By Deborah Brewer
I don’t know about you but my writing goals for this new year are going to take some doing.
But writers, we’ve got this.
When facing a challenge, a little encouragement of the right sort never hurts, so I’ve revisited the advice books of a few well-regarded writing mentors—Joyce Carol Oates, Chuck Wendig, and Donald Maass—to share some of their reassurance and wisdom. If you find these rich passages fortifying, consider reading their books.
Joyce Carol Oates
Joyce Carol Oates is an award-winning writer of fifty-eight novels, plus novellas, short stories, plays, poetry, and non-fiction. Her national bestsellers include We Were the Mulvaneys and Blonde. A respected writing instructor, widely considered one of America’s contemporary literary greats, she has taught at Princeton, UC Berkeley, and Rutgers. Her book on writing, The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art reflects on her own development as a writer and gives encouraging, practical advice for those who would follow in her footsteps.
Write your heart out. …
What advice can an older writer presume to offer to a younger? Only what he or she might wish to have been told years ago. Don’t be discouraged! Don’t cast sidelong glances, and compare yourself to others among your peers! (Writing is not a race. No one really “wins.” The satisfaction is in the effort, and rarely in the consequent rewards, if there are any.) And again, write your heart out. …
Language is an icy-cold medium, on the page. Unlike performers and athletes, we get to re-imagine, revise, and rewrite completely if we wish. Before our work is set in print, as in stone, we maintain our power over it. The first draft may be stumbling and exhausting, but the next draft or drafts will be soaring and exhilarating. Only have faith: the first sentence can’t be written until the last sentence has been written. Only then do you know where you’ve been going and where you’ve been.
The novel is the affliction for which only the novel is the cure.
And one last time: write your heart out.
From the chapter “To A Young Writer” in The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art (2003) by Joyce Carol Oates.
Chuck Wendig, NY Times bestselling author of Wanderers, has written over two dozen books for adults, young adults, and children. His books about writing include Damn Fine Story and Gentle Writing Advice: How to Be a Writer Without Destroying Yourself. If you are familiar with Wendig’s popular blog, Terribleminds, you’ll find that while he’s softened his approach to coaching and motivation in his new book, he’s still as frank, insightful, and witty as ever.
Failure is magic. It’s an instruction manual written in scar tissue. It’s a heap of garbage we made that we can use to climb to greater heights. “Oh, did I break all this stuff and leave ruinous debris everywhere? Onward and up-ward!” Failure is amazing. Fail more. Fail often. Fail big and weird. The trick is just trying to learn something from it—the aforementioned instruction manual part. Just as we should read and write with mindful intent, so too should we fail mindfully. Failing is like falling. We need to learn how to do it. We need to learn how to fall and not shatter ourselves into a million little pieces—and we need to fall to learn how to pick ourselves back up again and keep going. From the earliest point of walking, that is literally why we fall. Walking is itself an act of falling, isn’t it? Putting a foot out and falling forward, knowing that you’ll catch yourself and move forward. Failing is fall-ing, and both are essential.
From the chapter “The F-Word” in Gentle Writing Advice: How to Be a Writer Without Destroying Yourself (2023) by Chuck Wendig
Donald Maass, founder of the Donald Maass Literary Agency in NYC, is the author of 16 novels and seven books on writing for novelists. He is a regular speaker at writers’ conferences, and PPW was delighted to hear his insights in person at our Pikes Peak Writers Conference. Maass’s book, The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface is not only insightful but a great read.
All of us have done wrong. We all can inflict harm, be careless, believe without evidence, rant, and embark on quixotic crusades. We all love without reason and give passes to abhorrent behavior. We are driven by instinct and choose on impulse. Our decisions make no sense economically or morally. Science has proven that we are irrational on pretty much every level.
At the same time, we are grounded in our sense of decency, justice, and what is right. We are flawed, but we are also good. In other words, we have everything we need to tell stories full of human authenticity and emotional truth. There is nothing at all to hold us back. Nothing at all. Nothing more is needed. Right now, this minute, you have the instinct, eyes, and heart of a true novelist.
From the “Conclusion” of The Emotional Craft of Fiction: How to Write the Story Beneath the Surface (2016) by Donald Maass
Deborah L. Brewer joined Pikes Peak Writers a decade ago, seeking help with a cozy mystery. When the novel was completed, she stayed for the camaraderie. Now she’s writing short stories. An editor for the PPW 2022 anthology, Dream, Deborah contributes to Writing from the Peak to help fellow PPW members write better with more enjoyment, and ultimately, achieve their writing dreams.