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Thursday, July 19, 2012

It Takes a Village to Polish a Gem


When I try to do things all on my own, I don’t always get it right.  I know this about myself.  I need people to nudge, pull, or even shove me when I’m being lazy or am stuck in a mud puddle that I’ve somehow created for myself.  I need people to help me keep moving forward.  Sometimes I get all judgmental with myself about this fact until I remember that this is a quality I share with most, maybe all, of the rest of humanity.  I can’t do it – “it” being any number of things, but most immediately, “it” is writing - alone.

I’ve been revising some of my essays to submit for competitions and/or possible publication.  I’ve chosen the pieces that seemed to flow most directly from my heart.  Everything I’ve sent out so far comes from this blog, though I’ll soon be sending out new works, too. 

What I post here are works in progress.  I write blog posts, knowing that what I’m writing is not the very best I have.  This isn’t an admission I like to make, but it’s true. I haven’t done the work it takes to put a sparkling jewel out here every time.  If I did, if I spent time to really polish everything I post, there wouldn’t be much on my blog.  Polishing is a long process.  I’m not saying I don’t invest time into each post.  I do.  But I know I don’t take enough time to get all my thoughts out clearly and concisely.  Instead I try to write something that’s at least decent and hope that decent will suffice and that I’ll be forgiven for not offering Grade A writing all the time.  I focus more on getting the ideas out than I do on polishing them up.  They’re rough cuts, enough to get a glimpse of the gems inside, but not enough to see them in all their glory.  

As I am now choosing pieces to send out, I know that anything I select will require some serious polishing to get to the real jewel of what I’ve written.  Getting to the gem is not always easy and it is definitely not a solo job.  I need people to show me where to cut. I need them to point out the rough spots and scratches that I don’t see. 

It is scary to hand my writing over to someone else, even someone I trust, for a critique.   On the one hand, I want to become a better writer.  On the other, I am afraid that if someone acknowledges my writing weaknesses, it means s/he will also think less of me.  My brain knows this is not true.  The rest of me is not so sure.  Thankfully, everyone I’ve asked to assess my writing has been generous with compliments and kind in their evaluations.  This does not mean they’ve told me I should leave the writing as-is.  That would not be useful. It means they’ve been honest in telling me “This is good” and “This needs revision,” with clear reasons why either is true. 

The piece I’m currently editing came back to me all marked up the first time.  It also contained the comment that it’s some of my best writing.  My first reaction was despair: “Crap! If this is some of my best writing and it’s coming back with this many comments, I must not be a very good writer.”  Maybe I’m not, but I’m working on it.

Thankfully, soon after my woeful reaction, I heard an author interviewed on the radio.  He was discussing his latest work and all the people who had been a part of the process leading up to its publication.  I remembered, “Oh, yeah, writing is a process. Ongoing. Not made for one person.”  Just like raising a child, it takes a village to create an excellent piece of writing. 

Every piece I write for my blog has its own process, usually a solo process.  Together my essays are part of the larger process called “becoming a writer.”  Because I’ve been writing (though not as I am now) all my life, I forget that I’m really new at this.  I am definitely still “becoming” a writer.  

Becoming. One might think that as much as I love the process, the steps, the journey, and often value them more than I do the destination, Becoming would lead me to confidence, satisfaction, and renewed energy.  It does – sometimes.  If it didn’t, I wouldn’t be doing it. But becoming is intimidating when even my good writing needs a lot of cutting and polishing to reach the gem. It is frustrating when the actual clarity is less than I believe it to be.  It is tiring when I have to sand and polish, sand and polish, sand and polish.  Sometimes I get mental blisters from the pressure of it.  But that’s OK.  It’s what I need.  I need to build up the calluses that will help me work better and more easily as I keep becoming. Becoming a writer requires the work of a village.  Thankfully, I’ve got a pretty fabulous village accompanying me along the path of Becoming as I head towards Being.        

 Last night I had a conversation with a friend who reminded me that the way to become a better writer is to write.  To write and to write and to write. It is a simple enough notion, but I needed to hear it.  I’ll probably need to hear it again. He has been encouraging me all along. One resident in my village. 

Other villagers are my friends- and acquaintances-turned-editors who are reading and critiquing my work, something they don’t have to do, may not have much time to do, and yet graciously do, anyway.  As I give them my writing, I take a deep breath, knowing that I may need to take many more deep breaths when they give a piece back to me, marked up, imperfections exposed. I’m grateful that they’re taking the time to give me honest feedback.  They help me to work through the pain of blisters towards the comfort of calluses.  Their honest responses allow me both to acknowledge and accept my writing and myself where we are and to look ahead to where we can be.  I’m grateful that they are invested enough in me and my Becoming that they’ll nudge, push, or pull me closer to Being. 

If you are reading this, you, too, are part of the village.  Some of you have written to me about my writing.  Thank you. More villagers, more pushes towards Being.  If you have never commented on something I’ve written, your presence is equally noted (I can see you’re part of the village in my blog statistics) and equally important.  Presence is a gift not to be underestimated.  Thank you.  

Certainly there are other people I could name. My friends. My church community.  My former colleagues.  My family.  The village - the support that nudges, pushes, pulls, cheers from the sidelines - grows. How fortunate I am.  

Like I’ve written about becoming a writer, I could write about becoming a Christian (a topic also discussed with my friend who told me to keep writing) or becoming more fit or becoming a better aunt, sister, daughter, friend.  You may have your own becoming __________ process to consider.  Whatever fills our blank, we can use many of the same words about the process: confidence, satisfaction, renewed energy, intimidation, frustration, exhaustion.  Most important to remember, however, is this: it’s all village work.  It’s gem-polishing together, pointing out flaws not for the sake of pointing them out, but for the sake of making those gems sparkle and shine with a brilliance we wouldn’t even know was possible without our village urging us on through Becoming towards Being.     

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