I used to save my best work. I would hoard my stories and ideas, convinced it was a waste to blog them or share them with online magazines or my own journal because they needed to be saved for a worthy time and a worthy place. I wanted to be a writer, an artist, and so in my attempt to protect my “best” work, I simply didn’t write.
I thought about writing. I longed to write. I read voraciously. I claimed the title of writer. But I wasn’t writing.
It wasn’t until I laid all of my writerly-dreams on an altar and threw a match on them that I began to actually write. Once I was separated from outcome or expectations, I was free to finally, at last, write again. A relief! I wasn’t saving anything for anyone: there was no reason to hold back. I had nothing to prove or expect.
I used up all those carefully held-back stories in less than a year. (So much for those….)
And at the end of that year, I had more words, more ideas, more stories. The more I wrote, the more I had to write.
It took me three years of writing in obscurity, nearly every single day, all while steadily “using up” every half-decent turn of a phrase or idea, wasting my metaphors on imperfect mediums, to discover my voice. I have found God’s provision, his abundance, his promises for daily bread, to be true, even in art and creation.
Because not one of my terrible little stories or ideas were wasted, they nourished me, body, mind, and soul, and then, when they were gone, there was room for the new words to come. Pour out the old wine to make room for the new.
Yet when I was writing my book, I found myself there again, Oh, this is rather good, you should save this for another book! Don’t use up all of your stuff here, save some of it for later. You want to write more than just this book, remember. you want to write for the rest of your life, so perhaps you should save this story, or save this sentence, or this metaphor, this idea would do well in its’ own book perhaps.
Annie Dillard says, “One of the things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book or for another book; give it, give it all, give it now. The impulse to save something good for a better place later is the signal to spend it now. Something more will arise for later, something better.”
Inspiration comes for the day’s work, for the moment’s discipline, and you either use it or you don’t.
There is no hoarding, there is no saving the best for later. There is only right now, this moment of creation, and so I’ve learned to use it up.
Art doesn’t lend itself to perfectionists and misers. I’ve found that my creativity responds to generosity.
I believe the freedom to create – or to “spend it all” as Annie Dillard says – is in direct connection to our trust in God’s provision. Do we believe, even in our art, that he is the giver of all good gifts, the provider, the El Shaddai, my God of more-than-enough? Or are we in charge of hoarding it for ourselves and our carefully crafted outcomes and desires?
It’s an ancient story, the one about the Israelites wandering in the desert, hungry and wasting away. Then every morning, God sent bread for the day.
Just enough for one day, never more and never less. If the people tried to gather it and save it, it spoiled and rotted to waste. They could only gather what they would eat, and then, in the sunrise, there was the promise of enough again, for another day.
Art is like that daily manna-bread to me. There is always enough for the day. Gather it, eat it while it’s there, turn around and release it by sharing it.
And tomorrow when we rise and work all over again, I usually find it – whatever you call it, the Holy Spirit, your muse, your words, your inspiration – rushes into the vacuum left by the sacred act of imperfect creation and again, there is enough for yet another day.
And you gather it, break the bread, bless it, eat it, and pass it around, all over again, washed down with new wine.