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Channel your anxiety and fear to write your best book

“Art is never finished, only abandoned.” — Leonardo DaVinci

In a recent lesson, novelist and TV Writer/Producer Lowell Cauffiel mentions that many would-be novelists get to the two-thirds point in their novels and quit.

Author Dorothy Parker has been quoted as saying that she hates writing but loves having written.

Writing is hard–physically, mentally, and emotionally. We struggle to find just the right words and structure. We question our work and question our abilities. We question everything.

Cauffiel says this is good. He tells how author John Steinbeck kept a journal during the time he wrote his great American novel, “The Grapes of Wrath.”

Steinbeck constantly questioned himself and his abilities. Below are a few of his thoughts from his journal, Working Days: The Journals of The Grapes of Wrath:

  • No one else knows my lack of ability the way I do.
  • When it’s done, it slides into mediocrity.
  • My work is no good. I think I am desperately upset about it. I am slipping….I’m not a writer myself yet.
  • I’m not too hot for work today…my mind doesn’t want to work, hates to work in fact. But I’ll make it…I am sure of one thing. It isn’t the great book I’d hoped it’d be. It’s just a run of the mill book. And the awful thing is that it’s absolutely the best I can do. (This he wrote as he was finishing his great American novel).

Cauffiel says that if Steinbeck can, “beat the shit out of himself,” then we should be able to do so, too. He says it is this state of anxiety and fear that produces excellence. Writers who think that everything they write and say is fantastic are usually hack writers because they are not using their fear to push themselves to be better writers.

As I’ve written before in, “How Your Book is Your Teacher,” the trick is to not let your fear stop you but to use it to reach your goals — just like Mr. Steinbeck did.

If Steinbeck could finish his book after having so much self-doubt, so can you.

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