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No writer worth her salt needs to be reminded that underneath nearly every successful piece of writing there is a veritable mountain of “failure” upon which it stands. The writer knows—oh, how well she knows. After all, by what other means has her poem, story, essay, or chapter arrived on the page than by fits and starts, addition and subtraction, revision and rewriting? Consider the pages you are now holding in your hands (or, for you digital-edition and Kindle subscribers, the light particles your eyes are absorbing). Even before we got them, the articles that follow had gone through numerous drafts, each of them containing entire swaths of text that didn’t work out, by our beloved—and gloriously perfectionist—contributors. And the accomplished authors those articles are about? Think about the years of trial and error that went into the writing of their books. (As usual, in our annual debut poets roundup, on page 55, we asked each poet to tell us just how many years. Collectively, they were working on their first books longer than I’ve been alive.) Even a piece so stunning as this issue’s cover illustration, by the excellent Jim Tierney, was derived from a sketchbook of aborted attempts. (For a look at his earlier ideas and revisions, check out the video at www.pw.org/magazine.)
The point is this: The act of creating something meaningful is rarely easy. Rather than get discouraged, consider each derelict passage—the mishandled metaphor, the broken logic—as another step further along in that hard slog toward a good, solid piece of writing. No one said this was easy, and if it were, would that really be preferable? Just ask the ham-and-egger, Jenny Shank (29). She’ll tell you. Or Cathie Beck (73), who took the onus on her own shoulders and self-published her way to a book deal.
That’s not to say it doesn’t sting when something you’ve worked on doesn’t pan out. (Thanks to all the authors who contributed to “Six Degrees of Inspiration,” my failed experiment in creative connectivity—maybe next year!) But when I stop to consider all the effort that, through a months-long process of accretion and reduction, has gone into the articles in our current issue, I’m extremely proud of the final product.
I think as writers we should allow ourselves to be proud a little more often. So here’s to it: May your new year be not perfect, not easy, but full of inspired work you can be proud of.