I love the end of the year. Not only do I adore Christmas (it is my favorite holiday), but I like that it’s cold and it gets dark early, both of which encourage me to snuggle up indoors and reflect upon the year that is coming to a close. I plan to spend a lot of time in the next two weeks doing just that, and this week I’m going to write about the two lessons I learned this year that were most helpful to me.
I’ve been struggling with my writing for most of the year–not, thank goodness, with my nonfiction writing, so the blog hasn’t suffered unduly, but with my fiction. I have spent A LOT of time thinking about why I’m struggling and trying various strategies to make the writing work better for me. Most of those strategies failed. But in the last few weeks, I’ve finally found one that feels right.
I was reading snippets from Ray Bradbury’s Zen in the Art of Writing when I had my Aha! moment. He gives this three-fold advice to writers: Work, relax, and don’t think. Work I felt I understood, so I began turning around the other two steps in my head. What would it look like if I relaxed while I was writing? What would it be like to stop thinking so frantically? What if I stopped trying to avoid all the objectionable components of writing, stopped being obsessed with not making any of the obvious and embarrassing mistakes? What would happen if I gave myself permission to write what I wanted to write? In short, what would happen if I trusted myself as a writer and gave myself free rein?
I am cerebral sort of person, so it’s difficult for me to even imagine not thinking, but I’m also stubborn and I was determined to give it a try. I sat down and spent the next week and a half writing a short story without censoring myself. I looked forward to working on it, and the words came more easily. I even voluntarily worked on it on the weekend. Here was the joy I had somehow misplaced for so much of the year. When I finished it, I felt a sense of completion. Whether or not I had written something good, I had written something I felt connected to and could take satisfaction from.
I gave the story to my husband, my faithful first reader, without telling him I had been trying anything different. When he finished reading, he told me it was the best thing I’ve ever written.
In creative work, I think it’s important to strive. I believe in working to learn and improve, in tackling difficult themes and uncooperative characters, in experimenting to learn your craft (whatever it might be) to the best of your abilities. But what I didn’t realize until now is that there is a point when I have to let go. I have to trust that my writing knowledge will be there for me. I have to stop second-guessing every decision I make. I have to believe in my vision and voice as an artist.
And it turns out, I do have my own voice. It’s been there all this time, waiting for me to be willing to listen.
Relax. Don’t think. Trust yourself.
What lessons pertaining to your work, artistic or otherwise, did you learn this year?