The essay I intended for today’s post was about the fine line between solitude and loneliness – a boundary I often have difficulty negotiating. I wrote about eight hundred words, and it was good – but it wasn’t good enough. And even though I could post it, I know it’s not ready yet, so I’m putting it aside, to let it incubate. And let me tell you: I’m incredibly proud of myself for holding it back.
The temptation to publish – even prematurely – is enormous, and I’m not just talking about meeting my deadline. With the arrogance that is part of being a writer, I think that what I have to say is Important! Provocative! Scintillating! Profound!
It may be – when it’s ready, but not yet.
Knowing when something isn’t ready might be even harder than knowing when something is. So how do I know that the piece I intended to write still needs to ferment?
In this instance, the telltale sign was introducing an entirely new idea in the final paragraph. At 800 words, the post was already pushing the limit. Clearly, I’d written my piece, but I still hadn’t figured out what I wanted to say.
I’d been thinking about this essay for a while. Initially, I saw a clear connection between balancing the fine line between solitude and loneliness and the first Tuesday in March –Town Meeting Day in Vermont. But when I wrote it out, I couldn’t connect the dots.
When I drafted the piece, I was surprised at the direction I took – not at all what I’d planned. But I followed it. After all, one of the reasons I write down my ideas is to discover what they are. What I wrote was good, but it wasn’t about solitude or loneliness. It was about public service, but I didn’t realize it at the time. All I knew was that eight hundred words are too many for a post. Six hundred is better, and to write that short and still write well, I have to stick to the point. So I put the piece aside overnight, to let it incubate.
I love the image of placing a rough draft in a drawer and finding a changed and improved version later, like wine drawn from a cask that’s been cellared for months. But the truth is, the bubbling transformation happens all in my head. Sometime between putting my essay aside on Saturday and looking at it again on Sunday, I’d figured it out: the problem is that I really had two essays, one about solitude versus loneliness, and one about public service. I also had a third: this one, about allowing time for ideas to mature.
Just like the process that turns grape juice into wine, giving our words time to age allows us to develop complex ideas, deeper thoughts, and clearer expression. And like any good vintage, the final product is worth the wait.
Deborah Lee Luskin often writes about Vermont, where she has lived since 1984. She is a commentator for Vermont Public Radio, a Visiting Scholar for the Vermont Humanities Council and the author of the award winning novel, Into The Wilderness. For more information, visit her website at www.deborahleeluskin.com