Brian Jacques (1939–2011) was the author of the Redwall novel series and the Castaways of the Flying Dutchman series.
Here are five of his fantastic quotes about writing!
1. Sometimes I get ideas from dreams. Often my stories are based on adventures that I, or my friends, have actually lived.
I do think there’s this assumption about writers that so much of what we dream up on the page come from our actual dreams. That to think of something fantastical or otherworldly we have to dream it first long before we could ever imagine it.
Nothing could be further than the truth. Although, yes, in my many years of writing on occasion I’ve had a super vivid dream I eventually translated to the page in some form or another, most of what I write either comes from my own life experience (or from the experience of a friend or family member), or I come up with it completely from scratch.
You don’t want to only rely on powerful dreams to get inspiration for new story ideas. Sometimes the best thing you can do is take a long walk and clear your head. Sometimes silence is the best tool you can possibly use.
2. I wrote about a bird that cleaned a crocodile’s teeth. The story was so good that my teacher could not believe that a ten-year-old could write that well. I was even punished because my teacher thought I’d lied about writing it! I had always loved to write, but it was then that I realized that I had a talent for it.
I actually had a similar experience to Jacques when I was in the fifth grade. I read one of my new stories I’d written to the class, and my teacher pulled me aside and asked if someone else had written the story! She was so impressed with it she gave me an extra credit assignment to write more stories, many of which I put into a book a few weeks before the end of the school year.
It’s hard to designate your own talent. You can believe you have it, but it’s not until your writing has an effect on others that your talent finally shines through in a way that’s clear to everybody. We’ve all had a close family member say your writing is good, but when your teacher literally pulls you aside to say it’s not possible you actually wrote that, then the lightbulb turns on that says hey, maybe this is something I should stick with.
Of course lots and lots of practice and years of honing your craft will help build upon your talent. And find the people who believe in your talent and give you those moments of inspiration and wisdom along the way.
3. I wanted to write something visual that I could read to the children. This was when I created the idea of Redwall Abbey in my imagination. As I wrote, the idea grew, and the manuscript along with it.
Each of us needs to find a specific niche in our writing life. Yes, in a perfect world we could all write whatever we wanted whenever we wanted. The same way that many film directors can bounce around different genres all their lives (Ang Lee and Danny Boyle come to mind), it would be nice to not be pigeonholed into one specific thing as a writer.
But the truth is if you find success in a niche, it’s often in your best interest to stick with that and then attempt new things in that niche, the way Stephen King has done throughout the years. Write suspense, sure, but try different kinds of suspense stories and occasionally subvert your readers’ expectations.
Jacques could have tried writing horror novels or romance books or legal thrillers or whatever, but a big reason why he became so successful was that early on he recognized the kind of stories he wanted to write — not just stories for children but immersive and unique and visual fantasy stories set in a beautifully realized world. His ability to find his niche early on and give his life over to it played a big role in his incredible novel writing success.
4. I am a people watcher and I have a very good memory.
I’ve talked before about how important it is as a writer to observe the world around you. To not just stay in a bubble, to not exist entirely in a dark room writing on the page, but to go out into the world and take note of everything you see around you.
Some of us have better memories than others. Some gifted people are able to sit and listen to a dialogue exchange between two people nearby and then go home and write down most every word they heard. I’m not able to do that. Maybe a line or two will stick out to me, but otherwise that dialogue exchange will be a distant memory by the time I’m back at my writing desk.
But you know what? It’s okay. You don’t need to have a perfect memory. Notice people and places and things that strike you, and think about how they make you feel. What emotions do they strike in you? What potential stories could be created from those feelings, and from those images you see? Use what’s around you, always.
5. I still pinch myself when I wake up of a morning. Who ever thought I’d be a children’s author — let alone a best-selling children’s author?
This quote fills me with such joy. It’s not the kind of quote you come across often from authors, and it always makes me happy to see an author say out loud what an amazing job they have. Jacques clearly loved what he did, writing dozens of wonderful fantasy books for children, and that kind of infectious glee should extend to each and every one of you, no matter what kind of writing you do.
Some of us get to wake up every day and work on our writing, which is always a splendid way to spend part of your day, but not all of us, unfortunately, get to be a best-selling author. Many of us have been at this for years, with little results. Some of us have written novel after novel for a decade, and gotten basically nowhere.
It all comes down to having that firm belief you can make it someday. If you love what you do, and you believe there’s an audience for your work, you’ll get to the place you want to be, even if it’s still far in the future. Whether that’s through traditional publishing or self-publishing. Whether that’s through fiction or non-fiction and everything in between.
Keep believing in yourself as much as you can… and maybe one of these days you’ll get to pinch yourself every morning, too.
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