On Self-Forgiveness

One of my favorite quotes about writing is from Ann Patchett’s essay “The Getaway Car.” About the process of transcribing the amazing ideas in her head onto the page, she writes:

Every time I have set out to translate the book (or story, or hopelessly long essay) that exists in such brilliant detail on the big screen of my limbic system onto a piece of paper (which, let’s face it, was once a towering tree crowned with leaves and a home to birds), I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers. Forgiveness, therefore, is key. I can’t write the book I want to write, but I can and will write the book I am capable of writing. Again and again throughout the course of my life I will forgive myself…

Patchett articulates so beautifully the disappointment that I often face–every time I fail to articulate or capture on the page a world that exists in my mind. Or every time I fail to meet my own expectations: to write every morning, for instance. To finish a draft by the end of spring, or a revision by the end of the summer…

Every time we show up to write (or don’t) we have to make space for the possibility of falling short. The words may not come easily, or at all, or they might come but fail to capture the vision. I often tell people that writing is about perseverance more than anything, and persevering in the face of disappointment is the hardest and most important thing we can do. Being able to tolerate and forgive the perpetual discomfort of falling short is more essential, I think, than talent, or discipline, or even will.

It’s an essential part of this process: showing up, falling short, failing to get it right, and showing up again. If we don’t make space for our failures, we also won’t make space for those rare moments of inspiration. If we’re lucky, we get a little closer each time. If we’re lucky, we sometimes get it right.

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