The other afternoon, on the way back home from the city (Samsung, please, you didn't need Radio City Music Hall to launch a phone), I took some time to organize the wiki I use to track all the ideas I used to jot down on six thousand different pieces of paper and in a dozen different notebooks. As romantic and self-disciplining as it is to fill a notebook by hand, it quickly becomes a management nightmare.
Two things struck me. First, the sheer magnitude of jottings that I considered to be discrete ideas. Some of them were no more than a few words, but in each case it was clear (to me, anyway) what they amounted to and in what direction they were intended to be developed. The second thing, and the more striking one on reflection, was how I was prioritizing — maybe better to say triaging — the development of each. For the first time I could recall, I was consciously saying to myself about some project, "I can't work on that story yet."
Way back when I first started getting the nerve together to call myself a writer, I enjoyed the delusion (if that's the right way to put it) of being someone who could tear into any project that came to mind and make it work. Such was one of the many hazards of not obtaining useful feedback from people: you're cut off from knowing whether or not what you've done is any good or not by anyone else's yardstick — and it's other people that read your work, remember? And one of the realizations that came with knowing what my own limits were was knowing when I couldn't do justice to a given subject, even when I was sorely tempted to do so.
Right now I have about four or five other projects, barring the one I'm already starting in the wake of Flight of the Vajra, that I'd like to work on. At least one of them might well be way over my head. But it's the kind of "way over my head" that would only spur me to raise my game that much more in the first place. Fail upwards!
As urgently as I want to tell these stories, I'm not going to let that urgency overwhelm the need I have to get them right, to learn from the mistakes made, and to play that much more over my head next time. The real value of an artist's work is not incarnate in any one thing he produces, but in the overall arc that appears when all his work stands shoulder-to-shoulder over time. If people look back over what I've done and see someone who strove to always try something both different and better each time, it will make the flaws of any one thing I did matter less. I hope.
New York City
Other Lives Of The Mind