IWSG: Bridging the Chasm
Alex J. Cavanaugh. The group offers a place for writers of all kinds to support each other in those ever-present moments of insecurity.
While many use this as an opportunity to vent their frustrations, I realized early on that if I keep posting about my own insecurities, these posts will start sounding very similar. So I decided to move away from "woe is me" and focus on motivation and encouragement, centering my IWSG posts on inspirational quotes from people I admire.
Today's quote is about that long, often troubled journey your work takes from the back of your mind to the bottom of the page. Have you ever measured the fruit of your toil against the grand promise of the original idea and found yourself a little disappointed? You're not alone. In fact, you stand in the company of Nobel laureate Isaac Bashevis Singer.
Twice a winner of the U.S. National Book Award for his short fiction and children's literature, Singer was known for writing his books twice, first in Yiddish and then in English, often with significant differences in style. He considered the English versions more than mere translation, calling them his "second original," which has lead to some debate amongst readers over the "true" versions of his work. He had this to say about the aperture that exists between that spark of inspiration and its eventual yield:
"Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper."
Isn't it funny how unbridled truth in a potent enough dose can serve both as a reality-inducing punch to the gut and an inspirational propellant all in one blow? I can't tell you how relieved I felt when I first read this quote some years ago. It's not just me. Sometimes when you stare at the words you've produced, you can't help but shake your head and wonder what happened to that masterpiece you thought you were writing. It makes you feel like a fraud, as though you've shortchanged yourself by wasting all that time, shortchanged the muse by mistranslating the unfiltered excellence she brought you. The next time you start to feel that way, read this quote and smack yourself.
Even the best of us cannot perfectly reproduce that feeling of awe and excitement we get when inspiration strikes. How could you ever hope to capture something so perfect that it makes you drop your silverware in the middle of a meal, leap out of bed in the middle of the night, tumble out of the shower with shampoo still in your hair? You can't. All you can do is dash after it and hope you gain enough momentum to carry you across the finish line.
But the more you give in to that chase, the harder you work at it, the nearer you will come to closing the gap. So keep at it. Keep putting the hard work in, and you will notice improvement. Keep indulging those ideas, no matter how short of the mark you think you're coming. Eventually you'll begin to learn the language of the muse, one word at a time, and your translations will become clearer and clearer. You might never feel you've managed to bottle the whole thunderstorm, but that's no reason not to allow yourself a little satisfaction at having held a bit of lightning in your hands.
And at the end of the day, it's a good thing to feel you haven't done your idea justice. The first step in bridging the chasm is realizing it's there, acknowledging how far you must go. Don't ask me what the hell the next step is, because I haven't made it that far yet. I'm still peering across mine, wondering how big a ramp I need to build. If I ever make it across, I'll see you on the other side.