Waiting for Perfection

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I haven’t been writing a lot lately. Largely because of time—I’ll put 75% of the blame there—but also because the topics swirl around in my head and I wait for them to position themselves just so before committing to putting words to my thoughts. I only want to write if it’s meaningful. I only want to write if I get it right.

atwood-on-writing-perfection

There’s no such thing as perfection. I know that. And there’s especially no such thing as perfection in writing. Words are living, breathing things and a piece of writing is never truly done. It’s just finished, and the writer has to release those words to the world and let them continue to live on through readers. As you peruse the words and unravel their meaning, the words breathe. As you comment, continue to ponder, or share, the words’ breath, their very being, carries on.

Often, when I really have something to say, I will think and write and revise and think some more. I will edit and re-write and let the words lead me to making sense of my world. And when I finally let them go, I wait for the answer to one question: Did I get it right?

But there is no right. There is only right now. Whatever I write, whether I publish it or not, is my reality in the moment. It’s part of how my world evolves. The words I use and the paragraphs that form don’t have to be perfect. They don’t have to be right by anyone’s judgment. Not even by mine. Those words are merely part of the picture.

I know this, and something someone shared recently (that originally inspired this post but that I can no longer find) has reminded me of it once again.

I don’t have to finish writing. I just have to start.

Writing is a Process

In the back of my mind, for a long time, quietly, a question has lived: Why, for all those years, didn’t you write more?

When I was in Grade 11 I entered one of my short stories in a contest and won a prize. I barely remember the story or what it was about, and I don’t remember the process of writing it. It was very much modeled after a favorite writer of mine; in fact, I’m not sure the voice was really mine at all.

I’ve never had much of a desire to write fiction and I certainly don’t now. I don’t have stories and characters and settings in my head. And, after all, isn’t that what writers do? Weave themselves and their experiences and the things they ponder into stories about other people?

Of course not. Not only that. That’s just one kind of writing.

I know that now, and these days I write a lot. At least in my head, which still counts. Not many of them make it down on paper, but I process my world through words.

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I spent years not writing because I thought I didn’t have anything to write about. I guess I just had to find my own story. So that’s what I write now. I process things and it helps me and maybe even helps other people a little bit.

And yet at times it feels self-indulgent to write my own story. Self-important. Narcissistic, even. Especially because my story, as I am telling it, isn’t one event. It’s not one bad day or one diagnosis or one revelation.

But then again, no one’s is.

Writers write because they have something to say. And the lesson I’m learning now—for me—is that I can write, and I want to write, and it doesn’t actually matter if anyone reads it.

I will just wait for those times I have something to say, and be grateful for a place to say it.

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I’ve written and deleted the introduction to this post several times. I just don’t have any words lately. I can’t even say why, just that for the first time in a long time I am processing things in my head instead of on this screen. I’m doing things and enjoying them and then moving on to the next thing. I’m having some hard days but not feeling the need to share much. I’ve been desperately tired and then better. I’ve thought ahead to all the things I want to do before my maternity leave is over (only two months!) and then sat down to enjoy the now.

It’s a weird place to be in. I haven’t gone this long without writing anything significant since I started blogging. I don’t even have drafts of all the stuff I’ve been thinking about. Just two. And they’re the barest of drafts. A line or two each. Whatever I have to say just doesn’t seem worth saying right now.

So I’ll hang out here for a while. There’s beauty and potential and life in the distance, and I’m eyeing it while soaking up what’s right in front of me.

Just wanted you to know.

Jasper-mountain

 

Keeping the Channel Open

This is a long quote, but worth a read:

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open… No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

- Martha Graham

I’ve been struggling a bit with writing lately. I’ve had the first line of this post written for a while and so far that’s all there is. It still exists in the shadows and nothing has come forward to shed light on what I’m trying to express.

Writing is a function of time. And inspiration. And a topic. But it also, whether we want it to or not, gathers breath from our feeling of whether we have a place in this world of people who choose to express themselves through the written word. And lately I don’t.

I’ve lost my focus here, which seems to be a cyclical thing. Have I mentioned how cute and squishy my new baby is? I have? Well, that’s all I’ve got.

Except it’s not. I’ve got snippets popping up like the newest green shoots in the spring. I desperately want to feed them and give them light so I can see what they will turn into, but it’s not happening. I think some of them might be profound if only they would show themselves.

