March 11, 2020 Brian Allain

It’s a miracle anyone writes anything

Our production manager Jock (yes, that was his name) worked with printers to produce our books, since, like most publishers, we didn’t have printing presses. He knew the processes intimately and was fond of telling me, “With all the things that can go wrong in printing a book, it’s amazing the ink ever hits the page.”

What’s true for printers is true in spades for writers. With so many reasons for writer’s block, it’s a miracle anyone writes anything.

Fear and perfectionism, two of the most common obstacles, are an accomplished dance pair. They reinforce one another in seamless motion. Our desire to get things just right does a do-si-do with our fear of what others will think about what we’ve written. Then our fear spins our perfectionism even faster. Dread that readers will discover what we already know—that we are ignorant and that our writing is bland, boring, and bad—keeps us refining, reediting, revising without end, until exhaustion sucks all the ink out of our pens.

Failure to get published, failure to meet one’s own standards, failure to finish, or failure to get many readers once published can, unsurprisingly, be debilitating. So can the failure we feel when criticism comes in response to what we have produced.

Success, ironically, can be failure’s evil twin. One writer I know unexpectedly received critical acclaim and a prestigious book award for his first novel. But he became paralyzed as he wondered how he could possibly meet the expectations this created for a second book. Despite a generous contract in hand for his next work along with active support and encouragement from his editor and agent, he had a terrible time getting unstuck.

Some well-known authors have suffered from such maladies. Harper Lee never wrote another book after her hugely successful To Kill a Mockingbird. Even her sequel, Go Set a Watchman, was written beforehand but sat unpublished for decades. Ralph Ellison was never able to follow up his landmark book Invisible Man, despite writing thousands of pages of notes that he could never turn into a book.

 

Taken from Write Better by Andrew T. LePeau. Copyright (c) 2019 by Andrew T. LePeau. Published by InterVarsity Press, Downers Grove, IL. https://www.ivpress.com/write-better