Advice to a young writer

by | Nov 1, 2009

For two days this week I will be in residence at the Fremantle Children’s Literature Centre as part of its Youth Literature program.  This has led me to ponder what advice I would give to young writers (if they even want advice: I’m not sure I would have taken much at 16, so I don’t expect they will either).  Anyway, if I had any, it would be:

1) Keep going.
2) Sit outside a lot.
3) Read poetry (not the talented earache of modern poetry, as John Forbes memorably put it, but poets with heart and soul.  WA poets like Sarah French, Morgan Yasbincek, Marcella Polain, Barbara Temperton, Nandi Chinna, Meg McKinlay, Tracy Ryan and Barbara Temperton are my current favourites, but whatever floats your boat).
4) Actually write, as opposed to thinking about writing.
5) Accept that nobody will get it.
6) Accept that you will be rejected.
7) Accept that some people will love and some people will hate your writing, if you’re any good.
8) Don’t ask your loved ones for advice.
9) Write with an open heart.  If you don’t want to do that, become a lawyer.  There have been too many trees wasted on crap.
10) Don’t be afraid to be antisocial so that you can write.  It goes with the territory.

I want to write, 11) don’t listen to anyone’s advice, but that would be flippant.  Instead, I will end with a very apt quote from Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet (which I like better than his poetry, I regret to say).

You ask whether your verses are any good.  You ask me.  You have asked others before this.  You send them to magazines.  You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work.  Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing.  You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid doing  right now. 

No one can advise or help you; no one.  There is only one thing you should do.  Go into yourself.  Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write.  This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write?  Dig deep into yourself for a deep answer.  And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple I must, then build your life in accordance with this necessity.

There.  Go do it.

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