There comes a time when writing a lengthy work—and the time may come more than once—when a good writer will reach That Point. That Point where she suddenly questions the very fabric of what she is writing, even though she had the utmost conviction and trust in it before. She will wonder what her work is supposed to mean, what it is supposed to say, and how it is saying it. She will wonder if her work has value, and moreover, if any besides her will say it has value.
A poor writer will never ask this question. They will trundle ever onwards, wrapped in a blanket of self-importance, always believing that their work is valuable. But because they never question the ground on which they stand, they have no clue if they even stand upon any ground. So when the day of reckoning comes, and someone else reaches That Point and asks those questions, this poor writer is at a loss to defend themselves, falling back upon the mud-slinging of “Shut up you suck” and the smug egotism of “You just don’t understand how great it is”. Or perhaps they will simply abandon their post, leaving their work in an unfinished heap at the first sign of a fault, while they chase greener pastures and do the same again elsewhere. No foundation. No conviction. An arsenal of swords without shields.
When That Point occurs, a good writer may wish she were the poor one. She may wish she could blindly walk forwards without a care in the world, because That Point carries with it a debilitating despair of which the fool knows not. It is at That Point when she is confronted with her overwhelming insignificance and inadequacies, compared to the rest of the wide world. Her eyes see the centuries of authors and the hundreds of thousands of stories before her, and she asks herself how she can possibly survive in such a sea without drowning, and even if she survives, how can she possibly hope to swim anywhere meaningful with bodies pressing against her on every side? She is deluged with the harsh facts of life: She is not special, anything she can do they have done better, she is a girl in a woman’s world, she is too inexperienced to write convincingly or emotionally, her subject matter is trivial, foolish, and unimportant.
That Point is the place where even good writers will abandon their work. They will second guess themselves, and drown in that crushing sea of self-realization as they ask, “What is the point? Why does any of it matter?” And it is at That Point when she the writer can only be saved by faith. She must believe in the very spirit of writing itself, in the soul of her words; not the flawed version which her mortal mind eventually pens, but the perfect version which her heart sees above her. For all stories have within them, cloistered away, their sublime form, without blemish, and a writer’s skill is defined by how close the words she prints come to matching that sublime. She must believe that such a version exists, and she must believe that she should reach for it, even though she knows it is outside of her grasp. She must believe that the hidden perfection is something that should be found, and brought out for the world to see and benefit from. What more, she must believe in writing; she must enjoy doing it, enjoy creating something from nothing. She must enjoy writing whether it be good or bad, a success or a failure, but still she must believe in it enough to want to succeed, to want to be good, and become better. With a firm faith, and a firm foundation, any storm may be weathered, and she that survives will find new strength from her experiences.
“These are the times that try men’s souls. The summer soldier and the sunshine patriot will, in this crisis, shrink from the service of their country; but he that stands by it now, deserves the love and thanks of man and woman.”
-Thomas Paine, December 23, 1776