If you want to write, here’s the most important bit of advice I can give you: The best reason to write is for the love of it. Love is literature’s essential ingredient. If you are concerned with the quality of your writing, striving for publication or recognition, you may think this sounds simplistic. But listen to David Foster Wallace in an interview with Larry McCaffery:
I’ve gotten convinced that there’s something kind of timelessly vital and sacred about good writing. This thing doesn’t have that much to do with talent, even glittering talent… Talent’s just an instrument. It’s like having a pen that works instead of one that doesn’t. I’m not saying I’m able to work consistently out of the premise, but it seems like the big distinction between good art and so-so art lies somewhere in the art’s heart’s purpose, the agenda of the consciousness behind the text. It’s got something to do with love. With having the discipline to talk out of the part of yourself that can love instead of the part that just wants to be loved. I know this doesn’t sound hip at all… But it seems like one of the things really great fiction-writers do—from Carver to Chekhov to Flannery O’Connor, or like the Tolstoy of “The Death of Ivan Illych” or the Pynchon of Gravity’s Rainbow—is “give” the reader something. The reader walks away from the real art heavier than she came into it. Fuller. All the attention and engagement and work you need to get from the reader can’t be for your benefit; it’s got to be for hers. What’s poisonous about the cultural environment today is that it makes this so scary to try to carry out. Really good work probably comes out of a willingness to disclose yourself, open yourself up in spiritual and emotional ways that risk making you really feel something. To be willing to sort of die in order to move the reader, somehow. Even now I’m scared about how sappy this’ll look in print, saying this. And the effort actually to do it, not just talk about it, requires a kind of courage I don’t seem to have yet.[i]
John Gardner concurred: “Great art celebrates life’s potential, offering a vision unmistakably and unsentimentally rooted in love.”[ii] These men are considered renegades because humans (and especially artists) want to attribute accomplishment to talent or effort or intelligence—qualities we can wrap our minds around. Love, on the other hand, is a great mystery. We have no idea how love works, especially within the creation of art.
Nonetheless, I believe that if we writers can center ourselves in our love—for the subject matter, for the writing process, for the language, for the readers—then we’ve got it made. The practice of exercising love brings us joy. It changes us, always for the better. The effort of loving through the literary craft makes art. If we fall short of making art or if we make art that no one recognizes, the world is still unquestionably better for it. Love is never wasted. –Elizabeth Jarrett Andrew
A reader recently wrote this to me in an email: “Hannah, Delivered is quite possibly the most emotionally satisfying novel I have ever read.” Wow! I feel so grateful my work gets to be part of this woman’s life. Hannah, Delivered the ebook is on sale for $0.99 through Sunday.
[i] David Foster Wallace, from an interview with Larry McCaffery, “The Review of Contemporary Fiction,” Summer 1993, Vol. 13.2.
[ii] John Gardner, On Moral Fiction 83.