I am so afraid of my own procrastination that I work fast, in a fury of action. I break brushes. No, not the hairs, the handles.
I learned early on as a painter that the point is never THE painting, that when a painting is done, you continue on with the accreted abilities, and passionate insights gained, each piece building on that base, no end, thank God, in sight. My mother said once when I raged at the failure of a day spent painting, “Your time is never wasted. If the painting is bad today, your hand and eye learned from your mistakes. You will never lose that learning.”
My gallery owner likened me to a volcano, spouting forth upon the horizon, painting after painting, surprise after surprise, and he never, ever– let me praise him– tried to influence me to compress myself to a single style or limit myself to a predictable palette.
He made the comment that the price upon a given work didn’t matter, keep it low, even if you have the fleeting thought it may be your best ever. Each piece has to leave its maker, go out and make a difference somewhere not restricted to a little studio. In those days my studio was little indeed; I painted in a four foot by four breakfast nook, my easel set diagonal to fit.
Then I realized this applied to writing as well.
“You have a lot more than one novel in you,” my husband said when I completed the first draft of Night Must Wait.
Yes, I remember the surge of power that went through my hands and shoulders at that remark. It’s exactly like the painting, his words reminded me. You don’t make just one and hoard it forever. You don’t have that liberty.
No painter has only one painting in him or her. To think so is to let the maker perish. One work? Well, that’s a different matter. I’ll get to that.
But don’t fall in love with the one story, the one character-love-of-your-life, the one landscape, the one painting, photograph, song, play or sculpture. It would be as false as keeping all your passion focused on one day in your life; however rich that one day, you have cheated yourself of all the others, and in particular, the future. There are so many, many more days to come.
And that’s my message for the day, the week, and forever. The work is not, never will be, one singular bit. It is a stream, an ongoing ouevre as the days of your life are only fragments of your life. Jim Svejda said in his radio essay on Beethoven, that the Beethoven was the work; not any single symphony to pick out as ‘best’ or ‘core’, but all Beethoven’s enormous outpouring of his evolving creation. In Beethoven’s case– written in a medium that could rage and sing and triumph across ages. That is what any artist, writer, composer, scientist–we makers, do. Work builds on work, experience, technique, concentration and insight mixed with inspiration–the work is never over, it goes rolling on through time and rushing through different lives, translated through languages and the personal filters of experience. Each piece a new part of the greater work that is the maker.
So my advice to you, unpublished writer, artist, scientist, is this, don’t wait for the perfect contract, for the biggest bid. Publish, and write then create again. Let us have your work outpoured, ongoing, to read, to share, and criticize. You were formed to do this making, creating — and you will do it, if the drive is there. You will do it in the silence of your room or the busy chaos of McDonald’s, you will make the things you were born to make, and you will and must share them because nothing is done until it has been shared. The cast pebbles of our works make ripples, and no one knows how far they will expand or how they will collide with others and make yet more patterns. Influence is immortal, and the rings of expanding impact, infinite.
Don’t love your products, don’t keep them at home. Move them on. Make more. If you are a real writer, a real painter, a real composer, a real scientist, there is a lot more than one piece in you. Each is a mere fragment of the Work.