A note from Nava: Here's one of my favorite posts, from a year ago. Not sure I agree 100% but there's a lot of wisdom in Vita Sackville-West's words, speaking to everyone's fear of taking risks with their work.
Dear Literary Ladies,
I’m plugging away at a modest but steady writing career, but sometimes I think about aiming higher. I admit that I’m afraid to fail— and then look foolish to myself and others. What about you? Do you think it’s better to stick with what you do best, rather than stick your neck out and possibly fail?
Is it better to be extremely ambitious, or rather modest? Probably the latter is safer; but I hate safety, and would rather fail gloriously than dingily succeed.
—Vita Sackville-West, from a letter to Virginia Woolf, Aug. 1928
A note from Nava: Here's a reprise of a post from about a year and a half ago that speaks to the need to balance a writer's need for privacy with constructive interaction with peers:
Dear Literary Ladies,
How can a writer balance the need for quiet and solitude, with the desire for camaraderie? When I’m alone, working, I feel the need for feedback; and when I’m among colleagues, talking about my work, I feel I’m seeking too much outside validation.
If you don’t keep and guard and mature your force and above all, have time and quiet to perfect your work, you will be writing things not much better than you did five years ago. You must find a quiet place near the best companions (not those who admire and wonder at everything one does, but those who know the good things with delight!).
You need reassurance—every artist does—but you need still more to feel “responsible for the state of your conscience” (your literary conscience, we can just now limit that quotation to), and you need to dream your dreams and go on to new and more shining ideals, to be aware of “the gleam” and to follow it; your vivid, exciting companionship in the office must not be your audience, you must find your own quiet center of life, and write from that to the world that holds offices, and all society, all Bohemia; the city, the country--in short, you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up.
Otherwise what might be strength in a writer is only crudeness, and what might be insight is only observation; sentiment falls to sentimentality—you can write about life, but never write life itself. And to write and work on this level, we must live on it—we must at least recognize it and defer to it at every step. We must be ourselves, but we must be our best selves.
—Sarah Orne Jewett, in a letter to Willa Cather, ca. 1909