“It has never been easy for me to understand why people work so hard to create something beautiful, but then refuse to share it with anyone, for fear of criticism.” — Elizabeth Gilbert
I share my writing all the time, thanks to this blog. In the early days, shortly after I launched Writing Forward, I would sometimes wake up in a panic, wondering whether I’d made a fool of myself on my new blog. Had I said something stupid? Misspelled a word? Misplaced a comma? A few times, I did make a fool of myself. I’ve published posts with typos in the headlines, and once I spelled a famous author’s name wrong–that appeared in a headline, too.
Putting your work out there is a risk, and it can be scary. Read more
“Painting is poetry that is seen rather than felt,
and poetry is painting that is felt rather than seen.”
- Leonardo da Vinci
What is Art? What is Poetry?
For centuries, people have been asking the question what is art? Is art a question? An answer? An expression? A statement? Maybe it’s sheer entertainment.
It’s a question we all must answer for ourselves, especially artists and writers.
I believe the best art entertains while it provokes thought or emotion, but that’s just my personal opinion. You might seek art that makes you laugh or fills you with awe. Some prefer art that is masterfully crafted, regardless of the content or messages it communicates.
Poetry That is Felt
In the world of art, poetry is particularly tricky to define because it can be so many things. Consider Dr. Seuss’s frolicking stories written in meter versus the social-political poetry of Adrienne Rich or the tribute poetry of Robert Frost and you soon realize that poetry’s purpose is really the poet’s purpose.
When Leonardo da Vinci talks about a painting as a poem that is seen (as opposed to read), I think he’s making on observation about art, something similar to the idea that “a picture is worth a thousand words.” A single painting can express ideas and emotions that would take a thousand words or more to convey in poetry or prose.
But when he talks about poetry as a painting that is felt rather than seen, he digs into the heart of what poetry can be–text that moves people emotionally. I would expand on that to note that often poetry (and other art) provokes emotions that are difficult or even impossible to put into clear words. Sometimes you read a poem and it makes you feel or understand something, but you couldn’t possibly explain it in concrete terms, and if you could, it would take an essay–or even an entire book–to convey what the poem communicated in a few lines.
That’s the magic of art and poetry. Ultimately, it is a form of communication that is almost psychic in nature.
What does poetry mean to you? How do you define or identify art?
“A writer who waits for ideal conditions
under which to work will die
without putting a word to paper.”
- E. B. White
What are your ideal writing conditions? Is it quiet or are there stimulating background noises? Are you alone, curled up in a chair with a pen and notebook, or are you in a bustling café, gleaning inspiration from fellow patrons and a tasty meal or cup of coffee? Are you already rich and successful with all the time in the world to dedicate to your craft or are you a starving artist, hungry to get that first publication credit, desperate to complete that first novel?
Inadequate conditions are one of the many excuses that would-be writers use to explain why they’re not getting any writing done. Their schedules are too full, their bank accounts too empty. They’re too tired or not inspired. They haven’t found the perfect story idea. They don’t have a comfortable chair or there’s too much noise–too many distractions.
Every excuse–every reason not to write–is just that: a distraction. Writing is the cheapest and most accessible craft in the world. All you need to get started is a pen and notebook. If you have a fancy computer and state-of-the-art software, all the better, but owning these tools is not essential. Anyone can rent computer time in a local library (Ray Bradbury rented typewriters when he first started his writing career).
Ideal conditions may happen someday. Your personal responsibilities will dwindle. You’ll have a spare room you can convert into your own personal writing studio. You’ll have spare cash you can spend on tools, equipment, and weekly trips to a quaint café. In the meantime, why let all these excuses stop you from doing what you love?
If you really want to write…if you truly want to become an author, you won’t let anything get in your way, least of all, imperfect conditions.
They say it’s better to have loved and lost than to have never loved at all. We can say the same thing about writing: It’s better to write badly than to write nothing at all.
Jodi Picoult’s quote summarizes this idea in a clear, concise manner. Writing is a craft, not a science. There will be days when everything you write ends up in the recycle bin. There will be days when you have to rewrite every single word. And on rare days, every word you type will be golden.
The good news is that the more you write, the better your writing will become. You know what they say about practice, right?
I have written hundreds of thousands of words–probably millions of words–that had to be thrown away. And I’ve written millions more that I’ve had to edit and rewrite. Every word, even the throwaways and especially the edits–is worth it.
How much time do you spend on editing? Do you force yourself to write through the bad days? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment.
William Wordsworth expresses a simple concept that can be difficult to execute: being yourself.
Filling your paper with the breathings of your heart means being honest and raw in your writing. It means exposing yourself, taking risks, and being vulnerable. It means being passionate and caring about your work.
It’s easy to fall into the trappings of the marketplace. Vampires were popular, then zombies became a big hit. Writers, agents, and publishers leaped onto the bandwagon and soon the market was flooded with these stories, and some of them lacked that extra special something that makes good stories so good–and I suspect the missing ingredient was the authors’ honest connection with the work.
When you fill your paper with the breathings of your heart, you’re writing about things that matter to you, and it shows in your writing. What do you fill your paper with? Do the contents of your heart make it to the pages you write?
“Writing is the only thing that when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.”
- Gloria Steinem
I feel the same way as Ms. Steinem, although I only realized it recently.
