That moment of panic after staring at the blinking cursor on a blank word document without a single idea to put down: We've all been there.
But young struggling writers, you are not alone. Those dark feelings and moments of self-doubt are universal, and even brilliant authors suffer through them during the painstaking creative processes.
Do not give up. Here are 17 bits of wisdom from brilliant authors. Whether you want advice on how to make writing your career or just how to get the next sentence down, this list will remind you of all the reasons you love writing.
Calvino was an Italian writer of short stories, novels and journalism. He is best known for Invisible Cities, where he took this quote to heart by making the smallest details of imaginary cities come to life. Calvino was expert at using few words to create extraordinary depth. He urges us to fully know and experience the world by concluding, "What matters is not whether you love it or hate it, but only to be quite clear about your position regarding it."
Chilean writer Allende is famous for rich magical realism, the beauty and creativity of which could only have been inspired by the muse. She is one of the most widely read Spanish-language authors and frequently writes about the lives of women, for which her novel The House of the Spirits is best known.
Vonnegut blended satire, humor and science fiction in his classic novels, from Cat's Cradle to Slaughterhouse-Five. He was a humanist who believed in the value and agency of human beings, which he infused in both his life and his writing, never underestimating the power of an individual's desires. This is just one of eight pieces of advice for writing a short story from his book Bagombo Snuff Box: Uncollected Short Fiction.
Lamott has spent her life fighting oppression, complementing her successful writing career with an active involvement in progressive politics. Her work is marked by self-deprecating humor and honesty, and encompasses difficult topics from alcoholism to depression. She's not after the illusion of perfection in her writing.
Chekhov's day job was as a physician, which was in addition to being one of the greatest writers in history. For someone who spent half his career wishing for straightforward information about patients, it's telling that he was so eager to avoid that in his work. He once wrote to a friend, "Medicine is my lawful wife, and literature is my mistress."
Orlean is an American journalist who has been a staff writer for the New Yorker since 1992, so she knows a thing or two about quality journalism. As part of a publication that only accepts the best of the best, she probably also knows a thing or two about the rejection that writers have to face. Who better to remind you of the worth of your task than a successful writer who still believes in it?
Atwood is a prolific writer of novels and countless short stories, so she is quite familiar with sitting in a chair all day to write. Today she's in her 70s and still producing work. If her back has held up, yours can too.
Oates published her first book in 1963, and in the 50 years since has published more than 40 novels. That's not even counting her plays, novellas, short stories, poetry and nonfiction. Clearly her decision not to labor over smaller details has paid off, as she's won prizes from the National Book Award to the National Humanities Medal.
Hemingway is famous for his understatedness and economic use of prose. His signature style makes him one of the classic American novelists, thanks to novels like A Farewell to Arms and The Sun Also Rises.
While King is famous for horror novels that frequently feature murder, he's not referring to killing off characters here. Instead, King's "darlings" (taken from a William Faulkner quote) are his words — those phrases and bits of prose that you love for style but that don't add anything to the content.
Famous for her young adult fiction, including A Wrinkle in Time, this is one of L'Engle's three pieces of advice for writers, "whether they're 5 or 500." The second is that you need to read, and the third, to just write a little bit every day — write, write, write.
Celebrated English author Gaiman continues, "There'll always be better writers than you and there'll always be smarter writers than you. There will always be people who are much better at doing this or doing that — but you are the only you." This advice has served him well so far, from his unique novels American Gods and Coraline to his groundbreaking Sandman comics.
Writer, actress and comedian Fey says the key is "not being too precious about your writing. You have to try your hardest to be at the top of your game and improve every joke you can until the last possible second, and then you have to let it go."
The infinitely wise poet and author Angelou also observed, "You can only become truly accomplished at something you love."
Franzen's essays and novels prompted Time magazine to declare him a "Great American Novelist." He believes "the Internet in general — and social media in particular — fosters this notion that everything should be shared ... But it specifically doesn't work, I think, in the realm of cultural production — and particularly literary production."
Steinbeck also advised, "Lose track of the 400 pages and write just one page for each day. It helps. Then when it gets finished, you are always surprised." The author of classics short and long, from Of Mice and Men at just over 100 pages to East of Eden at more than 600 pages, Steinbeck made this method work.