Writer Ann Patchett says it all in this quote about the creation of art and the importance of forgiveness. It’s from her article, “The Getaway Car,” reprinted in This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage.
Forgiveness. The ability to forgive oneself. Stop here for a few breaths and think about this because it is the key to making art, and very possibly the key to finding any semblance of happiness in life. Every time I have set out to translate the book … that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time.
Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing.
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Sometimes, when I’m gardening, I feel the guilt of not writing. When I’m writing, I sometimes feel guilty about not gardening. And I don’t mean having fun in my yard, though I love to do that too. I mean gardening for work, for money, my day job. I own a tiny (as in me) gardening business where I either design a garden or part of a garden or clean up a garden. This business is a blessing for a writer. I have flexibility. I can schedule my jobs, take a free day when I need to. But in summer, when it’s hot and sunny and there are many clients waiting, gardening work comes first. Writing comes second. And unfortunately second often means rarely.
Forgiving Your Self
I’ve learned to forgive myself for this. In January, when it’s cold and rainy and no one’s inspired by the natural world, I have as many hours as I need to sit and work on a manuscript. But in July, I’m beholden to the clients who hire me. I’m combing plant nurseries for a pretty Threadleaf Nandina, pulling Shotweed and Morning Glory, trying to find a place to park my SUV full in the city. It’s all about boots and dirt and following the shade as it moves around a house. My tarps fill with plant material as I listen to podcasts. My plastic containers empty as I plant shrubs and perennials. Life as a gardener is active and exhausting. And my confession here? I love it.
A famous writer said, “Don’t feel guilty about not writing, the life you’re living is the material for your next book.” I think it was Elizabeth Gilbert or Ann Patchett. This is such a precious quote. An established writer giving license to writers not to write. Acknowledging life gets in the way. We’re not all James Joyce with a bunch of kids and a wife who dutifully types up our manuscripts every day. We’re working men and women in the modern era, an era where corporations work their employees harder than ever and kids are expected to be treated like royalty. And then don’t even mention the worries of global warming and terrorism. Our 21st century has a multitude of pressures that no other century has had to deal with. The complexity and struggles of regular life are tougher than ever before.
So I urge writers to write. You will produce work when you devote the time. But if you can’t, don’t waste energy beating yourself up about it. There’s a whole world out there and you need to first live in it so you’re able to give the gift of it in your stories.
Do you struggle with the guilt of not writing? Let me know in the comments below.
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