Writing is a pretty brutal combination of creativity and perfectionism. There’s the struggle to let everything flow onto the page followed by the challenge of editing your thoughts to make sense to readers—but heaven forbid it feel overworked. When it feels like you’ll never write anything great again or the perfect word remains just beyond your grasp, you need something more eloquent than a “Hang In There!” kitten poster. Sometimes it helps to listen to those who have been there, and succeeded. Here are our favorite quotes from writes that help us keep going.
“I spent much of my creative energies, in that first year, freelancing for The Washington Monthly at 10 cents a word. If I earned $5,000 that year, I would be surprised. Whatever steadiness there was in the house came from my partner, who seemed to not share my uncanny talent for getting fired… Back then, I was certain that it was time to get a real job. No, she would say. You need to write.” – Ta-Nehisi Coates (On Homecomings)
“Of course there’s a tremendous amount of self-doubt, are you crazy? You spend half your time wondering if you’re going to jump off the bridge. But the real question or the real point is that if you are not lost, then you’re at a place someone has already found. I mean, if you feel familiar and you feel comfortable, you’re in mapped territory… If you’re going to spend X number of years in a book, you might as well do something new, and that requires being completely lost.” – Junot Diaz (Also highly recommended: his speech on “The Whip.”)
“Try looking at your mind as a wayward puppy that you are trying to paper train. You don’t drop-kick a puppy into the neighbor’s yard every time it piddles on the floor. You just keep bringing it back to the newspaper.” – Anne Lamott, Bird By Bird.
“Of course your writing is boring to you. You’ve been writing it, obsessing over every detail, and living in it for days, months. But to someone else who hasn’t read it before, it will be fresh and exciting.”
“Literature is an endless source of courage and confirmation. The reader and beginning writer can count on being heartened by all the brave and original works that have been written without the slightest regard for how strange or risky they were, or for what the writer’s mother might have thought when she read them.” – Francine Prose, Reading Like A Writer.
“You think your pain and your heartbreak are unprecedented in the history of the world, but then you read. It was books that taught me that the things that tormented me most were the very things that connected me with all the people who were alive, or who had ever been alive.” – James Baldwin
“I don’t believe in writer’s block. Think about it—when you were blocked in college and had to write a paper, didn’t it always manage to fix itself the night before the paper was due? Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands. If you have a limited amount of time to write, you just sit down and do it. You might not write well every day, but you can always edit a bad page. You can’t edit a blank page.” – Jodi Picoult
“This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard.” – Neil Gaiman
(also recommended, his NaNoWriMo Pep Talk)
“The moment that you feel that, just possibly, you’re walking down the street naked, exposing too much of your heart and your mind and what exists on the inside, showing too much of yourself. That’s the moment you may be starting to get it right.” – Neil Gaiman’s commencement speech, which is required reading if you are struggling.
“There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside of you.” – Maya Angelou