Have you ever thought: I write a lot but finish little? Or where is the reward for all this work? Or I just lost 3 years on this novel that isn’t any good.
Last year I embarked on a writing academy that I dreamed would help me finish my memoir. But I didn’t find my stride until the very end — when I started writing an essay, not a chapter.
At first I felt elated that I’d found my voice again. A full-length memoir might have been marketable, but I’ve always written quieter pieces like essays and prose-poetry. Then I started grieving the 4 years I had wasted on a project that would never be. It was during this funk that a poet friend helped me see things differently.
It’s true that those 4 years didn’t lead to the prize I was chasing. But they were slowly building me up as a writer.
I had started on this project after 15 years of raising children and running a household — and not writing creatively. I assumed I’d be kind-of good from the start, maybe because I had always loved writing or because I hoped it was a question of unveiling some innate talent.
I recently opened up an early chapter of my memoir, and cringed. Then I looked at the first piece I submitted to the academy. There were a handful of salvageable gems, but it was tinged with a desperation to prove myself. Those 4 years were needed to make mistakes, to work things out, to train and learn, to build my confidence.
What if we saw writing less as producing a work of art and more like practicing a musical instrument? Or learning a challenging sport? What if we focused not on what others will think of our product, but how good it feels to get better at something? How satisfying it is to do something we couldn’t quite do a year ago?
A pianist never sees practicing as wasted time. In fact, practicing is mainly what a musician does with her music and her instrument. Months of rehearsal lead up to only one or two fleeting performances.
Because my massive amounts of writing and research didn’t lead to some kind of public achievement, I didn’t see progress. But progress was there hiding. Quietly sloughing off layers of the old me and revealing a stronger, more truthful writer-self.
While I’m still a little baffled by my 4-year obsession, I’m proud of the writer I’m becoming. Growth takes time, devotion, care, and struggle.
My most important lesson? Keep writing. Do whatever it takes to enjoy the process, the journey, and the challenge. Because oftentimes, that’s all there is.