“I remember a very important lesson that my father gave me when I was twelve or thirteen. He said, ‘You know, today I welded a perfect seam and I signed my name to it.” And I said, ‘But Daddy, no one’s going to see it!’ And he said, ‘Yeah, but I know it’s there.’ So when I was working in the kitchens, I did good work.” Toni Morrison
Surely, Toni has brought this same sense of pride and good craftsmanship to her writing. What a gift her father gave her in displaying his pride in a job well done and what a gift she gave us in passing on this story! There’s so much here to savor: pride in a job well done, the satisfactions of invisible excellence, the commitment to craft, to doing good work, whether it’s slicing an onion in a kitchen or creating a fictional world at a desk. Let’s look at the gifts this story offers us:
Pride in a job well done: To take pleasure and satisfaction in an achievement is to honor in ourselves the best that we have to offer the world. To me, this is not the kind of boastful, public pride that smacks of superiority, but the kind that quietly and confidently displays the knowledge that we know what we are capable of wonderful work and that sometimes, we hit the mark. Taking pride in our work is a way of finding fulfillment in it, however hard it may be.
Satisfaction in invisible excellence: If we’ve done our job well, then just as no one will ever see the seam that Toni’s father welded, so our readers will never see the “seams” in our stories. The time and effort we’ve put in to make them sing and dance on the page will be invisible. No one will know how we sweated over the paragraph on page 25 or how long it took us to come up with a believable plot, or to come up with a full-souled main character. All of this hard work — the work of conceiving, crafting, cutting, and cajoling our characters into life — will be invisible. But, like Toni’s father, we’ll know it’s there. We’ll know how much time it took, how we struggled on even though we felt discouraged, how we almost gave up but didn’t, how we kept pushing ourselves and reaching for the better idea, the better word, the better story.
Commitment to craft: When we write with passion and commitment to our craft, we lift ourselves out of ourselves. We strive to do work that honors the long tradition of scribes and scriveners who came before us. We work without fuss or frustration. We work steadily and satisfyingly to improve our writing — to make it better, deeper, truer. We see writing as a craft: not one we can ever truly master, but one we can give our full effort and devotion to.
Invisible excellence — now that’s writing dangerously! Bravo, Toni! Emboldened by her words and her story, let’s all write on!