Saturday Night Confession

How difficult it is to let a piece of writing go. With my nonfiction work, I’m usually under deadline, so I’m forced to send a piece off or lose a client. Fiction is another story.

Jhumpa Lahiri’s essay (My Life’s Sentences) in the Sunday New York Times last week struck many chords with me. But one paragraph in particular still resonates:

“Even printed, on pages that are bound, sentences remain unsettled organisms. Years later, I can always reach out to smooth a stray hair. And yet, at a  certain point, I must walk away trusting them to do their work. I am left looking over my shoulder, wondering if I might have structured one more effectively. This is why I avoid reading the books I’ve written. Why, when I must, I approach the book as a stranger, and pretend the sentences were written by someone else.”

I am impressed that she can release her work into the world at all. I re-read the stories I wrote for my MFA and the stories I have written since, and I am horrified at the twisted strands I find, rusting metal sentences wrapped around a pole.

I can’t stop fiddling with them. I can’t stop. I can’t.

3 thoughts on “Saturday Night Confession

  1. notwh0 says:

    Thanks for the confession — so good to know other’s struggle with perfectionism. Including Jhumpa Lahiri – whose writing strikes me as….well… ridiculously perfect. And I do mean that as a complement. So three cheers today for the big, glorious, imperfect sentences!

  2. robert okaji says:

    I’m often dissatisfied with “completed” pieces, even after they’ve been published. Can’t help it. And sometimes I actually rework them and make them better. To what end? Beats me, except perhaps the satisfaction derived from the revision.

    • Jilanne Hoffmann says:

      Yes, writing is like calculus. Revision gets you closer to an exact answer, but there will always be that pesky epsilon, that infinitesimally small piece that can still be fixed. It is satisfying to approach infinity without fear.

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