I spend too much of my time, so much of my time, editing myself, the gold standard I am seeking always punishingly out of reach.
I was reading my notes about Two Roads, a story I ultimately abandoned, and found myself surprisingly interested. I gave up on the idea because I told myself it was no good. I discover, years later, that I actually like it. The lesson seems to be that I shouldn’t quit. There’s no best story. The best story is the one you finish.
The same writer also says it doesn’t matter how pretty your words are if you have nothing to say. People only read for insight. To learn something. To be changed. He followed that assertion with example after example of the most delicious prose, most of it written by eight year olds. The paragraphs were like trays of canapés: the boy who wrote about the roofers who killed his cat; the boy who wrote about the executioner who had to chase Lady Jane Gray around the chopping block, because with his first whack he failed to make contact with her neck; a naturalist who wrote the most beautiful passage I have ever read about sky, beginning with the startling observation that sky doesn’t live overhead, it starts under our feet, at the edge of solid ground. What made the paragraphs beautiful wasn’t their words, but their ideas— what the writer was trying to say.
That’s why you have to practice. To figure out what you don’t know, and what you do know, and what you are curious about. As soon as you start writing you realize you have plenty to say, and also plenty of things you notice, and plenty that you wonder. Unless you start writing, you will never know any of it. It burbles, deep and hidden, like the molten core of the earth.