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Always falling into holes
What resembles the grave but isn't
Every once in a while, I remember one of my favorite poems, “what resembles the grave but isn’t” by Anne Boyer. I’ve written about this piece so many times over the years that, when you Google it, my column is one of the first results. Like my beloved Ada Limón poem, “The Leash,” lines from “what resembles the grave but isn’t” are always cycling through my head. Something bad will happen and I’ll think, Ah, another hole, how inspired.
A few days ago, I was considering what to write about in this week’s newsletter. I have a whole list of topics in my Notion, things like mediocrity and what it means to claim enoughness. But nothing was jumping out at me, so as I always do around this point in my creative process, I took a good, hard look at my life. What was happening in and around me? What could I draw inspiration from?
The problem with living a boring life is that nothing ever changes. You see the same people, you eat the same food, you write the same words over and over again until even they are tired of being told. I’ve been working on the same project for a year and a half. How do I make that fresh and exciting? How do I write something that people will want to read, when it’s the thing I’ve been touching on every other week since I started this newsletter?
I thought about my book. How much I hate it, how much I love it, how much I want to be done with it. I thought about creativity and persistence and how you can’t have one without the other.
I thought about devotion and grit and the stubbornness that is sticking with a project through moments of discomfort. We don’t talk about the drudgery of showing up. Of sitting your ass in the chair and doing the very thing you are avoiding.
I thought about a friend of mine who recently achieved a milestone in her career. I’m stupidly proud of her, because she deserves every good thing, and more than a little in awe. Sometimes it feels like I’m doing everything wrong. But then I look at her and think, no, this is it. Showing up. Sitting down. Doing the very thing you are avoiding, even when it feels pointless, because in that pointlessness is magic.
I am still revising this book. That in itself feels like failure. My head knows that, with every pass, it becomes bigger and better than I ever could’ve dreamed, but my heart feels dumb and lazy. Shouldn’t I be done with it by now? Why aren’t I churning out near-perfect books every six months like some people I know? Maybe I’m just not cut out for this. Maybe I should just give up.
Then it comes to me, wise and poetic and ever drumming in the depths of my mind: This is not your grave, get out of this hole.
I grumble and fret, because maybe this is my grave! Maybe Anne Boyer doesn’t know what she’s talking about! But who am I kidding? Of course she does.
The longer I do this whole “full-time writer” thing, the more I realize that my creative process is full of holes. Sometimes they’re big; sometimes they’re small. Most are manmade, but some are natural features of this landscape called creativity. I reach the summit, only to stumble down a cliff and, oh, look another hole!
sometimes falling into a hole and languishing there for days, weeks, months, years, because while not the grave very difficult, still, to climb out of and you know after this hole there’s just another and another—
Every draft is a hole, every revision, every plot point and character arc. In my head, they will always trip me up. But my heart knows that every day I get a little bit better. It isn’t easy. It’s hard, thankless work. But it is my work, the work I chose when I was 11 and read my very first fanfiction.
I guess I am learning that holes don’t have to be a bad thing. Maybe they can be my pets. Maybe I can love them into something else, less a hole and more an opportunity to prove to myself and the world that I’m where I’m supposed to be.
Every hole gets easier. Every trip and fall, every mud-scraped knee. It’s all a lesson, all a blessing.
I think I’m done with graves.
sometimes dutifully falling and getting out, with perfect fortitude, saying “look at the skill and spirit with which I rise from that which resembles the grave but isn’t!”
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