Where do writers’ words come from? Mine, when I have them, come from the moments I wouldn’t otherwise notice. They come from that space in the dark right before I fall asleep when I finally uncover the right phrase only to lose it when the daylight comes.

My words come from my past and, increasingly, from my present. I want to stretch them beyond that and find out, through my words and the messages they whisper, where I’m going in the future. But right now there’s just right now.

I have never lived so fully in the present, but I don’t mean that in a good way. My world is made up of tiredness, and have-I-had-a-shower-yet, and calculating when I last fed the baby. My future, such as it is, stretches only as far as tonight when I wonder if tonight might be the night he sleeps longer, and then I stop wondering that and try to focus on the opportunity feeding a baby gives me to do some middle-of-the-night reading.

In doing that reading by the light peering out from the bathroom (not too bright but enough to see) I have discovered new voices. And I have had the time to read old voices. I have been reading and reading some more and pondering. Reading Kindle books for which my impression was I can write better than that. I think. Reading online magazine articles and news stories. (Ditto.) And reading blogs.

It’s the blogs, I think, that are causing the problem. So many good writers with so many authentic voices. I read their words and I wonder where they come from. Not from time spent in the darkness with only a bathroom light and a sleepy baby for company, I suspect.

I write for me, people say. That’s all that matters. And I do too. And it is. But it’s not – not for anyone, I’d argue. I write stories that matter to me and maybe I shed a tear or two when it seems like no one else cares.

I still want those stories written down, but lately the stories aren’t appearing the way I want them to. The words aren’t right. Sometimes they’re not there at all.

But maybe I don’t have to believe. Maybe I have to live with my blessed unrest and keep marching and find the piece that keeps me alive.

Maybe I just have to write regardless.

Write On

I got another email the other day, this one from a friend-of-a-friend sort of person. She had found my blog thanks to Reader’s Digest naming me one of Canada’s top mom bloggers (and yes, that was unexpected, but what I was especially happy about was that it was my writing about postpartum depression that they highlighted). The email was of the thank-God-I’m-not-alone types from someone who previously dealt with postpartum anxiety and is now struggling with antenatal depression and just really isn’t sure where to turn.

When I got the email I was just closing my computer to take Connor out for some fun with my sister and my dad and he was getting impatient. But I saw the name and the subject line and I paused, hoping I could put the excited child off a moment longer.

I keep every email like this that I receive – the ones that say thank you for sharing and for being so honest. The ones that say can you help me? And the ones that say I just didn’t know and I thought it was just me.

Because I know. I know what that feels like and I know how sometimes it’s impossible not to reach out and say thank you (like I did with Katherine after I found Postpartum Progress). And when I get those emails it affirms that it’s okay to write about these things, which is a reminder I sometimes need, especially lately when I’ve been feeling like I lost my words.

I’ve been feeling a little bit vulnerable. Before the Reader’s Digest thing, but especially so since. I’m so, so honored, especially given some of the other bloggers on the list. But that’s the sort of thing that tends to get spread around. I posted it on my own Facebook page (and I rarely share blog content or related things there) and it got shared by my family and some friends. Which is how the friend-of-a-friend thing tends to happen.

In this case it actually went beyond that. I work with my brother who, evidently, is friends on Facebook with a bunch of other people we work with. Who now know about my blog. Some of them said, “That’s cool! I’ll have to check out your blog,” (and I thought oh god…). Some of them did read it and said only nice things like, “It’s great that you’re so open” and “You’re a great writer.” Which are lovely comments, but there’s always a part of me that wonders if they’re really thinking, wow, you are messed UP.

But you know what? That’s okay. Some days I’m totally messed up, but so are most people in one way or another. And I’d rather be messed up and working on it and, better yet, helping others in the same boat than holding it in for fear of what others think. I did that for too long and it backfired, making me more messed up in the short term and causing this to be more of a long-term problem than it would otherwise have been.

So I’ll write and whoever wants to can read. And if one of those readers finds something helpful here and sends me an email, so much the better.

Write on.

 

Linked up with Just.Be.Enough

and Things I Can’t Say

I’ve also got a post on Just.Be.Enough today about some awesome lyrics by a great Canadian band. Come visit!