I’ve had a lot of writing teachers over the years. The good ones have shaped my craft, but one in particular changed my life. His name was Thom Williams, and he was my English teacher my senior year of high school. No other writing teacher has influenced me more directly.
One day in my senior year I brought Mr. Williams a poem I had been working on for weeks. I had poured my heart into the thing. I felt that everything was riding on his good opinion of it… I bit my fingernails…
He read it carefully, then set it down and said, “That’s a real poem.”
He tapped it once then looked straight at me and added, “Now go write another one.”
It’s taken me years to understand his simple directive that day. But more than ever I do understand.
I’ve written a book. And I’m proud of it. But now it’s time to move on to the next project. Maybe I can say this in other ways. For an artist that works in oils: it’s time to stop staring at your completed painting. It’s as done as it can be. Set it aside and prime a new canvas.
My husband is a song-writer. He wrote a new song and played it for me last week. It wasn’t his best. It wasn’t his worst. Time to write another song.
Something in us doesn’t like to move on from our creations. Creating art elevates us. We want critics and friends to squat down with us and stare forever at our creative babies. Stare and coo and praise us ad naseeum.
“No one has ever created something as fabulous! You’re a genius. This is the pinnacle of all creative endeavors.”
In fact, those would be terrible friends. No one should tell you that you’ve created the best of anything. How could you ever get up and write again after such a loaded compliment? The pressure would paralyze and immobilize.
My book will be published. It’s in the works. So I stop reading it and gently set it aside, like the overly tired baby that just needs to cry herself to sleep. And I start a new poem.
Start a new project today. Stop clinging to the one you think reflects your best self. Open your hands, lift up your eyes and gather new inspiration.
The late Thom Williams