Lazette Gifford
Publisher & Editor

Too Much Respect

By Stephen Aulridge, Jr.
2007, Stephen Aulridge, Jr.

To be a writer requires one principle act: writing. This largely explains why so many books go unwritten. We writers treat our craft with respect sometimes bordering on reverence, and in some of us, at least, it's a spring-loaded trap. Occasionally our respect for writing is so high that we can't even jot down a couple thousand words for fear that it won't be good enough.   

When done properly, writing can be glorious and noble. Upton Sinclair did it with The Jungle, George Orwell with 1984, Aldous Huxley with Brave New World and Ayn Rand with Atlas Shrugged (though some may disagree on the last one).

The authors we admire and respect most needn't be social commentators; sometimes they can be extraordinary story-weavers like Tolkien, Le Guin, and McCaffrey -- more authors whom we respect, and out of this respect, comes a deeper respect for writing.   

And it is this respect that sometimes stifles us.   

Writing is a craft and writers are craftsmen; our tools are words and our machines are metaphor. When we get mired in thought patterns believing what we are doing is noble and therefore deserving utmost attention and perfection, one of two things typically occurs: We write something worth reading that takes fifteen years of effort and then never get it published, or we spend fifteen years talking about the book we wish we'd have written.   

And having too much respect for our craft is at least partly to blame.   

Remember that carpenters are craftsmen. Ask a carpenter if he respects his tools, and he'll blink at you, and, after a few moments of thought, say yes. But his is a different kind of respect. He respects his tools because of what they can create and what they can, when misused, destroy.  However, a carpenter isn't likely to hold his tools with reverence. They are his tools; he will use them, or not use them, as he needs to finish the job.           

And nobody in any other profession will be able to use his tools as well as he can.            

Let's say the carpenter respects his tools so much he keeps them oiled, polished, in pristine order; he hangs them in allotted places and takes them down only when he has need of them. This is proper respect.            

On the other hand let's say he hangs them up and doesn't use them--all because his respect for the tools is so great he doesn't want them to chip or wear. It seems ridiculous, doesn't it?            

Why should it seem any less ridiculous for writers to do just this?            

Don't revere writing as something big, grand and noble. Writing is a craft, and words are the writer's tools. Learn how to use them properly to achieve your goal; maybe you're crafting an end-table short story or a baby-grand novel. In either case you won't accomplish anything if your reverence for the craft is so great it renders you incapable of stringing together a few words. And if you can't manage a couple hundred words a day, then how will you ever finish a novel, a short story-- or an article? 

Lessen your respect and tackle writing head-on!