Friday, February 22, 2008

Wisdom from the Queen

One of the (library!) books I've been reading this month is Margaret Atwood's Writing with Intent: Essays, Reviews, Personal Prose 1983-2005. I love Atwood's writing in any genre - novels, stories, poems - and one thing that always impresses me is that she can be so witty and entertaining no matter what she is writing. Her voice is so distinctive, such a pleasure. So often, when I read her nonfiction writing, I find her saying exactly what I needed to hear.

Here is an example, from the essay "Nine Beginnings":

A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason. Think of it as the altar of the Muse Oblivion, to whom you sacrifice your botched first drafts, the tokens of your human imperfection. She is the tenth Muse, the one without whom none of the others can function. The gift she offers you is the freedom of the second chance. Or as many chances as you'll take.

It's a beautiful paragraph, but what I really love is this idea of the tenth Muse, Oblivion, who might sound forboding, but is perhaps the most generous of muses. And while I have certainly made many, many sacrifices to her, I would say I have not made enough. I'm not saying that I think I need to cast my work into the wastebasket. I'm saying I don't think I've taken as many chances as I'm offered. I haven't failed as often as I could have....because I haven't tried as often as I could have.

I've written about this before, about how I am trying to change this. I picked a difficult time of year for this, with the sickness cycle and the sudden return to harsh midwestern winters, but I also know that it doesn't matter. There will always be a dozen readymade excuses for not doing something. As the fog of FluFest 2008 lifts, I'm ready to jump back in.

Just above the paragraph I quoted is this: "Girls should be allowed to play in the mud. They should be released from the obligations of perfection. Some of your writing, at least, should be as evanescent as play."

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