Writing Wednesday: 7 Successful Writers on Believing in Your Craft

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Writers, at any stage of their career, are going to come up against roadblocks. Whether it’s finding time to write, facing criticism or dealing with writer’s block, it can be hard to continue to pick yourself up after numerous setbacks. These seven writers have all been there, and they’ve come out successfully on the other side. So when you’re feeling frustrated or discouraged, just remember…

1) Erica Jong, on knowing you’re not alone

“The hardest part is believing in yourself at the notebook stage. It is like believing in dreams in the morning.”

But don’t worry, she also says you’re not alone: “Few are the great spirits who did not at one time or another write in jail, in exile, in the madhouse, or at the foot of the gallows.”

2) Sparrow Beckett, on enjoying your work

“My [first] novel was so bad, that the publisher I submitted it to sent me a rejection with a blank space where my name was supposed to go. I quit writing after that. About two decades later, I started writing for fun.”

3) Margaret Atwood, on accepting your failures

“A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason.”

4) W.H. Auden, on not pleasing everyone

“It would only be necessary for a writer to secure universal popularity if imagination and intelligence were equally distributed among all men.”

5) Carol Goodman, on when to ignore criticism

“The journey from your head to the written page is a twisted one – what the reader hears may not be what you intended at all. Until you can listen to criticism and learn to make changes to your work so that it becomes what you intended in the first place, your writing will remain a monologue and not a dialogue with the world. Good criticism should make you (after the initial shock) want to write more. But if what you’re told makes you want to give up …

LEARN when to discard criticism. Everyone will receive bad criticism at some point, whether from that friend (who is mad at you about something else), or a teacher (who just doesn’t like the genre you’ve chosen), or an Amazon reviewer who’s angry they paid too much for the Kindle edition. Listen with an open mind, but if (after a day or two’s reflection) the criticism makes you want to stop writing, then it wasn’t good criticism. Ignore it. Move on.”

Read Goodman’s full lesson here.

6) Ralph Waldo Emerson, on staying strong

“Whatever course you decide upon, there is always someone to tell you that you are wrong. There are always difficulties arising which tempt you to believe that your critics are right. To map out a course of action and follow it to an end requires courage.”

7) Michael Lewis, on encouraging fantasy

“When you’re trying to create a career as a writer, a little delusional thinking goes a long way.”

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