“In war, the victorious strategist only seeks battle after the victory has been won.”
This is from The Art of War, but I first heard it in the James Bond movie Die Another Day. I quite like the advice. Whenever I start a project, I’m filled with fear that I’ll never finish it. This was one of my biggest worries about starting this blog–that I would get two months in, lose interest, and never post again, becoming just one more faceless webpage among the legions of failed blogs that crowd the internet.
Of course, I’m human, and I don’t finish everything that I start. But I really, really hate to leave projects unfinished, and I especially hate to do so when other people know about them. It’s one thing to decide to keep a daily journal and then fall out of the habit after two weeks. It’s another thing entirely to tell my friends I’m going to keep such a journal, and then have to explain to them after the fact that I didn’t actually follow through on the thing I said I was going to do.
For this reason, I tend not to announce my plans or achievements until they’re already guaranteed. I didn’t tell people I was applying to graduate schools until long after I was sure that was what I wanted to do. I didn’t tell people which graduate school I was going to until I had signed the paperwork and formally accepted my offer of admission, even though I’d known for close to a month beforehand that this was the school I wanted to attend. I don’t share things until they’ve already happened, because I’m too scared of the thought that I might not follow through and finish them if I blab prematurely.
Almost seven years ago now, I wrote a novel for NaNoWriMo and self-published it on Amazon. Being young and simple-minded, I had grand delusions about it being the greatest piece of literature ever written,* but on another level I was just thrilled with myself for having started a project and followed it to completion. The whole process, including editing, took me about nine months, and even though I knew my book would only sell to friends and family members, I was incredibly proud of having dedicated that much of myself to a single endeavor. I wasn’t expecting people to rave about it, nor to get any money from it (I set the list price so low that I only got 87 cents in profit for every copy sold), but it felt good to have started and finished a novel-length project. That’s the reason that, to this day, that book is still available on Amazon, even though I think it’s an awful piece of trash and no one should ever read it. It’s a nice reminder to myself that I did something.
I love writing. I have always loved writing. The first time I tried to write a book was in kindergarten, when I hand-wrote a fairytale called The Magical Edventurs of Bill. As I recall, Bill went to the supermarket to buy some eggs, but then the eggs turned into ginormous black diamonds and he was rich. Great literature, I know. I was a real Tolstoy.
In first grade, I went through a Nancy Drew and Hardy Boys phase, and decided to write my own series of mystery novels. I got about four pages in. In fourth grade, we had a school project where we wrote and hand-bound picture books, and I was the only one in my class who actually completed that project (the teacher had bitten off more than she could chew). In sixth grade, I wrote a treatise on vampires and submitted it to Scholastic for publication. I’m still waiting to hear back from them on that one.
So there have been various stops and starts over the course of my life with creative writing. There have been successes, as well. I’ve published two pieces of fiction in semi-professional magazines. (“Semi-professional” is code for publications that pay less than ten cents per word, so the amount of financial compensation I received for both pieces was negligible, but I still did technically get paid for things that I wrote.) I have a couple of pieces of nonfiction circulating. When I was in high school, I won a big-time scholarship for literature, which allowed me to complete my undergraduate education at a fancy Ivy League school completely debt-free.
But there have also been less successful moments, and those hurt like hell. Not rejections; I can handle submitting my work to journal after journal after journal and having it rejected every time. The times that hurt me are the times that I start something, am really excited about it, and never finish it. I have the beginnings of two short stories floating around somewhere in the Cloud, stories that I know had the potential to be some of my best pieces of writing ever. And I never so much as finished the first drafts of either of them.
From 2013 to 2016, I worked on a second book-length project, a ghost story. I worked on it nights and weekends, sometimes dropping the project for months at a time before returning to it with a manic fury. I finished the first draft, which is the most intimidating part of writing if not the hardest. I finished the second draft. But on the third draft, I hit a wall. There was a minor character early on in the book who served no purpose; his only role was to be stupid so that other characters would have to explain things to him in a convenient expositional puppet-show for the reader. So I removed him from the story, because that was lazy writing and I felt like I could do better, but doing so caused a chain reaction where everything in the story had to change. Things that characters did no longer made sense. Other parts of the story read as forced and grossly allegorical. And I ended up scrapping the whole project.
