One exactly like me.
I am signed up for the Jackson Hole Writers Conference in June. I am, in equal parts, eager, excited, and dreading it. Very soon I need to submit the first 40 pages of a manuscript for critique (yeah, I paid extra for this
pressure privilege). But am I happy with them? Not even close. I’ve been writing and rewriting those first pages for the last month. Now, mind you, the novel is currently 300 pages long (75% written, 100% outlined), but it’s those first 40 pages that are kicking my butt. Oh, I’ve thought they were strong and ready about ten times. Just ask my husband about our nightly conversations. “How did your writing go today, honey?” “Fantastic!” I would reply. “Today I rewrote the opening to my novel, and it’s so much better!” Then the next day: “How did your writing go today, honey?” “Awful! I scrapped the new opening to my novel.” Then the next day: “Fantastic!” Then: “Awful!” Yeah, not kidding here.
Here’s my problem: I’m teaching myself to write by reading the best authors in the world. How do you compare to the experts in your field? See? It’s like that.
But a friend of mine, Sabine Friesicke, one of my favorite artists who is much wiser than I, recently told me what she reminds herself while she’s painting. It’s an old Chinese proverb (those guys were really smart): The path is the goal.
Yes, Sabine, the Chinese, and I are all minimalists.
I’ve been writing for five years, and have completed three novels plus my work in progress, A Reasonable Price. I started out slow, “just an hour a day,” and I’ve progressed to 4-6+ hours a day, plus reading everything I can get my hands on. As my bio says, I read the classics (for the education) and I read debut novels (for the comparison). What kills me is that until my work starts sounding more like—well, not Nabokov—but “Ann Patchett meets Dennis Lehane”, then I am not going to be happy with it. It’s very difficult to remember that they had to start somewhere, and their debut novels undoubtedly needed the help of a great editor too. It’s the same comparison I drew about Steve Jobs and Me.
But here’s the kicker: No matter what happens in my publishing career (ooh, I like the sound of that), I am a better, happier person because of the path I’m on to get there. When I look back on the last five years of my life, I can see that I am a much, much happier, wiser, more centered person than I was when I was an art dealer. The beauty of writing is that when you slow down enough to think about what makes people (i.e. characters) (including and most importantly yourself) tick, then the world starts to make so much more sense. I have learned more about myself through my hours and hours of pecking at my laptop about my characters than I did in the four decades before that.
The path is the goal.
So, today’s lesson, peeps: Relax. Today is probably not your last day on Earth, so enjoy it and stop putting so much pressure on yourself. Every day is a privilege.