This post is the fifth in a series I’m doing about how I see the writer’s process. You can read the previous steps at these links:
- Give In and Sit Down: The Beginning of the Writer’s Journey
- Listen Deep. Listen Wide: The Second Step of the Writer’s Journey
- Finish Something: A Writer’s Most Important Step
- Let It Go: The Fourth Step in the Writer’s Journey
So maybe I haven’t been quite as honest as I could have with these steps since by describing them as parts of a journey, I may have implied that there was an end to the journey. But for the person who knows she is a writer, this journey doesn’t have an end. Instead it’s a cycle that we begin again and again.
When I think of my writer’s life, I often imagine myself in a huge wheel – like those that the performers at Cirque du Soleil move across the stage in. I’m making progress, going to new and exciting places, but I’m also going through the same spin over and over. (Note: I am in no way talented enough for Cirque du Soleil, so this vision often devolves into a flash of images that involve an Emergency Room visit.)
If we are people who know our vocation to be writing, then the completion of one poem or one essay or one book, even if it’s published, is not as much an ending as it us a push into the next round of what we are writing. That’s healthy and wise for a few reasons.
When we don’t start something new as soon as we have finished one thing, we foster some risks.
- We risk tying our identity as both a writer and as a person with one piece of work.
- We risk becoming obsessed with the reception of that work by an editor, a publisher, or by the reading public.
- We risk losing any momentum we’ve gained in our writing practice.
- We risk letting “our laurels” be enough instead of finding joy and meaning in the process of writing.
Now, that’s not to say we shouldn’t celebrate the completion of a work or that we shouldn’t take breaks or rest when the good work is done. Celebration and rest are both REALLY IMPORTANT parts of the writing process.
Rather, by holding a mindset that conceives of the writing life as one of continual writing practice – notice I didn’t say “product” because I don’t believe the production of things is at the core of a writing life – we give ourselves space to embrace the fact that the only thing we can control about our work is our practice of creating it AND our relinquishment of the response to our creations.
When my friend Laraine Herring told me to “start the next thing” as soon as I finished The Slaves Have Names, I balked. I wanted to revel in that accomplishment, but now, a few years into the process of completing work and putting it in the world, I hold Laraine’s advice as some of my most precious because now I know that the practice of creation is what feeds some of the deepest parts of me. That practice, that journey will provide me satisfaction far beyond what book sales or editor approval or even the satisfaction of a job well done will ever give me.
What’s your practice when you finish a work? Do you have a celebration? A certain period of rest? Or do you begin again right away?
Kelly Chripczuk, Shawn Smucker, and I are getting very excited about our writer’s retreat that’s coming up July 29-31 at my farm at the edge of Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains. We have only 19 spaces left, so be sure to reserve yours today. More information and registration are available here – http://andilit.com/writers-retreat-at-gods-whisper-farm/. We hope you’ll join us.