In her exploration of Jane Austen, Virginia Woolf made this observation:
“Let us take Persuasion, the last completed novel, and look by its light at the books she might have written had she lived. There is a peculiar beauty and a peculiar dullness in Persuasion. The dullness is that which so often marks the transition stage between two different periods. The writer is a little bored. She has grown too familiar with the ways of her world; she no longer notes them freshly.”
~V.W. “Jane Austen,” The Common Reader
It’s hard to think about Jane Austen–The Jane Austen–‘growing’ more as a writer, but Virginia Woolf is definitely one to recognize that writers create differently as they develop (considering Woolf’s focus on Time)–and a writer should always be developing. We should always ‘be working on it.’
Now, I don’t know about youse guys, but I certainly notice when I have hit a new stride, or have practiced with a skill enough to use it with some confidence. The stories that result from these insights I call benchmark stories…maybe they’re not great, but they are noticeably better than what I’ve done before.
Woolf continues to make the argument that, in Persuasion, Austen is “trying to do something which she has never yet attempted.” So, while the book is not as strong as the ones in the past, it could be a gateway to new, greater novels.
So, maybe the next time you’re struggling to do a piece–and it just ain’t working out–just think: you’re probably in a transition between periods. I’m still waiting for that transition between Beginner and Less Beginner.