A Valentine’s Day Wish for Writers

Here on Valentine’s Day, a winter storm is approaching. Actually, two storms are meant to hit a wide swath of the country this week. It’s sunny right now here in central Ohio, and people are out in force, laying in supplies. Tonight, though, the snow and ice will be here, and then the temperatures will plunge. We’ll brace ourselves for a second round later in the week.

Already, I’m anticipating the contented feeling—all right, maybe even a bit of a smug feeling—that comes from not having to drive anywhere in the bad weather. I’m grateful for shelter with Cathy and our orange tabby, Stella the Cat. I’m thankful for food and warmth. I embrace the hunkering down and the surrendering to nature’s force that teaches us sometimes all we can do is wait.

It’s a lesson I wish I’d learned when I was a young writer. I was too eager for my writing to be validated by my teachers and the editors at various literary journals who were rejecting my work. I was impatient. I was prone to the doubt and despair that creeps in when we wonder whether we’ll ever be good enough. I’d yet to accept the fact that I had no control over how a teacher or an editor would respond to my work. I only had control over the process of creating that work, and the truth is sometimes the process takes longer than we wish it did. Still,  the focus of our energy should be on the craft and not on the end result of our process. All of the worries about validation only create negative energy. What we need is positive energy bred from our embrace of what we truly love—the craft itself.

We can’t hurry that craft—our deepening of it will come as it comes—but we can hasten that deepening. We should read the work of others slowly and thoughtfully and always with the question of how that work got made. Everything written is a result of a series of artistic choices a writer made. Those choices create specific effects. Being able to identify the choices and articulate the effects deepens our understanding of craft and makes our own practice more fruitful.

We can also give our work the time it needs to mature. Instead of rushing it out into the world, we can make ourselves wait until the work has fully revealed itself through the act of revision. Often it takes time for an individual work to find its complexity and its resonance. Likewise, it often takes time for us to feel and understand why a piece matters greatly to us. Sometimes we have to wait until we know the personal element that gives the piece the urgency it needs in order to express our truths to the larger world.

A storm like the one that’s coming always slows me down, teaches me to be patient, and narrows my focus on what I can control. I eliminate everything I can’t. On this Valentine’s Day, I wish a similar gift to all of you, particularly those of you who are just starting out on your writer’s journey, a trip I always describe as a lifelong apprenticeship. Give yourself over to your love. Shut out the noise and distraction of your own selfish desires. Let the writing itself be the thing that matters most. Listen to it. Respect it by dedicating yourself to the study and practice of your craft. Be kind to yourselves. Embrace the truth that the journey will always take you where you’re meant to go.

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