Direction of Contentment

Anyone who has ever written knows the contentment of finishing a story to their satisfaction—the mixture of surprise and relief that you have said what you wanted to say. All the labor leading up to it can seem like the grindstone workweek before the weekend. You sweat the sweat and pay the dues and put in the hours so that you can have that sweet quiet of satisfaction that follows.

Except writers only have weekends if they want them. There is no shop to open or clock to punch, and a writer’s contentment is shifty. How long do you get before quiet question stirs in the back of your mind, “What next?” Has this story reminded you of another? Was there something you couldn’t do in this one that you are already curious to try in the next?

In truth contentment provides you not even a moment’s rest. To see contentment as deck chair relaxation is true only if life is all misery but for the resting. In fact, contentment is a direction not a destination. Those moments of pause are merely you deciding what to do next.

It is easy perhaps to forget the contentment that comes through the work itself. For all the moments of indecision, for all the testing of your patience, for all the drafts and drafts, you can never be more content than when you are seeing what you want to see and saying what you want to say. Is it tiring in its way? Yes, but so is sex. Does it always come easily? Probably not.

But what we call the restfulness of a weekend is only us seeking relief not from the work, but from the drama we have summoned around the periods of challenge natural to all work. Sitting idle in your boat can be pretty, but all love is desire, and all desire is toward something, and because you are always making choices, whether sitting still or climbing a mountain, you will only be content when those choices resolve toward what you love.

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