“Take no shortcuts along the road to success.” Fortune cookie message
Oscar Hammerstein tells this story:
He once saw a picture of the Statue of Liberty taken from a helicopter. It showed the top of the statue’s head. He was amazed at the care the sculptor had taken with the statue’s hair on the back of its head, despite the fact that he probably believed only sea gulls flying past the statue would see it.
The sculptor, observes Hammerstein, probably never dreamed that one day a man would fly over the statue’s head and take a picture of it. And yet, he finished off this part of the statue with as much care as he did her face and her torch – everything people sailing up the Hudson on a boat would see. Why? because as an artist, he needed to finish his work as perfectly as he could — so he did more than expected.
I love this story because it reminds me to pay attention to every aspect of a creative project I’m working on and to finish it off with the same level of care and completion that I bring to every other section.
It can be tempting to skate over a thorny section of a story that’s been giving us a hard time. I know I’ve done it. In the moment, we sometimes just don’t feel we have the mental energy to push ourselves to make our words really sing and dance. Sometimes, when this happens, I tell myself, “I’ll come back to it and fix it later.” And sometimes, that’s the best strategy: to just come up with a “place-holder” paragraph or page and then polish it up.
On the other hand, I’ve found that it can also be a fruitful and a great form of discipline to stop and really focus on the problem on the page and solve it to the best of my ability right in the moment. When I push myself this way, the results can be surprising. Instead of taking a shortcut, I take the long way home and the universe rewards me with a better word, a better phrase, sometimes even a better approach.
When we “finish” our work – when we give whatever it is we’re writing the very best that we have to offer at the moment, when we turn away from the shortcut or the slapdash solution for small, everyday writing challenges we face, there’s a powerful reward waiting for us: We’re training ourselves to pay time and attention to the bigger, more important aspects of a project. That’s a gift we can give ourselves.
How about you? Do you find that “finishing” off something you’re working on is really satisfying and productive? If you have any approaches that work for you, I’d love to hear about them as we all write on!