Today’s quote from Isak Dinesen—”I write a little every day, without hope, without despair”—strikes me as great advice. Not just for writing, but for living. I can see why Raymond Carver liked quoting it so much.
The thing is, though, it’s extremely difficult advice to follow. Much of the time life seems to take us—creative people as well as “normals”—on a crazy seesaw of hopes and disappointments. Our expectations and wants get us muddled as we try to do the tasks before us, and when we can’t meet all those desires and self-imposed goals, we fall into fits of despondency, think ourselves failures. The inner harpies of self-criticism kick in big time then. They rend and claw without mercy.
For creative people, this extends to and is magnified by the work we do. All creative work is a risk, a thing considered unnecessary by the larger world. There are so many layers of perceived failure available for us to choose from and beat ourselves up about. Creative people seem inevitably to go there, but it’s never a helpful place. It does us no good, it does our work no good.
So…without hope, without despair. Just you and the work. Just me and the work. A little every day, without expectations and the larger-than-life burdens we pile upon ourselves. Maybe this isn’t a recipe for the “current publishing environment,” but it is a recipe for doing the work when it feels like you just cannot. It’s a method of moving forward, even when the mudslides flow around your knees. It’s a practice that keeps the insanity at bay, the practice of doing the best you can with each day, and cutting yourself some slack about the other stuff.
When the harpies start piercing and biting, as oh ye gods they inevitably will, throw them a scrap of hope to gnaw on. Let them chew on that as much as they like so they stop distracting—because we don’t need it at the moment of creation any more than we need the despair.