Every, Every Time

I can’t write a book. I can’t even write a good English sentence.

These are the messages I give myself every time I sit down to write a story – every time, through 24 books, dozens of stories, countless essays. The first thing I think is, I can’t do this task, it’s beyond me. I say, I should give up, change my looks and get another kind of job. Maybe I could teach cooking. You want a pasta sauce that will make you immortal? I can teach you how to make that. When it comes to red sauce, I know I’m the one to beat.

But writing?

I’m not sure of that.

I have a hard time saying, “I’m an author.”

Do I do this to trick myself into deploying the daring and courage it takes to actually write a story? Yes maybe?

Do I also actually think it? Yes, maybe?

I don’t know too many well-published writers who feels this way. Perhaps I just don’t know many well-published writers who will admit to feeling this way. It tires me – which is to say, not the writing, but the way I feel about it, the tremulousness.

I love the ones who admit to it.

The raconteur Fran Lebowitz is of the opinion that writing was to be avoided at all costs. Said she, “I hate writing. I will do anything to avoid it. The only way I could write less was if I was dead.” She also pointed out that not writing made her feel so guilty that it was almost easier to write. Lebowitz (whom you can watch describing her love and hate for New York City in a special directed by Martin Scorsese) says she thinks this stems from a basic laziness.

I know that is not it for me. I’m not lazy. I’m afraid. Of what?

Of doing it badly? It’s more than that. I’m afraid of doing it wrong. To again paraphrase Lebowitz, anyone who loves writing will produce writing you don’t want to bother to read because it will be awful.

Writing is daunting.

While I know people who approach it with enormous confidence, I guess I have a feel better (or safer?) approaching it with humility, sneaking up on it. As the famed poet Theodore Roethke wrote:

Snail, snail, glister me forward, Bird, soft-sigh me home, Worm, be with me. This is my hard time.

Maybe those words were about writing poems. Maybe he felt the same way.


  1. Jude on July 9, 2024 at 1:06 pm

    It is comforting to know you feel this way too. I’ve just started a new novel, and this is exactly how I feel. I can’t write a book. I don’t know what I’m doing. How do I do this? Every book or play I’ve written starts this way. Everyone says “trust the process.” What process? Argh!

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