So a few days ago I told you a little secret. I’m working on a book. More accurately, I’m working on a book proposal which is the step before you work on a book. And I shared with you a few of my fears. More accurately, I shared with you a small fraction of my fears because if I shared all of them you would get bored and think I was a self indulgent nit-wit. Which most of the time, I am.
But just around that same time, a friend of mine who understands the perils of making a living by making gave me a little gift. It was wrapped in brown paper and twine. It was a thin, rectangular package. It felt a little floppy. I knew it was a book. I just had no idea how it would bless me.
Art and Fear is a book by David Bayles and Ted Orland about how every single day artists everywhere are facing their fears. Some quit. Some don’t. And that’s the only thing that separates the successful from the unsuccessful. They write, “To survive as an artist requires confronting these troubles. Those who continue to make are those those who’ve learned how to continue—or more precisely, have learned how not to quit.”
When I read that, I felt shored up. Encouraged. Because I know that I know how not to quit. During my two years with Teach for America, I called my mom (and then my husband) every single day crying that I wanted to quit. It was too hard. I wasn’t making progress. The gains weren’t worth the pain and the exhaustion and the sacrifice. But they helped me keep going. They taught me to continue. And now, in a job I love—I know the same must be true. I can’t quit continuing.
I spoke to a portrait artist a few weeks ago—and he said something that meant a lot to me then, but means even more to me now. In portrait art, in drawing, he said most people stop because they look at a picture they’ve drawn and say, “Oh, that’s horrible!” But David says when he works with new artists, he uses that as fuel to keep them going. “If you can tell that it’s not good,” David says, “then you’re capable of doing better.”
This morning, I was reading Art and Fear, (my new morning ritual before pulling out my pen), and the author reiterated what David was trying to tell me. Together, they both hammered home the same idea: more often than not, our vision exceeds our execution. We can see something in our head that doesn’t exist yet on paper. We can envision something on the screen that doesn’t exist yet on film. We can hear something in our mind that hasn’t ever been played.
That could drive us crazy, or it could drive us to the Ultimate Creator.
“Consider the story of a young student who began piano studies with a Master. After a few months’ practice, he lamented to his teacher, ‘But I can hear the music so much better in my head than I can get out of my fingers.’ To which the Master replied, ‘What makes you think that ever changes?'” Art and Fear, p. 14.
Perhaps we will always be plagued by this knowledge that what we create isn’t exactly what we want to create. We desire better. We desire what is more beautiful. We desire what we see but can’t attain.
And maybe that is on purpose. In those moments that I hear the story so much better in my head than I can get out of my fingers, I can be reminded that this three dimensional world is not the only one that exists. There also exists another dimension—the dimension where that thing that I see in my head, or hear in my ears, or feel in my soul—where that actually exists and breathes and sings. I believe God exists in both of those dimensions. He can see and create exactly what he sees. He did it with you. He did it with me.
And He’s still creating.
“He who began a good work in you will carry it out to completion until the day of Christ Jesus.” Philippians 1:6.
And if God’s still creating—then I can keep creating too.