Tuesday, February 9, 2016

A Work in Progress

 A search this morning through drawers and closet shelves for a particular shirt you had in mind to wear today led you to a conclusion that was lacking originality:  You no doubt have enough shirts to last you through the balance of your life.

You've had this realization before; it does not mean you will buy no new shirts, even though you do not need any, nor does it mean you will some day discover why it is you have so many shirts. 

While you are well known to appreciate insightful explanations, you also understand how explanations are not always enough to overcome the tendency you have to buy shirts. Nor are you likely to visit some form or other of a counsellor or therapist for the purpose of unraveling your tendency.

A recent discussion with your literary agent on the occasion of her telling you a publisher had sent you a royalty check and a request for another book got you to looking at your notes relative to projects you'd like to write. In that search, you found detailed notes for a short story that explains at least two things to you, on being your sudden unfriending or unfollowing as it were of a coffee shop you'd come to enjoy. At this precise moment, you feel the strong urge to set all work aside, then get on with the short story.

This urge to write the story takes you back to age nineteen, when you were faced with a barrage of midterm examinations at UCLA, and a habit you've kept hidden from yourself for lo these many years. The story itself is set at the coffee shop you've been dodging, perhaps your own nature's way of reminding you about the habit or the story.

Instead of studying for midterm exams, the undergraduate you wrote a long, rambling, novella-length short story. Many of your subsequent short stories, incidentally your favorite medium, have been written when you were facing the equivalent of midterm exams.

In similar fashion to such shirts as you now have and may have in the future, you have enough book projects to last you for the rest of your life. This hardly means you will not undertake projects not even on your to-do list, any more than it means you will in fact write all the projects on your to-do list before you expire. 

One of your major tenets about a writer is the inevitability of death coming to him or her with a project still in the works. However frustrating it may be to the writer at the time, death,under such circumstances, can be seen as having led a life of essential happiness. 

Almost beyond belief is the notion that among your final thoughts, one may be the solution to the project you're now working on. But such is the nature of the writer, and the importance to the writer of Process, which is ongoing. This brings you to your major point, which is work.

The most important aspect of the writing is the work, on a daily basis. Number of keepable pages on any given day is irrelevant. Amount of work expended is of critical importance, even if the goal of completion is not met, is, in fact, never met.

A product, often referred to as a work, is the amalgamation of work, talent, luck, and not to forget that great random element, luck. You get an idea, then you work to see if you can bring it to fruition, a fact that leaves a good many wannabes by the side of the road.

If a project turns out well, someone in discussing it will say it was a good idea or even a brilliant premise. But it has to be worked at, pounded, twisted, flattened into shape, then examined for potential flaws.

You have in substance as many ideas as you have shirts. They will remain in your notes until you begin the slow, laborious process of shaping them, working at them. To quantify, then, on a scale of one to ten, with ten being the highest, you place work at ten, the idea or design or notion a scant five.

If these musings don't remind you of The Baghvad-Gita, they should. One of the most memorable lines of The Gita is: "To the work you are entitled, but not the fruits thereof."

Sometimes, finding yourself too concerned with those fruits, you think how desolate you would feel if the work--the ideas--were to disappear. You feel the duty, much of the time, to pursue the work, admittedly taking moments in which you dither and procrastinate, but you've also devised ways to get the work back again and thus the work becomes the fruit.


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