You Have Not Yet Written Your Best Work

Laura told me this morning that I should write something about dealing with writer’s block … but I just can’t.

Why not? I once heard it said that a writer’s job consists of sitting down at a keyboard or with a paper and pen in hand and then simply staring at the blank page until their forehead bleeds. There is something to that and certainly any of us who are engaged in the craft of writing understand that statement on an intimate level. However, as someone who attempts each day to put bread on the table and keep a roof over his beautiful wife’s head by putting words on the page, writer’s block is not something that I can afford. Especially in the strange, changing and volatile world today, writer’s cannot just ‘stare at the blank page’ for any length of time. We simply cannot afford it.

“The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.”
(William Goldman)

Laura had many suggestions this morning about how one might deal with writer’s block and as we explore them together. Laura and I love to explore ideas in our ongoing conversation now having lasted 34 years and showing every indication of continuing forever. I’m certain that we’ll be sharing those ideas with you here in the future but I wanted to share with you one of our central ideas for our Scribe’s Forge Online Writing Seminars. It is one of the hardest truths that a new writer must face but something you need to tell yourself every time you sit down to that formidable blank page.

“You have not yet written your best work.”

One of the contributing factors to writer’s block as we know it is the inner editor — that voice inside your head that tells you that what you are ABOUT to write or say is not ‘worthy enough’ to be written or said. We are, as Elisabeth Bennet said to Mr. Darcy, “unwilling to speak,” (or write) “unless we expect to say something that will amaze the whole room, and be handed down to posterity with all the ├ęclat of a proverb.”

“You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.”
(Octavia Butler)

Now, after thirty years plus of writing professionally, I can confess to you that I look back on some of my earlier works and can see the imperfections — warts and all. It may also surprise you that I can see this in books that you may love and cherish. ‘Dragons of Autumn Twilight’ is considered by many to be a classic but I also recognize that there are some basic problems with the book. Because no one understood how to write a book relative to a game setting, we started out with a group of characters so large that they looked like a parade — or a tour group — whenever they went anywhere. This error we corrected in the second book, splitting our enormous cast into two separate plot lines. I can see NOW that the large group was a writing mistake … but you cannot unwrite what has been written and certainly cannot unprint what had been published.

Nor, truthful, should you if you could. People love that first Dragonlance novel, as do I. As a writer I NEED those imperfect, struggling first steps as a measure of how far I have come, what I have learned, and how I have grown as a writer.

“If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.”
(Margaret Atwood)

When Margaret Weis and I were considering doing the ‘Dragonlance Lost Chronicles’ series … picking up and filling in those parts of the original story that had been skipped over in the writing of the original Dragonlance Chronicles … we had a serious discussion about our earlier works. Margaret’s question for me was do we write the new books with the craft we now know or do we try to match the style and craft of the way we first wrote together?

My answer then was what I would emphatically answer now: write with the craft we have learned. Never go back, because the day you top growing and improving as a writer is the day you should look for a different profession.

We all crawl before we can walk. We all walk before we can run. Great writers do not spring mystically into being fully-realized from some magical force. Great writers all start with fumbling steps, awkward phrasing and occasionally stilted dialogue. Great writers struggle to find their voice at first. But, most of all, great writers …WRITE. They accept that only by putting words on the page and learning from those faltering, stumbling steps into the silence of that blank page that they will ever find their voice to speak and sing.

“Don’t get it right, just get it written.”
(James Thurber)

As writers … perhaps more than anyone else … we have a measurable trail of how we have grown. We can see it in print. From my perspective as a writer, I can look back on a thirty-year-long trail of words and see how far I have come from my first attempts at writing in the fifth grade to the novels I’m forging today. Wherever you are on your path as a writer, whether you’re well down the road or just taking your first steps, you need to remind yourself that what you are about to write will NOT be perfect … but it will be better than what you have written before.

You have not yet written your best work … and your best work will never be achieved unless you write NOW!

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