The disaster unfolded slowly. The professors and students were diplomatic, but a pall of boredom fell over the seminar table when my work was under discussion. I could see everyone struggling to care. And then, trying feverishly to write something that would engage people, I got worse. First my writing became overthought, and then it went rank with the odor of desperation. It got to the point that every chapter, short story, every essay was trash.

I could not imagine why; conditions were ideal. It took me a long time to realize that the utter domination of my consciousness by the desire to write well was itself the problem. Monomania, a 19th-century malady to which my 21st-century immune system had developed no defenses, had crept into my soul, like gout into a poet’s foot, and spoiled it by degrees.

When good writing was my only goal, I made the quality of my work the measure of my worth. For this reason, I wasn’t able to read my own writing well. I couldn’t tell whether something I had just written was good or bad, because I needed it to be good in order to feel sane. I lost the ability to cheerfully interrogate how much I liked what I had written, to see what was actually on the page rather than what I wanted to see or what I feared to see.