Toni Morrison said this about her first book, The Bluest Eye.
I have copied this line everywhere. It is in my poetry journal so when I flip a page, there it is. It's in a little picture frame on my desk at work. It shows up on post-its and scraps of paper tucked into other things. I carry it with me.
I have read no more accurate statement about what it is to be a writer who has big things to say and not yet the skill to say them.
The Bluest Eye is a classic. Perhaps it would not be if Toni Morrison had not gone on to write Beloved and subsequently win the Pulitzer Prize and the Nobel Prize. But alone, it is a book of potent, beautiful writing that tackles the complex issues of race and identity. And the reader -- or at least I -- thinks the book tackles them successfully.
But Morrison herself does not feel the book is successful. She sees, in retrospect, where the book falls short. She sees what the book could've been if she'd written it in later years.
Would Beloved exist if Morrison had not first written The Bluest Eye? Isn't every past work practice for the writing we are doing in the present?
There are subjects I want to tackle that I don't have the skill for yet. My own spirituality, for example -- I've written pages of it, but how much of it is interesting or useful to another reader? What is the purpose of sharing it if it doesn't bring some form of revelation to someone else's life?
Novels -- I have participated in National Novel Writing Month since 2003. Of all those novels, three are worth others' reading -- I think. But do I have the skill yet to complete them? The one I'm wrestling with these days, I see the holes, I see the issues I don't know how to work into the rest of the story. It drives me crazy. In those most frustrated moments, I try to remember that I am practicing.
Poetry -- parts of poems riddle my notebooks, papers everywhere, and still I have trouble making them whole. For me, poetry is the most difficult of all writing, and I think that's why I keep at it even though I feel I am constantly failing. Again, it is practice.
And blogging. Here I am practicing the art of blogging every day. I have drafts left unpublished behind the scenes -- unpublished because I know they are not useful for other readers. Do I have the skill to make them into posts worth others' reading? I can tell that they are not useful, but I can't always tell what they are lacking.
The sophistication Morrison mentions -- I'm not sure I even know what it is yet. But as I write, I must believe that I will eventually see how she could have improved The Bluest Eye. I will have words to explain why The Bluest Eye is lacking instead of just that instinct we all have that senses when one book is better than another.
I must trust that someday, with enough practice, I will have the skill, the sophistication necessary to tackle those big things that I can't say yet but that are important enough for me to hold onto.
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Linking up with Yeah Write again this week! Click through to read others' blog posts!!