The Self-Resolution of Great Writers

What Literature can teach you about writing doubts

Jean-marc Buchert
Apr 16, 2020 · 5 min read
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When I started writing, I believed that the success and fertility of the writers I admired came only from their natural talents and efforts.

I thought that the source of their inspiration came mechanically from their ability to extract remarkable things from reality.

Gradually putting my efforts into perfecting my writing skills, I realized that my mind still remained empty. Doubting my own talents, I then wondered what makes these writers so different.

This led me to the idea that their confidence in their writing comes not so much from how they write things, but rather from how they live them.

Great writers don’t believe they are the master of their inspiration- they doubt their talents every day. What keeps their confidence is knowing their inspiration depends on what they get to experience and how they experience things.

It is unexpected experiences, shocks, and coincidences they get to witness that compel them to perfect their talents, in order to put these experiences down somewhere and to make them remembered.

The stories of these great writers can help you to understand how to handle your own writing doubts and to rely on your true sources of inspiration.

The Myths of the Self-Made Writer

European literature since the Romantic period has gradually built the ideal of a writer as the master of his own creation, giving birth, from his own mind to new worlds of fiction and ideas.

French literary figures such as Mme de Stael and Stendhal, inspired by the literary revolution underway in Germany (by an artist like Johann Wolfang Goethe), have based the great writer on his capacity to recreate nature and its events. The artist by his innate gift or his in-depth work with words (the writer is then seen as a craftsman) forges fantasies sublimating the reality of the natural and human world.

According to this view, the brilliance of a Victor Hugo in France, a Shakespeare in England or a Dante in Italy comes from a mind nurtured by its reading, its constant literary perfection and by the excellence of their style, which creates the most beautiful ideas and stories.

While the conception of the artist gradually evolved over the 19th and 20th century towards an artist transforming or destroying worlds (as proclaimed respectively by a Marcel Proust or an André Breton), it has remained fundamentally impregnated by the myth of a writer drawing from his own substance the elements of his creation.

Yet, these genial inspirations are not simply fed by prowess and outstanding skills. Literary works are deeply rooted in the singular experiences of artists, experiences they were seeking or which happened to them by accident: a twist of fate, a shock, a shattered life or the reminiscence of precious memories.

Writing As a Precarious Gift

Some French Literary critics, such as Maurice Blanchot, have described at length the space in which literature is made, the place where experiences from the outside, by definition unspeakable, find their inner form of speech.

Men of literature are fueled by an obsession, haunting their work, which feeds them with plenty of recurring and strangely similar types of literary forms, themes, and characters.

Their constant motivation to become a writer, and to continue to create, are neither innate to them nor the fruit of their own determination. It comes from their regular encounter with unexpected coincidences, incredible events, which the writer’s lifelong quest is to find their own forms of expression.

It comes from an intimate relationship with mysteries they were the only to witness, which involve them to weigh their words since they cannot afford to spoil them carelessly.

This obsession is linked to the writer’s rather ambivalent confidence in his own talent. On the one hand, the writer feels having a voice superior to all the others, because he alone has become acquainted with the unspeakable. But, at the same time, this voice is always in some way taken away from him, because what he experiences is never really accessible.

He feels as the pathfinder of new universes and truths that he cannot really afford. And the more he invests himself in this quest, the more valuable it becomes, the more it demands a lot from him. It makes him so eager to find out, in fact, that he becomes desperate to create.

From a psychological point of view, one could speak of the special investment that the author puts into his work: the way the author identifies with his creation and the way the creation deeply redefines him.

Dan Arieyli refers in Predictably Irrational to the artist’s bias of being in love for his own work, involving a personal investment that makes it impossible to consider it imperfect or failed. The writer’s identity is so deeply rooted in his work that he cannot help but have the same confidence in his work as he has of himself.

Eventually, this can be seen as both dangerous stubbornness or extraordinary courage, depending on the way we look at it.

In any case, what it teaches us is the writer’s conviction of having something more to say to the world, something which has yet to be discovered and elucidated, and which allows him to overcome his doubts.

What Is Your True Source of Inspiration?

Like great writers, every person who feels a desire to write has something more to say to the world, be it a truth to be elucidated, ideas to be acknowledged, deep feelings or an experience to share.

This journey is not without encountering, day after day, the writer’s inherent doubt.

It is indeed easy to doubt your talent as a writer, to believe that your grammar is imperfect, your writing too narrow or broad, your words too abstract or down-to-earth…

But what makes the difference is to remember the obsession that runs through each of your publications. If you put so much effort into confronting the same problems, to repeat and reformulate the same ideas, and always seem to fail, isn’t it because you have something to say that no one has really figured out yet?

If your writer’s confidence in your talent is always fragile, it is because the object of your quest can never really be completed and elucidated.

Every aspiring writer should feel like the pathfinder of a new world, which has waited only for him to appear to the world, and which will never reveal all its mysteries, at least not easily.

It is up to you to nurture the duty you carry in your writing, to deepen the purpose of your research and to share it with the wider world.

At the end of the day, the external view is the only thing capable of giving real value to all your literary and intellectual constructions. It is a matter of relying on outside authorities, close to the problems and aspirations you share, to strengthen your confidence in your own successes.

In this way, you’ll make your confidence worthy of the task before you.

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Jean-marc Buchert

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Changing your mind. Get a checklist to flex your thinking and find genius ideas:

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +771K people. Follow to join our community.

Jean-marc Buchert

Written by

Changing your mind. Get a checklist to flex your thinking and find genius ideas:

The Startup

Medium's largest active publication, followed by +771K people. Follow to join our community.

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