4 Demons of Authorship, How to Recognize and Conquer, Part I

Writing Your First Book is hell, as any author will tell you.

It is also the most deeply satisfying Creative Act of a lifetime, making the hell (in my opinion) totally worth it.

taj mahal no compromiseThere are pitfalls you can avoid that will greatly lessen the intensity of the pain—starting with the four demons of authorship. Like most demons, these are seductive and smart. They appear as friendly and beneficent beings, but the pain they cause is horrific. Each one delivers its own arrow of anguish.


Compromise leads the pack. Even if you conquer the other demons, succumb to this one, and you’ve not only lost the battle—you’ve lost the war.

What war is that?

The war against Resistance, the war Steven Pressfield brilliantly writes about in his classic, Art of War.  This small gem is a must-read for authors and in fact for anyone who works daily at creating something out of nothing.

The Voice of Compromise

The voice of compromise sounds something like this:  “Don’t be too creative or too truthful. If you say THAT, people won’t understand and they will reject you. So you should soften that part, or better yet, take it out.”

Authors, often without knowing it, listen to this voice and in so doing cut themselves off from their true vision. They fear it will prevent their success and so they make an “adjustment.”  Some books and literary agents actually encourage you to do this in order to be marketable. Actually, the opposite is true. If you modify your vision (which is your truth), you will cut yourself off from your soul, which is where the muse lives and holds your vision.

Even if you don’t relate to the concept of soul, or the idea of the muse strikes you as a fancy, consider this. If you adjust your vision to someone else’s “reality” you will have no vision, and therefore ultimately no book worth reading. Not compromising means you refuse to disguise or dress up your truth to be palatable.  Truth is what you stake your authorship on —and the torch that will draw others to you.

Being true to your vision and purpose doesn’t mean your work will be inaccessible. Accessibility has to do with structure and style –completely different matters from those of vision and purpose.  Your vision and purpose are what you stand for, what your book (and author platform) is built on.  So:  no skimping on the entree, no shaving off the good part–no adjusting.

Compromise will exhaust you

Compromise is not only dangerous; it is exhausting. Even if you somehow manage to write your book, you will be drained and uninspired throughout the process, because you will not be writing your book. You will be writing the book you think you should write, the book others want you to write.

If the compromise is slight, you may not be able to detect it, but you will sense that something is off.  You will also experience more than the usual resistance to writing it. You will lack energy and focus when you sit down to work.

The Deeper Tragedy

The deeper tragedy that comes from compromise?  You will prevent your book from fulfilling its mission: the reason it was conceived in you and given to you in the first place will be lost.

You also run the serious risk of losing your confidence. When you close off the connection to the vision that lives in your subconscious, you lose motivation and dampen the fire that drives your creativity. Then you are left to your own puny resources. Your experience of the past, what you read in books,  and what people tell you. These resources are all very limited.  Better to abandon your book entirely than to compromise it.

A story

It is easy for writers to succumb to the temptation that outside validation is more real, and therefore more important than what we know deeply within ourselves. Here’s a small story that illustrates this dilemma.

I received an email from Jane Friedman whom I respect and follow religiously. She had turned me on several months ago to Steven Pressfield’s, Art of War and Ira Glass’s amazing videos about learning to write. Her latest one announced a new editing resource for writers called Reedsy, which purported to be the latest and greatest startup publishing outfit out of the UK. Curiously enough, the four men behind it (with titles like Chief of Everything) do not have publishing backgrounds, nor are they writers or editors.

The profile you are required to fill out is heavily geared toward editing professionals with experience in publishing houses which I do not have. What’s more, the only way your books can be listed is with Amazon urls.  Many authors I work with only distribute their books and e-books on their own websites.  I got sucked in and spent two hours trying to create a killer profile before I finally quit in frustration.

It wasn’t until the next morning that I realized what had happened. I woke feeling irritated and could not get to work writing. I knew the familiar feeling, one that most artists and writers battle: the fear of not being good enough. I got angry when I realized I had fallen prey to the false need to measure up to someone else’s idea of a qualified editor. I had discounted my work and judged myself inadequate because I didn’t fit into their categories.

The same thing had happened during the four years my agent submitted my novel, Consolations.  Editor after editor praised it, but because the novel didn’t fit in any genre category, it was rejected until Luminis Books,  a boutique indie publisher, made an offer (after reviewing it for a year).


As writers, we live with contradiction. On the one hand, we have a fierce passion and vision that guides our work. On the other, we are incredibly vulnerable to self-doubt. Add to that a deep desire for recognition and you’ve got quite a turbulent mix to deal with.

How are we to manage it all and show up every day committed to our work with authenticity?

By ordering priorities. The first is No Compromise. Let us not dilute or trade off our vision in order to gain the approval of others.

5 Enlightened Replies

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  1. Molly Larkin says:

    Excellent, excellent advice. It reminds me of three things: 1. you know you’re on the road to success when you meet resistance; 2. a number of best-selling authors initially received many, many rejections before going on to publish a best-seller [Jack Canfield and JK Rowling to name just two]; 3. I wouldn’t have ended up with a best seller if I had listened to all the people who told me I couldn’t write. Stay true to your own inner voice and you will succeed!

  2. Sally Wolfe says:

    Thank you, Molly. Just skipped over to your website and delighted to discover learn about your amazing story and the book that came out of it, The Wind is My Mother. Beautiful.

  3. T.O. Weller says:

    Sally, thank you for articulating the conflict so many writers face. It becomes especially difficult when you’re a recovering people-pleaser. That’s why I’m not letting anyone see the first draft of my novel. I’ve had friends express interest, but I don’t want to fall under that nasty “self-doubt spell” and find the “compromise demon” lurking in the shadows.

    Strange timing … I was just reading about this very thing last night in a piece by author Claire Cook. She was writing specifically about her response to editors. If she disagrees with the editor about the proposed change, she says she still considers it a sign that a change of some sort is needed. She will then make a change that she hopes will satisfy both the editor and herself. It’s a compromise, of sorts, but she also remains vigilant to protect her work as well.

  4. I found your ideas about creating a book interesting and useful, Sally

  5. I think that at least at the draft step, there is no place for compromise. If an editor says “change this or we don’t publish it”, sure, look into making changes. But otherwise, your writing should be fuelled by its mission–by your mission.

    I will keep an eye on this series, and your blog 🙂

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