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SLANT LETTER: Your Work Is Worthy
Three practices for dignifying your work as a writer.
Some years ago I was leading a writing workshop and we were talking about how our environment influences our work, when one man told a story I won’t forget.
His writing desk was in the basement, so every time he ventured down the stairs to roll up his sleeves, he would joke to his wife, “Going to get to work in the dungeon.” But the joke tired quickly as he realized, who looks forward to anything in a dungeon? So he decided to give his space an upgrade by calling it his office.
He wanted a word that matched how he wanted to feel when he sat down to write: energized, alert, in the flow. “Office” was without a doubt an upgrade from “dungeon,” but no, even this fell flat and far from what he was going for.
Finally, he found it. I’m an artist, he thought. And artists have a word for their place of work. The next time he grabbed his notebook and opened the door to the basement, he said to his wife, “See you later. I’m going to work in my studio.”
When he told this story, said this word, the room rippled with audible affirmation. We all immediately, intuitively understood that this was a threshold moment for his writing. Because…
There is a world of difference between the work of a writer who downplays their craft, and the writing of a writer who dignifies their work.
So today I want to talk about three ways to intentionally dignify your creative work.
In how you talk about it
We’re word people, we know language matters! And yet writers have generally terrible habits when it comes to how they talk about their work.
“Oh, it’s just a little project I have going.”
“I’ve never written poetry before, so I’m sure I don’t know what I’m doing.”
“I mean, I’m not a real writer.”
This is insecurity talking and insecurity only knows one language: the language of downplaying, of making small the magnitude of honest, good-faith efforts.
If you go into the work with the assumption that you are not worthy of it, the fullness of your creative flow will be suppressed by self-doubt. And that is not the kind of writer any of us aspire to be.
Can I offer a gentle challenge? Pay attention next time you talk about your craft. Listen to the language to which you default. And run an honest audit: are you interjecting qualifiers that you don’t have to use? Are you letting slide in any accent of dismissiveness, unworthiness?
The way you talk about your work will tell you straight if you honor your efforts, or if you make them small. But bringing these downplaying tendencies into awareness (we all have them!) can help us dignify our work anew.
In your writing space
So I think it’s important to say this first: honoring your work is not about getting fancy. This is not a style contest. You do not need a corkboard accent wall or a vintage typewriter or barrister bookcases. You do not.
Good grief, many of us have all been living on top of each other in our homes with the most makeshift of “offices” in the past year, so we can get over the ideal writing space already.
As the dungeon-to-office-to-studio story shows, upgrading your space is not about gussying it up, it’s about reframing it in your own mindset. All it took was ONE choice word to make this writer’s work meaningful again. Just one word to make the shift from uninspired slog to energized craft. That’s it! Makeover complete. No fountain pen or fiddle leaf fig Required.
If you want to upgrade your space, I think the first question is simply: what do I need for this space to inspire me and support my work? The answer might be as simple as a post-it note quote on your desktop, or cueing up a custom playlist to get you in the flow, or being kind to your tomorrow self by clearing your desk tonight.
I love this interview with children’s author Stacy McAnulty, who says she wrote her first book with one hand, without punctuation or capitalization, because that was the only way she could get it done while breastfeeding. Instead of saying to herself, “REAL writers type at a real desk with the qwerty system,” she planted herself square in the nursery rocker and said, “I gave myself permission.” Take that, resistance.
In your time
This one is really the last domino, because no matter how much you talk about your writing, and no matter how much you ritualize your space and writing habits, you cannot honor your work if you never sit down to actually do it.
We are too easily enamored, in my opinion, with “THE WRITING LIFE” as a construct—the charmingly cluttered secretary desks, the Parisian cafes, the swoon-worthy personal libraries, all in their sepia glory. It’s all very dreamy, but none of it is real.
And if we’re too fixated on the AURA of the work it can become an excuse against actually getting pen to paper, because we’ve become so misled to believe it’s only possible in the most perfect conditions.
The best way to dignify your work is to keep appointments with yourself to actually do it. Obviously, this set-aside time to write will not always go according to plan. It’s not about keeping a perfect schedule (haha, what is that??). But it is about respecting your work enough to show up for it, be assertive in putting boundaries around it, follow through on your commitments to yourself, and resist the urge to cancel last minute like a bad boyfriend.
I’ll say it again. Your work is worthy. And it is yours to honor through your language, your space, and your time.
Until next time,
Take heart. Write on. You got this.
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P.S. // A Prayer for Writers
SLANT LETTER is about both craft + soul care for the creative life. So today, I want to speak this blessing for all of us anxious, ambitious, internet-exhausted writing folk.