The Writer Inside

Heather Paye’s interview with Francis Hamit, author of The Shenandoah Spy, rewards careful reading by writers who like to keep their muse lively. Here’s a sample:

Heather: Have you ever had writer’s block, and if so how do you get rid of it?

Francis: Nope. Writers block is simply fear of failure. You fear that what you are writing will not be accepted or will piss someone off that you care about (friends and relatives of writers tend to get delusions of reference and are not reassured when you tell them that not everything you do is about them.) Or you fear bad reviews or that it won’t be as good as the last thing you published.

I have two things going for me against those fears. Writing is something I do really well, and I am very careful about craft. I employ my own editor for the mechanical stuff like punctuation and grammar. When it comes to story I recruit readers to go over early drafts and give me feedback about where a story works and where it fails. You have to consult multiple sources because not everyone has a feel for what makes a good story and a lot of people get hung up on the mechanicals. I also try to write something everyday, even if it’s just a blog entry, to keep my skills fresh, and reading every word aloud of the final draft is another way to catch awkward phrases and repetitions. On some parts of my last book we went through 15 drafts. I think of this process as “product development” because we are in a marketplace and selling the work to strangers is the ultimate goal. I also use that Japanese management word “Kaisan” as a mantra. It means “Continuous Improvement.”

Opposed to that it the motto of old Soviet space program “The Perfect is the enemy of the Good.” There comes a time when you have to let something go and prove itself in the market, not just as a product but as an intellectual construct. When you do articles for other editors then you have deadlines to meet, so you learn to accept imperfections and how little other people notice or care as long as you spell the names right. With a long work like a book or a play, your deadlines are self-imposed and therefore flexible. You take the time to get it right, if not perfect, accept that you’ve done your best and move on.

1 thought on “The Writer Inside

  1. I did not know that “The Perfect is the enemy of the Good” was the motto of the old Soviet space program, but since the old Soviet space program was infamous for its dramatic and fatal failures during space missions at a time when NASA was still generally managing to avoid that, it doesn’t sound like a very good source for a motto.

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