The Pragmatic Hybrid

I wrote that?! A reconstruction.

I was reading an essay I wrote a while back, to polish it up for a residency application.

It was published in a literary journal, and is going into an anthology that’s coming out this year, so I knew – theoretically, at least – that it couldn’t suck too hard.

But I was avoiding it. Dreading, dreading, dreading going back and reading it again, for fear that I would be mortified at what I found.

When I summoned up the nerve, I was blown away.

I wrote that?! I’m a writer, dammit!

It was coherent. Besides making sense, it was beautiful – deep and subtle and polished, with gleaming images and varied, dancing sentences. It was work I could be proud to present to any committee or panel, knowing it was an example of the best I was capable of at that moment.

The thing is, I didn’t remember what I did to get it to this state of being, and I had no idea how to go about replicating the process. And I had some doubts that I would be able to do it again.

So I held my own hand and walked myself through remembering its genesis.

The germ of it was hatched in a coffee shop on Flatbush Avenue, during a writing date with a friend.

An early, overly-abstract version got workshopped in my writing group, to mixed reviews.

Then it (and I) made a big leap forward when I read about essay construction, and how it’s good to ground an essay in scene – a particular time and place, with actual events happening in present time. So I revised, adding a place and people and relevant happenings.

At some point, it started to hang together. During this stage, I printed out and marked up about a bajillion drafts with blue pen, moving sections around and sharpening meaning and cutting evidence of my reflexive ticks.

I fiddled with paragraphs and sections and fretted over the order of the telling, over what to flesh out and what to leave well enough alone, until I finally arrived at something satisfying.

The components that were important:

  • staying with the piece over time
  • the support of a group (like the Hybrid Writers Circle)
  • educating myself about the technical stuff
  • being willing to revise radically

This excavation of the process reminded me (again) that the finished product did not spring fully formed from my brain. It was a long time in the making, with many attempts and iterations, with new learning informing the process all the while.

Even after it was done and published, and I was fairly happy with how it turned out, I could still look at it and find things to tweak.

All of this to say: you can’t stand at the beginning of the process and see the shape of the end.

If you’re nurturing a subconscious hope that now that you’ve done it the hard way once, you’ve learned your lessons and can just skip directly to the satisfactory version (like I secretly hope every time): Sorry. Doesn’t work that way.

The only help for it is to commit, and dive.

Michael Nobbs says this about steadfastness of commitment:

“By remaining steadfast to an idea or a creative discipline you’ll go on a journey that will open up possibilities and opportunities far beyond what you can see when you take your first few steps. Conversely, if all you ever do is take lots of first steps you will never experience any depth or richness in your creative pursuits.”

This is the goal.

Depth, and richness. Finished works with luster and layers.

Remember how you did it before. It took something: steadfastness, commitment. Chances are the next important project will take something too.

That’s just how good work gets done.

P.S. – I want to remember to tell you that I have an in-person session of the Hybrid Writers Circle starting in March.

If you’re in the NYC area and looking for a safe, supportive workshop to write and grow in, check it out! And if you have any questions, please ask.

Comment Fu

This space is like a Quaker meeting that is happening in my living room. Honored guests, please speak as you are moved to. And let’s be awesome to each other, because graciousness among friends is why we hang out together.

  1. sarra

    Gorgeous! (You did say ‘speak as you’re moved to’!)

  2. Mel

    Congratulations! It must feel wonderful to reflect on that piece of writing after time and know in your heart that it was good. I haven’t undertaken anything so intensive with my writing, but it is very much a practice for me – not only the writing, but the re-working – nothing springs from my brain fully formed and sometimes it feels like it *should* be easier! But then there are the moments when I’m revising and a word or phrase drops into place and I see the whole piece, and sometimes myself, with new eyes – and then the process is so worthwhile. Thank you for sharing your process, it’s very helpful and reassuring!

  3. Ms. Moon

    Isn’t everything in life worth doing a process? Ah yah. I find it to be so.
    And of course you’re a writer! Don’t be so surprised!

  4. Briana

    I’ve really been noticing this pattern in my own creative process — It usually starts with some shiny idea and quickly nosedives into this incredibly tangled mess where I almost always want to give up (and sometimes do) before buttoning itself back up into something satisfying.

    I’m just trying to remember that if I stick with the mess, something usually develops. And now I’m going to tuck your thoughtful components into my pocket!

  5. JoVE

    This is beautiful. It is so good to be reminded of the process. And that the difficulties of the process are not because we are ill-suited to the task but because that is how the process works.

  6. Amna Ahmad

    @Sarra – Thanky!

    @Mel – thanks for the reminder of In Progress Goodness. It’s not just the good finished product that brings satisfaction, but the pleasures of working on it too. Yes.

    @Ms. Moon – Thank you. Sometimes I know I’m a writer, and sometimes I am more like someone who makes marks on paper to little effect.

    @Briana – “Buttoning up” is such a niiiiiiiice metaphor for this. And don’t you love-hate how it seems like it’s not going to happen, until it suddenly does?

    @JoVE – Totally quotable: that the difficulties are not because we are ill-suited, but because that’s how it works. Thank you!