Carrie Fisher (1956–2016) is best known as the world-famous actress of the Star Wars saga, as well as When Harry Met Sally, The Blues Brothers, and countless other movies.
But she was also an extremely accomplished writer throughout the decades — novelist, screenwriter, essay writer — and she has given us some amazing advice that will help inspire your creativity!
1. I always wrote. I wrote from when I was 12. That was therapeutic for me in those days. I wrote things to get them out of feeling them, and onto paper. So writing in a way saved me, kept me company.
I feel this way about writing too, always have, ever since I was a kid. I had my share of friends when I was younger, but sometimes the best company I kept was with the writing I was doing on my ancient early ’90s PC computer. I wrote so many stories between ages ten and twelve. Unfortunately only a few of those have survived, but in the ones that have I can recognize how much I was in love with writing, how clearly therapeutic the process was for me back in the day.
It was probably most therapeutic for me then because I had no plans of getting anything published, of making any money from my words. I just wrote for the love of it, for how writing made me feel. My head would be full of these strange and amazing ideas, and instead of having them languish there for days and days, I could write them down. Sometimes I showed my stories to friends and family, sometimes I didn’t. Every day I would be excited to write something new, and while I still have that creative drive today, nothing can ever match that drive we have as kids, am I right?
2. I have a mess in my head sometimes, and there’s something very satisfying about putting it into words. Certainly it’s not something that you’re in charge of, necessarily, but writing about it, putting it into your words, can be a very powerful experience.
As I said before, it’s so satisfying to take ideas that have been bouncing around your head for days, months, sometimes years, and finally put them down on paper. Fisher talked about this, and Stephen King has talked about it as well. Sometimes writing isn’t something you feel like doing; sometimes writing is something you have to do just to keep from going insane! I’ve written twenty novels in the past ten years, and I’d say at least half of those novels came from a desire to get an idea that simply would never leave my head and put it down on paper so the idea, in a way, could finally be put to rest.
Of course when you have a mess in your head, sometimes it’s necessary to simply write. It doesn’t have to be a novel or a short story. It doesn’t even have to be something anybody ever sees. When there’s something inside of you begging to be expressed and if you have no one to talk to about it, often the best thing you can do is write, write, write. In diary form. In essay form. Whatever works best for you. For me it’s often writing fiction but sometimes it’s writing a long essay. However you can make sense of the mess in your head by using the written word, trust me, you’ll feel better afterward.
3. I trust myself. I trust my instincts. I know what I’m gonna do, what I can do, what I can’t do. I’ve been through a lot, and I could go through more, but I hope I don’t have to. But if I did, I’d be able to do it.
One of the best things about writing every day for many months and years is that eventually you come to recognize what you can do and what you can’t do. You begin to trust your instincts as to what topics you should be exploring in your writing and what kinds of stories in the fiction world you feel you can really get a grip on. You find what your strengths are as a writer and then you keep writing those things that best show off your voice and your talent.
At the same time, you won’t ever get better as a writer if you just write the same thing over and over, so it’s important that you challenge yourself too, and experiment, and try something brand new even it if fails. Write in a new genre once in awhile. Write an essay that’s super personal to see how it makes you feel. Trust in your ability to put your thoughts on the page. If you’ve been able to do it successfully before, you’re going to be able to do it successfully again no matter what the subject might be.
4. I did the traditional thing with falling in love with words, reading books and underlining lines I liked and words I didn’t know. It was something I always did.
Writing has been therapeutic for me from an early age, but something I also loved to do when I was younger, of course, was read, read, read. Read morning, noon, and night. Read everything I could get my hands on. I always wanted to read up. I always wanted to read something I wasn’t allowed to read. By age ten I was reading Stephen King and Dean Koontz and John Grisham. I didn’t always understand everything between those covers, but from an early age I fell deeply in love with the written word.
And even today I feel like if you don’t love language, if you’re not interested in words and sentences and how they look on a page and how they sound, you’re going to struggle at times in your writing life. The ideas, the characters, the settings, the genres — those are all incredibly important. But you also want to be invested in the language itself. You want to be interested in discovering new words, and using a word in a sentence in a way you’ve never used it before. The only way to keep growing as a writer is to keep discovering, keep learning new things. And paying attention to words and sentences as you read will forever help with that.
5. There is no point at which you can say, ‘Well, I’m successful now. I might as well take a nap.’
This is true in all professions but it’s especially true as a writer. Look at Stephen King. He could have slowed down or stopped writing twenty years ago, and his legacy would have stayed in tact, but what does the man do? He gets up every day and writes, works on the next book, does his job just like he did in the 1970s and earlier. Carrie Fisher was the same way. The woman was always working. Acting, writing, performing. She did uncredited rewrites on tons of screenplays too, did you know that? The woman never stopped working until the day she died, and because of this she remained successful throughout her life, even when she was battling her inner demons.
There’s no such thing as finding success in writing and then being able to take a nap, take a long break, not write anything for five years because you can relax now, the success arrived, you’re good to go for the rest of your life. It doesn’t work like that. Even J.K. Rowling went on to write and publish after Harry Potter. Even Suzanne Collins has gone on to write a new Hunger Games novel after the success of her original trilogy. With success comes new opportunities, not an excuse to get lazy. Take advantage of all the opportunities that come to you as a writer, and remember that success often means you should work even harder.
6. Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.
This is my favorite Carrie Fisher quote. I first read it soon after her untimely passing at the end of 2016, and I honestly think about it often, especially when I’m put in a situation where I’m scared, or nervous, or unsure of myself, or whatever it may be. I think of this quote. So often in life you feel bad about being scared of something, but what Fisher said here is that it’s okay to be scared. Stay scared. Recognize the fear that you have… but then do it anyway. There’s always going to be things that make you nervous. You’re going to have moments when you feel like you have no confidence. As long as you do the thing that scares you anyway, the confidence will come through in the action.
And that’s especially true when it comes to your writing. There’s so much self doubt. So much fear. You think you’re not good enough. You think you have nothing to say. You think nobody’s going to give a shit. You know what? Allow all those thoughts to brim to the surface if they must… and then write the thing anyway. I was terrified to write a novel for so many years, and when I finally did it in 2010, the confidence came, and I recognized that I was capable of more as a writer than I ever thought possible. Don’t let fear ever hold you back as a writer. Acknowledge the fear if you must, even embrace if you want to, but then write the thing anyway, and the confidence and success will ultimately follow!