The poet Elizabeth Austen said that her only job when giving a reading was to “show up.” This is good advice, it seems to me. After all, she doesn’t know who will be in attendance, or what sort of poems her audience likes to hear, or how they like to have those poems read to them. All she knows is that if she shows up, if she gives herself fully to that reading, then she will have given that audience the best she has to offer, which is all anyone can ever ask of anyone else.
I always have grand plans in mind for whatever I’m working on. Driving around doing my errands I plan and scheme how this chapter or that book will work out. All this planning gives me a false sense of command. I know that when the time comes my only job will be to show up at the desk and see what happens. Maybe those plans of mine will bear some creative fruit, or maybe they will never be planted. I’ll never know until I actually show up.
As if I ever know what will ever happen. Humans have such a fantastically inflated belief in our imaginations. Rightfully so. We dream a future that terrifies us, where no one reads our work, or we die alone, or there’s a communist in the White House, and we feel that fear right now, in the present moment, where we are in truth safe from these fantasies. No matter, the fear is real and it is here so our visions must be real too.
For all my planning, I remain glad I cannot actually predict the future, and that my only real job is to show up. This is much simpler. The future is far too complex a thing for me to make on my own. Yet it will be there in its entirety when I am too, and once we have met we will find what we can do together.
Write Within Yourself: An Author’s Companion.
“A book to keep nearby whenever your writer’s spirit needs feeding.” Deb Caletti.