“Yesterday evening, I started my novel. Now I begin to see stylistic difficulties that horrify me. To be simple is no small matter.”
– Gustave Flaubert in a letter to Louise Colet, 20 September 1851
When Flaubert wrote the sentences above he had just started work on what would become the first novel of modern realism, a French classic, and a world literary masterwork, Madame Bovary.
When starting a new project (and deep in the throes of one) an author will encounter feelings of inspiration and the sense he or she is on a mission, but just as quickly as these gifts of perception arrive, they will disintegrate into feelings of uncertainty—both in the conceit of the project itself and in one’s ability to pull it off.
Every author travels this terrain. And with every manuscript. Of course we cannot know what will be the fate of our work once it is out in the world, should it be so successful as to find readers. For this we can be grateful. If Flaubert had prophetically known what his new project would come to be, wouldn’t he have been further “horrified?” If I knew no one would ever read my novel-in-progress, how would I carry on?
It’s true, Flaubert was attempting to break with convention, to write in a new way, but such somersaults are attempted to some degree with every project. Every author is attempting the unknown, seeking to climb a mountain of her own invention, one he has never before seen.
So take comfort. You are in creative company with Flaubert, and every other writer of whom you’ve ever heard. And those you haven’t. We’re all walking our ridge, in search of footing with every step.