Doubt, Fiction, Inspiration, Motivation, Writing

To Keep the Channel Open

Let me tell you a lie. It was not always a lie. It was the truth a month, a week, a day ago. It was true until an hour ago when I received an email from Ed, a man who’s braved being in a critique group with me. He wrote to tell me he’d had another story published and said he was looking forward to restarting our critique sessions. (We break for summer.)

channelI replied, “I no longer write fiction for publication.” And then I told him I’d be happy to read for him, but I no longer had need of a critique group. He asked why I’d quit writing.

I gave him reasons; just like I’ve given reasons to two other writers I’ve discussed this with in the last month. I explained it in various ways, but a lack of confidence in my writing is what it boils down to. I’m a perfectionist—and usually not in a healthy way. And concerning my writing, no matter how hard I try to push my perfectionist striving down, it always rises back up to choke me.

Nothing I’ve ever written is perfect. I wanted it to be. But I failed. Failed. I tried my hardest. I did the best that I could and that wasn’t good enough. It wasn’t perfect. And there’s zero chance I’ll ever write anything better, which I know because … like … I have these mad prognostication skills. Right?

Perfect is how this author writes. Or this one. Or even her, and she’s self-published like me. Or him, and he’s not even published yet. And besides, I’m not writing anything life-changing, so who needs my lame writing anyway?

I gave up. Hung up my keyboard. Tried to pretend I had no idea who that silly wannabe writer Linda Cassidy Lewis was. She’s not me. I don’t write fiction.

Okay. Yeah. So this man, Ed, took me seriously when I told him I had quit writing. And he sent me this quote from dancer/choreographer Martha Graham (emphasis mine):

“There is a vitality, a life force, an energy, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all of time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and it will be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is nor how valuable nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep yourself open and aware to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. … No artist is pleased. [There is] no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that keeps us marching and makes us more alive than the others.”

The funny thing is, I’ve been working on accepting my personal limitations. Forgiving my “failures.” Learning to see the strength in vulnerability. Linda the Human has been working to apply this new mindset. But Linda the Writer never thought to pay attention.

So, it’s a lie that I’m no longer writing for publication. The truth is, I have no choice but to keep that channel open. I may not tell a story many care to hear. I may not tell it as well as other writers could. But I will tell it because it’s mine. It’s what I have to give. I must embrace that “queer dissatisfaction.”

It’s a new month, now. Let us proceed …


34 thoughts on “To Keep the Channel Open”

  1. “Yeah, yeah, we’ve heard that before.” 😉
    My motto: Keep Moving Forward. That’s all you can do. There is nothing behind you, it is all in front of you. This is true in writing and life. Everything you write is another notch on your ‘experience’ bedpost. The more you write, the better you become.
    Perfection is an illusion. It doesn’t truly exist, which means you can drive yourself crazy trying to achieve it. There is perfect for you and perfect for me, but there is no general perfect or perfect for everyone. The sooner you embrace that, the happier you’ll be.


  2. Linda, you are what is right in this world! Don’t ever allow someone to convince you to change. By never setting your sail toward the easy wind, never accepting that “this” is all there is, and never allowing yourself to fall into the trap where so many have fallen –that dismal pit of mediocrity bred by the belief that good enough is ever enough–you’ll set yourself on a path that may take you on a journey you never dreamed possible.

    Isn’t it the quest for personal excellence that pushes one to exceed preconceptions? How can one gain ground unless your eyes look forward while your mind embraces the lessons of hindsight? Isn’t the non-acceptance of even small failures the catalyst of immense personal growth? If the road behind you dissolves how can you ever reclaim the ground you’ve already covered? In fact, if the ground behind you dissolves wouldn’t it appear to those around you, that you’re always in a place of beginning? Always look behind you and search for the things you have missed. Never accept that what you have done is your best. Never discard that past as something so transparently unnecessary. This is the key to success.

    Yes, to many it may appear that when you are in a constant state of questioning yourself, that complete happiness is always least one step away, but a true genius appears (to the uninformed) to be mad in many ways. However, it is through this perceived maddness that one breaks through to a new level of creative genius.


    1. What I meant by the road dissolving behind me is to accept the work I’ve done is done and move forward. Yes, my first efforts are not perfect. So what? Is anyone’s? Recently, my d-in-l, who’s about to earn her PhD in Creative Writing, told me how excited she was to find a long out-of-print first novel by a famous author (whose name I recognized, but have now forgotten) in a used book store. She was disappointed when she read it, though. In fact, she said it was horribly written. And one of my faves, Anne Tyler, has said she wished she could unpublish her first five books! So, all I meant by the road dissolving is that it’s time to move on and write the next book.

      And by looking forward, I’m not discarding the past as something unnecessary. On the contrary, it’s very much necessary. You can’t write book three until you’ve written one and two. And the lessons I learned in writing, and publishing, the first two will only make the third better. But that’s what I lost sight of for a while.

      I set the bar impossibly high and then get discouraged when I miss the mark, but that doesn’t mean I shouldn’t set it high. That doesn’t mean I shouldn’t strive always to do the best work I can and that I shouldn’t expect to end up closer to that high mark with each work. I’m not satisfied with what I’ve written so far, but I shouldn’t be. I don’t ever want to become complacent. Where’s the challenge in that?

      That’s why “I’m not writing fiction for publication any longer” is a lie. 🙂


      1. My gosh! The resources you have at your fingertips are ones that many perspective authors could only dream of having at their disposal. A son with a PhD in Literature, a friend with a PhD in creative writing. If I personally knew anyone with such an extensive education (that relates to writing) as theirs, I’d be picking their brains more often than a three year old picks their nose!

        Best of luck to you!


        1. Nope, Anonymous, it doesn’t help me at all. I think it’s best to keep family and work separate. I might feel differently if I wrote literary fiction. My son rarely reads any fiction but Victorian literature (his specialty) and his wife (my d-in-l) reads only poetry and modern literary works. I don’t expect them to read my work and if I specifically asked them to, I fear the critique would send me into a cave permanently.


  3. I love the Martha Graham quote. I’m with the crowd that says there’s no such thing as perfection. In anything, by anyone. And I think that’s just fine. Nothing wrong with striving for perfection, but realizing it’s an illusion is freeing.


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