen. But, that’s what neophytes think isn’t it? That we spit out fully formed sentences, ideas, essays and plays; or that the serendipity is an “anointing” that we writers have? We’ve all been there at that point when we think our work hits the mark. More than likely, if you’re worth your pronouns and participles, you’re worrying after mailing off that manuscript or hitting the send button when you turn in that assignment, “I could have given it one more edit!” That’s part of the writers’ life, isn’t it?
We’ve got to learn the same balance that we did when we learned to ride our bikes without training wheels. We figure it out by falling off a couple of times and hopefully we’ve survived with little more than a few skinned knees, elbows and egos. Sometimes not. But that’s the way it goes. We can only figure it out while we’re doing it. Sometimes we’ve had to get off that bike and take a different approach while rebuilding our confidence and assessing our skills.
There are often no short cuts to the learning process. It happens how and when it must , but only when we’re open to it. So, I write this to remind myself. Let me give my writing all I’ve got. Let me be open to change and be flexible enough to capture those serendipitous moments. Let me back away to get a fresh perspective while I’m creating. Let me know when the darn thing is finished.