As Close As Thought
When I was about 20 I experienced a dramatic shift in my writing. This shift was in part the result of having worked diligently on my craft for several years, work that made saying what I meant to say more effortless and interesting. But perhaps more important was an awakening to what excited me most about being alive. It was as if I was an artist who lived by the forest and woke up one morning to discover he loved to paint trees. Oh, how easy the writing often was then. I needed only to take one look through the lens of my imagination and whatever I wanted to write was directly before me. Everything was perfectly in focus, and because I could see what I wanted to write so clearly, it was easy to translate it onto the page.
Yet it was only easy as long as it was interesting, and once I have written something it is not so interesting to write it again. Before long, I had written everything that stood close by. Now the writing was not so easy. Now I found myself imitating writing I had done before, which left me feeling fraudulent and uninteresting in returning to the desk.
Of course, sometimes I would notice something interesting in the distance, but it was much further from me than what I had found at first, and when I tried to write as quickly as I had with those things I could see so easily, the writing was incredibly hard. Soon began the self-criticism: You’re a bad writer; that’s why you can’t write those things further off. You’re a shallow man who can only write what dwells on the surface.
Surprisingly, all this criticism did nothing to improve my confidence. Years went by. I kept writing, of course, though what I wanted to write remained far away and out of focus. It would take me two decades to understand that I had a lens at all, and even once I discovered it I did not trust its power. I thought at first I wanted to be young again, and have everything I needed right beside me. Fortunately, the imagination measures life in neither time nor distance, only degrees of curiosity. When I discovered this, the world was once again as close as thought.
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