T. S. Eliot (1888–1965) is one of the most famous authors in English literature. Here are six of his quotes to help your writing!
1. Writing every day is a way of keeping the engine running, and then something good may come out of it.
There’s so much you can do to be a better writer. Read a lot of books. Try different genres. Write poetry, write screenplays. Give it your all every single time you sit down at the laptop.
But for me the absolute best way to improve your writing is to do it every single day. Not three days a week. Not every time you feel inspired.
When you write every day, you keep the engine running, and the creativity, and the inspiration. Many of those days you might sit down and produce crap. But some of those days you might produce something truly great!
As long as you practice your writing every day, even it’s only for twenty to thirty minutes, you will get better eventually.
2. The poet’s mind is in fact a receptacle for seizing and storing up numberless feelings, phrases, images, which remain there until all the particles which can unite to form a new compound are present together.
When it comes to any kind of writing, really, it’s important that you absorb everything you hear and see as you go about your life. I always make the time to observe everything around me when I’m not writing. Just listen. Watch. Take note of unusual sights and sounds. Take note of sights and sounds that make you happy, that make you sad.
And then use it later in your writing! It’s important to practice every day, yes, but it’s also important to not live in such a bubble that you never have anything significant to write about.
The important thing about living is that it gives you lots to play with later when you’re putting words on the page. If you’re not paying attention, your writing might became stale, and nobody wants that.
3. A play should give you something to think about. When I see a play and understand it the first time, then I know it can’t be much good.
This is true of any kind of storytelling. Sure, there are times when we want to watch a funny comedy or a scary horror film that gives us little to think about, but most of the time we yearn for stories that make us ponder and reflect long after the final page has been turned or the curtains have closed or the end credits on the screen are rolling.
Especially when it comes to novels, I feel like the author is doing the reader a disservice if the book is about nothing more than the plot. If all the author is doing is getting us from point A to point B, I will often put the book down pretty early on.
Everything you write should be about something more than just the plot. You should find something you want to say, even if it’s subtle. Any way you can make the reader leave your latest work with something to think about, you have a higher chance at success, and a higher probability that lots more readers will want to check out your work.
4. What profession is more trying than that of author? After you finish a piece of work it only seems good to you for a few weeks; or if it seems good at all you are convinced that it is the last you will be able to write; and if it seems bad you wonder whether everything you have done isn’t poor stuff really; and it is one kind of agony while you are writing, and another kind when you aren’t.
Sometimes you need to read quotes like this one to give yourself a laugh, and to understand that much of the writing life for everyone out there is spent in quiet doubt, questions, frustrations, and torment. To think it’s all fun and laughs and big checks and adoring fans is a place of delusion.
As Tom Hanks says in A League of Their Own, it’s the hard that makes it great. Honestly, I don’t know if I would have ever started writing fiction if I had known ten years later I’d have twenty novel manuscripts under my belt and still no traditional publishing contract. There’s so much waiting, so much disappointment.
And yet there’s also so much fulfillment too. I have my bad days, sure, but I mostly have many, many good days where I love what I do and have a total blast writing or revising my latest work, trying to make something just a little bit better, trying to tackle my latest project that might very well be the one.
This game ain’t easy, and that’s something you might not want to hear. But as long as you understand writing is a long marathon and not a sprint, that you’ll likely have years of failures and setbacks, the journey is going to be worth it in the long run.
5. The last thing one discovers in composing a work is what to put first.
Beginnings are the hardest, aren’t they? Beginnings are always a nightmare when I get started on a new project. You’d think after twenty novels I’d have a strong handle on how to open a story, and yes, it has gotten a little easier.
Still, especially in a first draft, it’s important to not fixate on the beginning of your story. To not obsess over whether you’re starting too early or too late in the narrative. If you should open with a line of dialogue or a paragraph of description or whatever.
Because here’s the deal — often you find out much later in the process exactly how you should begin your narrative. Sometimes as you’re reaching the end of it, you understand the best way to rewrite that opening page or chapter.
This happens to me on almost every novel I write. I think I’m starting in the right place, and then when I finish the first draft, I recognize actually where the story should start. And I change it later, which is fine. Remember, you can always change it later.
The important thing is to write the entirety of the manuscript. Again, you can go back and fix the opening later. Focus on the next scene, the next chapter. And reach THE END no matter what.
6. The Nobel is a ticket to one’s own funeral. No one has ever done anything after he got it.
What T. S. Eliot is saying here is that getting big awards for your writing can sound all well and good but ultimately can actually hinder your creativity and productivity in the years to come.
I don’t see myself ever winning a major writing award like a Novel or a Pulitzer, but I could definitely imagine such a thing stifling my writing more than giving me the confidence to go on. It’s why I always marvel at film directors who manage to follow one major success with another major success. It’s why I’m inspired by bestselling authors who keep growing and improving and taking chances.
Something that keeps me going is the lack of success I’ve achieved so far. Every new writing project is a blank slate, a chance to take control of something that might finally propel my career further than I could ever imagine.
And whether you’re a success right away or take a few years trying to navigate your way through the literary world with no big successes at all, it’s important to remember that every day you have the chance to create.
So keep creating, won’t you? And try to enjoy the journey as much as you can.