The Magnum Opus Syndrome (a story about perfectionism)

(The second in a series of 3 articles about Author’s Blocks)

Author’s Block #1: The Author Centric Mindset
Author’s Block #3: If You Write it, They will Come

Last Wednesday I was reading the classic children’s book, Charlotte’s Web to my 7-year old daughter, Skyla (for about the fourth time this year) when we came to one of her favorite parts of the story…

“Are you awake, Charlotte?” he said softly.
“Yes,” came the answer.
“What is that nifty little thing? Did you make it?”
“I did indeed,” replied Charlotte in a weak voice.
“Is it a plaything?”
“Plaything? I should say not. It is my egg sac, my magnum opus.”
“I don’t know what a magnum opus is,” said Wilbur.
“That’s Latin,” explained Charlotte. “It means ‘great work.’ This egg sac is my great work — the finest thing I have ever made.”
“What’s inside it?” asked Wilbur. “Eggs?”
“Five hundred and fourteen of them,” she replied.
from Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White.

As I finished the chapter — reading aloud in my best spider and pig voices — the words magnum opus kept rolling around in my mind as if looking for a place to land. After I tucked Skyla into bed I reflected some more and the connection began to form. Like Charlotte, so many of my self-help author clients are creating their ‘great work’. Their book is their magnum opus.

And much like Charlotte, they have profound wisdom to share with the ‘Wilburs’ of the world who need help to solve a problem (in Wilbur’s case, how to avoid becoming Christmas dinner) so they can live a happier life.

Perhaps you can see a little of yourself in Charlotte. Do you have knowledge and expertise to share; great skill in your craft; practical advice to offer; or a maybe, just maybe, a hint of perfectionism? For many aspiring self-help authors and teachers, these traits (especially perfectionism) can both serve us and constrain us.


One of the symptoms of the magnum opus syndrome is perfectionism. It often shows up in the writing and editing process. Do any of these apply to you?

– Have you been thinking about writing a transformational book for a long time?
– Have you been working on your manuscript for months? How about years?
– Do you have so much content that organizing it into a book is overwhelming?
– Ever have writer’s block?
– Are you constantly rewriting each chapter, section and paragraph?
– Are you racking up a large bill with your editor with all the revisions?
– Does it sometimes feel like your ‘great work’ will never be complete?
– Are you frustrated that your message is stuck inside your word processor (or your head) instead of being read by those who really need to hear it?

If so, you may be blocked by what I call, the Magnum Opus Syndrome.

Don’t misunderstand me — I think writing your magnum opus is very important, and that it should be written and published. There are no mistakes in the Universe and the fact that you have had the experiences you’ve had in your life and feel called to write your great work are sure signs that you’re meant to be doing it. But are you doing yourself and your future readers a disservice by taking so long to write and publish it?

“Ready. Fire. Aim!”

My early mentor, T. Harv Eker, taught me a concept that I’ve applied often. He explained that you don’t have to perfect your craft or message (or to have published a 250-page book) before you can start sharing your message with others.

Harv has a great expression that sums it up: “Ready. Fire. Aim!”

The first step, ‘Ready’, is to prepare as best you can but it doesn’t have to be perfect before you launch. Step two is ‘Fire’ — pull the trigger and take some action. The third step is ‘Aim’. This is where you evaluate your results and then correct your course and move forward. As you correct and continue your confidence builds and you zero in on your target in much the same way as a jet pilot does. Apparently planes are off course 99% of the time but the pilot’s action to correct and continue ensures that the destination is reached with pinpoint accuracy.

This is the approach I used when the opportunity came up to work alongside New York Times bestselling authors Janet, Bray Attwood, Chris Attwood and Marci Shimoff. On a scale of 1 to 10, I may have been at a “level four” when I co-facilitated our first “Enlightened Bestseller” workshop for aspiring self-help authors. I knew I wasn’t an expert, but I knew I knew enough to be of service to our participants.

Over the next year I learned from my three mentors and studied the work of book-marketing experts. I developed my expertise and began to share that knowledge with our students with more confidence. Then I suggested that the four of us put out an eBook on the subject and I took the lead role in writing and publishing Enlightened Bestseller: 7 Keys to Creating a Successful Self-Help Book. The eBook became a #1 bestseller and has been read by thousands of aspiring self-help authors.

As a direct result of publishing Enlightened Bestseller, I’ve been interviewed many times, have presented at live and online events on the topic, and have generated thousands of dollars in my business. And because of that eBook, I’m able to help heart-centered entrepreneurs like you to shine your light more brightly.

How to Overcome the Magnum Opus Syndrome

Here are four tips to overcome or avoid the Magnum Opus Syndrome. Remember, I’m not suggesting that you give up on writing your ‘great work’. You should absolutely follow your passion and inner guidance on that. Sometimes the act of writing your book is so cathartic that it simply must be done.

Based on the my own experience and that of many of my clients there are some things you can do to ensure that your ‘great work’ sees the light of day sooner rather than later

1. Set a Writing Schedule

Create a writing schedule for yourself. Set aside a block of time each day (at least 2 hours per day, 5 days a week) for writing. Put it on your calendar with an alert and make it non-negotiable. Go to the same place each day and write. Turn off all distractions such as TV, music, email alerts, Facebook and Skype. Switch your cell phone to Airplane mode and tell your family not to disturb you unless the house is on fire. Then start writing. And if nothing comes just sit there and wait! Write for 25 minutes then take a five minute break. Repeat until your time is up.

