A Few Words to Encourage You

In my previous blog, I tried my best to discourage you as a writer. If I succeeded, you’re probably not reading this. You’ve probably taken up skydiving or alligator wrestling–something far safer than writing.

But if you are still with me, let’s start the year off right with some encouragement for writers. As I did last time, I’ll call on some famous writers of the past to help us out. We’ll start with perhaps the noblest observation about writing I could find. William Faulkner said, “It is the writer’s privilege to help man endure by lifting his heart, by reminding him of the courage and honor and hope and price and compassion and pity and sacrifice which has been the glory of his past.”

Alas, most writers had a different take on writing, usually more metaphysical. One that rings true to me is the desire to live through the lives of characters on the page. The great novelist Anne Tyler has said, “I write because I want more than one life. I insist on a wider selection.” Sherwood Anderson (one of my favorite writers) concurs. “I think the whole glory of writing lies in the fact that it forces us out of ourselves and into the lives of others.” Of course, there’s always the other side of the story as playwright Henrik Ibsen noted: “It’s just as well that it came to an end. The endless cohabitation with these imaginary people had begun to make me not a little nervous.” Being a fiction writer is, after all, a little like getting paid for being schizophrenic.

Other writers have a slightly different take on it. I love Maya Angelou’s observation: “In all my work what I try to say is that as human beings we are more alike than we are unalike.” Nadine Gordimer is on the same track when she says, “Writing is making sense of life.” I think most good writers write in order to find out what they themselves believe about life, God, and the great issues of life. In that way, writing—whether fiction or non-fiction—is like an adventure in self-discovery.

Why do you write what you write? Is it to make money? To change lives? To discover who you are? All answers are valid, but probably the best answer is that, despite the drawbacks, the discouragements, and the rejections, you write because you really must. To not write isn’t an option. Encouragement is fine, we all need that. But encouragement from others can only take us so far. Writing is by its nature a solitary profession. (Except for your fictional friends who try to take you to task over the next plot point you’d planned).

One thing I discovered in doing these back-to-back blogs about the miseries and the joys of writing is that I found far more quotes from writers who found writing to be either hard or even torturous. That really didn’t surprise me. In the end, I suppose Gustave Flaubert summed it up with “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living.”

On a much lighter note, as for me, I’m with H.L. Mencken who observed, “I write to attain that feeling of tension relieved and function achieved, which a cow enjoys on giving milk.” Not a very glamorous explanation, but if you’ve had that feeling, you know it’s true. Crude, but true.

13 replies
  1. Shadia Hrichi says:

    Thanks, Nick. Got me to giggle about the solitary nature of writing except for the fictional friends. That’s what’s missing! I prefer writing non-fiction 😉


  2. Joyce A. Scott says:

    Thank you for your blog. Great quotes and thoughts. I write because of Flaubert’s comment: “Writing is a dog’s life, but the only life worth living.” And I wouldn’t have it any other way. 🙂

  3. Jane Daly says:

    Well said. For me, the best encouragement is getting a rare word of praise. It can carry me for months. One time I asked you if my writing was okay. You said, “It’s more than okay.” I wrote that on a 3 x 5 card and put it on my bulletin board, along with a few others. Thanks!

  4. Kathy Bailey says:

    I’m too stubborn to quit. When I hit a block, I just plow through until I get something right.
    Successful writers are becoming more open and transparent as the market stands on its head and does flips (honestly, you never know what it’s going to do from day to day, who could have imagined e-books? SO George Jetson.) Nothing is guaranteed any more unless you’re Dan Brown or some Hollywood type who uses a ghost-writer.
    Which makes it more important for serious writers to stick together. “We few, we happy few, we band of brothers.” That was Shakespeare. Really, all the answers for the human condition can be found in Shakespeare, the Bible or the lyrics of Brian Wilson from the Beach Boys. I’m just sayin’.

  5. Lynn Hare says:

    Happy to hear things picked up in Bloggerville. After the rather Eeyore-esque post on a few words to discourage us last time, it’s nice to know that Tigger blew into town. As it turns out there were more Eeyores than Tiggers, eh? Hm.

    I guess the most serious of us write because there are stories inside of us – stories that have taken on a life of their own – busting to get out, jumping beans of excitement we can’t contain, but which will transform lives as we release them to others.

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