I am at the tender and terrified stage of the creative process. Here in my hands is this fragile creature, my manuscript. Maybe I’m completely delusional, and it’s a hopeless mess, a fountain of self-indulgence, no one will care. “What WAS she thinking?” they’ll ask. I feel especially vulnerable because it’s not just my writing now, it’s my writing when I was 13 and 14, as many excerpts from my young diaries and stories are included. I think of all the people, the opposites of Van Gogh, who spend years happily creating stuff under the illusion that it will matter to the world, when it’s a lost cause.
“There is no such thing as talent,” some famous person said once. “There is only lack of talent, and very hard work.” Meaning, I think, that innate talent is meaningless without hard work, but that there is such a thing as having no talent, which makes the journey to success nearly impossible.
Last week I sent the ms. to a dear friend, who critiqued a third and then got sick and hasn’t gone back to it. Nothing is compelling him to finish the story. Maybe he’s relieved to not have to read it. Maybe everyone will feel that way. Maybe I’ve spent all these years, these countless hours, creating something for myself alone.
Well okay, if that’s the way it is, that’s the way it is. Being an artist should be frightening. You have to listen to yourself and get on with it, and hope you’re on the right track. We don’t do this for money or fame, God knows. We do it because something pushes us to create. I always remind my students that J. K. Rowling was a brave and crazy single mother on welfare when she sat in an Edinburgh café inventing a strange, complex world of wizards, with no sense that anyone would ever publish her book, let alone read it. You never know. You never know what will happen to something you’ve left behind. Look at Anne Frank, whom I also always bring up in class – a 13 year old girl with a notebook, who changed the world.
On this absolutely perfect day, the gardenia Wayson gave me has just produced this year’s first creamy white bloom. She just produces because she has to; I’ll use her and that perfect white flower as an inspiration. I have cancelled the one engagement I had for today, so there’s nothing, nothing in the way of work today, only me and these 70,000 or so words to fiddle around with and try to make better. Hoping that one day, they might matter to you too. But if not, well, they matter to me.