2. Set Deadlines

Give yourself a hard deadline to complete each chapter, the first draft and the final manuscript. If you’re self-publishing, pretend you are working with the deadlines set by a publishing house. These deadlines are generally inflexible so hold yourself to them.

3. Hire an Editor

Writing a book is often a lonely process and because we are so close to our work, we can easily miss key points or gloss over concepts that we may understand intimately but are new territory for readers. That’s where a good editor can save the day. Almost all successful authors collaborate with a substantive editor.

With substantive editing (also known as developmental editing), the editor makes the manuscript functional for its readers as well as correct and consistent. A substantive editor may also do line editing which includes paragraph structure, sentence flow, word choice, and language-related techniques. That also means voice, style, readability, and forward movement.

An editor will also help you with setting and keeping your deadlines to ensure that your magnum opus eventually find its readers.

Writing and publishing a full-length book can be an overwhelming task. But there is another route that more and more authors are discovering. You don’t have to take years to write a 250-page (60,000-word) book. The best way to ‘get in the game’ is to write a “starter” book — a 10,000 to 15,000-word eBook — so you can become a bestselling author within a few months, not years.

When you start by publishing a bite-sized eBook you will establish yourself as an author (and speaker) while you are working on your magnum opus. You also get to cut your teeth on your eBook launch campaign which will prepare you for launching your ‘big’ book. Then you can use your eBook to build your email list, social media following and network of supportive partners (I’ll teach you how to do this in the eBook Bestseller Bootcamp) so that you have a community of fans who are eager to buy and read your magnum opus and support it when it’s released.

Publishing Path

I’m convinced that publishing an ebook is one of the best ways to begin to shine your light and here’s why:

  • Speed: An eBook can be written quickly: 10,000 words or so (40 pages) is easy to write in a few days or weeks. You don’t need to find an agent or a publisher because Amazon will publish your book around the world in just a few hours.
  • Clarity: By writing your book, you’ll gain insights, clarity and a new level of mastery around your subject. The act of writing will raise your level of confidence and authority from a “three” to a “five” or perhaps from a “five” to an “eight” out of 10.
  • Low Cost: You can get a quality cover design for as little as $5 on sites like Your major expense will be hiring an editor, and this is not the place to scrimp. Your eBook should be of the same editorial quality as a printed book. Budget $500 to $1,000 for this. Otherwise, there are no costs for publishing, printing, distribution and marketing (although you could invest in marketing, if you choose to).
  • Credibility: What would the addition of the words “bestselling author” on your website, bio, business card and email signature do for your career? You’ll be perceived as an expert and, in turn, will attract more speaking opportunities, subscribers, clients and income.
  • List Building: Because you can insert links into your eBook, you can leverage it to build your email list as readers click through to your website to receive additional bonuses, videos and information from you.
  • Royalities: Unlike printed books that pay the author between 7.5 and 50 percent of the wholesale price of the book, eBook royalties are as high as 70 percent. That means you earn around $2 on a $2.99 selling price, and this can add up fast.

Don’t end up like Charlotte!

Sadly, Charlotte died shortly after making her egg sac and never got to see her 514 spiderlings. I’m not suggesting that writing your magnum opus will kill you (although it might feel that way at times). But can you imagine the joy Charlotte would have felt if she’d been able to hatch just one little arachnid before she passed on?

Think of your first eBook as birthing your first baby. Then start raising that baby while you’re incubating your next one!

Geoff Affleck is a 5-time #1 bestselling author and creator and facilitator for the eBook Bestseller Bootcamp for aspiring self-help authors.

Author’s Block #1: The Author Centric Mindset.
Author’s Block #3: If You Write it, They will Come
Read more posts

Post a comment below. I’d love to hear our thoughts on this.

2 Comments on “The Magnum Opus Syndrome (a story about perfectionism)

  1. “When the student is ready, the teacher appears.” The minute I heard you speak it shifted my consciousness about what I was embarking on. I thank you Geoff for publishing these insights. I know that you have saved me from some wasted time, effort and perhaps suffering. Though I experienced a dramatic emptiness today having stopped the music and the authorcentric writing of a magnum opus which perhaps we will eventually write, this insight stopped me from going down that road. I express the greatest gratitude to you for this clarity. It is amazing to stop the music in this way with such clarity. Much much gratitude! Looking forward to the course. I am sure it will be r-evolutionary!

  2. Geoff, you know I enrolled in Chris Kyle’s course on launching an online course. With everything else I have been doing, I have not had much time to commit to that course. I got to the place where I am interviewing Avatars. Then I started experiencing ambivalence about my planned course. To deal with that, I decided to write a book on the topic of the course (how your relationship with God can help you triumph over trauma) to gain clarity and resolve my ambivalence. This time, I want to do this book writing and publishing with the proper guidance, so starting today, I am working my way through your Bestseller Bootcamp course! I’m fascinated to read that gaining clarity is one of your four reasons for writing an eBook. I’m in the right place!

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