In her most recent book, Still Writing: The Perils and Pleasures of a Creative Life, best-selling author Dani Shapiro writes,
When writers who are just starting out ask me when it gets easier, my answer is never. It never gets easier. I don’t want to scare them, so I rarely say more than that, but the truth is that, if anything, it gets harder. The writing life isn’t just filled with predictable uncertainties but with the awareness that we are always starting over again.
I am sitting in a café with large windows, light streaming in, jazz music playing. At this point, I have an idea, a working title, a little piece of inspiration. I am starting over again. I don’t know how this piece will turn out but I do know that before I leave the cafe I’ll have a first draft.
There is a little bit of uncertainty – roughly 45 minutes of uncertainty – involved in writing this post. And that amount of uncertainty is manageable for me. Bite sized.
But now I am writing a book, which involves months and months and maybe even years of uncertainty. And this is nearly killing me.
You have no idea how much I want to quit, because if I quit then the uncertainty will be over and I will finally have relief.
It’s like a couple of months ago when my boyfriend and I were going through a rough patch. While I was driving home for thanksgiving with my sister I asked, “Should I break up with him before he breaks up with me?” To which she answered, “Well, do you want to break up with him?”
But… if I broke up with him, even though I didn’t want to break up with him, I would finally have relief from the uncertainty I was feeling. Just like if I quit writing this book, even though I don’t wanna quit, it will bring me relief.
So what does uncertainty feel like?? I’m sure you know it…
It feels like my heart is being dragged through the sand,
there’s not enough air for me to breathe
and I’ll never be comfortable or connected or loved again.
And it kind of feels like I’m dying a slow painful death in which I am completely alone and no one can possibly understand what it feels like to die in this way…
So as I look back at my string of failed relationships, it’s almost laughable as I see all the ways my avoidance of this awful feeling of uncertainty has sabotaged every one.
On the first date, I’m already asking, ‘Is he marriage material?’ Then I go either immediately to ‘Yes, he is marriage material, let’s get married.’
As you can imagine, this scares nearly everyone off. And the ones it doesn’t scare off… I can tell you, it doesn’t end well.
Or I go immediately to No, find every reason possible not to date the person. Then I end the relationship before it’s really started.
Hence fast forward to me now: 28 years old, the longest relationship I’ve ever had is one year in which we barely saw each other. He lived Newfoundland, I lived in Montreal and for those of you who don’t know Canadian geography imagine airplanes or driving over 1500 miles including a 10 hour ocean ferry to see each other.
Oh, and that was when I was 22, so in the last 5 years the longest relationship I’ve had has been 4.5 months. The Thanksgiving heart dragged through sand guy. I was on the let’s get married train very early on and so obviously, he broke up with me. (AND you can read about that very lovely experience here and here and here and here and here).
So is this possible?
Is it possible to write an amazing book or to find an amazing partner without uncertainty?
I try to remember that the job — as well as the plight, and the unexpected joy — of the artist is to embrace uncertainty, to be sharpened and honed by it. To be birthed by it. Each time we come to the end of a piece of work, we have failed as we have leapt—spectacularly, brazenly — into the unknown.
And so as much as I hate this answer and as much as I hate the idea of having my heart dragged through the sand again and again and again, Shapiro has nailed it.
If you want to live a meaningful life,
you have to