Anna Quindlen (born in 1953) is the bestselling author of One True Thing, Every Last One, and Still Life with Bread Crumbs, among many others.
Here are four lovely quotes of hers about the writing life!
1. There’s no greater happiness than doing something every day that you love, that you feel you do in a satisfactory fashion, and which both supports and gives you time to support your family. I felt so lucky to have all that.
People ask me from time to time what my perfect life looks like (my parents, usually), and there’s no better answer than what Anna Quindlen says here. To be able to get up every day and work on something you love to do, that you feel you’re at least somewhat good at, and which supports you and your family. That’s a joyful life for any of us, isn’t it? That’s having a job where you don’t have to ever work a single day.
Writing is that happy life for me, and I’m sure it’s also the happy life for many of you. I haven’t been successful enough at writing for it to support me completely, but it’s certainly something I love doing and that I feel I have some talent for. We all have a calling. We all have something we’re pretty good at and that we like to do. The important thing in life is to find that and work hard on it every day until that success ultimately comes. It might take a few years — hell, it might take a couple of decades — but if you believe in something enough and you love it, ignore the haters and any doubt you might hold in your mind and go for it.
2. Ideas are like pizza dough, made to be tossed around.
Ideas are not set in stone, especially when you’re starting to think about a new short story or novel project. You might come up with one really stellar idea, but don’t stop there. In my early days of writing fiction, I always stopped after getting that first idea. I thought that first idea was enough. But usually you need to dig deeper and find a second idea, a third idea, and then be open to tossing many of these ideas around like pizza dough for a few days, even weeks. You want to elaborate on your ideas and try to come up with something original and compelling that’s never really been done before. What can you deliver to readers that is something uniquely you?
The great thing about ideas is that you can always be thinking about them throughout your day. When you’re at your day job. When you’re eating lunch. When you’re watching a boring movie. When you wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. The first goal is to find one great idea. And then expand on that. What kinds of characters could be part of this particular story? What’s a genre that might give this story something unfamiliar and exciting? And what’s a second idea that can be blended with the first to create something spectacular?
Don’t just start writing once you get that first idea. Take the time to consider your ideas and toss them around for a bit until you’re able to develop a new short story or a novel that could potentially be amazing, not just good.
3. I’m sure not afraid of success and I’ve learned not to be afraid of failure. The only thing I’m afraid of now is of being someone I don’t like much.
We’re all going to have ups and downs in our writing career. It will take many of us a long time to find success. I’m in that weird middle ground where I’ve had a little success throughout the last ten years of my writing life — I signed with a literary agent, got an MFA in Creative Writing, finally made some good money as a freelancer — but I definitely haven’t been super successful yet, although I’m still trying, as I’m sure all of you are, too. The key, no matter where you are in your writing life, is not be afraid of either success or failure. You should instead be afraid of being someone you don’t like.
Anna Quindlen has a good point here. Once you become someone you don’t like very much — which might certainly be the case if you hit a lot of success in your writing life early, I suppose — you might lose that side of yourself that got into writing in the first place. You want to pursue success but also not be afraid to fail time and time again. You have to do the work, love the process, finish all your projects, and send them out to be successful. Don’t be afraid of success, because if you work hard and have talent, the success will come eventually. And you’ll deserve everything that comes to you. But don’t be afraid of failure either. Failure is where you learn and where you grow. And in the world of writing, the only real failure is giving up for good.
4. You cannot be really first-rate at your work if your work is all you are.
If you want to be a successful writer, it’s worth finding time every day to write. Even if it’s just an hour or two. Hell, even if it’s just ten minutes! The key to success in writing is practicing your craft seven days a week and taking the occasional risk and finishing everything you begin. You want to write a lot, and you want to enjoy the process. As soon as writing starts to feel like work, you’re in deep trouble. You want there to be a sense of play, always. You want to have fun.
At the same time, you can’t just write all day every day. You can’t sit in dark rooms forever and not interact with people, go on adventures, do new things, get away from your writing desk. There were a few years in the beginning of my novel writing life where the writing was all I did. I basically wrote and watched TV and movies. A lot of my ideas for characters and stories started to come from the content I was watching, so in a way I was basically regurgitating things that had already come before. That kind of lifestyle doesn’t lead to creative work. It leads to mediocrity.
So please, write often, write your heart out, but also don’t forget to live your life. That living part? It will actually make your writing all the richer.
Are you ready to write your novel this year? I’m excited to announce my new book, Write Your Novel Now! 100 Tips & Strategies to Help You Draft, Revise, and Publish Your Book, now available on Amazon for just $3.49!