On Working Toward Mastery

I’m working on a new manuscript. The working title is WORDS OF CHRIST IN RED. I found that phrase on the spine of my childhood Bible, handed to me by my mother when I visited last year.

Ideas come from everywhere, and that phrase seized me. I wrote it down, and send the note to a friend, another person who would know the phrase. Our conversation sparked further ideas, and a brief note soon became an exciting idea for a story.

That was last year, and now I write it. The idea continues to grow as I write it. It’s unlike anything I’ve written professionally. It’s outside my comfort zone, and it’s challenging me, making me slow down, and consider my words, consider context, consider perspective.

A lot of times, when I start to slow down on a project, I get frustrated. I want to write a thing, moving through it like a bullet through flesh, exploding out the back, and moving onto the next thing. But not this project.

I am not frustrated. Every day challenges me, but I have found pleasure in the challenge. I am teetering on the edge of my ability, and with this project, I must build new bridges every day, to step out further from solid ground.

I have yet to fall.

Partially, I think the lack of frustration is because I have successfully solved every challenge faced me with the project. I have found the voices of the characters, I have found the tone, the darkness I’m willing to plumb. And I think to myself: Is this what it feels to be good at something? To approach mastery?

I rankle at the idea that an author should be modest. Maybe it’s my experience selling books at conventions and the like, but I don’t think any of my books are bad. I think they’re good, they’re great, and I think you should read them all.

But this–this might be the best thing I’ve ever written, if I can get what’s on the page to match what’s in my mind. It’s challenging, it’s transgressive, and it’s unrelentingly brutal. Not necessarily in violence, although there is a fair share of it. More thematically brutal. Perhaps the grimmest thing I’ve ever written.

It also might get me death threats.

All of this is just to ask: do artists know when they’re on the verge of a masterpiece? On the piece that might define them? Because everything I’ve written excites me to a certain point, but I’ve never felt this way before.

I work on it, and it grows, and morphs, as I uncover more of it, something I also typically don’t do on my projects. Every part of me is telling me this is special.

Perhaps that is also why I write this. I feel that burden.

I must make it special.