Colson Whitehead & George Saunders Do the Work That Scares Them

One night in New York City, the writers Colson Whitehead and George Saunders shared the same sentiment:

Do the work that scares you.

The two were giving a talk at the 92nd Street Y. Mr. Whitehead had recently come out with The Underground Railroad, a book he had put off and put off and put off because he thought he needed to be a better writer to do it.

But while plugging away at another novel he had reservations about, he talked to his wife, therapist, agent, and editor, and decided he needed to return to The Underground Railroad.

“If it seems scary,” Mr. Whitehead said, “maybe that’s the thing you should be working on, not the book you know you can do.”

Mr. Saunders had just come out with his first novel, Lincoln in the Bardo, a book he had put off and put off and put off because he thought it seemed too hard.

But a couple of years ago, Mr. Saunders thought to himself, “Man, you’re not getting any younger, and on your own gravestone you don’t want it to say, ‘Avoided the thing he most wanted to do.'”

So both men did the work that scared them. It couldn’t have been easy. But as Mr. Saunders wrote, “How about taking a chance/risking failure, in the name of keeping the artist in you alive?”

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