April 2010

April 1. I made it! My deadline for The Daughter’s Walk was April 1 and I sent it off to my editors today. It’s the daughter’s side of a true story of how she and her mother in 1896 walked from Spokane to New York to earn money to save their family farm. It’s an amazing story of endurance and of family, the consequences of choices made, years of separation and the reunion. Several years ago Linda L. Hunt wrote a book about the journey called Bold Spirit Helga Estby’s Forgotten Walk Across Victorian America. I fell in love with that book and with the unfinished story of Clara, the daughter. Linda’s book exquisitely tells the story of Helga’s life and how the walk framed it. I delved into the daughter and fictionalized the story to find the truth of what the historical record might reveal about her and the family.

Finishing things, even though the manuscript isn’t really finished, is a comforting feeling for me.

Finishing is not satisfying at all for some people, though. I remember my very gifted nephew when he was in the second grade, was given a demerit of sorts because he didn’t finish his work on time. I asked him why and he said “because as soon as I finish they give me more stuff to do. I’d rather work on things I like and then at the last minute do what I’m supposed to do.”

He had a listening teacher and when she learned that, she began setting up time for him to do his fun things as soon as he finished the “work.” Low and behold, he grew up to be a pretty amazing guy who always finishes his work on time.

Other people often don’t like to finish things because it means an empty hole in what has consumed them for days or months or even years. A grief sets in. It’s over. Now what? I understand that. Perhaps we avoid “the end” because we aren’t prepared to deal with the sadness of it being finished and not having a next step to take, the new beginning.

I always have a next step…I have Words of Encouragement to write, so see, knowing I had you waiting helped me finish my other task on time! I also have an office to organize now and I’m getting ready to fly to Denver next week for an event and to meet with my publisher so I need to do the detail stuff like get a place to stay the night before my flight out. Not that I enjoy those things but they’re a part of the writing life, too. I’m promoting An Absence so Great, released last month; and urging people to sign up for my newsletter so I’m visiting Facebook and Twitter more than I might. (Please visit www.jkbooks.com and sign up for Story Sparks).

Some people avoid finishing things because they enjoy the beginnings so much! I can’t tell you how many “gifts” Jerry has made for me that are in various stages of completion. Over the years I’ve learned not to let his enthusiasm lead me to the shop where he’ll show me what he’s working on because once I’ve seen it and loved on it and can anticipate how cool it’ll be when finished, he’s seen the joy on my face and that’s enough. He’s off to another project. (He’s been working on something since before Valentine’s Day which then became my birthday present and now it’s up to being an anniversary gift. I don’t know what it is. I’m refusing to look! I may not see it until Christmas.)

Jerry loves to begin things. I asked him once why he didn’t like to finish stuff and he said because the excitement is in the possibility. Once he knows his innovative idea will work, he’s on to something else. He needs a good wife to finish stuff for him, don’t you think? Unfortunately for him, he has me and I know so little about hammers and saws (except coping saws) he knows better than to leave the finishing touches to me so I wait.

A few people I know don’t like to finish things because they know it won’t be perfect and they think that if they keep working on it, it’ll eventually meet their high standards. I remember a William Stauffer poem in which he wrote that when challenged beyond what we think we can manage we ought to “lower our standards.” The standard he referred to was that of a flag bearing standard and the image is perfect. Sometimes that huge flag out in front catches the wind and we can’t push against it try as we might; it’ll fly us around like a top. If we lower it, we’re able to go forward.

That concept is especially true for writers, artists, musicians, playwrights, etc. We have a tendency to hold out an image of the perfect manuscript, lyric, scene usually written by someone else. We compare our work and don’t finish it because it doesn’t meet the criteria we’ve set in our heads.

What has helped me through the years is not just that external deadline (the book is due April 1!) but the understanding that perfect doesn’t mean without errors or that it can’t be improved. It means complete. Only God’s love is both perfect in the sense of being without errors and complete.

For the rest of us, there can always be changes that will improve the work but we don’t have to wait to find them before sending our manuscript off. Writing is a team effort despite what people say about it being lonely. As I’ve said before, I have all these characters running around in my head so I am never less alone than when I’m writing. But I also know that I’ll be creating with my editors, with production (what the cover will look like) with publicity and marketing and ultimately, with readers who will find things in side the stories I didn’t know were there. They can’t create unless I finish.

So for all you out there with a manuscript almost ready to send; for those of you waiting to share the perfect soufflé with a friend; for those of you wondering if you are worthy of completing that application or beginning a project you’re not sure how it will end, take the risk. Send it out. Share what you have. Let God work in your life to give you a complete sense of satisfaction that you are working for something greater than yourself yet for yourself.

At this season of Easter, the story of God’s love is perfection. It’s both without error and complete. He said “It is finished.” And he meant it was complete, perfection. We know the ending which is a new beginning in faith.

I hope this season is an especially comforting time and that all your projects in the month of April will be perfect! Please check my schedule and come see me so I can cheer you onward.

Warmly, Jane