Accept Yourself

Writer's block is what you get if you're too full of yourself and trying to be García Márquez. You sit and stare at the wall and nothing happens for you. It's like imagining you're a tree and trying to sprout leaves. Once you come to your senses and accept who you are, then there's no problem. I'm not García Márquez. I'm a late-middle-aged midlist fair-to-middling writer with a comfortable midriff, and it gives me quite a bit of pleasure.

—Garrison Keillor

I remember sitting in a meeting with graduate faculty and students in which we were asking for mentoring advice about our theses and dissertations. (For creative writing students, these were novels and short story/essay collections.) I balked when two of my professors claimed that they would consider our graduate years successful if we came through with 50 pages of good writing. Fifty pages! For two years of work?! I needed to publish a book if I hoped to get a teaching job without getting a Ph.D.

Now I understand their wisdom. I had measured success based on what I thought mattered: getting a book published. If a writer my age published a book, I should have a book out, too. One day I realized that publishing a book would not grant me confidence, happiness, or wisdom. That is, publishing was not the key to my being. And I recognized that no other writer was taking anything away from me. Their success was theirs, not a measurement of mine. I did not get a Ph.D. and neither did I publish a book. But 1 wrote 50 good pages (in addition to several hundred mediocre pages). I recognized that my professors had been identifying the necessity of writing, not as a means of production, but as an act of creation.

Therein lies the joy. Whatever it takes for you to produce your good writing is your necessary practice. The writer William T. Vollman, who has published more than seven books, once visited a class I was taking. When asked what he wanted from writing he replied, "I want to write beautiful sentences." If your writing practice creates one good sentence in a day, in a week, in a month, your accomplishment is huge.

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