Alice Walker (born in 1944) is the author of The Color Purple, which won the Pulitzer Prize for Fiction.
Here are four of her fantastic quotes to inspire your writing!
1. Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn’t matter. I’m not sure a bad person can write a good book, If art doesn’t make us better, then what on earth is it for.
Anybody on this Earth has the right to be a writer. Anyone who wants to try to write essays or short stories or novels or plays or whatever should absolutely have the chance to do so. But I do think Alice Walker makes a good point in that how you live your life does play an important role in your writing, particularly the quality of the writing.
You have to be thoughtful to be a good writer. You have to read a lot and write a lot. You have to have discipline. And one thing that’s immediately apparent to pretty much anyone is if you’ve put in the hard work. You can scoff at all the advice you receive about the writing life and do it the way you want to do it, but if your writing is a mess, you won’t get very far.
Now, I don’t know what exactly makes a “bad person,” that’s pretty subjective, but Walker is right in that art makes us better, more empathetic people. And to do great writing, I think it’s important to have a good heart and a good soul to do work that resonates with other readers and has a lasting impact.
2. Fiction is such a world of freedom, it’s wonderful. If you want someone to fly, they can fly.
Let’s get into it: there is a huge pro and a huge con to that world of freedom. The pro, of course, is just as Walker says: you can do whatever you want, including having someone fly. There’s no limit to your imagination. You can start your story a certain way and take it in a weird direction nobody could have ever expected. You’re allowed to have fun and push your limits as a writer. You don’t have to do it the same old way. You don’t have to tell us a story that’s already been told a thousand times before. You’re allowed to be brave and lean into that incredible freedom every time you sit down at your writing desk.
But keep in mind there’s a con to this line of thinking, too, and what is it? Well, actually, it’s the exact same reason: you can do whatever you want. When you have total freedom as a writer, you might have the tendency to take your latest story or novel in a direction you probably shouldn’t. There is such a thing as having too big of an imagination when it comes to your storytelling. I’ve learned this the hard way, when not once but twice in my previous novels I got so crazy insane with my plotting that the stories went off the rails, in a sense, and displeased readers all the way through.
Your novel isn’t going to be great just because you throw in everything but the kitchen sink. There is something to be said about using restraint at times, too, and allowing events to play out in a way that’s authentic to the characters and not to the crazy plot you have cooked up in your brain. So have fun, enjoy the freedom, but make sure not to go too far into the world of the absurd if the story you’re writing doesn’t really call for it.
3. I started out as a poet. I’ve always been a poet since I was 7 or 8. And so I feel myself to be fundamentally a poet who got into writing novels.
We all have to start somewhere. And for Alice Walker, it was the world of poetry. I’m not sure what the percentage is of novelists who got started as poets, but I do think it can be the perfect place to begin because you can first learn the mastery of language and then learn the important elements and tools of novel writing later.
I was never a good poet, and I never really liked poetry. I enjoy reading it on occasion, but so often I reach the end of the poem and I admire the language and I adore the craft but I don’t understand what it all means. I love stories, narratives. I think language serves an essential role in storytelling, but when the entire piece is all about the language, I often check out.
But if you don’t have a good handle on language, your writing can suffer, no matter what kind of writing you do. And I wish I spent a little more time these days reading poetry and writing the occasional poem because I do think it would help me in my novel writing. So don’t be afraid of poetry, even if you think you’re not good enough or you don’t understand what it all means. To be the best writer you can, you want to try it all.
4. Creation is a sustained period of bliss, even though the subject can still be very sad. Because there’s the triumph of coming through and understanding that you have, and that you did it the way only you could do it. You didn’t do it the way somebody told you to do it.
It’s a triumph every time you create something out of nothing, never forget that, and it’s a special kind of miracle when you create something original, unique, and personal to you in a way only you could do it. When you write something in the way somebody told you to do it, or you’re creating something because it’s been assigned with a set of strict rules, you can only take your work so far.
But when you’re creating something for you, then the real magic can happen. Your subject can be sad or depressing, and that’s okay. Lots of great stories are sad and depressing. It’s all about what you do with it. You want to enjoy the creation part, that sustained period of bliss during the drafting process when you take out everything that was only in your head and spread it across hundreds of pages of your dazzling prose. It’s so amazing to create a new story from scratch, I’m telling you. And the more you do it, the more confidence you have that you can do it again and again.
So whatever it is you want to accomplish in the next few months as a writer, now is the time to get started, not later. Don’t wait for permission. Don’t wait for someone to tell you what to do or how to do it. Take that story you’ve been thinking about for the longest time and start the blissful act of creation. You’ll be glad you did!
PS Ready to be inspired? My newest craft book From Douglas Adams to Markus Zusak: Quotes by 100 Amazing Authors to Inspire Your Writing is now available on Amazon!