Well, not exactly. I never decided to give up on it. I didn’t delete all of my work, and there’s nothing to say that I couldn’t come back to it at some point. But I set it down and never managed to pick it back up again, and I know myself well enough to suspect that this project will never be finished. And that breaks my heart, because it could have been really good. No rival to Anna Karenina or The Magical Edventurs of Bill, to be sure, but it still had the potential to be something that I would have been proud to put my name on. I’m saddened by the thought that I probably won’t ever share the completed work–that this will be another mark in the category of projects that I started and never finished.
The way I spend my days, generally speaking, fulfills me and makes me happy. I don’t often feel like something is missing from my life, and a large part of why I fall out of the habit of writing is that I’m busy doing other things that I enjoy and value. It’s not just that I don’t have the time for writing; it’s that I don’t have a lot of time because I have a life full of other amazing things that I love to do. I’m fulfilled elsewhere, so I often forget about my deep-seated need to apply ass to chair and fingers to keyboard.
During the summer, however, things slow down. This summer, especially, I’m working a job that I don’t much care about as I while away the time before my Ph.D work starts in the fall. It’s not a bad job, to be sure, but it’s not an inspiring job, either. It’s just a job, and it takes a lot out of me. By the time I get home at the end of the day, I’m tired and cranky.**
A side effect of the whole “having a meh job” gambit is that I’m starting to crave writing again. I’m starting to miss the feeling of writing. I don’t have a ton of free time these days, but I’m suspecting that I need to carve out some time at the end of every day to write. Otherwise, I might well go insane.
But as I think about this prospect, that age-old fear settles in my stomach. What if I start something and don’t finish it? I have so many stories rattling around in my skull. I could try to pick up with one of my unfinisheds, but my heart would break all the more if I abandoned it again. I could start on a new project, but most of the new ideas I have are novel-length, and I know I don’t have the stamina for that right now.***
So what’s the point?
This is the point where I finally connect this post back to Tarot. Because goddamnit, this is a Tarot blog, and I will make this post about Tarot no matter how tenuous the connection.
I’ve been spending a lot of time of late thinking about the Page of Wands. In my first Tarot journal, the keyword I had written down for the Page was “impulsiveness”, but I think she represents more than that. She, like all of the Pages, is about the value beginnings.
The Page of Wands is utterly fearless. She’s the sort of person who will try anything once, who will start a project just because it seems like fun and without stopping to worry about whether or not she’ll finish it. That may look like impulsiveness from the outside, but on a deeper level, I think she just has too much joy to bother with reservations. She starts writing a novel (or, well, let’s be less ambitious and say a short story) not because she wants to have a completed story, but because she finds joy in the act of beginning it. For her, the process of writing, of creating, is a good in itself, independent of whether or not it results in a finished product.
In other words, the Page of Wands writes simply because she wants to write. She doesn’t get hung up on questions of completion. That’s a job for the King.
There’s something profound about the Page’s ability to begin a new thing and not care whether she finishes it. It would be wrong to call her irresponsible; rather, she’s carefree. She doesn’t deny that completing her projects would probably be a good thing, but that’s not the reason she does them. (The same way that, if you talk to someone who really loves her job, she’ll tell you that the money is nice but that’s not the reason she does what she does.)
This summer, I am going to take inspiration from the Page of Swords, and I am going to start writing. I avow from the beginning that I will probably not finish any of the things I write this summer, but (since I’m not a professional writer) that’s okay. That’s not why I’m doing it. I am just going to start writing for the love of writing. I charge into battle for the glory of the fight, and to hell with any thought about it already being won.
*It wasn’t. It is objectively terrible. For the love of God, do not ever read this book.
**That said, there are plenty of people who do worse work for less money, so my complaints are not entirely well-founded.
***In particular, I have a beautiful idea for a fantasy novel (although let’s be real, there’s never just one fantasy novel; it’s always a trilogy or a tetralogy or whatever monstrosity A Song of Ice and Fire is set to be) based on Tarot and the Tree of Life. The Seven of Swords is assassinated? The lost city of Daath rises, kickstarting a prophecy about the fall of the Fourteen Councils? Sign me up. But I also have a couple of other ideas that I’ve been kicking around for a couple of years.