I am currently reading a biography called Maxwell Perkins: Editor of Genius written by A. Scott Berg. It depicts the life and career of Max Perkins of Scribner’s publishing house who brought forth the works of powerhouse authors such as Ernest Hemingway, Scott Fitzgerald, Tom Wolfe, and others.
Perkins was not a writer himself, but as an editor he had nearly inexhaustible sympathy, respect, and dedication to the craft. He coached, encouraged, bolstered, and supported his authors when they stumbled and despaired, which was often.
He well understood that the writing life was plagued by solitude, toil, and self-doubt. Then, if a work of great art (or even just okay art) was successfully printed and critically esteemed, the writer was sentenced to the depression and struggle of producing another work of equal or greater value, as was the case with Fitzgerald following The Great Gatsby. Tom Wolfe scrawled reams of pages of description and character sketches while standing beside a refrigerator which he used as his preferred writing surface. He produced prolifically--and had no idea what to do next with his material. Marjorie Rawlings, author of the perennially beloved novel The Yearling toiled for a year on the project, then threw the manuscript out.
In each of these cases, Max Perkins pleaded with and implored the authors to continue, to not give up. To one author he wrote, “Just get it all down on paper and then we’ll see what to do with it.” And ultimately, the authors muddled their way through mess, muck, and morass to create something that was publishable and could be put into the hands and minds of readers forever after.
So, I take heart in the familiar struggle of some of the greatest writers of the 20th century. They were both brilliant and fragile, brimming with both insight and uncertainty. They were like us. Let us, then, find our own Max Perkins--someone, something to cheer us on and force us to continue the painful effort. The end makes the means possible, even when the means feel impossible. Or, as Perkins himself put it so well, “I feel certain that it will end very well indeed, if you can endure the struggle. The struggle is part of the process.”
Camilia Cenek is a writer, consultant, and editor. She delights in working with both emerging and experienced writers to bring their stories to life. In 2020, she won first place for nonfiction in the Wisconsin Writers Association Jade Ring contest. Contact Camilia at firstname.lastname@example.org
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