Stone Cutting

Harriet Doerr

In a book recently given to me by my sister-in-law, I came across this quote by Harriet Doerr:

I’m quite happy working on a sentence for an hour or more, searching for the right phrase, the right word. I compare it to the work of a stone cutter, chipping away at the raw material until it’s just right, or as right as you can get it.

My very first college English class was taught by Diana Hacker, the author of several college textbooks (one of which, A Writer’s Reference, is a staple for most college freshmen) and the first person to ever tell me I was a good writer. More of my creative writing instructors would give me the same praise but none of it ever gave me a whole lot of confidence. So what if one instructor was a Pushcart Prize nominee and won The National Poetry Review Press Book Prize in 2010?

I am not lying when I say it feels good to be told such things, though. We all want to feel validated.

There has been no real desire in me to write, at least not as often as before. Before what? I have no idea. So, instead, I have been reading more. Is this a pattern for most writers? Is it because of the weather? I have been discouraged and unmotivated lately, unable to allow myself to be enthusiastic about much, although this could simply be a side effect of my existing depression. (There, I said it.)

But I do miss it. The writing. And I miss the validation from other people. At this point in my life, with what I do on a daily basis (studying, hanging laundry, fretting over dinner, following up on my kid’s reading assignments, wiping snot from my sick dog’s nose a dozen times), my routine hardly merits validation from others. If anything, I should be in awe of other parents who have children at home in diapers and still manage to make a full dinner in time for their spouse’s return from a day at the office (and I am!). To nobody’s surprise, inspiration falls short. Guilt, on the other hand, is plentiful.

Why guilt?

Because for over two hours I have been reading a book about writing dangerously and with abandon! while my husband is at work and my child is at school. I’m not vacuuming or cleaning floorboards or even walking the dogs (I have wiped the sick dog’s nose twice, however). Here I am, and here I have been, reading about how to write and then writing about it. And I’m always afraid it will be interpreted by someone as a waste of time.

By whom? Probably by people who don’t write. And they would never understand it anyway, not unless they are also driven by the same kind of force to do what they love, driven by a confusing pull that feels like inspiration and compulsion have merged.

It’s kind of unruly.

I don’t write for money (hey, wouldn’t that be nice?) and I don’t write to dazzle the masses with my wit (that would be nice, too). But if Harriet Doerr felt this way about how she spent her time, I guess I am in good company or, even better, we are in good company – the writers, the readers, the poets, the playwrights, the lyricists, the painters, the florists, the stone cutters. Maybe that is our validation.

We take our time to do a thing right, or as right as we can get it, and we hope it’s seen as right by others and not as a waste of time. Although those who would think it so are not the ones who motivate us to begin with, including ourselves.

This is my biggest hurdle.

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11 thoughts on “Stone Cutting

  1. Keep writing Dena, you are very good at it and it feeds your soul. As someone who has suffered from depression, I know that feeding your creative urges will only help you feel better. Being creative is never a waste of time.

  2. We are so ruled by what others might think and our own doubts. It is crippling at times but I move through it by doing what makes me smile inside – regardless:)) Love this blog – Alison

  3. YES! We all have that hurdle, every one of us who minds whether or not our sentences read well or not. It always amazes me how many people don’t care that their words clash – how can they live?? (I’m sort of serious.)

    Exercising one’s craft is so important. My dad, for example, is a brilliant carpenter. He only does woodworking for himself and family, and occasionally to build something to donate to his church’s auction. He gets nothing but satisfaction and pleasure out of his work, and that is right as rain. It is inspiring, and affirming of the fact that if you’re doing what brings you fulfillment – real fulfillment – it doesn’t matter if you’re making money or not. I know it’s over-simplified, but I also don’t think that guilt should be a part of the equation when you’re just working to be a better artist. Rilke wrote that if you NEED to write than you must write. It seems like you’re doing the right thing! The floorboards can wait 🙂

    I’m sorry to hear that you’ve been struggling with depression. I know how incredibly challenging it is, and hope you’re able to see some brighter corners soon.

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