Postmarked: Dear Jen (30)

Dear Jen

Just when I thought the mornings were getting lighter, the time changed, and now all of us here in the Smucker household are meandering around through dark breakfasts again. But despite the darkness, I can tell the seasons are changing. The buds are forming on the trees, the grass is recapturing a kind of hopeful, almost-green hue, and the sunlight lingers in the early evening. My quarterly reminder is here: things will always change, good and bad will come and go, and even the darkest seasons eventually give way to light, even if its soft and can barely be seen above the city skyline.

I’m glad to hear you are on track to finish your next book as planned, although I do have to admit, I felt both a small cringe as well as a sense of awe when you described the process you’ve been through: “I studied 41 chapters in the Bible, read 3,055 pages of commentary, wrote 190 handwritten pages of notes, composed 27000 words in outline, drafted 64,000 for the manuscript.” The cringe comes from my resistance to research. The awe comes from how thorough you are, how dedicated to your craft and the message of your book. Well done, and keep going.

For some reason, thinking of you doing this work reminded me again of the phrase I was handed over a year ago: “Tend to your own garden.” When I envision all of that work you’ve done—the research, the reading, the study, the writing—it brings to mind the image of someone casting seed out over a patch of tilled earth, working diligently in that space, caring for each square foot of the soil. Never mind the expansive farms that border this garden, the ones that stretch on for miles with their complex machinery and ever-droning harvesters. Never mind the ones that seem to be growing more exotic things than the gardens we have been given to look after.

Tend to my own garden. Again and again I come back to this.

Isn’t tending our own gardens the very thing that leads to stories like the one you told in your last letter, where someone gave you a card to let you know how your writing has mattered to her? When we tend our own gardens, when we stop jealously eyeing the fields of others, it gives us the freedom to do the work we have been called to do. And what good work it can be. What good work it is.

And when we tend our own garden, as you mentioned, this “making” does its good work in us. Maybe that is what lies at the end of this writing journey we’re on—not necessarily best-sellers (though it would be nice), or critical acclaim, or awards, but a thorough and complete remaking of ourselves. Can anything till up the inner self like writing? Can anything better use the compost of life than these small literary gardens we’re looking after?

This novel is still a heavy slog, but as one writer said, “Hard writing makes easy reading.” How I hope that will be the case with this one.

Warm Regards


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What began as a Twitter conversation between two writers on creative work and family life has become an exchange of letters. Here is where Postmarked began:

Postmarked: Dear Shawn (1)

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In the most recent episode of The Stories Between Us, I make a confession, Maile talks about depression and creativity, and we dig into the weighty topic of revision. You can listen HERE.