Writerly Reassurance From a Few Who Have Been There

crumpled paper next to spiral notepad
Photo by Steve Johnson on Unsplash

I’m going through a fallow period and needed a bit of inspiration. Not surprisingly, I found some on the Web.

One of the best pieces of writing advice I turned up has to do with being able to cast a critical eye on your own work. Many writers talk about how important it is; C.J. Cherryh, an American writer of speculative fiction (the Hugo-Award winning novels Downbelow Station and Cyteen), put it really well: “It is perfectly okay to write garbage — as long as you edit brilliantly.”

Hooray to that!

Henry David Thoreau of Walden fame said a similar thing succinctly and eloquently: “Not that the story need be long, but it will take a long while to make it short.” (Thoreau also advised people to read the “best books” first, because “you may not have a chance to read them all.”)

Another hooray goes to Erica (Fear of Flying) Jong for stating so accurately the sense of impending doom many writers feel when writing. She went for years, she said, not finishing anything: “Because, of course, when you finish something you can be judged.” Who wants that!

And for those struggling to express the genius within, Gustave Flaubert’s lament from long ago rings bells: “I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.” (One wonders whether he wrote this before or after he wrote Madame Bovary, his debut novel.) In any case, the remedy, of course, is to keep at it.

And then there are the wise words of the witty Douglas Adams, most famous for his Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. For those struggling with the deadlines imposed by writing assignments, console yourselves by turning the misery, or at least discomfort, inside out, the way Adams does: “I love deadlines,” he writes. “I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.”

Pithy quotes like these don’t make one’s own writing any easier, but at least they reassure by letting you know that writers trod the same ground over and over and over again. It is the territory.

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Suzanne Mantell

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