I’m about to write something that I fear will be terrible. I’ve been holding off for a while. I fret that this will be the kind of terrible that makes you look into an old, battered empty trash can and see the sticky stuff at the bottom that time and neglect have changed into an unrecognizably loathsome reminder of how truly awful writing can be.
I’ve finished all my avoidance behaviors except this ironic, dragon-swallowing-its-tale, literary version of a Mobius strip: writing about writing that you’re not writing–yet.
Two inspirational quotes urge me on. Both are from G.K. Chesterton, the rotund, prolific wit, theologian and author of the Father Brown mystery series: “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.”
Well…not always. Like most writers who haven’t come to terms with rejection, I can’t help but feel that what was unfinished, finished but spurned, scheduled for publication but never printed, published ineptly, published adequately but failed to speed me down the Yellow Brick Road of success–was inferior, underdone, overthought, half-baked, ill-conceived and so bad that I should tell myself I’m lucky it never saw the light.
Well…not always. Just this morning I was marveling at the tenacity of some writers, who, from dire need or built-in immunity to emotional pain, write and write and write and write until one editor says okay, another says yes, a third says where-have-you-been-all-my-life?, a fourth says no but persuades another writer to do a knock-off for less money, and, then there’s a great big shelf of work, with stacks of books ready for an autograph, and, finally, those awards and honors and….
I wrote and wrote and wrote and I got some articles and books published but I always felt that among the rejects was really GOOD stuff would find an audience one day.
You can write GOOD (grammarians, I feel your pain: One writes WELL) while letting yourself be BAD, at least, in the privacy of your own word processor. Nobody has to see it. Nobody has to know about your secret hope that what starts out stinky and vile might turn out better than you thought.
Isn’t it that true about cheese? Quoth Chesterton: “Poets have been mysteriously silent on the subject of cheese.”
As children are silent when they discover the secret of play, which, for children, is no secret. What we adults must do is, no matter how much you believe you know about yourself, your art and your audience, is return to a state of innocence in which you either don’t know what you believe you know, or what you doesn’t matter. Then, as soon as possible, you must appreciate what you’re doing. You MUST have fun, or seek it in some way.
And watch out for the grown-up in the room, that baleful critic who wears big shoes and gazes down from the top of all those grown-up bones and doesn’t understand that all you want to do is have fun with a paper towel roll that, in your mind, is a space ship or a musical instrument or something wonderful that hasn’t been invented– yet.
What is it about the presence of grown-ups that reduces that spaceship become cardboard, a piece of trash that was on its way to the can but caught your eye because you didn’t think it was trash?
You didn’t even think.
You just picked it up and turned it into something–