Every once in a while, I come across a person who either thinks writing is the easiest of all arts, or doesn’t consider writing an art altogether. What these people don’t really know is how much of a tiring ordeal writing is, the endless drafts, the excruciating writing blocks, and most importantly the piercing self-doubt that comes with every word, every paragraph, and every page.
Almost every great writer of our time has failed multiple times in their lifetime before they got the recognition they deserved; Sylvia Plath’s first rejection letter for The Bell Jar read, “There certainly isn’t enough genuine talent for us to take notice.” Gertrude Stein received a cruel rejection letter that mocked her style, and even Jack Kerouac’s On the Road received a particularly blunt rejection letter that simply read, “I don’t dig this one at all.”
In this article, we’ve collected timeless advice on writing from masters of the craft who’ve seen rejection, writing-blocks, poverty, and still made it as the greatest of their time.
1- “You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly… Accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well.” -Jennifer Egan on Writing, the Trap of Approval, and the Most Important Discipline for Aspiring Writers
2- “The first sign of disintegration — in a writer — is that the writing loses the unique stamp of his/her character, & loses its inner light.”
-Ted Hughes on How to Be a Writer: A Letter of Advice to His 18-Year-Old Daughter
3- “Write to please just one person. If you open a window and make love to the world, so to speak, your story will get pneumonia.” -Kurt Vonnegut: 8 Rules for a Great Story
4- “As a writer you should not judge. You should understand.” –How to Be a Writer: Ernest Hemingway’s Advice to Aspiring Authors
5- “The cutting of the gem has to be finished before you can see whether it shines.” –Leonard Cohen: Creativity, Hard Work, and Why You Should Never Quit Before You Know What It Is You’re Quitting
6- “All makers must leave room for the acts of the spirit. But they have to work hard and carefully, and wait patiently, to deserve them.” -Ursula K. Le Guin: Where Ideas Come From, the “Secret” of Great Writing, and the Trap of Marketing Your Work
7- “Just set one day’s work in front of the last day’s work. That’s the way it comes out. And that’s the only way it does.” -John Steinbeck: The Diary as a Tool of Discipline, a Hedge Against Self-Doubt, and a Pacemaker for the Heartbeat of Creative Work
8- “Talent is insignificant. I know a lot of talented ruins. Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but most of all, endurance.” -James Baldwin’s Advice on Writing