Willa Cather’s Advice for Creative Writers

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.

Willa Cather’s fiction created a personal intimacy between writer and reader. It was honest. It was authentic. It was genuine.

Her words, both written and spoken, left a wealth of good ideas for authors to stockpile and use in their own writing careers. Included were fragments of her own themes that can form the foundation for any novel.

  1. I don’t want anyone reading my writing to think about style. I just want them to be in the story.

 

  1. Most of the basic material writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.

 

  1. Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet.

 

  1. Success is never so interesting as the struggle.

 

  1. Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.

 

  1. There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.

 

  1. Every artist makes himself born. It is very much harder than the other time, and longer.

 

  1. Give the people a new word, and they think they have a new fact.

 

  1. Some memories are realities, and are better than anything that can ever happen to one again.

 

  1. The thing that teases the mind over and over for years, and at last gets itself put down rightly on paper whether little or great, it belongs to Literature.

 

  1. To not an artist’s limitations if but to define his talent. A reporter can write equally well about everything that is presented to his view, but a creative wrier can do his best only with what lies within the range and character of his deepest sympathies.

 

  1. What was any art but a mould in which to imprison for a moment the shining elusive element which is life itself – life hurrying past us and running away, too strong to stop, too sweet to lose.

 

  1. Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is market demand – a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods – or it should be an art, which is always in search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do which standardized values.

 

  1. If a true artist were born in a pigpen and raised in a sty, he would still find plenty of inspiration for his work. The only need is the eye to see.

 

  1. Her secret? It is every artist’s secret: passion. That is all. It is an open secret, and perfectly safe. Like heroism, it is inimitable to cheap materials.

 

  1. There is often a good deal of the child left in people who have had to grow up too soon.

 

  1. The history of every country begins in the heart of a man or a woman.

 

  1. The dead might as well try to speak to the living as the old to the young.

 

  1. Only solitary men know the full joys of friendship. Others have their family; but to a solitary and an exile, his friends are everything.

 

  1. Where there is great love, there are always miracles.

 

  1. People live through such pain only once. Pain comes again – but it finds a tougher surface.

 

  1. There are some things you learn best in calm, and some in storm.

 

  1. Nothing is far and nothing is near, if one desires. The world is little, people are little, human life is little. There is only one big thing: desire.

 

  1. Nothing mattered … but writing books, and living the kind of life that made it possible to write them.

Willa Cather wrote her life, one day at a time, as she went along. And the life she led became the stuff of fiction. Every moment, every memory was ingrained in her senses, each sight and sound lodged in her brain.

They would remain locked away until she needed them, and she needed them every time she sat down to write.

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  • I’m banking on 20. Where there is great love, there are always miracles.

    Now if I can just write it. Because those are the stories we like to reread.

    And I fear I’m writing the second half of 13. …it should be an art, which is always in search for something for which
    there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values
    are intrinsic and have nothing to do which standardized values.

    And worrying about the difference between aspiring to do something, and doing it. Which is probably just the wrong kind of attitude to have. On the size of, ‘if you have to ask, you can’t afford it.’

    • Caleb Pirtle

      In writing, Alicia, we have to create our own miracles with written words, with stories told from one heart to another. I also believe that genre fiction can be written with the poetic rhythm of literary fiction. That’s my aim anyway.

      • The best genre writers don’t aspire to literary (that just sounds wrong); they are writing with a quality that will transcend – and we sometimes call that ‘literary.’

        They’re just good writers.

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