When the creative process lacks joy

I used to hate the adage, “You can't have your cake and eat it, too.” Probably because I never understood what it meant. Now that I know better, I've come to find in the words solace, even validation.

One of the hardest parts of the writing life is, well, writing. It's work, after all, often by the sweat of the writer's brow, whether outward and visible or inward and unseen, which can be more excruciating. The creative process, like the birthing process, brings pain and elements of sacrifice in opportunities cost — what the writer gives up in order to write — time and intimacy with friends and family, time with a good book, time, intimacy …

And what more precious commodity is there, except possibly, self? Which the writer can't hang onto either. The stories we write are other people's stories, and in writing them, if we write them well, we writers disappear. The story grows up, takes on its own identity, leaves us and goes its own way. The characters, in becoming well-formed and fully realized, are no longer our characters, but their own — their own people, if you don't mind, Gepetto.

Yet, once in a while, for a brief, shining moment, joy appears. In those moments, it's as if the curtain of the writer's life is pulled back, and she sees that she's doing what she has always wanted to do, what she was meant to do. On those rare occasions, I'm usually walking the station platform at the end of the day as the train blasts its whistle and rumbles off in the dusk of an early winter evening. At that moment I sometimes think, so this is my life, the writer's life, the one I always wanted. This is what it feels like to live this life and not another. It was there the whole time, buried in a thousand details I couldn't experience as they happened, that happened without my being conscious of them, without my enjoying them. Yet, in those rare moments, joy comes where the dessert should be, at the end of the meal, and reminds me of another truth — that she who wants to keep her life will lose it, but she who gives her life away gains it back again.

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