A writer’s work lives, breathes, speaks volumes, yet complacency remains the poison that kills it. Writing is a work which is never done. A new point of view. A different perspective. More detail. More to say. A new style. Rules yet to be broken besides the one I’m breaking now. And a fresh eye to look at it all and maybe, you know, clean up this mess. Thus, a new story is born from an old one.
Complacency is being content with the first draft, the old story, unwilling to make changes. It’s laziness, narrow-mindedness, an egotistical amateur who thinks the work is complete because it’s been published. Writers see the potential for change, even now as I write, I am looking for new ways to make my point. I’ll do the same thing even after it’s turned in.
When I’m going through dust covered boxes of yellowed and wrinkled pages of past pieces, I fight the urge to tear them up. Instead, I rework them, scribbling notes and scratching out lines. The same thing goes for digital files and blog posts; I fight the urge to delete them. Sure, I was proud of the work at the time, but now I know so much more. My writing should reflect the expansion of creativity.
If none of this makes sense to you now, hold on. Try comparing it to the growth of a child, picture your mind, as a group of children, growing at different rates. One child for each area of writing. If you’re good at suspense, that child may be well into his adolescence, maybe a young adult. He knows his way around, but he still his whole life to learn what it’s really like to be consumed with that raw panic that makes his heart hammer in his chest while he tries not to hyperventilate. If you’re new to romance, that child is an infant, seeing what’s going on in the world but not quite capable of making sense of it all. His hand needs to be held, his mind and body fed, his heart broken. Then you put a pencil in that newly aged four-year old’s hand and tell him to write a note to a girl he likes.
Let the child of poetry write that first stanza, only to crumple it and throw it away a million times to a growing pile of paper balls with scribbled lines. Let a child take a crack at a short story and find out that “Hey, I’m better at this than I thought.” To coddle the children is keep them complacent infants forever. Let that child grow, change, develop a comfort zone, and then, when he’s settled in, nice and cozy, kick him out. Tell him to go out into the world and try something new.
Like children, our writing goes through learning curves, growth spurts, regressions, finally coming out an aged soul with a lifetime of stories to tell. Scars, liver spots, and wrinkles and signs of experience and mastery. Complacency is the coddling mother who never lets her child grow, take risks, get hurt.
None of us started out as Stephen King, J. K. Rowling, or Suzanne Collins. We were innocent children, trying to figure out the world. We lived through heartbreak, broken bones, crashed cars, funerals, and marriages. That little boy with the love note now has a wife, and that young man went to war and found out what primal terror was. That blossoming poet became a songwriter, and that kid who started on short stories now writes novels. Those children grew up. Write those stories, then live, grow, write, rewrite, and repeat this process forever.