A Right and Good Way to Think About One’s Writing

The magnificently named Augustus John Cuthbert Hare opened the preface of his 1887 guidebook Paris with the following statement:

A better book than this might easily have been published, but no one else has tried to write anything of the kind, and I have done my best.

I don’t know if I have ever read a better summary of how to think about one’s writing efforts than Hale’s three sentiments: the humility that comes from recognizing there will always be writers with more talent, the confidence that one has found a unique story to tell or a unique way to tell a story, and the calming truth of having given one’s best effort.

Echoing Hale’s third point, Richard Ford said something in a 2011 interview that has stuck with me:

I’ve muddled through a lot of things, but I have not muddled through my writing life. I work absolutely flat out, giving it my all. If the books aren’t good enough, it’s because I’m not good enough.

I don’t hear in either writer’s statement a resigned “well, I did my best” but rather a simple, confident declaration of “this is my best.” And as with all simply expressed ideas, it’s easy to look past the profound message offered within.

In addition to respecting the bond we hope to form with readers, this attitude might help squelch the self-doubt crazy-making that seems to be the writer’s special art form. Work to the very limit of our capabilities—and then be at peace with the results.

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