When a Success Leaves You *Less* Able to Do Your Work

I use the term "situational perfectionism" to describe circumstances that cause your perfectionism to spike. A failure (or perceived failure) can do that, but so, paradoxically, can a success, especially if it causes you to feel more visible or scrutinized. J.K. Rowling experienced this after the exceptional success of the first Harry Potter book, but fortunately was able to move past it. Other writers aren't so lucky. From this week's obituary of writer Bette Howland: "In 1984 Ms. Howland received a MacArthur Foundation award — the so-called genius grant. But her literary output dried up. Jacob Howland sees the two things as related."“I think the award may have sapped her confidence,” he told the website Literary Hub in 2015. “If people don’t expect great things from you, it’s easier to please them. But people expect great things from a writer who has won the MacArthur.”" It's always best to approach projects with a "clean mental slate," as free as possible from past history and future … [Read more...]

What To Do If You Are Stuck in the Middle of a Project

Middles are tough. It's no accident that Dante began The Inferno, his allegorical journey through Hell, thusly: Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself within a forest dark, For the straightforward pathway had been lost. Or that Christian, the pilgrim in John Bunyan's allegory The Pilgrim's Progress, encounters the bog called the “Slough of Despond” midway along his journey. At Grub Street Writers, where I teach, many writers refer to the “Murky Middles” of writing projects. Dark forests, bogs, murk: you might get the idea that a lot of people find middles not just difficult, but confusing and downright scary. Here's the problem with middles: The piece (or project) is no longer fresh and new and shiny. Your early energy and enthusiasm are waning. At the same time, the piece is at maximum entropy: meaning, what you've done up till now is super chaotic and disorganized. You've also become more aware of the piece's problems. It's not living up to the pristine, Platonic vision that … [Read more...]