Writer’s Block: How an Editor Can Help a Writer Get Through It

There is always fascination in pursuing the mystery of genius. In my lifetime, circumstance has given me the privilege of knowing intimately and living under the influence of two men who were defined in their totally different arts as genius, and who remain so defined twenty and thirty years after their deaths.

One was Arturo Toscanini and the other was Maxwell Perkins. There could be no more extreme contrast between two individuals. It is almost absurd to see any resemblance between the world’s most eminent musician, the scintillant, hyper-articulate, plebeian-born Italian, and the most renowned of literary editors, the diffident, silent New England patrician. Nor would either in the least have understood the other.

Then what did the two men share? Simply that both possessed the ability to evoke from people of talent the best that they had in them; the ability to get out of them better work than they ever otherwise did; the mysterious spell of personality which gave performers (writers too) confidence, and encouraged them to do what, they often said, they did not know they had it in them to do.

Max gave us infinite, tolerant understanding which built a floor under our isolation and solitude that are the writer’s life. Writers elect that life and thereafter suffer with it, often in terrible discouragement and despair, sometimes in elation that is only momentary. Max said and, more typically, wrote to all of us, in one phrase or another, “It is the good book that gives the writer trouble.” “All you lack in regard to this book is confidence.” “Writing a novel is a very hard thing to do.” “Don’t lose courage.”. . .

“Just get it all down on paper and then we’ll see what to do with it.”
By author and music critic Marcia Davenport in her preface to the book, Editor to Author: The Letters of Maxwell E. Perkins.


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