The best writing advice I’ve ever read…

the best writing advice I've ever read

Someone special lent me a copy of Letters to a Young Poet by Rainer Maria Rilke. Nearly ever line of this short work aches with a volume of meaning and luminescence that exceeds the bounds of its brevity. As I was reading it, it was difficult to keep up with the amount of passages I wanted to copy into my commonplace book.

The first passage I copied down is, perhaps, the best writing advice I have ever come across:

No one can advise you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet the solemn question with a strong, simple “I must,” then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.

Make things because you must. Write because you need it to survive. Write because your words and your lungs are united in your mutual need to breathe. The only metric by which our work can be properly and accurately measured is by the degree to which it arose from our deep necessity for it. We must need it. It must fulfill a need; a need within ourselves and a need within the world, and it will only fulfill a need within the world if it first fulfills a need within ourselves.

Write the things you need to hear. Say the things you need to be told. There is someone else who will need to hear it too.


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