The Never-Ending Work of Creative Labor (Essay 9 of 52)

Me. Not amused.. Also notice the blurry exit sign in the background.

I feel like I should write this in a whisper lest some enemy of joy hear my fingers pressing the keys on the keyboard and track down the source of my momentary satisfaction, but here goes: this week, I sent two essays and three poems off to different literary magazines. One of them was the first half of a memoir chapter I had recently finished, but revised with a different ending that would actually make it an essay that can stand by itself as opposed to a chapter in a memoir that feels like it could be 500 pages. I wasn’t happy with that essay, but I submitted it because it could, even without the improvements I still think it needs, stand alone. Because it puts my work into someone else’s hands. Because it verifies I’m doing something, producing something. Because, if I wanted to, I could walk away from it and call it “done.”

And when you’re working on a book, man do you need the opportunity to walk away and call something done.

The book—currently the thesis—is the longest, most tedious process I’ve ever endured. I wish I had children so I could compare it to gestation and labor and tell myself, “But it’ll be just like when your child was born and you endured all those months of squished organs and a little person you couldn’t even see kicking you and hours of labor and an all-natural vaginal birth (or an epidural or a c-section, whichever), and at the end you got this beautiful, perfect person that you created. The gestation is long. Your labor is intense. But it’s all worth it.”

Right now, my creative labor just looks long, intense, and unending. It sucks. Even that occasional flutter that comes when I know that I’ve nailed something in writing, said it exactly the way I want to say it, is short-lived and doesn’t feel like it will sustain me. Not when I know there’s still so much more I haven’t said (I mean in the memoir as well as well other essays that have nothing to do with the memoir and that I haven’t even started on because I’m too busy writing the memoir). And not when I still don’t think I’ve found the structure in which I want to say it.

The night before I printed out the essay and had to kick in my editing eye, I did a double take and smiled as I hit the keys that would finish the last paragraph. It was the best I had felt about my work in two weeks. The last time I smiled, the last time the thesis was fun, was when I was doing the thing that’s supposed to be the hardest thing to do. I was writing a scene, reconstructing every detail of the setting, characters, and dialogue I could remember, closing my eyes and visualizing myself in a friend’s room as a high school junior, listening to the Waiting to Exhale soundtrack and pining over boys we were too young to know were stupid. The scene was easy. Unpacking the meaning behind the rest of my life is harder.

And is the never-ending work, the never-ending story.

Author’s note: This essay is part of the #52Essays2017 series. Every week in 2016, Vanessa Mártir published one essay on her blog. After a phenomenal year of challenges and growth as a writer, she invited other writers in various communities she’s a part of to join her as she endeavors to write weekly, relentlessly, again in 2017. I’m in on the challenge because I saw how very little space I gave personal reflection in 2016. This is my thesis semester, and I expect some challenges and growth as I write it. The weekly essay challenge provides a space to document that growth (though I’m already thinking I might screw with the genre a little).

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