Thursday, December 30, 2010

The price of excellence

After reading a bunch of new books and taking a good bite out of my TBR pile, and finding myself deep in a revision, I decided I need a comfort re-read. The book I chose was May Sarton's The Small Room. Today, these excerpts struck me:

"'One always gets a negative reaction after a good class. It's one of the hazards of the profession.'
'Is it?'
'You've given a piece of yourself away, even if it is only a certain amount of nervous energy, don't you know? And you are a bit deflated as a result--diminished, one might say.'"

Those were two teachers talking about their profession, but it seems to me they could as easily have been two authors talking about writing. Now this:

"'... we talk a great deal about excellence, and pride ourselves on demanding it, but when we get what we have asked for, become ... confused and jejune ... We are unwilling, evidently, to pay the price of excellence. ... The price is eccentricity, maladjustment if you will, isolation of one sort or another, strangeness, narrowness. Excellence costs a great deal. It is high time some of us faced the fact.'"

I realize these quotes may sound a little negative. But I think they resonated with me because they acknowledge that writing costs a lot, and striving to write well costs even more. And it makes sense, since writing gives us so much. To me, these quotes are comforting because they give us permission to take breaks, to juggle priorities. The times that seem tough? They are tough; it's not our imagination! Writing is a form of giving, and it requires energy and time and concentration and solitude. And I say this not in a suffering-is-noble way, but in an it's-natural-to-be-tired-when-we've-worked-hard sort of way.

So here's to working hard ... and then resting.


  1. Good excerpt! Writing is rather solitary, which is why blogging is so awesome! That way we're not all creepy hermits :~)

  2. Alexia, I definitely appreciate the support of my online community!