“Pathetic email.”

That was the subject line on an email I received this afternoon from a wonderfully talented writer friend. The writing hasn’t been going well, she wrote, and there are great big question marks made of doubts settling around her, and she’s feeling small. I’ve been mulling over her email since I received it. She wrote looking for encouragement and I hope that this post is that encouragement, but more than that I hope this post is encouragement for me as well and any other writers who are feeling small because we all take our turns at it.
Strangely, or maybe not, my first thought after reading the email was of Piglet in “The House At Pooh Corner.” It’s a book that leaves me in a puddle, especially the chapter “In Which Eeyore Finds the Wolery and Owl Moves Into It.” Owl’s tree house has blown down in a storm, and everyone is looking for a new home for him. Eeyore thinks that he has found just the spot, but it turns out to be Piglet’s house. Piglet, still on a high from having had a song written about his heroism during the storm’s aftermath, stands before his home, the smallest of all Christopher Robin’s friends, and becomes the biggest.

And then Piglet did a Noble Thing, and he did it in a sort of dream, while he was thinking of all the wonderful words Pooh had hummed about him.
“Yes, it’s just the house for Owl,” he said grandly. “And I hope he’ll be very happy in it.” And then he gulped twice, because he had been very happy in it himself.

He does this thing because it is the thing to do and he is the one to do it. He does it because no one else can. And in that moment he overcomes every trembling fearful thing he’s ever done. If only for that moment he steps out of his past, and even out of the heroic saga Pooh has written about him, and he moves into a space of his own making.
That is what I think of this writer, and anyone who tries to hollow out a part of themselves so that they can give a home to people who don’t exist in a physical sense but exist in a very hard and uncomfortable emotional sense. It’s not easy giving them a home, a safe place to be themselves, and it will often destroy us in the process. I think it’s supposed to. After completing a book you won’t be the person you were before trying to write it, not if you’ve done it right. There’s real fear in that, and we’re all small before that task, to clear out enough of yourself so they can move in, and to do it not with accolades or rewards but for the honest truth that it has to be done and who else will do it. You’re supposed to be scared. The fact you are feeling small means you’re in the right place: it means you care. If you didn’t care it would have no power over you. Pay a bill, do you care what color the ink on the check is? Write a story, and you need the right journal, or the perfect seat in the coffee shop, or your special pen, or, or, or… Caring gives the work power over you, and it’s not afraid to use it. Let it. Get off your outline, you’ll find your way back. Repeat yourself, write in circles, let your characters lack depth. That’s what revisions are for. I’m neck deep in rewrites for Man in the Empty Suit, and my editor has the audacity, the temerity, to point out that I have repeatedly had characters walk up and down stairs thousands of times. They’ve climbed an empire of Empire State buildings. She dares (dares!) point out that the verb “push” appears to be the only verb I know. Thank God I have her, my editor. Thank God I have everyone who has ever looked at this book, because without them the repeated phrases, half-baked ideas, over-used descriptions, misguided plot points, and inconsistent characterizations (and names) would haunt the work and drag it under. I held my nose and wrote the damn thing. Now I get to rewrite it with their help, and you, Small Writer, will find that if you hold your little nose for a while and revel in being pathetic that you’ll finish too, and then you can take a deep breath and realize that you’ve stepped out of every fearful moment a writer endures and stepped into the knowledge that you did that Noble Thing.
Go ahead and be small. I hope you feel small and comforted.

74 thoughts on ““Pathetic email.”

  1. Thank you a thousand times for posting this. I’m always wondering why I write, and if it’s worth it, and why I’m not doing more worthy things with my time and how I will justify all the resources that were poured into my upbringing–and then here, it is good to know that in some way yes, writing is worthy.

  2. I so needed this right now. Thank you from the bottom of my wrung-out, weary heart. I feel this exact way each time I finish a novel and hand it off to my readers. Have to keep telling myself it’s a good thing!

  3. I don’t know why shared suffering is so comforting, but it is. Maybe it has something to do with validation, or acknowledgment that “I” am not weak, but experiencing/overcoming a common adversity.
    Whatever the reason, thanks for carving out the space for a nice empathy party. It is most welcome.

  4. Sean, THANK YOU. I’m currently writing No. 8 and it seems to be the hardest, as the self-doubt has become my constant companion. This is an excellent reminder to trust myself and just FINISH the damn thing, and then worry about “good” in the edits.

  5. Hey Sean,
    This is the first time I’ve come upon your blog and just wanted to let you know how amazing this post is. Thank you so much for posting this bit of inspiration to help people through the darkest, most tough bits.

  6. Thanks so much for writing this. As a new writer I am scared to death and thought I was wrong to feel that way. Now because of this I know I am not alone.

  7. Each and every writer you’ve touched with your encouragement (me included) is the better for it, and putting this out there, helping people understand they’re not alone in their doubts and fears and questions, makes you a Piglet among piglets.
    Infinite X’s and O’s.

  8. I remember this Pooh story, as we had every movie when my children were small. I never tired of watching them.
    I shall choose to be a brave little piglet from now on; especially in those moments when I do feel very small and insignificant.
    What a simple, yet creative way to teach us how to soldier on.
    Thank you Mr Ferrell. x

  9. Thank you for those words, Sean.
    They was just what I needed.
    Maybe it’s not bad to be small, we can fall apart as many times as we wish and no one will know it when, at the end we emerge with success. And, I’m sure all of us will succeed.

  10. I know everyone else here also said this but I will say it again — THANK YOU. No one tells you what a lonely undertaking this is and just to hear you describe what your wonderful editor dares to tell you makes a HUGE difference. And how beautifully you describe the home a writer has to build for their characters and what a price that can exact and why it is so right – here’s hoping I find my inner Piglet. Congratulations on Numb I ordered it on Amazon.

  11. This has to be the most beautiful blog post I’ve ever read. It took me a few times to get through your main paragraph because I was bawling! And it was that much more personal to me since The House on Pooh corner is not only one of my favourite books but I’m rereading it right now, and had just read that part. Thanks 🙂
    “He does this thing because it is the thing to do and he is the one to do it. He does it because no one else can. ”
    These words are helping me be brave today!

  12. A most compassionate and empathetic and from-the-heart encouragement. Thank you. It was a moving reminder to me that we’re all “small” but we’re also connected to “big.” Writing fiction is the best way I have found to best get in touch with that truth. My gratitude to you for finding apt words to express the creative writing calling. And thank you to your friend who had the courage to admit she felt scared and small and so inspired you to share with all of us.

  13. Wow. Just finished my first novel and have been feeling like a flea sucking for air at the bottom of a bottle of Grey Goose. Now I know why. Thanks!

  14. I thought the book I’m writing would free me, but I’ve grown so small it’s eating me alive…in one gulp. And the pen is filled with ink from the ‘drink me’ bottle in Alice in Wonderland…and it’s making me shrink even smaller.

    Thank you. Maybe I’m not alone. Maybe I’m not even the littlest one down here. O.o

    Time will tell.

  15. Wow, this is exactly what I needed to get me back into the swing of things and writing again. Those same thoughts and feelings you described are the exact ones I’ve been feeling for weeks lately. I’ve been struggling with writer’s block and when it comes down to it, those thoughts and feelings are the reasons why. Thank you very much for posting this. Now I know I’m not alone in the way things have been going for me and I also know that I will get out of it as long as I push myself out of it. Once again, thank you!

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