Writer’s Desk: Accept Imperfection

Despite what many might think, even the most talented writers harbor doubts about their talent. In fact, it is highly possible that self-doubt is crucial for many to succeed at their craft. A writer who just loves to death every line they slap down? That cannot be a good sign.

Still, it is surprising the extent to which some writers can only see the mistakes in their work. Ethan Canin (Emperor of the Air), who is about as precise a stylist as one can find in the modern American canon, seemed to say just that in this 2016 interview following the publication of A Doubter’s Almanac, which took him several years to complete:

Even when you succeed, you fail. Even when others think you succeed, you fail. I mean, how can anyone write a novel? Every novel is a failure.

While Canin is overstating the case (one can think of a number of at least nearly-perfect novels out there), what he says is potentially helpful for any number of writers who right now are frozen in their process because they just cannot let go of a flawed work.

No book or story or poem will be perfect. Let them go.

Writer’s Desk: It’s Not Hard

Writing isn’t easy. All that time alone, the self-doubt, the back aches, the certainty that you could have nailed that one paragraph if you had just five more hours.

But on the other hand, it’s not that hard. You look at the page, put your hands on the keys, and start making stuff up. Eventually you stop.

Ethan Canin, whose cool and chiseled story collections like The Palace Thief don’t exactly feel off the cuff, cuts to the thick of it in this interview from The Atlantic where he’s talking about Saul Bellow:

In a way, plot is very simple: You have someone do something wrong. You don’t plan out a plot. You have somebody do something wrong, and that engenders other bad behavior. Behavior—especially bad behavior—is what forces character to emerge.

So: Think of a place. Put a character. Make them do something stupid. Watch them try to get out of it. There’s your story.