Storytelling sustains

[T]he very act of writing assumes, to begin with, that someone cares to hear what you have to say. It assumes that people share, that people can be reached, that people can be touched and even in some cases changed. . . . So many of the things in our world tend to lead us to despair. It seems to me that the final symptom of despair is silence, and that storytelling is one of the sustaining arts; it’s one of the affirming arts. . . . A writer may have a certain pessimism in his outlook, but the very act of being a writer seems to me to be an optimistic act.

–Tobias Wolff

Asking why

Remember that a story is always trying to get at the business of human nature, to tell us that this is what it’s like to be a human being and this is how it feels. To do that we have to get below the surface. Below the action and down to the values and motivation. The important question that the story must ask is: Why? Not: What? Why does N. do what she does? One thing she does is fall in love with X. Why? How did that happen?

–John Dufresne

On a bad day

“As Norman Mailer once put it, the main difference between an experienced and an inexperienced writer is the ability to work on a bad day.”
–Madison Smart Bell’s Narrative Design

Many quotations express this valuable idea in similar ways:

Agatha Christie’s An Autobiography: “There was a moment when I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don’t want to, don’t much like what you’re writing, and aren’t writing particularly well.”

David Halberstam’s Everything They Had: Sports Writing: “There’s a great quote by Julius Irving that went, ‘Being a professional is doing the things you love to do, on the days you don’t feel like doing them.'”

“A professional is someone who can do his best work when he doesn’t feel like it. ”
– Alistair Cooke

“There are no secrets to success. It is the result of preparation, hard work, and learning from failure.”
– Colin Powell.

“Success seems to be connected with action. Successful people keep moving. They make mistakes, but they don’t quit.”
– Conrad Hilton.

The way stone excites a sculptor

In an essay called “On Reading Poetry,” Kenneth Koch wrote:

Suppose you want to get an experience into words so that it is permanently there, as it would be in a painting—so that every time you read what you wrote, you reexperienced it. Suppose you want to say something so that it is right and beautiful—even though you may not understand exactly why. Or suppose words excite you—the way stone excites a sculptor—and inspire you to use them in a new way. And that for these or other reasons you like writing because of the way it makes you think or because of what it helps you to understand. These are some of the reasons poets write poetry.

Ways of getting started

“You might address the letter to your children, if you have a few lying around, or to a niece or nephew, or to a friend. Write that person’s name at the top of the page, and then in your first line, explain that you are going to tell them part of your story, entrust it to them, because this part of your life meant so much to you.”

from “Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life” by Anne Lamott