Knowing when to stop writing is one hell of a lot easier than starting to write in the first place. Though Ernest Hemingway famously said, “you always stop when you know what is going to happen next,” his pronouncement implies that he was already writing like mad. But didn’t Hemingway ever have trouble getting started in the first place?
I do, and maybe you do, too. Though it may have more to do with fear than with technology, for the time being, I’m going to blame it on my tools. There aren’t too many professions in the world where the tools can serve as hinderances. Typically a worker’s tools enhance her skills at her job. When a jeweler takes up his eyepiece, he’s not distracted by its potential; he merely uses it to gauge the clarity and cut of the diamond, and he’s done with it. Ditto the surgeon: She uses the scalpel with precision on the intended cut, then moves in to probe, repair and suture. Where’s the potential for distraction from her task there?
The creative life differs dramatically. There are limitless options. Yet there’s only one critical tool for my job, and it’s my iMac (joy!! little happy dance!). My writing happens here. But not just my writing. All manner of other creative and possibly even important pursuits happen here, and my ability to differentiate which one comes first is directly related to the urgency of the task I’m avoiding. The irony is that because my iMac is the one tool I need, it’s where everything happens—writing my novel, to be sure, but also photo editing, designing, blogging, tweeting, Googling, emailing, reading, finding inspiration.
And what is blogging, if not creative avoidance of the novel I could be writing?
[blawg, blog] noun
1. (informal) an online journal of a writer’s opinions; (full name) weblog
2. a place where a writer writes everything except the novel she is working on now
Knowing when to stop, I’ve concluded, is not the same for writers with iMacs as it was for Hemingway with his Royal (possibly a 1940 Quiet De Luxe, or an Arrow, one of which sold at auction for $2,750 at an Atlanta, Georgia antique sale in June 2007). Type away for hours, hit the # key to signal ‘finis‘ and then it’s off for a Scotch rocks. No other temptations beckon while plunked at a typewriter. There’s just the job at hand: type the story. So stopping was not the challenge. Stopping was the easy part, because there’s nothing else to do but type.
Not so on my iMac. In looking at Hemingway’s advice from another point of view—mine, where there are multiple directions to go—I’ve concluded that you always start where you left off. That’s one way of giving myself permission to be the many creative personalities I am. So be it resolved:
You always start where you left off.
Except when you don’t. During my recent explore my creativity decade, I spent a number of years painting. My canvases always began blankly. They demanded my vision, but I was so stingy with it. Eventually they breathed easier, when I’d finally start a painting; and I completed a goodly number of them, with great passion. But many of them remained mere outlines of their potential. You can imagine how disappointed they were.
As was I. How could I hesitate, how could I not apply mere paint to canvas? My ideas were sketched out, my vision was clear, my palette was ready, I certainly had plenty of expensive brushes and colorful tubes of pigment. But the answer was simple, as simple as the answer that rings in the ears of painters, and authors, around the world: What if it’s no good?
What if it’s no good?
This is what holds us back, writers, painters, poets, designers, photographers, artists all. Don’t we all fear our ability to express our vision? It’s a wacky yet false fear, because you are the only one who knows your real vision. The rest of the universe is clueless, having no idea of the inner debate that’s rendering you helpless. So when the universe is finally presented with your vision, admirers will step forward, impressed and dumbfounded by your creative strokes of genius. Who knew?
Only you. Only you will know how much you feared this moment. And how you nearly never got here.
You just have to show up.
There is really only one answer for it. You just have to show up. You have to show up each and every time you face the blank screen, or you reach for a sable brush, mix the ultramarine with crimson red and a touch of raw umber, or you print out a chapter for your critique group. You just have to show up. And that’s how you get started, right where you left off. ♣
How did you manage to show up today?
Not convinced yet that you may be avoiding greatness? Check out ‘Woman. Legend. Blog.’ to see How I’ve Been Avoiding Writing: I Got a Typewriter. And find more on the creative process HERE.
Want a sneak peek of my upcoming novel?
For more on the art of writing, look HERE.