Quotation of the Week: Maxwell Perkins

“If you are not discouraged about your writing on a regular basis, you may not be trying hard enough. Any challenging pursuit will encounter frequent patches of frustration. Writing is nothing if not challenging.”

–Maxwell Perkins

Source: Chip Scanlan’s “‘And I Quote’: A Collection of Advice, Inspiration and Other Words of Wisdom on the Craft of Writing.”

6 thoughts on “Quotation of the Week: Maxwell Perkins

  1. John Vanderslice says:

    Great quote, Erika. I've certainly had those days; nice to think it's a good sign.

  2. Kathleen A. Ryan says:

    Maxwell knew what he was talking about! Good quote, Erika!

  3. Otter7 says:

    I have to agree. There is, however, one aspect not being mentioned. Anyone can become a competent writer, but if you are continually frustrated by your progress, you made need to assess the obstacles. Some people who profess a desire to be a writer don't really want it bad enough. Either they want something else, that they associate with being a writer, or
    they have poorly defined goals. I've met plenty of people who've attended workshops and also have their share of talent, but they never complete projects or never submit. Yes, becoming a writer is a commitment, and it takes both desire and hard work. But if you find yourself frequently in a state of frustration or dejection, you should ask yourself why you want to be a writer, what your goals are, and what the obstacles to those goals seem to be. Get feedback. Talk it over. Think it over. And always explore which type of writing is the best fit for you. You may naturally drawn to and more
    successful with journalism as opposed to literary fiction, more interested in blogging than composing poems. When the fit is right, you'll know. You'll feel it.

  4. Pauline says:

    Great quote and I appreciate the comment from Otter7. I'm in the process of exploring my motivation for writing as I feel more frustrated than satisfied with the process. I'm leaning towards this just being a rough patch but it's freeing to take a step back and realize there's more out there than the novel I'm battling with. Thanks!

  5. Chip Scanlan says:

    I appreciate your crediting the quote to me. Unfortunately, I have just learned that Maxwell Perkins didn’t say it. It was a paraphrase by Ralph Keyes in his book “The Writer’s Book of Hope: Getting from Frustration to Publication” which can be viewed on Google Books. Keyes quotes Maxwell, apparently in a letter to console novelist Nancy Hayes (his preferred form of communication with writers) who was in a depressed funk, stymied by writer’s block:
    “Writing is a novel is a very hard thing to do…and if you get discouraged it is not a bad thing but a good one. If you are not doing it well you are thinking the way real novelists do. I never knew one who did not feel greatly discouraged at times, and some get desperate, and I have always found that to b a good symptom.”
    In a later letter, Maxwell told Hale,”I would be much more concerned if you did not have to go through periods of despair and anxiety and dissatisfaction. It is true that a good many novelists do not, but I think the best ones truly do, and I do not see how it could be otherwise…the struggle is part of the process.”
    It is at that point that Keyes writes, “In other words,” continuing with the quote I and many others have misattributed to Maxwell. Karl Iglesias attributes Keyes’ paraphrase to Perkins in his “The 101 Habits of Successful Screenwriters,” as does Judy Reeves in “A Writer’s Book of Days: A Spirited Companion & Lively Muse for the Writing Life.” I haven’t compared their publication with the appearance of Keyes’ paraphrase, so I don’t know if or not they picked it up from him.
    I apologize for being the source of this mistake. Frankly, I don’t know where I first picked up the discouraged” quote. What I have discovered as I have begun work on a book about, what else, writing is that inspirational quotes are banded about on the Internet, memes scattered like birdseed, and virtually always without attribution. It’s unfortunate because I think Maxwell’s own words are more powerful than the paraphrase. In recent weeks, I have stopped using quotes unless I can find their original source or one close enough, like Keyes’ book which quotes from Perkins’ letters, to make me feel confident they are valid. Sorry to go on so long, but I was sorry to see my mistake show up on your fine site. One caveat: if you want to use the Maxwell quotes from Keyes’ book, please doublecheck check them against the book as Google Books doesn’t offer cut and paste and there’s a possibility I might have mad a mistake as I copied them out by hand, thus repeating the cycle. Thank you. Chip Scanlan

    1. Erika Dreifus says:

      Thank you for the update/clarification!

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