Harper Lee, “Second Novel Syndrome,” and Situational Perfectionism

Harper Lee, author of the immortal To Kill a Mockingbird, died last week at 89. She never published another book except for Go Set a Watchman, which was published in 2015 in what many consider to be dubious circumstances. Lee may have suffered from second-novel syndrome, a form of procrastination in which an author becomes self-conscious due to the public attention she receives for her first book, and is consequently inhibited from publishing her second. I don't know whether she wanted to keep publishing or not, but she did tell one interviewer: “I was hoping for a quick and merciful death [of Mockingbird] at the hands of reviewers, but at the same time I sort of hoped that maybe someone would like it enough to give me encouragement. Public encouragement....I hoped for a little, as I said, but I got rather a whole lot, and in some ways this was just about as frightening as the quick, merciful death I'd expected.” If she did suffer from second-novel syndrome, she wasn't alone. Ralph Ellison … [Read more...]

Ira Glass on Developing Your Creative Skill: Go for Quantity, Not Quality

The below 2 minute video of Ira Glass explaining how the secret to artistic quality is to do a lot of art is well worth your time. Bayles and Orland make the same point in their terrific book Art & Fear. They tell a (true, I believe) story of two pottery classes: One class was told to create one fabulous pot by the end of the semester. The other was told to create as many pots as possible. In the end, it was the students who created many pots who also tended to create the best ones. This is for at least three reasons: As Glass notes, it takes a lot of time and practice to develop a skill. The "quantity" students were being nonperfectionist - i.e., focusing on process, not product. (It is likely that some of the "quality" ones didn't finish even a single pot.) Quality is not something you can force, and when you try to force it you sabotage the creative process, which demands freedom and flexibility. Rather, quality is something you work towards and hope for. As Flaubert said, "Success … [Read more...]

Terre Roche: Happiness Comes From Focusing on the Song, Not the Success

  Terre Roche and her sisters were substantially more than a flash in the rock ‘n roll pan in the late 1970’s. Their debut album, The Roches, was number one on the New York Times list for the year 1979. But as she describes in this moving article, massive critical acclaim does not always translate into vast wealth. The band of sisters parted ways with their high-powered manager without ever delivering the commercial triumph he wanted. Now in her sixties, Terre has long since come to terms with that chapter of her life, and has grown in her art. Now the music is for the music, and she is excited about the quality of her new song, Maxwell. (You’ll find a link to the song in the article.) “Maxwell is complete. It’s not a hit song. It’s probably not going to make any money. I’d rather listen to it, as if it were a teacher. I have friends whose songs have made lots of money. I envy them. But personally, I’ve given up on the idea of writing a commercial song. And when I did that, I entered into a … [Read more...]