Elizabeth Berg: "If I could say anything to aspiring writers, it's to keep your own counsel, first and foremost."

Since we’re back in action, it’s time to unveil the top 5 in our Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series. The latest comes from novelist Elizabeth Berg, who offers a few key words about the “strong and true thing” that really makes the writing world go round. A regular prompt follows.

Also, for our holiday book drawing, the names off all the story-posters were thrown into the Promptly 10-gallon Hat (this time, my Rabbit Hash General Store mug), and three have emerged to claim the swag: Evelyn, Dare and LaTonya, can you send me your current addresses, and I’ll get the books mailed out?

No. 5: Keep Your Own Counsel
If I could say anything to aspiring writers, it’s to keep your own counsel, first and foremost. There’s nothing wrong with listening to what other people have to say, and I used to be one of your readers who would gaze longingly at those pictures of people who are published and think, Oh man, what must it be like? But there is something inside of a person that makes them be a writer in the first place. That’s a strong and true thing. And you can have your head turned very easily by the business of writing. It’s so important to keep it church and state—keep it separate. The process of writing and creating and answering that very unique call inside yourself has nothing to do with agents and sales and all that stuff. I can tell you as someone who’s enjoyed a lot of success in my career that nothing matches the feeling you have when you get it right on the page, when you please yourself in that very intimate way: That’s always the best thing, no matter what happens. For me it is, anyway.”

You know, in the most self-protective of ways, I don’t think about the reader when I’m writing—I just think about the story. After it’s done, I think a lot about the reader, and I’m like any other writer: I’m not unaware of what’s said about books; I’m very happy when they’re praised, and my feelings are hurt when they’re denigrating. But in the end, always, and I’m sure you’ve heard this a million times: If you’re going to be a writer, you need to write what’s in your heart and soul, and let the chips fall where they may. Let’s say you try to accommodate this imaginary reader, and you produce a work that you’re not particularly happy with. That will always stay with you, that you didn’t write what was true for you. Whereas if you do write what’s true for you, and someone doesn’t like it—well, you know, that stings for a minute, but it goes away.”

—Elizabeth Berg, The WD Interview, by Jessica Strawser, March/April 2010 (click here to check the rest of the issue out)


Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a
response (500 words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our
occasional around-the-office swag drawings.
you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

He’d written the note on the back of his hand so he wouldn’t forget. Now, it changed everything.

Also, what are you and your writing doing Jan. 21-23? Join us in New York for the Writer’s Digest Conference.
We always have a blast, and it can be a great move for your craft and
career (at one of our recent events, agents Janet Reid and Andrea Hurst
signed clients, and went on to negotiate six-figure deals for them). On
tap this year:

  • Our signature agent pitch slam, featuring at least 57 agents representing a variety of genres and styles
  • Sessions on the future of publishing, craft, platform, social media, freelancing and much, much more
  • Panels and Q&As with agents and other pros
  • Our off-site poetry slam in SoHo.

Click here to learn more. Hope to see you there!

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9 thoughts on “Elizabeth Berg: "If I could say anything to aspiring writers, it's to keep your own counsel, first and foremost."

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  3. Evelyn

    I’ve exceeded the word count. I will post part two under the "time capsule" 1/7 prompt.

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