Thanks to former student Sam Moore’s request for advice, I too have something to post this evening:
Two pieces of advice:
1. Sometimes it helps to stop working now and try later if you’re really not feeling it. But if the deadline is soon,
2. Just do a freewrite where you throw down onto the page or screen any and all words that come to mind, the closer to the assigned topic the better. Afterwards, go back and delete as much of the crap as possible, and turn the assignment in and hope to do better next time.
Thoreau had some advice I like in the “Conclusion” to Walden:
Having considered that in an imperfect work time is an ingredient, but into a perfect work time does not enter, he said to himself, It shall be perfect in all respects, though I should do nothing else in my life.
Or, in other words: If the quality of the work is the priority, then take all the time you need to make the work great. But if getting done on time is the priority, then do it without worrying so much about quality — it’s not the priority.
Laura Miller, in an article at Salon, uses the context of the Amazon-Hachette disagreement to make an important point to would-be authors about what it means to get one’s book published:
It helps to understand what’s happening here if we all stop thinking about a traditional book publishing contract as a halo of literary worthiness bestowed upon an author by entities invested with a sacred, ineffable authority. Actually, it’s a business deal. It signifies that a disinterested party (i.e., not your mom or spouse) believes enough in the book’s potential appeal that it is willing to put its own money into the project. Publishers don’t just supply professional services (editing, design, distribution, marketing); they are investors. Doesn’t mean they’re always right; publishers often aren’t. But publishing a book is always a gamble of sorts, and a traditional publisher has ponied up.
I’ll admit that, at times, I’ve thought that selling a book would be a kind of validation of my talent, my ideas, my worth as a human being on this planet. (Though I should know better, considering that back when I was a journalist, I had a lot of things published and/or broadcast, and doing so didn’t feel all that special. Well, sure, the first time was special, but after that, not so much.) But it helps me to remember that companies publish books to make money. What gets published is what somebody thinks will sell, and a lot of respected texts didn’t sell very well, including Thoreau’s Walden.
Still, I’ll also admit to, at times, entertaining the fantasy that someone would contact me with an offer to publish my brilliant texts. Why not? But I also don’t really try that hard to seek publication because, well, I find the act of writing far more rewarding that the act of seeing my name in print.