Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet is one of the greatest writing advice books of all time. You can highlight nearly every passage as an inspirational gem. But there isn’t any quantifiable advice in it.
As much as Writer’s Digest focuses on the nuts-and-bolts of craft/technique, and beats the drum of marketing and promotion, everyone on staff recognizes that what sets the successful apart from the unsuccessful is rarely quantifiable.
Maybe there are some numbers you can look at, for a vague generalization:
- Kevin Kelley’s 1,000 fans
- Malcolm Gladwell’s 10,000 hours (as explained by Seth Godin)
- John Grisham’s many rejections
These numbers only point to a larger felt sense that a writer knows in his gut, physically (but may intellectually ignore) when it comes to recognizing the effort or determination required.
But your motivation and desire to write or express yourself doesn’t lie in the numbers. Whether you like it or not, it keeps its home in the hopes and fears that go much deeper than the writing goals you might have set for yourself.
One of my favorite passages from Rilke:
Perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deeps something helpless that wants help from us.
We all have some kind of dragon holding us back, and we typically give it a name that obscures its real identity. Maybe your dragon is “not enough time” or “writer’s block” or “publishing industry is unfair.” But is that really the true, felt sense of what’s holding you back? Only you can tell. (And I recommend this book to find out what that true, felt sense might be.)
Every creative person, every artist, needs someone who encourages them, who can see the potential inside, who can see the princess in the dragon. My father told me as a little girl that I could do anything and be anything that I wanted. And I could tell he really believed it. And so I believed it too.
What do you hang onto? What can turn your dragon into a princess?
Note: It’s a busy week for me, so I’ll have guest blogger Jim Adam here on Wednesday-Friday. (Curious what I’m up to? Check out my live, online class on query letters this Thursday, and the Midwest Writers Workshop.)