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...]

Dave Barry on How to Cope With Post-Pulitzer Prize Situational Perfectionism

Situational perfectionism is when something causes your perfectionism to spike. It can be a failure, of course, but it can also be a success. Here's J.K. Rowling, quoted in Salon: “For the first time ever in my life, I got writer’s block. The stakes seemed to have gone up a lot, and I attracted a lot of publicity in Britain for which I was utterly unprepared.” Turns out humorist Dave Barry got into a similar fix after winning the Pulitzer Prize: “I had this feeling like, You know, jeez, does this mean that I'm still allowed to write stupid columns? Because my column won in the distinguished commentary category. No one had ever called my writing “distinguished.” So I wrestled with my first columns after winning.” (From And Here's the Kicker: Conversations with 21 Top Humor Writers on Their Craft, by Mike Sacks.) (Also an example of how labels and arbitrary categorizations can screw you up. Save them for your marketing--and even then, don't take them too seriously. Just take your writing at face … [Read more...]