Richard Adams (1920–2016) was a supremely gifted writer most famous for his acclaimed novel Watership Down, which has been read and shared all around the world. Here are five quotes he said over the years that will absolutely help you in your writing!
1. If I had known how frightfully well I could write, I’d have started earlier.
Some of us get started writing at an early age. The first short story I remember writing was called “The Haunted Library” during the third grade, so I would have been nine years old. Writing every word of that story was a total thrill… and I haven’t really stopped since. There was a period where I was only writing screenplays and not fiction, from the ages of fourteen to twenty-four, but I’ve always been writing.
It’s a good thing to recognize something you’re good at as early as possible. But if you never start writing? Whether you’re too scared, or too busy, or too unsure of yourself? That’s one of the worst sins of all. To not share your gifts with the world. To not go after the dream. I’m sure there are thousands of people in this world who could be amazing writers, but for one reason or another have just never gotten started.
You’ve heard someone say it before, I’m sure: “I might try to write a book one day.” Most of these people won’t write the book. But a few might, and what’s a shame is someone in their fifties or sixties or even older suddenly realizing how well they can write. They should have started decades earlier! Just you being here, reading these words, looking for inspiration in your own work, is definitely a good place to start.
2. We are all human and fall short of where we need to be. We must never stop trying to be the best we can be.
You can think of this quote in all aspects of your life, but I think it definitely relates to your writing because you should never stop trying to make it the best it can be. Writing is extremely competitive. There’s so much talent out there. So many manuscripts. So many people vying for readers’ attention. You can’t just be decent. You can’t get 70% of the way there on a manuscript, and say, ehh, good enough.
You’ll never be able to make your writing perfect. Please, don’t even strive for perfection. But you should always, always, always try to make your writing the very best it can be. Don’t settle for something less. Settling for less means all the hard work you put into this particular project might have been all for nothing. Why not put another month of work into it and get it to the place it needs to be? It’s the best thing you can do for your writing, and it’s the best thing you can do for yourself.
3. You know how you let yourself think everything will be all right if you can get to a certain place or do a certain thing. But when you get there you find it’s not that simple.
Another reason you should always try to write to the best of your ability is that you’ll find time and time just how hard writing is, and that reaching the end of a first draft is a mere stage in the process. You might get to the end of that first draft thinking, now I’ve done it, now everything will be simple. I have words on the page! I have my complete story down on paper! Everything from here on out is the easy part!
Not so fast. There’s difficulty in completing the first draft of a manuscript, particularly a novel, but there’s a different kind of difficulty in revising, and revising well. You get to the revising stage thinking it will be fairly simple, that all you’ll need to do is read your wonderful work through a few times and maybe fix some typos and cut a sentence here and there.
Such is the farthest thing from the truth. Revising is is no way simple. It takes a different side of your brain to do it well in a way, because while you’re still being creative, you’re using more of an intellectual thought process in terms of what you have to do to make your writing shine its brightest. Unless you’re super lucky, and your first draft is absolutely brilliant, you’re going to need to revise your work often, taking on one draft after another, until it’s finally ready to be seen by others.
4. I’ve always said that Watership Down is not a book for children. I say: it’s a book, and anyone who wants to read it can read it.
This is the truth of all books, isn’t it? Even though when you write a novel for children, you need to think about certain guidelines that will help sell your book, specific kinds of expectations you should have in the back of your mind at least when you’re revising. For example, don’t write a young adult novel that features a twenty-year-old protagonist. And don’t write a middle grade novel that’s 135,000 words.
But once you achieve success as a writer, and your book is finally out in the world, that book belongs to whichever readers find it. If you’ve written a young adult novel, don’t for a second think that only teenagers will ever read it. All kinds of people love to read books aimed at younger audiences. And many younger audiences love to read adult novels, too! I remember reading Stephen King books as early as age 10. And now that I’m an adult myself, I read middle grade and young adult books all the time.
Don’t look at your latest book as a book for children. It’s a book, plain and simple. And anyone who wants to read it will read it.
5. The thinker dies, but his thoughts are beyond the reach of destruction. Men are mortal; but ideas are immortal.
This is why books are so important. It’s why Ray Bradbury’s Fahrenheit 451 still resonates to this day. The idea that you can destroy the thinker and thereby destroy the thoughts that come from that person is a falsehood. It’s why people die twice in a way — once when they die, and second when the last person on Earth dies who remembers him or her. The thoughts themselves? They never die, as long as people are still sharing those thoughts.
Books live forever in a way because people share the stories with others long after they’ve turned the last page. Decade after decade, century after century, books stay with us, become part of us. And to be an author means, in a way, that you get to be immortal, too. Because long after you’re gone, your ideas and stories remain. They still move people, still entertain people, still open up a world to a child or an adult in ways you can never even imagine.
We’re all mortal, and one day we’ll no longer be here. But our ideas? Our thoughts? Our stories? They’re forever.