where the writers are
Are We There Yet?

The question might be asked (at least I ask it of myself), how we measure our progress as writers. How we know if we are getting any better at this work that we do.

My son, for example, has been writing now for years, and with every script, every story, every poem, the progress is measurable and thrilling. Stories with more alluring shape, dialogue with smarter tags, back stories painlessly transitioned into then eased away from, subtleties that move and surprise me.

But my own work? How is progress made and measured? Who is the judge, and who should be? All these books into a career, I know more quickly when I'm trotting down on a wrong narrative path, and so that, I imagine, is progress. I know which echoes are too easily fallen into, which rhythms I want to avoid, which authors I still envy (and envy, in this case, is just another kind of love), which words might move like lyrics but obscure the deeper truths, but still, in the end, each work trembles its way toward the world, while I sit here, and wonder, still fragile.

Progress? How is it measured?

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Envy as another kind of love

We always think of envy as an anti-love emotion, but I like the way you frame it, not as resentment, but a spur to emulate a bit of someone else's success. Maybe going from the kind of envy that wants what someone else has instead of them to wanting it too is a sort of progress.

"It don't want the world

I just want your half."

-"Ana Ng," They Might Be Giants

Huntington Sharp, Red Room

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A Beginner's Mind

For me the trick is to remain a beginner.  For instance, when I start a new painting, I am faced with that acre of white and I literally feel as if I've never painted in my life.  I stumble around, move furniture in my head.  It's a bit painful each time.

If art becomes facile, you know too much, so it is with writing.  I like the struggle of not knowing.  That's the way for me to measure: start from zero or less than zero.

 OR stop writing, stop painting for a year.  Then begin.

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I completely agree

I believe you HAVE to try as hard as you can to keep a beginner's mind, or to try to look at your story with "soft eyes".

For myself, I believe I see it most in the later drafts, once all the heavier work has been done, and I'm polishing. I can start to see more clearly what the book will (hopefully) end up looking and feeling like. I might see a plot twist, or turn of phrase that thrills, and I realize that there was no way I could've pulled that one out of the ether last year, or maybe even six months ago.

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keeping it new

I love these responses—and I thank you for them. I think, too, that if the writing doesn't feel like an adventure, a cliff-hanger, really, then something is wrong. I move among genres like Belle moves between art and writing, and I also increasingly seek out new media, new inputs.

For example, I have my own daily blog—beth-kephart.blogspot.com. It's as much about photography as it is about language and process, and the thill of keeping this blog (the responsibility) is that I must be true to both media by forging a conceptual bridge between them. It feels dangerous, most days, and I like that.

As for envy? Perfect.