Barbara: I am taking the most wonderful, creative and inspiring writing course right now with Michel Basilieres (writer of the magnificent Black Bird). One of the fundamental writing lessons he is teaching us, a lesson he reiterates over and over in case we forget it (because we do forget it over and over) which, in my humble opinion, also happens to be a fundamental life lesson is: no matter what you do, you are NEVER EVER “wasting your time”.
It’s a funny obstacle many writers have that if you see that something in your writing isn’t working, you have this tremendous sense of frustration and fatigue, ennui even, and usually high levels of resistance to the idea that you might need to start over again. Maybe you need to throw something away that you’ve slaved over. Or maybe you need to accept that something you’ve really attached yourself to, creatively and emotionally, just isn’t working the way you thought/hoped/imagined. The crux of this discovery, either your own for yourself or from an outside eye, is that it feels like a rejection of you and your work. You may feel stupid (how could I have missed/written that?). You may feel angry (fuck you, you don’t know what you’re talking about!). You may even feel you want to just pack it in and give up. And let me just be blunt about that: if you do actually pack it in and give up, then you didn’t care enough about that dream/idea/creation. Because, like in life, anything that really matters to you, anything that is deep and meaningful and spiritually important takes an extraordinary investment of time. Like, maybe even all the time you have…
Every writer has a point (or many points along the way) where they have to take stock and make adjustments. We all know the famous quote about writing being 10% writing and 90% re-writing. Writers often get writer’s block because they are consumed with this anxiety that if they don’t get it JUST RIGHT the first time, the work they’ve toiled over will go to scrap, so rather than do “wrong” work, they don’t do any work at all.
For all you writers out there, here’s the best news: every single word you write—whether it “survives” or does not—gives you something enormous: it might teach you about the craft, it might open up a story path you hadn’t considered and will still use, it might produce a sentence or a character or an idea that would never otherwise have been born. Nothing you create when you sit down to create is useless.
And, as I considered the truth of this lesson, the importance of it, I realized all of life is like this. We all have experiences and moments that we kind of chuck into the garbage after they’re done (well, that’s over, thank god), and then we find ourselves facing the same kind of experience or moment over and over and we sigh and wail and throw up our hands (no, not that again!). But every one of our dreary life experiences also carries the seeds of life lessons embedded within. And, I think, if we pay attention and reflect, we can certainly find the creative genius in those challenges, and that the residual effect is specifically valuable and true to us.
There is no waste of time in the mountains of balled up, cast-off pages landing in the trash, and there is no waste of time in the things we do that don’t end up so pretty and perfect. We are all… wait for it … you know it’s coming … works in progress.
Deb: I LOVE THIS POST! All the stuff I know but needed to be reminded of. Barb, you and I know firsthand how this is. We have written and rewritten our scripts over and over and then over again. We always had the same can-do spirt about it, I think, based on this philosophy. But as Barb knows I am trying to write this kid's book that has been in my head forever and I NEEDED this lovely and positive reminder. Thanks, Barb. Thanks, Barb’s teacher!