What is great in man is that he is a bridge and not a goal. —Friedrich Nietzsche
When I was forty, I went back to school for a master’s degree in creative writing. I was already well-published and had a background as an editor for major houses, and many of the younger writers in the program seemed baffled by my presence. Several of them asked why I needed an MFA. “Writing is an art that you never truly master,” I told them. “We are all always learning. You’ll see.”
I have spent a lot of time struggling with the challenge of never quite mastering the art, and I know many writers are the same. When we read a beautiful book, or watch a moving play or movie, or hear a talk by a brilliant writer, there is a piece of us that feels despair. This is the part that sees the canyon between our artist selves and the people we dream of being. We see the canyon between our own work and that of others. We see the canyon between where we are and where we want to be.
When you are standing at the edge, it’s hard not to look at the vast space between here and there.
When you are standing at the edge, it’s hard not to look at the vast space between here and there. That canyon can be frightening and paralyzing. But that distance—and the depth of the fall that awaits—is not where we need to place our focus. Instead, we need to place our attention on the bridge we are building to the other side. Each word we write, each idea we investigate, each writer and piece of literature that teaches us is a piece of the path that will bring us closer. The fact remains that we will never reach the other side because no matter how close we get, it will always be out of reach. So don’t focus on the goal. Focus on the bridge. The point of the goal on the other side is to know where and how to build the bridge because the bridge is what is important. The bridge is ourselves.