It was late and I was tired. Exhausted, really. I should have been asleep. My face needed washing, my teeth needed brushing. I still needed to brew my nightly cup of chamomile tea. If not sleeping or getting ready for bed, I should have been reviewing the proof copy of my next book, which was sitting on my desk with a red pen sticking out of it.
Instead, I sat there writing for almost two hours, taking a break halfway through to brew that cup of tea. It was late when I finally crawled into bed, about three a.m.
For those two hours, the world disappeared. Nothing mattered, there were no distractions, and I was completely inside a story of my own making. I forgot about how tired I was and didn’t care about washing my face or brushing my teeth. The proof of my next book didn’t even cross my mind. I was doing exactly what I was supposed to be doing: writing.
Has that ever happened to you? When you’re writing, do you get lost in your work? Do you ever feel distracted?
“If you read good books, when you write, good books will come out of you.” – Natalie Goldberg
Writing Good Books
We are all influenced by the world around us. Natalie Goldberg’s quote on reading good books is a reminder that whatever we take in will affect whatever we put out.
I believe this is a truth that goes beyond writing. When we surround ourselves with positive, supportive people, we in turn become more positive and supportive, fostering a nurturing environment that is conductive to achieving our fullest potential–as writers and as human beings.
Whenever I revisit this quote, I am reminded that the stories I take in though film, television, and of course, books, have a strong impact on what I write. The quality and content of my work is subject to these influences. That doesn’t mean I never read books that are mediocre. I learn from those too. But I try to spend more time studying the greats, with the hope that some of their brilliance will rub off on my own writing.
What do you read? When you choose entertainment, do you consider how it will affect your work? Do you actively look for inspiration and influences in the stories you see in film, television, and writing?
Quote: Google Books
Learning to Write
Nobody’s born knowing how to write; we all have to learn how to do it. Yet the myth persists that people who write well (or do anything well) are endowed with special talent. They are the chosen ones.
This idea that ability or success relies entirely on talent is silly. Talent is helpful, sure. But the best and most successful authors study, practice, and learn. They develop good habits and commit to the craft. They work hard. It’s as simple as that.
We tend to look at successful people and believe they made it overnight, and that’s not limited to how we see authors. We see wildly successful people enjoying the fruits of their labor but what we don’t see is the labor itself–the struggles and the many failures they endured to get to where they are now.
What struggles and failures have you encountered on your writing journey? Have ever given up or almost given up? What made you stay the coarse?
Writers Must Read and Write a Lot
Stephen King’s statement is one of my favorite quotes on writing. It should be repeated often and expressed in as many ways as possible.
Writing begins with reading. It is through reading that we learn how to tell stories, how to choose words and craft sentences. The books we read will inform and inspire the books we’ll write, and there’s a lot we can learn from the authors who have gone before us. How can we write if we don’t read?
It might seem obvious: if you want to be a writer, you have to write a lot. But a lot of would-be writers are struck with an idea and think they can become published authors overnight. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard people say things like how hard can it be to write a book? Anyone can write a book. You have to do a lot of writing before you’re experienced enough to write a book that people will pay to read–unless you’re some kind of prodigy, which most of us are not.
Stephen King’s sage wisdom on reading and writing a lot is the foundation upon which all writers can build their habits and practices. So what are you waiting for? Pick up a book, read a few chapters, and then dig into a nice, long writing session.
How often do you read? How much do you write? Do you have any favorite quotes on writing? Share your thoughts by leaving a comment!
We’ve all read books, articles, and poems that we completely forgot about once we were done. But some written works linger. They haunt us or stimulate our thoughts. They provoke our emotions.
That kind of writing is special.
When you create an emotional connection between your writing and your readers, there’s a lasting impression.
Those two works, along with dozens of others, became threads in the tapestry of my world. That’s the power of writing that goes straight to the heart. It affects people, influences them, and shapes their lives.
Maybe your readers will enjoy your work but get back to their lives as soon as they’ve closed the cover on your story. Or maybe you’ll make a difference. Maybe you’ll change lives and make some small (or great) change in the world.
Quotes on writing: source
“Poetry is when an emotion has found its thought and the thought has found words.”
― Robert Frost
Emotions are fickle beasts. Sometimes they’re clear and brilliant: we’re happy, sad, frustrated, or angry. But emotions can also be complicated, layered, and conflicting. Sure, we’re happy but we’re also kind of annoyed about something. We’re sad but we also have something to be glad about. When emotions are textured and gritty, they are difficult to describe.
I believe music is the single best expression of human emotion, but poetry is a close second. Capturing complex feelings in words without the support of music is a marvelous feat. Only the deftest poets do it well.
Four-time Pulitzer Prize winner Robert Frost is one of the most well known and beloved poets in the American literary canon. He knew how to convey emotions through language.
I’d like to share an excerpt from my favorite Frost poem, “The Road Not Taken.”
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I–
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.
By definition, poets take the road that is less traveled by. Some poets gently steer away from the mainstream; others rail in the face of convention.
According to Wikipedia, “In 1894 [Frost] sold his first poem, ‘My Butterfly. An Elegy’ …for $15 ($398 today).” These days, getting $15 for a poem would be an incredible feat. Getting $398 would be impossible. But there was a time when there was a market for poetry, when ordinary people (who were not writers, artists, or poets) bought and read poetry. Maybe back then people understood that poetry had the unique ability to interpret and explain emotions. Where do we turn for those interpretations and explanations today?
Quotes on Writing: source