Ursula K. Le Guin (1929–2018) was the celebrated author of the Earthsea fantasy series and countless other acclaimed novels.
Here are six wonderful quotes she shared with us to help your writing!
1. My imagination makes me human and makes me a fool; it gives me all the world, and exiles me from it.
What an astonishing quote this is. I’ve never really thought of the imagination in this way before, and I love it. Because what Le Guin is saying here is absolutely true: your imagination gives you the world, it allows you to see things most people don’t, it allows you to truly surrender yourself to everything the world has to offer.
But at the same time your imagination often forces you to become exiled from the glorious world we live in because you’re spending so much time in dark rooms creating fictional stories and characters that don’t exist. You’re using things from the world, from your life, in your storytelling, but you choose to not engage with the world in a way when you’re writing, instead choosing isolation and the blank page.
I believe this way of living is a noble one, a worthy pursuit, even if it makes all of us a little bit foolish. You have to go after your passion, and if that means taking a step back from the world from time to time and letting your imagination become center stage, then so be it.
2. There’s a good deal in common between the mind’s eye and the TV screen, and though the TV set has all too often been the boobtube, it could be, it can be, the box of dreams.
What a golden age of television we’re living in, isn’t it? I’d actually call it an insane golden age because there’s just so much incredible content out there and so little time to watch it all. Every time you feel you’re making a little bit of progress with a few new shows watched from beginning to end, ten other good shows have dropped on Netflix or Amazon or Hulu and now you’re even further behind.
Movies will always be my number one source of storytelling, they’ve been my number one since childhood, but I absolutely believe that to be a great writer you need to do your fair share of both film watching and TV watching, especially in 2020. It’s my philosophy that you should read a little every day, watch some content every day, and write a little (or a lot!) every day to do good work.
Don’t feel like you should spend less time watching TV. Watch more of it if you want! Try different genres, try shows you know nothing about. You can learn so much and be inspired by great television content.
3. As great scientists have said and as all children know, it is above all by the imagination that we achieve perception, and compassion, and hope.
I do believe many people out there lose sight of their imagination as they get older. If they’re not doing work in a creative field, if they’ve hit some unfortunate struggles, if their childhood is in many ways a distant memory, the imagination can sort of go away, never to return.
And that’s a pity. Because keeping your imagination soaring every day, no matter what you do for work and what kind of life you’ve made for yourself, is super important. Your imagination keeps you happy, ambitious, passionate, loving. And it absolutely helps you achieve compassion and hope for the future. Imagination is something we hold onto dearly as children, so why is it so many adults push against it and focus instead on pessimism and cynicism?
As writers it’s pivotal you hang onto that imagination of yours and keep it working for you all hours of the day and night. The best authors out there have wondrous, vivid imaginations, and if you want to keep up, you have to keep your own imagination sharpened throughout your life as much as you can.
4. The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.
This is honestly the most difficult reality of having a novel you’re written go unread. You spend months, sometimes years, on a novel project and give it everything you have. You give it your whole heart and hope it might touch other hearts along the way, too.
But then you query your novel… and no literary agent takes it on. Or you sign with a literary agent… but he or she can’t sell the novel to anyone. At a certain point, if you want to be traditionally published, that manuscript you adore might have to go back in the drawer, and you’ll be forced to start another one.
That book that’s in the drawer is still a part of you and your imagination, but it truly is little black marks on wood pulp without readers, without an audience. And that painful reality can get to you after awhile. Just remember that whether you self publish the novel at some point or get representation for a different novel in the future, there might be life for those unread manuscripts of yours one day.
5. It had never occurred to me before that music and thinking are so much alike. In fact you could say music is another way of thinking, or maybe thinking is another kind of music.
I honestly can’t imagine what life would be like without music. A great song can lift me up and give me confidence for the rest of the day. A song I loved long ago can instantly take me back to a time from my childhood with just a few simple chords.
Better yet, music is simply critical to being a good writer. I know of writers who write in silence, and I understand that to a degree. For me I love to listen to film scores as I draft a new short story or novel. Film score puts me in a mood to write the best story I can. I often go with something that fits my genre, and nothing has ever helped me write more words and better words than The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo soundtrack by Atticus Ross and Trent Reznor.
The same way music goes with movies so well, I do believe music goes well with the writing life. The right music at the right time will give you the inspiration you need to be more productive for the day and give you the images and feeling you need to get the best scenes possible down on paper. So think about listening to more music when you write. You might find yourself improving your skills in the process.
6. The only thing that makes life possible is permanent, intolerable uncertainty; not knowing what comes next.
This quote makes me think of something Julia Roberts says in the 2013 film August: Osage County: “Thank God we can’t tell the future. We’d never get out of bed.” There’s so much truth to these quotes, isn’t there? That a big part of why life remains so exciting and filled with possibility is that uncertainty of what comes next, that hope for something better.
I often joke that I never would have gotten started as a writer if I could have seen the future back in 2010. If I could have seen that throughout ten years I would write twenty novels and dozens of short stories and ultimately not have much to show in terms of publishing success or career growth. Writing is hard, after all. Really hard. And when I got started I thought it would take me two books to get an agent and a publishing contract. Maybe three.
But no — here we are ten years since I wrote my first novel, and although I’ve had glimpses of success here and there, I still don’t have any traditionally published books in the world. I’m not sure I would have had the strength and the drive to do what I’ve done if I had known from the beginning I was going to struggle for this long.
However, at the end of the day, that uncertainty makes the whole journey with it, doesn’t it? Because who knows what might come six months from now or a year from now… even a single week from now? Everything can turn around with the right project at the right time with the right person who believes in you, remember that.
So no matter how hard you’ve been working toward your dreams and sometimes think about quitting, keep going anyway. Keep fighting. Something truly exciting could be just around the corner.
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