Your Best Work

As I write this, I am about to interview Jane Smiley, which makes it two Pulitzer Prize-winning writers in two days, having interviewed Tracy Kidder yesterday afternoon. I’ll be interested to hear what Jane Smiley has to say about winning the Pulitzer as Tracy Kidder reported that while the award was a great boost to his writing career, he felt quite exposed afterward and took a long time to start his next project.

His response did not surprise me at all. It’s always nice to hear when people like what you’ve done, but praise is energy after all, and the louder and more public the praise the more energy there is behind it, and all energy can knock you off balance.

I notice this even from myself. If I’ve had a good day of work, if it came easily and I feel like I’ve discovered something about the story and I entered that lovely zone where I forget I’m there writing and feel more like an observer than a participant, I have to be careful not to dwell on it afterward. When I do, I make that day into something special, which means it can’t happen often.

Best to have a short memory. If you want to forget about the bad days, then you have to forget about the good ones too. Build on the good days, but don’t dwell them. Besides, there aren’t really good days and bad days anyway. If we’re wise, we remember those days we call bad were only us trying to work impatiently or critically. The day had nothing to do with it.

It’s worth remembering.  I used to have what I think of as a Christmas Fetish. I was devoted to the idea of good days and bad days and great days and terrible days. Tracy Kidder did not think his book that won the Pulitzer Prize was his best, and as well he shouldn’t. The book he’s writing is always his best book, just as today is always your best day. It has to be anyway. It’s the only day you’re ever allowed to have.

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