Image of gift with floral arrangement

Passing Along the Gift

Despite five years of plugging away on a new book, I still feel tongue-tied whenever anyone asks me about it.  Here’s my usual elevator speech:  “The Release helps writers navigate the period after they finish a project with integrity, creativity, and grace.”  Adequate, except the book likely will not be called The Release and most people, writers included, stare at me blankly.  How about this?  “The Release applies gift economy principles to the decisions writers face after finishing.”  Nope; it sounds like I want writers to give their work away.  Here’s a bit from the intro:  “The Release helps writers form habits of mind, heart, and body to support their project’s final flourishing and keep them creatively engaged.”  Any better? 

The trouble is, most writers—most artists—presume “done” means done.  The cliff’s edge.  No more creating.  Instead we roll up our sleeves and find an agent or publisher or editor or we share it with our grandkids or post it on a blog or tuck it under our beds.  Sure, writers need help here, but Ten Easy Steps to Publishing Success! isn’t exactly my bailiwick.  No, I’m more interested in the tiny spark that first flared in the writer’s heart when she began, that with time, skill, and love grew into the roaring fire of her own creation.  I’ve seen too many fires extinguished.  How can writers keep the flame of their projects burning even after they’re finished?  Despite the morass of rejection, straining effort, dashed hopes, conflicting motivations, unconscious ego-needs and a ruthless marketplace?  Despite a culture that equates publishing with success and not publishing with failure? 

Where most people assume there’s a black hole of creativity, I’m convinced otherwise.  This project began years ago after I read Lewis Hyde’s The Gift, which brilliantly reframes the arrival, tending, and flourishing of inspiration in the creative process as operating in a gift economy, much like that of Indigenous cultures.  “Not I, not I, but the wind that blows through me,” sang D.H. Lawrence.  Hyde taught me to honor a dimension of writing not of my own making.  Mystery, the Muse, inspiration, however we name it, all writers know it; served well, writer and writing can both flourish. 

I kept waiting for Hyde to address that period post-completion, when a writer’s lovely interior gift economy crashes into the market economy, often with casualties.  Only in the afterward to the 25th edition did he mention the challenge—inadequately.  So I took up the baton.  This precious gift we’re given when we write (this idea, insight, turn of phrase; these characters, this form, this wisdom, partly of our own making and partly not):  How can we stay faithful to it?  What are the habits of mind, the orientations of heart, and the applications of agency that help the gift thrive after the writing is done?

That’s what my next book is about.  I sure hope I can find better ways to describe it.  I’m eager to share its gift.

–Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew