There is a beautiful Chinese quotation: “Keep a green tree in your heart, and maybe the singing bird will come.” For me, the green tree stays alive because of the joy I get from writing – a gift that took root when I was a little girl of seven and had my first poem published in a children’s magazine. Now, more than eight decades later, I have nurtured it through 5,000 published articles, poems, stories and fourteen books.
If you have an ambition to be a writer, you should realise that talent alone is not enough. Determination is necessary, but what you really need is compulsion. Writing must be such an integral part of your life that if you are breathing, you are writing. You want to share your eyes with your readers, and all your other senses too, enabling them to hear, smell, taste and touch the world you have created for them. If your words speak to them and you can make them feel joy and pain, smile and weep, feel empathy and compassion, then you are indeed a writer.
As a teacher of Creative Writing, I also taught my students to be salespeople because you need to learn how to get your words out to the reading public. They must learn, as you did, sometimes to face rejection and not give in to despair. My way was always to give myself periodic encouragement rewards. When I wrote a book, the time to complete it and find a publisher could be awesome, so during the writing I submitted short stories or magazine articles. These are easier to sell, and the temporary triumphs are confidence-boosters for the stamina you need to keep working on much longer projects. Usually with articles, I suggest that students do not invest time in writing and researching the whole piece until they have sent out a few query letters. Only when an editor indicates that he/she likes the idea, should you complete the work. However you must make your query letters as creative as you can, and give the projected article a title as irresistible as you can make it. I told my students that the only way that they will never be rejected is never to submit anything, and that every achievement in life begins with two small words: “I’ll try.”
Joy in writing also springs from joy in reading. They are inseparable. Time and again I travel back to the leisurely, masterful narratives of Somerset Maugham and Evelyn Waugh; revel in the humanity and poetic descriptions of John Steinbeck; chuckle at the rapier wit of Noel Coward and Dorothy Parker; and dream with yesterday’s poets who didn’t write of politics and technology but were lyrical – Byron, Shelley and Keats; W. B. Yeats, Rupert Brooke and A.E. Housman. All these authors probably date me (my grandchildren and great-grandchildren have certainly never read them) but their works are timeless and remain an inspiration.
Sometimes our own words disappoint us. Edith Wharton wrote: “I dream of an eagle, I give birth to a humming-bird.” So we try and try again, sometimes managing to capture just a little bit of heaven in our quest to be crowned with stars.
And when we do, there is nothing to compare with the joy of accomplishment. Our spirits soar along with our words, and the singing bird builds its nest in the green tree we have kept alive in our heart.
Happy writing. I am here to help you (free) if you need help with any writing problem. Contact me at
firstname.lastname@example.org – I always enjoy your comments.