Use Your Diminished Thing
Each of us have them—if we honestly face them. I’m talking about mistakes in our writing. Mine will be different from yours. Some writers are waiting until their writing is perfect before they send it to an editor. It is scary to risk showing your work to someone else—yet it’s a necessary part of the process. You have to have thick skin to be in this business and learn to handle rejection. It’s part of the learning curve for writers and editors. You also have to learn how to grow through your mistakes, change and improve.
I’ve been writing about some lessons for writers that I’ve gleaned from The Treehouse by Naomi Wolf—which is excellent. I’ve found some insight for my own writing life (and hopefully for yours as well) as Naomi Wolf writes about her interaction with her father, Leonard. Toward the end of the book, she includes this poem from the great American poet, Robert Frost:
There is a singer everyone has heard,
Loud, a mid-summer and a mid-wood bird,
Who makes the solid tree trunks sound again.
He says that leaves are old and that for flowers
Mid-summer is to spring as one to ten.
He says the early petal-fall is past
When pear and cherry bloom went down in showers
On sunny days a moment overcast;
And comes that other fall we name the fall.
He says the highway dust is over all.
The bird would cease and be as other birds
But that he knows in singing not to sing.
The question that he frames in all but words
Is what to make of a diminished thing.
“You will always make mistakes when you are writing,” Leonard said, “Or living. The key is to know ‘what to make of a diminished thing.’” My father believes that “The Oven Bird” is about making use of imperfection, making do with what you are given. “Life often gives us ‘diminished things,’” he says. “We need to make them glorious.” (p. 236–237)
I’ve never been the best copy editor. Yes, I have a Master’s degree in linguistics and have been through all of the English and grammar courses (more than the average writer or editor) but it’s not one of my strengths and an area where I consistently make mistakes. If it bothers you in these entries on the writing life, you will simply have to forgive me and get over it. As I’ve interviewed numerous writers, they will tell me (often in hushed tones so no one else hears), “I’m a terrible speller.” Does it prevent them from spinning stories into great novels? Not in the least. They have learned to make use of this diminished thing and to push beyond it for their own writing.
What is the “diminished thing” in your own writing life? How can you make it glorious?