7. Hope, Faith and Love 2: This Time, It’s Personal

Writers get stuck for all kinds of reasons, and they’re legitimate and real. Life is exhausting, the world is terrifying, and art feels like an indulgence.

When everything feels pointless and my work won’t come to life, I try to remember to refill my well. I go to a museum, if I can, and if I can’t, I look at art in books or online. I listen to very good music. I absorb beautiful things. Whatever inspires you, hold onto it and remember it’s there in the dull and difficult times. There’s a reason you wanted to write. Has it got lost? Find it. Bring it back.

Your job as an artist is not to create something perfect; that’s impossible. Your job is to make something. Implied in that: your job is to finish something. Revising and finishing a work is one of the key parts of the writing process; if you don’t ever allow yourself to experience that part, because you’re always starting new and shiny things, you’re always sketching, never painting.

That doesn’t mean you can’t ever abandon something that isn’t working. It does mean that the goal is a finished piece. Every decision you make – even, sometimes, abandoning a draft that took a wrong turn – should get you closer to that goal. Make something, the way a knitter makes a shawl or a gardener makes a tomato.

The final stages of any project can be full of despair, but revision, like all writing, can be a joy. Art can be sustaining, not only for humanity but for the writer. Sometimes we get so addicted to the idea of productivity as an output that we don’t allow ourselves to find joy in creative work. Finish your work, as best as you can, and do it for you. When you get stuck, take a moment to refill your well. Let yourself write that passage of snarky banter or flowery description or whatever gives you joy.

Ultimately, writing is a mainly solitary exercise because it’s an intensely personal exercise, and that’s when it becomes universal. Getting better, I think, is mostly about become more honest with ourselves about what the work needs to be, and about what work we need to do to get it there. Sometimes that work happens off the page, away from the computer.

Exercise

Write down something you enjoy about writing, or even about having written. Make it specific and personal. If there’s nothing consistent you enjoy, write down something you love about your current work in progress, or about a cool idea you have.

Quotation

“All I will do is state a possibility. If human nature does alter it will be because individuals manage to look at themselves in a new way.” E.M. Forster, Aspects of the Novel.

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