Growth is to human existence what revision is to a writer. It makes us better. But not without a whole lot of suffering first. Look at Lord Buddha’s quest for enlightenment, for example. He had to spend years and years trying out extreme methods on both sides of the spectrum before finding the middle path, even if it meant practically starving to death. But I bet he felt pretty good once he found the answers.
If you want to look at it more literally, I can give you an example from my own life, where I have tried to look after a succulent successfully. Keep indoors, enjoy its cuteness, and give it water and sunshine once a week. Should be easy right? Tell that to the two cacti plants I’ve killed. Okay, so that last one was a bad example because it shows no growth on my part from one failure to the next. But if a person wants to be better and do better, you have to be willing to put in the work. To give your little plant the care it needs. To mark the sunshine/water days on a calendar. To own a calendar in the first place.
The good part about the pain we go through as a writer in making our work good enough -whether it’s for our own eyes or for the world’s- is that deep down we are emotional people. There’s no way we could write about the human condition, even if that human is actually an animal in a picture book, or an alien in a fantastical galaxy, if we weren’t always secretly trying to understand why we’re here in the first place. If we weren’t morbidly fascinated with sadness and pain. Because, as Lord Buddha said, to exist is to suffer. And no one knows that better than us.
It’s also a good thing then, that we are also such drama queens about it. Why else would I write an entire blog post when I could have just said “Revising is hard”? It’s my way of sorting out the layers of emotions that go with it. I have less time to indulge in it thanks to the two sets of little eyes watching me all day, but here is a place I can explore, decode…vent. By writing.
When I first started out writing picture books last year, I wrote three stories. Three stories that, more than a year later, are still evolving. Radically. With every set of new and more experienced eyes, it takes on a different form. I’m made to look at it from ALL angles, scrutinize every word, uncover layers I didn’t even know were there. I’m grateful to have a team of people who drive me to do this. In fact, I LOVE revision (remember what I said about the morbid fascination with suffering?) but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t take, take, take. It takes time, it takes energy, it takes fighting off the demons of self-doubt and demotivation.
It takes a whole lot of growing.
Because at the end of it, you will be left with a better version. If you’re lucky, it might even be the best version. And everything that it took from you comes rushing back to hug you in a tight warm squeeze of fulfillment and pride.
You have found your middle path. Your answer. Your book is ready.
(And then you write another and start all over again…)