I was thinking today about the limits we set and keep in all aspects of our lives. In writing, we have limits according to niches or genres, in ability or knowledge. But we have deeper, stronger limits that hold sway over us, setting up a consequence, or a quick correction.
Our minds warn, “Do this, and careful, this might happen.”
Our hearts promise, “Do this and be happy forever.”
In writing, the limits of imagination have to be pushed constantly in order to write excellent fiction. I find myself taking a lump of words that sing beneath my fingers when I type them out, and then are destroyed by my Inner Editor, that Constant Critic that, damn her, won’t let me get a firm grasp on something lovely and poetic without pushing forward and creating an anxious, constant rearrangement of words. Making the perfect words correct, but imperfect, their shine dulled by too much polishing.
When I was fourteen, I found a monarch butterfly cocoon. I kept it in a mason jar, still attached to the twig I broke off to make it mine. I observed it every day, my impatience growing. Until one day, it moved and wiggled so much, I convinced myself it needed my help in breaking free from its prison.
So, I poked with a large needle and a pair of tweezers and made tiny tears in the brown sack, until, finally, I had one very dead butterfly.
I still feel badly about that. The cocoon had limits, nature itself had limits, but I decided those were too confining, both for me and the monarch. So I destroyed something lovely and bright, that never asked for my interference, and definitely suffered from my intrusion. I set no limit for my impatience.
Writing is like that. We’ve all heard the warning about letting someone you know read your work in a first draft. The writer’s ego is so fragile, that too much attention, critical, positive, whatever, is like tearing the fabric made of hope and dreams and, Christ, possibly moonbeams, they are weaving and the work dies like a partially formed butterfly in a dirty mason jar.