Still Sweeping excerpt by J.G. Chayko (published 2011)
A writer friend of mine posted on his social media page: “some days I feel like everything is going wrong and some days I feel like everything falls into place.”
Most days of writing can be a struggle. It takes work to craft that perfect piece we finally deem ready for the public eye. While we all want those easy days where the right words come in the right order at exactly the right time, I realize that our successes would not be quite as sweet without the struggle. It’s because of our failures and frustrations that we achieved success in the first place. Those labours are the core to our success – they are our passions, our efforts, our desire and our inspirations. Without them, it wouldn’t feel nearly as rewarding. It’s those frustrations and setbacks that drive us to keep going. They teach us to dig deeper, push harder, take a second and even a third look and make us question if it is really our best work.
Life would not be stimulating if everything was just handed to us. We would lose our ability to imagine, we would lose the remarkable creativity that defines us. What would we learn if we never had to struggle? There’d be no impetus to do the things we love if we sat down and wrote a perfect piece every single time. What would happen to our curiosity that took us there in the first place?
That’s the roller coaster, the topsy-turvy unpredictable world of an artistic life. We will, and should, have these days – and when we achieve the triumphswe worked so hard for, we can be thankful for those times where everything seemed to be going wrong.
The blank page is the writers’ canvas. Don’t be intimidated by its stark whiteness, its vacant stare, its arrogant lines undulating across the page – know it is there to fuel your imagination and give you permission to write anything you desire. It is not there to restrict or impose rules but to inspire, to animate and excite. The blank page is the window to new worlds, new characters, new places, new happenings – it invites you to write down every emotion, memory, secret or vision. It is our friend, our rival, our therapist, our lover, and our companion. It plays devil’s advocate driving us to reveal our most intimate thoughts – and out of the jumble that gushes onto the page, we will unearth the stories we are destined to cultivate.
When the afterglow of writing a terrific piece burns out, we often wonder if we will ever match it or top its triumph. We will wallow in the shade of disappointment doubting our ability – but I’ve learned that writing is a deep well always replenishing the words we use, and we will always be able to draw from the springs of our creativity to refill the parched wasteland of accomplishment.
It’s natural for our writing to change. It should change. If writing remains the same, we will lose our curiosity and opportunity for growth and discovery. It’s fascinating to compare the changes in one’s writing from last week to ten years ago. I love looking back on the diaries and notebooks from my childhood when I first started writing; I even found an old manuscript on dot-matrix (some of you younger people might have to look that up). It’s stimulating to look back at my first essays, stories, and poems and marvel at how much my style and subject matter have changed over time. I can see my progression in the pages, watching age and wisdom creep into my work. By surrendering to changes over the years, I have discovered different approaches to the development of new projects that keep them fresh and exciting.
Like the ebb and flow of the ocean, writing should continually surge into new territory, carve out a new shape and then recede, allowing the writer to adjust to the flow. Even when writers have established their comfort zone, there will always be subtle shifts and we shouldn’t be afraid to explore the new direction it takes – in this way, we can keep our stories as fresh and inspiring to us as we expect them to be our readers.
I used to believe that with a bit of talent and hard work, I could produce a flawless story in one draft. It didn’t take me long to learn that a perfect story on the first draft doesn’t exist, and in fact, was downright impossible to achieve – so I started editing while I wrote, thinking I could outwit my own fanatical desire for perfection, and during that time, I unwittingly acquired a new writing partner – she has several names but is most commonly known as “your inner editor”. She is a drifter who has worked for countless writers. We started working together, but I soon tired of the relationship. Editing while I wrote slowed the momentum of my story and it eventually burned out. My “inner editor” kerbed the flow of words that might have created a masterpiece (or at least a finished project) had they been allowed to fill the page without restraint.
I realized I had a bad working relationship with my “inner editor.” It was time to break the partnership or I’d run the risk of never finishing a story. Firing my inner editor was not easy. She wouldn’t leave without a fight. I had to learn to write without judgement, continually moving forward, resisting the urge to go back and re-read the last paragraph. It’s free-writing in all its glory – just sit and write and don’t look back until it’s finished. Let the words flow from your brain through your fingertips onto the page free from censure. It took weeks for me to stop listening to my inner editor and part of me will never truly be free. She’s still there, lingering in the shadows, taunting me from the sidelines, but I manage to ignore her unreasonable demands most of the time. Her opinions have become less important as the work prevails.
A year after I freed myself from my inner editor, I published my first story…and then my second…