Some Exceptional Writing Advice

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If you are a writer who takes your work at all seriously, I cannot overemphasize the importance of this post. I found a maize-colored, folded-up piece of paper a few years back that I couldn’t assign to any particular source, but the words were so powerful and relevant to writing that I kept it. I don’t know who wrote it. I’m posting it here not only because I think every so-called writer needs to refer to it several times annually for at least five years, but also in the hopes that somebody might know where the little gem came from at all.

The advice began with a quote attributed to Blake:

“He whose face gives no light shall never become a star…”

Why urge everybody to write when the world is so full of writers and there are oceans of printed matter? Well, all of it does not amount to very much and little is worth remembering. Every two or three years a book comes out and everyone likes it very much and praises it and says it is a true work of art. And for these books I am grateful. But there could be a great deal more living literature, that really talks to people and does not just kill time for them.

And what is a little book or two, when there is so much greatness in the world hidden all around us? These good things that appear in print seem so meager, so slight, so publisher-touted…one or two little books – making an impression for two years, forgotten utterly in five – that is not enough, when you think what there might be, what might come out of people.

But if (as I wish) everybody writes and respects and loves writing, then we would have a nation of intelligent, eager, impassioned readers; and generous and grateful ones, not mere critical, logy, sedentary passengers, observers of our writing, whose attitude is: “All right: entertain me now.” Then we would all talk to each other in our writing with excitement and passionate interest, like free men and brothers, and like people in paradise, whom Dostoevsky described in a story: “not only in their songs but in all their lives they seemed to do nothing but admire each other.” The result: some great, great national literature.

And this is all that I have to say.

To sum up – if you want to write:

Know that you have talent, are original and have something important to say. Know that it is good to work. Work with love and think of liking it when you do it. It is easy and interesting. It is a privilege. There is nothing hard about it but your anxious vanity and fear of failure. Write freely, recklessly, in first drafts.

Tackle anything you want to – novels, plays, anything. Only remember Blake’s admonition “Vetter to strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires.”

Don’t be afraid of writing bad stories. To discover what is wrong with a story write to new ones and then go back to it.

Don’t fret or be ashamed of what you have written in the past. How I always suffered from this! How I would regurgitate out of my memory (and still do) some nauseous little lumps of things I had written! But don’t do this. Go on to the next. And fight against this tendency which is much of it due not to splendid modesty, but a lack of self-respect. We are too ready (women especially) not to stand by what we have said or done. Often it is a way of forestalling criticism, saying hurriedly: “I know it is awful!” before anyone else does. Very bad and cowardly. It is so conceited and timid to be ashamed of one’s mistakes. Of course they are mistakes. Go on to the next.

Try to discover your true, honest, untheoretical self.

Don’t think of yourself as an intestinal tract and tangle of nerves in the skull, that will not work unless you drink coffee. Think of yourself as incandescent power, illuminated perhaps and forever talked to by God and his messengers. Remember how wonderful you are, what a miracle! Think if Tiffany’s made a mosquito, how wonderful we would think it was!

If you are never satisfied with what you write, that is a good sign. It means your vision can see so far that it is hard to come up to it. Again I say, the only unfortunate people are the glib ones, immediately satisfied with their work. To them the ocean is only knee-deep.

When discouraged, remember what Van Gogh said: “If you hear a voice within you saying: You are no painter, then paint by all means, lad, and that voice will be silenced, but only by working.”

Don’t be afraid of yourself when you write. Don’t check-rein yourself. If you are afraid of being sentimental, say, for heaven’s sake be as sentimental as you can or feel like being! Then you will probably pass through to the other side and slough off sentimentality because you understand it at last and really don’t care about it.

Don’t always be appraising yourself, wondering if you are better or worse than other writers. “I will not Reason & Compare,” said Blake; “my business is to Create.” Besides, since you are like no other being ever created since the beginning of Time, you are incomparable.

And why should you do all these things? Why should we all use our creative power and write or paint or play music, or whatever it tells us to do?

Because there is nothing that makes people so generous, joyful, lively, bold and compassionate, so indifferent to fighting and the accumulation of objects and money. Because the best way to know the Truth or Beauty is to try and express it. And what is the purpose of existence Here or Yonder but to discover truth and beauty and express it, i.e. share it with others?

And so I really believe this book will hasten the Millenium by two or three hundred years. And if it has given you the impulse to write one small story, then I am pleased.


  1. Jesse


    This is exactly what I needed to read today, good words, thanks.

  2. sean tre


    really insightful brother…thank you for inspiring and speaking from your heart…great stuff

  3. Greg Lang


    This is very inspiring. Let your conscience lie dormant, you deserve to be pleased. I will go and write something today that has nothing to do with anything. What a blessing to just be able to think that, let alone write it, and to know that ideas are possibilities waiting for me to use them. Imagination is so fulfilling.

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