Leaping from the Trapeze Without Seeing the Net: Something of a Manifesto

The title of this post is a quote from a conversation with a wonderful coach named Sharon Sayler (check out her radio show), and I think it’s the perfect description of what writing demands of us. Someone was saying to me this week that it’s not the writing she minds, but the voice in her head that accompanies the writing. The voice that says, “This is not good enough; this is terrible.” That’s what makes writing hard. I see my kids creating so joyfully. Charlie loves typing at the computer. He’s 18 months old! And we don’t let him watch any television (except inauguration), but we’ve not been able to shield him from our own obsessions with the computer, and he’s hooked. Leo loves to draw. “More drawing,” he says if he has to leave the blank page to, say, eat. And when one page fills, he says, “New page.” With delight. That voice that critiques the writing as we go is the sum of all that is wrong with the world. It’s a voice that lacks empathy, artistry, depth (other than the depths of despair), compassion, curiosity (what might come of following this line, this trail of words?). If we heard this voice directed at anyone else–on the political stage or at a restaurant or on television–we would know that we’d sworn enmity to this voice and all it believes in. But in the privacy of our own offices or journals, that voice becomes an ambassador from the land of common sense. It’s Carl Kasell, and you can win him recorded on your answering machine. The most important...