Perhaps the kindest—and most helpful—review I ever received came from Mary Rose O’Reilly, author of The Barn at the End of the World: “I can imagine that [Elizabeth] has spent many hours staring out the window until she arrives at a lived-synthesis of what the great religions and irreligions have to tell us about the nature of the sacred.” I don’t know about the synthesis, but I can attest to staring out the window. And hours writing and then deleting what I’d written. And hours journaling for no eyes other than my own. And years revising.
“Art is long,” writes Henry James. “If we work for ourselves of course we must hurry. If we work for her we must often pause.” Immersed in our culture of instant gratification, I’m as easily seduced as the next blogger by the possibility that my words might rattle around in a reader’s brain within an hour of their composing. But I also know the profound, evolutionary movement of a longer project, where readership is hypothetical, a decade isn’t an unreasonable timeframe, and the exploratory possibilities are endless. Henry James makes this sound noble—we’re serving Art!—but for most of us, uncertainty about the artistic nature of our work packs those years and all those pauses with angst. Better to be done with it, receive a flash of social media feedback, and feel our efforts validated.
Significant creation asks us to surrender to time—to release our needs for completion and affirmation and inhabit a process that rarely unfolds the way we’d like. As uncomfortable as this makes me, I’m also certain that little else is as worthwhile. Given the escalating speed of our culture, any work that forces us to pause, gaze out the window, and trust the secret recesses of our subconscious to arrive at lived syntheses is increasingly valuable. Art is long, as is growing asparagus, learning to bake a soufflé, establishing a meditation practice, raising a child, participating in democracy, and most activities that comprise a well-lived life. When writers despair of ever finishing their books, I sympathize—it’s hard not to be done!—and I rejoice in projects so worthy and rich that they demand whole chapters of our lives. 44
from “Living Revision: A Writer’s Craft as Spiritual Practice” by @Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew @Skinner House