Show Up to the Work.
Show up to the work. This is my constant refrain, the advice I give to my writing clients. Writing is hard, after all, and without those slogging butt-in-chair hours, the work will not produce itself.
If you are a regular reader of my work, it may seem as if I could use a dose of my own medicine. After all, I’ve not sent a newsletter in over a month, my blog has been conspicuously silent for some time, and my last published article was in January of 2021. (“St. Ignatius helped me get sober as a Protestant—and stay sober in 2020 as a Catholic” published in America on January 1, 2021.)
Despite having no long-form work to show for it, I've continued showing up in smaller ways. I’ve strung a series on church photos and words together on Instagram. (Follow the photo below for my latest piece in my church thread.) I’ve also written several pieces intended for this newsletter that I ended up pitching to various publications. All this, while cleaning up some short stories, some old articles, and a novel. All this to say, I’ve been busy, though I have relatively little to show for it. And much of that work might not ever see the light of day.
We live in a culture of noisy expectations. Those expectations manifest in our constant need to churn content, drop the hot-take of the moment, produce something sellable, do whatever. And when our work is in the liminal space between production and publication, when there’s not a lot to show for it, we can begin to feel as if we’re falling behind.
I’m not alone in this. Right?
This week, I spoke with a client who confessed she’s been writing aimlessly. Sure, she produced words that might work in Chapter 1, some that fit in Chapter 5, maybe a run that works in Chapter 8. But she couldn’t seem to complete a single focused and complete chapter. How did this make her feel? Like this writing life is impossible, she said.
I reminded her of a simple truth. Our work is not always linear. It does not always spring from the mind fully formed and ready for publishing. Sometimes it meanders. Sometimes it comes in fits and spurts. Sometimes the work we’re able to eke out lands on the cutting room floor (and this is true regardless of your line of work). Sometimes all our effort is nothing more than grand groundwork for the ultimate act of creation, even if the world never sees it. These acts of quiet, sometimes useless creation are all part of showing up to the work.
Consider the following tweet from one of my favorite authors, Mary Karr.
150 pages. In the trash. Deleted. Never to be seen (though I’d suggest she sell them as an NFT, a conversation for another day). So, if you were judging Karr’s current work based on the amount she’s published in the last few months, you might judge her as a bit behind. But consider that last phrase: “despite having 0 pages, I’m closer than before.” Karr understands a fundamental truth: Sometimes, showing up means producing crap that will never see the light of day so that that crap can fertilize something substantive.
Maybe you’re in the boat with Mary and me. You’ve shown up to do quiet work, but have little to show for it. It’s okay. Instead of wallowing in some sort of existential shame complex, or tryin to churn out some garbage that amplifies your ego (which is to say, your noise), understand your location on the creative map. You’re in that moment before the breakthrough, before the work comes together. So, get back to the page, the stanza, the easel, whatever. Get back to the work, and see what happens. That’s what I’m doing this week.
Slaying Dragons With Tsh and Shawn
On this week’s episode of A Drink with a Friend, Tsh and I interviewed novelist Shawn Smucker on why he writes stories. Our conversation led us to an examination of the great stories, how they all flow from the same stream. It was a fantastic conversation with a fantastic guest, and you can listen to it by following this link.
What’s the Best Way to Support Your Work, Seth?
This is not an uncommon question, one for which I’m grateful. But first, know this: You’re being here means the world to me, and that alone is a huge support. Still, if you’d like to give in a more tangible way, here are a few (amazing) ways.
Sign up to become a monthly member of this Substack, and you’ll get exclusive access to the novel I’ve been working on, tentatively entitled Bears in the Yard. It’s a story of Wesley, a man living out his final days on the bayou of northern Louisiana. It’s a story about culminations, conclusion, maybe even conversions. Subscribe as a monthly contributor to read along.
Grab a copy of The Book of Waking Up or Coming Clean. Publishers look at past sales performance when making a decision on an author’s next book, so every sale matters. Did you hear that? Every sale matters! (Thanks.) And if you’ve read these books, grab an extra copy or two and start a bookclub!
Finally, share this newsletter with a friend and ask them to follow along. I love seeing new faces around here.
Thanks again for reading along. I wouldn’t be here without each of you.