We all go through a lack of motivation and creative stand-still now and then. Every great writer has struggled through the process of writing with self-doubt and uncertainty. Surviving them takes persistence, perseverance, patience and passion. These are the very four qualities that have carved out literary exemplars from the world’s most loved writers.
As an author, whenever I am in a pit of poor motivation and creative fatigue, I love to look up to these prolific authors who made it. I look up their words on their experiences as writers and it is relieving to see that none of them began easy and none of them became famous overnight. To them, writing was purely love and they took it upon themselves to put writing above everything else.
There are several writers out there who have said something or another. But some of them are simply too good, too inspiring and too reassuring. Let’s look at 10 such well-known quotes from ten of the best writers of all times.
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.”
— Ernest Hemingway
How to begin is a dilemma many of us face when we are about to begin a new story or a book. We all have our personal truths. Something we desire to put into words someday. Something that means deeply to us. Write that one true sentence that always knocks at your mind’s door, that sentence that has come to the tip of your tongue a hundred times. Once you write it down, it is easy to go from there. It is easier to put word after word. And…
“A word after a word after a word is power.”
— Margaret Atwood
Don’t look at the big picture and intimidate yourself when you begin writing. Imagine where you want to begin. Imagine where you want to end it and how. Just know your destination. Do not try to imagine the thousands of words you have to fill in the pages to get to the end. It’s a story. Tell yourself you need to get to the end you have pictured in your mind and put one word after another until you reach there. One word at a time is a good pace to write at.
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.”
— Stephen King
Stephen King is, in my opinion, the king of writing advice, too. He tells it pretty coolly, without decor, as straightforward as it can be. It just hammers in the fact, driving it right through the head. So, when he says this, he means it and it is ultimate truth. Without reading a lot, you are never going to be a good writer. Reading provides us with the tools to write. The words, the writing techniques, the storytelling techniques, the craft, the rules and everything you need to be a writer comes from reading. Many writers write from merely a love for writing but barely read a book. This shows in their writing and renders it mediocre. If you are serious about writing, you have to be serious about reading, too. There is no shortcut around it.
“One day I will find the right words, and they will be simple.”
— Jack Kerouac
Many aspiring authors have asked me: “How do you get the words to write? How can I improve my vocabulary?” To get the words to write, we need to make the flow of thoughts smooth and our imagination engine running all the time. But the word power — the vocabulary, the where-to-use-which-word — comes from reading and reading alone. No, I do not check the dictionary when I come across a new word every time. On the contrary, I do not care to check the dictionary while reading because it slows reading down. But it works because, even as a baby, how did we learn our language? The first words. Maybe our parents taught us a few nouns, names of some things, but the rest, we learn by observing the use of language. From how they are used in a sentence, along with the voice, tone and expressions along with it.
Same happens with reading. When you encounter a word a few times, you will compare the contexts without being aware of it. Your brain will process it and apply closure to it. I often find the words I have used in the flow of writing are rightly fitting to my narrative and cross-checking while editing proves them right.
But, that’s not the point here. You do not have to use complex words that readers will have to check in the dictionary. What is harder is to write in simple words. To create an impact with the simplest of words and sentences takes a whole new level of talent. Focus on polishing the use of your existing vocabulary and read to learn the craft of writing. Simple words cut the deal when they are used judiciously and beautifully.
“No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.”
— Robert Frost
I have experienced this. I remember tearing up and staining my ink in some scenes when I wrote my first book. I allowed myself to feel it all the way home. Later, after being published, friends and readers who had an emotional experience reading the book told me about the parts that made them cry and they were exactly where I had cried while writing. On the same note, the major twist that proved the reader’s guess in the book had come to me as a surprise. One day I was having breakfast when all of a sudden I was stricken by the revelation and I was just as surprised when I wrote it, as were the readers when they read it.
Allow yourself to feel it. Feel the emotions or engage and live with your characters until their emotions become yours, too. Until you feel the rage they feel, until you feel the pain they feel, until you are brimmed with the same love they are, the readers are not going to feel it.
This can be achieved only if you decide to write for yourself about characters you care about. You cannot expect a reader to care about a character you did not. That’s it. Feel them. Surprise yourself.
“Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window.”
— William Faulkner
Reading comes to the forefront again. But then it is indispensable to be a writer. And when you are learning to write well, you need to know the difference between good and bad writing. Without the distinction clearly understood, you cannot readily assume that what you have written is good enough.
Always be a poet, even in prose.”
— Charles Baudelaire
This is a quote I love a lot. The very literal meaning of prose comes from ‘prosaic’ which means ‘dull, boring and unimaginative’. Prose is language which evinces little imagination or animation. To write beautiful prose, you need to implement poetry in it. Describe poetically, use language in its full potential, think out of the box and present it with carefully chosen words like you would write a poem. Great prose presents the image in front of you in words. Poets break conventions, imagine with flair and state with poise. Do that in your prose, too.
“Get it down. Take chances. It may be bad, but it’s the only way you can do anything really good.”
— William Faulkner
Anything is better than nothing when it comes to a page in your first draft. Set aside your fears and get it down. Do not fear writing badly. Writing is writing and it is an art. There is no good and bad, right and wrong when you do art. It can always be fixed and it must be, but while editing. When writing, you are laying out the possibilities and the only thing you need to worry about is creating something. You can edit a bad page but not a blank page. Taking chances allows you to try and that is the only way you can know if you can do anything at all. You cannot find if you can write without trying to write.
“A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.”
— Thomas Mann
Let’s face it. Non-writing people can often feed this misconception into your mind the moment you begin writing. The world thinks writers have it easy. They assume that words are standing in queues at our fingertips, ready to tumble out the moment we wield a pen. They joke about “how easy it is for you to write!” when we put a price to our writing. They think all we need to do is to sit down and put word after word.
But you and I know that that’s not the case. Writing takes effort. Yes, all we need to do is put one word after another, but that comes with an abundance of self-doubt, uncertainty, frustration and fear. We need to fight all these and that is part of the job. For anybody else, writing is just a verb, the act of putting down words somewhere through a medium, from their thoughts. But to writers, it is something they are trying to get right. To us, writing has to come out well and that is not as easy as writing is to people who are not writers.
“The desire to write grows with writing.”
— Desiderius Erasmus
If you have been dreading about getting back to writing, chastising yourself for not doing it enough, here it is. Do it enough and you will do more. Writing itself is the fuel to write more. It is a sort of kinetic energy that makes the mill go round and round. When I do not write something for days, I enter a limbo state and getting back to writing is never harder than that. To want to write, you need to write.
There are many more quotes out there I would love to talk about and I think I will do this again. But for now, let’s seek that one true sentence that will get us going. Let us try putting some words together and own a guilt-free conscience because yes, not writing is not an option we have and not writing feels almost criminal when we find time for everything else. It’s easy and it’s hard. But if your story doesn’t inspire you to finish it, perhaps you are writing the wrong story and it is time to have a one-to-one with your story.
Sana Rose is an award-nominated novelist, poet, physician, counseling professional, freelance writer and mom. She is based out of Kerala, India. Her debut novel ‘Sandcastles’ was shortlisted for ARL Literary Awards 2018 for Best Author soon after publication.
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