Artistic Development Takes Time

I was in the car listening to an interview on NPR today when I heard words that rang in my head like a bell. I repeated them to myself until I was stopped at a light and could write them down, because I was afraid I would forget them.

“If you love what you do, what’s the hurry?”

Chris Blackwell, founder of Island Records, was talking about the dangers of being too successful too soon. He said his interest had always been focused on developing artists instead of producing hit songs.

Oh, how I needed to hear these words.

Here was someone who has been successful because he worked with people he believed in and was willing to let them grow slowly over time. He worried that too much success too soon would stunt their growth and trusted that, given enough time to do the work they loved, these people would produce a career’s worth of quality work, instead of one or two flash-in-the-pan hits.

Just last night, I told someone how I choked on my novel because I’d become obsessed with writing something that would sell instead of focusing on writing a story I loved. While I’ve found my way back to writing with joy, I am starting to look ahead to the end of this draft with trepidation. Once it’s done, I plan on pulling out all my novel drafts (I’m up to 6) and going through each one of them before deciding what I will work on next. With luck, I will rediscover my enthusiasm for an old project, have some new ideas about it, and be able to start on a second, better draft.

The trick for me will be not to let my desire to produce something publishable warp my writing into something that isn’t mine. Once I make my choice, I will have to remember that writing a novel is only part of developing as a writer and that both require patience, perseverance, and time.

Rilke likened the life of an artist to that of a ripening tree. It might be a while before my writing bears obvious fruit, but that doesn’t mean the other stages of growth aren’t important, even essential, to making that fruit the best possible. I just need to remember that growth happens over time.

I love what I do.

And there really is no need to hurry.

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