“When I face the desolate impossibility of writing five hundred pages, a sick sense of failure falls on me and I know I can never do it. This happens every time. Then gradually I write one page and then another.”
Wow, even the great John Steinbeck had his share of tough days on the page! Luckily, this didn’t stop him from penning classic novels like his Pulitzer Prize-winning The Grapes of Wrath or East of Eden, which weighed in at about 600 pages. All of which should give us all a shot of hope and encouragement, because if an accomplished writer struggled mightily, yet somehow managed to keep writing, then so can we.
How did our boy John defeat the “sense of failure” that overcame him when he contemplated a big, ambitious project? One page at a time. However crippling and humbling it seemed to be, he never let his sense of dread defeat him. He knew what we all know in our heart of hearts: Defeat isn’t inevitable — it’s a choice. We can give up or we can go on.
I know, believe me, it’s tough sometimes. You get stuck. You get frustrated. You lose your vision. Your goal seems too distant, unreachable. You feel like quitting. You feel alone and unappreciated. You feel like everything you’ve written so far is lousy, lame,
lackluster. I could go on cataloguing the litany of literary woe-is-me moments that strike us all, but I’ll stop. Not just because I don’t want to fuel the fiendish forces of failure, but because there’s a simple strategy for vanquishing them. Here it is:
Step 1: Don’t fight your feelings, stay with them. Let them wash over you. Step 2: Know that they are totally normal — a natural phase of any creative endeavor — and that countless other writers have experienced the same thing. Step 3: Wait for the feeling to pass — as all things do. Let it fade away until it’s no more than an echo and
Then do what John Steinbeck did: Write one page. Then write another. And another, until you’re warmed up, your mental motor is purring, and you are on the road again. And then, just keep going — just write on!