Last week, I finished a collection of stories I’ve been working on for twelve maybe thirteen years. I have memories of a retreat I went on with a writer friend somewhere along the way where I mapped out all the stories and their interconnections using overlapping circles and colored markers. This friend took a picture of me lying belly down on the deck of the cabin where we were staying. I look happy in the picture. I had finished the task of planning. That was twelve years ago.
I came across that diagram the other day when I was cleaning out my file cabinet. Reviewing it’s contents, I had to laugh. So much had changed! The story hadn’t gone at all the way I thought it would. Characters names had changed. The order of stories and their titles too were unrecognizable to me. The seed idea was sort of the same, but even that had evolved to be something more specific than I had started with.
As I was writing the last story in the collection, an insight came up for me that I’d had before. One of those lessons as a writer or a practicer of anything that we have to learn over and over. It is of course the goal of writing to some day finish. And by finish I mean feel satisfied that you’ve done all you can with a piece, that it really is time to send it on it’s way into the world to see how it goes. The problem is that when we focus on finishing, we compromise the work itself.
Writing is a practice of staying in the moment, of being willing to be honest and present enough to bring the words to life. If in the back of your mind your desire to finish is nagging away, it will infect your work. The focus and attention to the moment of each story became more difficult to sustain the closer I got to the end. I kept starting and stopping because when my mind strayed to the future where I was finished, I knew the writing would be no good. It reminded me of the stories Dillard tells in The Writing Life about some of the crazy things writers do to keep themselves in the flow.
So I’ve “finished” and am taking a brief pause in taking up any big projects, taking the time to do some deep yoga work and write frivolous poems and stories for a few months. Four of the stories in the collection have found a place in the literary world. Below are links to where you can read those stories. Look for the whole collection in the not so distant future.
May you make time and find flow, friends.
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Some past posts to keep you making time:
It’s about the routine and how you shake up the routine
There are things you will have to give up
Monday, a run through the driving rain