Note: My deepest apologies if you are a subscriber who got this post in your feed before it was finished. I’m working with a new theme and must have pressed the wrong button! Here is the real, complete version.
I am a lover of quotes. I collect them like snow globes, fountain pens and new memoirs. I marvel at the wittiness of their authors. How did they find just the right mix of words to inspire me so?
Just last week, my friend Mark Combs, blogger at Splinter in the Mind’s Eye, sent me a link to an inspiring collection of quotes by famous authors—some familiar to me, others I’d never seen.
I have a theory about quotes. They are so popular (are they all over your Facebook stream, too?) precisely because they make us feel good. They bring us an ‘aha moment.’ We smile, giving the words an instant to burn into our brains before tripping along our merry way. Here are a few:
You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write. - Saul Bellow
Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the whole world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia. - Kurt Vonnegut
One of the few things I know about writing is this: spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems to be good for a better place. Something more will arise for later, something better. - Annie Dillard
Don’t get me wrong. Inspiration has its place. And a whole industry has sprung up to help us with that part. The conferences, speakers, books and greeting cards that make me feel good because, “I’m a writer.”
Yet 75 percent of conference goers who buy a speaker’s book after the inspiring, spell-binding presentation will put it on the bookshelf when they get back home, where it will sit and collect dust.
Because inspiration isn’t enough.
Inspiration is the easy part.Since I got serious about writing this book, thanks to my brilliant editor Victoria Mixon, author of The Art & Craft of Story, I’ve been paying more attention to the advice that moves me closer to publication. The stuff that my friend Larry Brooks at the Storyfix blog parcels out (I like to call him the Dr. Phil of the Literary World). It’s sort of the ‘tough love’ thing.
Beyond inspiration: words for writers who want to be successful
While my writer self still needs inspiration, I now find more value in the how of writing, rather than the why. I seek out the advice givers who admit it’s hard work, but worth it. And I believe that the following words can apply, no matter your life’s work. Because we are all telling stories in one form or another as we go through life:
If you want to be a writer, you must do two things above all else: read a lot and write a lot. - Stephen King
What I try to do is write. I may write for two weeks, ‘the cat sat on the mat, that is that, not a rat.’ And it might be the most boring and awful stuff. But I try. When I’m writing, I write. And then it’s as if the muse is convinced I’m serious and says, ‘Okay. Okay. I’ll come.’ - Maya Angelou
And an interview with Ernest Hemingway:
Interviewer: How much rewriting do you do? Hemingway: It depends. I rewrote the ending to ‘Farewell to Arms,’ the last page of it, 39 times before I was satisfied. Interviewer: Was there some technical problem there? What was it that had you stumped? Hemingway: Getting the words right.
I leave you with a favorite Mixon quote of mine:
‘Will this be the final draft?’ you ask. ‘I mean, really—how many drafts could it possibly take?’ This is the hollow, diabolical chorus of laughter from every serious writer who has come before us on the planet, living or dead. That laughter isn’t fading away. It’s getting louder and more cacophonic—…until it degenerates into the deafening noise of Original Chaos, exactly how the universe sounded before the Big Bang. (I’m sorry. I don’t make them do that. They just launch into it every time someone asks this question.) - Victoria Mixon
So, what’ the most unsexy trait of successful writers (and other humans)? I believe it is hard work and a commitment to see things through to the end. And I agree with Woody Allen:
80 percent of success is just showing up.
What do you think?
Does plain old hard work trump talent?
Do you need both?
Do you think inspiration is the easier part?