Ever since I first discovered it, Linda Ellis’s “The Dash” has been my favorite poem.
The second stanza reads:
He noted that first came the date of birth
and spoke the following date with tears,
but he said what mattered most of all
was the dash between those years.
(If you’re in a crying mood like I am for some reason, read the rest of the poem for yourself.)
Now, this doesn’t apply to writing line by line. Not necessarily.
But if you think about it, most of us don’t go through each day waiting for our last. We try to make the most of each day, attempting to build a fulfilling life.
Yet many writers pound away at their keyboards, practically holding their breath until they can finally call their project finished.
They hunger for that “high” that follows finishing something great.
But what about everything that happens while you’re actually writing?
Isn’t that enjoyable, too? It should be.
When you accomplish what you’re setting out to accomplish, you will feel happy. As you should. All accomplishments warrant joy.
But I can pretty much guarantee that happiness won’t feel quite like you’re expecting it to. And it most definitely will not last.
We often make the mistake of anticipating the finish line so intensely that when we get there, we’re almost disappointed.
But that’s not all that happens.
We also sometimes forget to appreciate — to enjoy — what comes between starting and finishing.
That’s what makes work worth it. THAT is what should make you happy most of all. Not the fact that you’ve finished, but the reality that you’re working hard to achieve a goal.
Sometimes I put off finishing a piece of writing — just for a little while, maybe five minutes or so — because I just don’t want it to end.
Because I loved writing it THAT much.
Writing may not be a life or death discussion, so to speak. But the words above are a constant reminder to me that the fact that you started or finished a book isn’t what brings you joy. It’s the fact that you savored every moment you spent writing your story (literally or figuratively, I guess).
You can’t spend your whole life waiting for your achievements to fulfill you. Because if you’re anything like me, the moment you finish something amazing, you’re immediately going to move on to the next amazing thing. That’s often how creativity works. Some minds don’t pause to reflect — or they have a very hard time trying.
Enjoy what you are doing, not that you have done something.
If you’re not enjoying yourself while your project is still unfinished, things aren’t going to get any easier.
Everyone goes through this “slump” where the excitement wears off and all of a sudden you realize … oh. You actually have to do the work. That’s normal.
What’s important is that you push through that. Keep doing it. Find enjoyment in small milestones and bite-sized accomplishments.
You’re not going to enjoy every single moment of your work.
But at least enjoy that you’re doing it. Find fulfillment in the doing, not the done.
That way, when you do look back on what you’ve achieved, you can say with honesty, “Wow. I really enjoyed doing that. I’m so glad I made it happen.”
That just makes the finished product so much more meaningful. Even if the after-buzz doesn’t last forever.
Make writing your dash. Note the starts and the ends. But don’t forget everything between. Don’t forget to enjoy the process as much as you enjoy the product.
Remember: you are a writer. You don’t just finish things. You create them. In the present tense. Right?
Write because writing makes you happy. Having written is great. Writing is greater.
Meg is the creator of Novelty Revisions, dedicated to helping writers put their ideas into words. She is a staff writer with The Cheat Sheet, a freelance editor and writer, and a nine-time NaNoWriMo winner. Follow Meg on Twitter for tweets about writing, food and nerdy things.