Amy Tan (born in 1952) is the bestselling author of The Joy Luck Club, The Hundred Secret Senses, and countless other beloved works.
Here are four of her wonderful quotes to inspire your writing!
1. I wanted to write stories for myself. At first it was purely an aesthetic thing about craft. I just wanted to become good at the art of something. And writing was very private.
One of the best things you can do when you’re starting out as a writer is to write stories for yourself and not necessarily for others. Yes, you peruse the local bookstore and hope to see your book on the shelf someday. Yes, you hope and pray the manuscript you’re working on might impress an agent or an editor and find a home someday.
But here’s the deal — put all those other things out of your mind for now. Don’t think about publication or bookstore shelves. Don’t even think about anything beyond the first draft. Just tell yourself the story. Write something that makes you happy, that makes you excited to sit down at your desk every day and write. Don’t tell a bunch of people what you’re working on, and instead allow your process to be as private as possible. The goal right now is to finish whatever it is you’re working on and improve in your craft.
2. I started a second novel seven times and I had to throw them away.
If there’s anything harder than completing a first novel and signing with an agent and selling that book to an editor and actually seeing that novel become a best-seller… it’s writing a second novel. In all my years of writing, I haven’t had many expectations put on me, so I’m able to start each new novel project like it’s the first thing I’ve ever written, in a sense. There’s not a single person in the world awaiting my newest novel, so I can do whatever I want, and I can have the time of my life.
But once you actually have a novel published in the world, and especially if it does really well, then there’s a sense of anticipation among readers about what you’ll write next. That’s what happened to Amy Tan after her first novel The Joy Luck Club was released in 1989 and became a smash success. Everybody loved that book and wanted more from her, and those expectations can easily suffocate you. You want to write something that will please those readers but also give them something new. And of course you want to write something that’s better than the last book. Therefore, you might have to start your second novel a few times. You might have to throw out dozens of pages to get it just right.
But no matter what happens, stick with it, and do your best. There are far worse things in life than struggling with your writing of a second book when you already have a book in the world and readers around the world who can’t wait to see what you publish next.
3. I would find myself laughing and wondering where these ideas came from. You can call it imagination, I suppose. But I was grateful for wherever they came from.
Ideas are a funny thing because they come from all sorts of places. Sometimes an image you see before you inspires a new idea. Sometimes a strange or sudden or memorable occurrence that happens to you one day sparks an exciting idea for a short story or a novel you want to start writing as soon as you get home. Sometimes reading a book or watching a movie gives you ideas that you can make your own, too.
And then of course an amazing idea can drop down from the clear blue sky, which is always a blessing when it happens. Taking a daily walk or run helps with this. Silence also helps a lot. As soon as you clear your head and try not to think of anything in particular, sometimes an incredible idea can hit you from out of nowhere. At the end of the day, it doesn’t really matter where the best ideas come from. Just be grateful when you get those good ideas, and hold onto them as long as you can.
4. Placing on writers the responsibility to represent a culture is an onerous burden.
Amy Tan is a Chinese-American born to Chinese immigrants, and her first novel The Joy Luck Club is all about the Chinese-American experience, one that’s particularly focused on mother-daughter relationships. Since that first book was such a beloved bestseller, later becoming an award-winning motion picture released in 1993, Tan has obviously felt the pressure to continually represent her culture in her later works, even though she should have the freedom to write whatever kinds of books she pleases.
Tan might be Chinese-American, but that doesn’t mean she should feel the responsibility to represent her culture in everything she writes. She has her life experience, which she is free to share with readers and has shared with readers many times, but if she wants her next book to be about a lonesome British boy or a white American married couple on the brink of divorce or an ensemble of characters that represent many different world cultures, she should be able to.
As a gay person, I write about a lot of gay characters in my short stories and novels, but I’ve also written books where all the main characters are straight, too, such as in my most recent novel. I don’t want to be forced to do anything in my storytelling because of my background or my culture or my sexuality or whatever it may be. And the same goes for you, too.
Don’t feel pressure or some kind of responsibility to do anything you don’t want to do. Write what your heart wants you to write, always.
Brian Rowe is a writer, teacher, and constant dreamer. He received his MFA in Creative Writing and MA in English from the University of Nevada, Reno, and his BA in Film from Loyola Marymount University. He’s on Facebook and Twitter, and you can read more of his work at brianrowebooks.com.