Richard Yates (1926–1992) wrote the beloved novel, Revolutionary Road, which was turned into the 2008 film starring Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet. He also wrote the acclaimed novels, The Easter Parade and Eleven Kinds of Loneliness.
Here are four of his helpful quotes to inspire your writing!
1. If my work has a theme, I suspect it is a simple one: that most human beings are inescapably alone, and therein lies their tragedy.
We all have to start somewhere as writers, and when it comes to your first short story or novel, you can write anything you want. Write in whatever world and genre and tone you prefer. And then as you build upon your number of manuscripts, you should try whenever possible to take chances and do different kinds of things. Please don’t just write the same kind of story over and over, with similar characters and similar structures. Even if your readers expect a similar kind of book over and over, don’t give it to them. Have the confidence to surprise them with something new.
However, there is something to be said about connecting all your different stories and novels with a theme. I actually think that’s a great way to be a prolific writer — challenge yourself with unique characters and story-lines but subtly connect with themes that speak to you personally. Richard Yates wrote different kinds of books, but they all had a simple theme he was able to point out, even if it’s not something he was necessarily focused on as he wrote the books. The theme of your work shouldn’t necessarily be at the forefront of your mind when you’re writing.
The story and characters should always come first, but sometimes, even instinctively, you might find many of your stories and novels have a connected theme, and if that’s the case, then your work just becomes all the richer for it.
2. If you wanted to do something absolutely honest, something true, it always turned out to be a thing that had to be done alone.
One thing you have to get used to as a writer sooner rather than later is that time you spend alone. If you hate being by yourself, you’re going to struggle as a writer. If you hate being by yourself, you’ll make excuses to not write today or tomorrow, and in those times you are working, you won’t always write work that’s absolutely honest and true. You have to be willing to put in the hard work and to most of that work alone, especially when you’re writing a first draft.
I used to like writing fiction in coffeehouses and libraries, but for years now I’ve preferred to write alone in an office, where my only company is some well-chosen film scores playing softly through my speakers. Allow that isolation to help your writing, not hinder it. Allow being alone to calm your mind and ignite your imagination and get more words down on the page than you’ve ever managed before. You’re never going to write great prose that is honest and true if you can’t embrace the time you need to spend alone. Thinking is part of writing, too. And so is reflection.
So give yourself some alone time every day, and see what happens. You’ll be surprised to discover just how much your work improves in the long run.
3. If you don’t try at anything, you can’t fail… it takes back bone to lead the life you want.
I’m pretty sure the number one reason why many people never start writing those magnificent stories they have in their head or finish those short stories or novels they did start is this — not starting and not finishing means there’s no chance at failure. The work was never rejected by anybody, so there’s no bad feelings that you failed at something. You’re able to just let your ideas stay stuck in your head or have those four unfinished manuscripts pile up without any person having to tell you they stink.
If you want to be a successful writer, you have to start writing, and you have to finish what you start, of course. But going further, you have to send out your work and not only get rejected hundreds of times but embrace the rejection as much as possible. Don’t feel bad when your latest story or novel gets rejected, or worse, gets completed ignored. Rejection doesn’t make you a failure. It makes you a success! Because you’re putting in the hard work and sending your work out there. You’re a working writer who’s actually trying to find homes for your manuscript.
It’s the ones who never try who are the failures, especially the ones who wanted to be writers but were always afraid to get started or finish anything. Richard Yates was right in that it takes back bone to lead the life you want, and that’s especially the case for writers.
4. And do you know a funny thing? I’m almost fifty years old and I’ve never understood anything in my whole life.
There’s not a magic wand that makes anyone a successful writer. And there’s not some kind of secret you need to know to get into the club. Every successful writer started from a place of ignorance, of not knowing much about storytelling or the publishing industry. Pretty much everyone wrote things at the beginning of their careers that was no good, but they pressed on anyway. Even when they didn’t have a clue with what they were doing and or what kinds of writers they wanted to be. Even when they didn’t understand anything in their whole life, just like Richard Yates.
I’m thirty-five years old and I still don’t understand much about life. I don’t know how a lot of things work. I question how many of my friends and family are so adept and successful at certain aspects of their lives. And that’s okay. To be a great storyteller, it’s okay to not understand a whole lot about life. What’s most important is that you allow your imagination to go to the limit and that you look at things around here or listen to things and study things. You want to be observant always, but you don’t necessarily have to understand anything.
Just remember that success in your writing will come when you capture honesty on the page. When you capture emotion in your characters that readers are able to identify with. Don’t feel like you have to understand everything. Just be able to understand those important things that make your stories soar.