‘In the field of writing, shame has no place’

The conference wanted Molly Cochran to talk about finishing a novel. We’d expected her to list the things that get in the way of completion and provide a few tools to get the job done. Instead she started her talk at the Write Stuff with a bit of life-coaching: “In the field of writing, shame has no place.”

Then the author of Grandmaster (which won an Edgar Award) and other novels dug into the details: schedule a time to write every day, create an outline, write fast and be willing to write badly. A lot of us ignore this kind of advice because it’s overly familiar. What caught my attention was her opening line, that nod to years of turmoil, the kind that plagues writers of all ages and abilities.

MollyCochran“We all struggle at one thing or another,” she writes on her website. “I procrastinate, I get sidetracked, I write things that are meaningless, I wallow in indecision and despair. I really am convinced that most writers lie. They don’t like to say how hard it is to write a novel. They like for people, especially fans, to believe that it just blows out of them like a song on a spring day. And so when new writers attempt a book, they freak out when things get difficult and conclude that they personally must be deficient in some way, and then give up.”

And that, Cochran says, would be a shame.

“The truth is, ALL of us feel like that at some point in a book, and sometimes during the entire book. But we don’t tell other people that because we think we’re the only ones who are personally deficient.”

Her philosophy for dealing with feelings of defeat comes from The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron, who says that “Anything worth doing is worth doing badly.” “I wish every insecure writer in the world would recite those words at the beginning of every work session,” Cochran says. “What holds us back is the desire to be brilliant. But brilliance doesn’t occur on the first draft. Crud occurs. If you can write it badly, you can fix it. If you insist on only writing wonderfully, it’ll never get done.”

That’s a message whose time has come.