Sunday, June 14, 2015

Coming Up Empty-Handed

It took all day to write something that I didn’t even know I wanted to write.

I sat at my desk for hours trying to think of something to write and at the end of the morning I left an unmarked sheet of paper on my desk, the same blank sheet that I'd started with when I sat down earlier.

It was like diving and returning to the surface empty-handed.

I hadn’t found any pearls on the sea floor.

I hadn’t seen anything at all.

And then, out of the blue, as I sat my desk after lunch and watched as the sun sent a dust-filled ray into my office and listened to an airplane thrumming overhead, I found the idea that I’d been waiting for and began to write.

But that notion of diving and coming up empty-handed has stayed with me.

It reminds me that writing is much like diving.

We plunge ourselves into the water (no matter how cold, no matter how dark, no matter how deep), in the hope that we’ll discover treasures on the sea floor.

And yet why, if writing is like diving, do we criticize ourselves so harshly for coming up empty-handed?

It’s as if we feel less of a writer for not having written.

But it’s not a diver’s fault if there are no pearls to be found on the sea floor, is it?

If a diver returns to the surface empty-handed, she simply shrugs and prepares for her next dive later that afternoon or the next morning.

Maybe the next dive will be different, she thinks.

No matter what she finds—radiant pearls or slimy strands of seaweed or a stunning shell—she is still a diver.

As writers, we need to keep learning this lesson.

We need to cultivate patience, acceptance, persistence.

We need to enjoy the process of diving without any expectation of pearls that might be waiting at the bottom of the sea.

We need to remember that whether we come to the surface with an armful of pearls or empty-handed, we can still dive for the pure joy of diving.