good advice for creative types from Marge Piercy

“You must write every single day of your life… You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads… may you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world.” ~ Ray Bradbury

“Young Woman Writing” by Pierre Bonnard (1908)

I have always believed writing chooses you, rather than the other way around.

You are either compelled to write, or not.

No sane person would willingly choose the loneliness, rejection, crippling self doubt and relative poverty that are part and parcel of the writing life. The rewards must come from the creative act itself, from having made sense out of chaos if even for a fleeting moment.

Given that you absolutely cannot help yourself — that you must write to feel alive  — you simply go about setting down one word after another after another every single day, while battling your inner demons and that pesky inner editor.

This is a challenge well met; there is nothing more satisfying than the feeling of “having written” — a page once blank now filled with “the beatings of your heart.”

While writing anything of value can give you a good run for your money, I find all the “other stuff”  — outside perception, judgment, dismissiveness — the most difficult to deal with. Yes, it comes with the territory, but it often gives me pause: How much do I really want this? What price am I willing to pay?


“Woman Writing” by Pierre Bonnard


by Marge Piercy

Talent is what they say
you have after the novel
is published and favorably
reviewed. Beforehand what
you have is a tedious
delusion, a hobby like knitting.

Work is what you have done
after the play is produced
and the audience claps.
Before that friends keep asking
when you are planning to go
out and get a job.

Genius is what they know you
had after the third volume
of remarkable poems. Earlier
they accuse you of withdrawing,
ask why you don’t have a baby,
call you a bum.

The reason people want M.F.A.’s,
take workshops with fancy names
when all you can really
learn is a few techniques,
typing instructions and some-
body else’s mannerisms

is that every artist lacks
a license to hang on the wall
like your optician, your vet
proving you may be a clumsy sadist
whose fillings fall into the stew
but you’re a certified dentist.

The real writer is one
who really writes. Talent
is an invention like phlogiston
after the fact of fire.
Work is its own cure. You have to
like it better than being loved.

~ from Circles on the Water: Selected Poems of Marge Piercy (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1982).

“Work Table” by Pierre Bonnard (1926/1937)


It is harder these days to concentrate, harder to justify practicing your art when seemingly larger, more urgent actions beckon. But writing, too, is an act of resistance, a way to peacefully protest the dark forces who would stifle free expression.

Let us remain drunk on words, filling every waking moment with attempts to fashion ideas into garments of truth. As vessels of beauty, inspiration, healing, compassion, inclusion, freedom, power, and above all, love, words do matter — now more than ever.

When it’s hard to write, write harder.

When it’s hard to love, love harder.

“The underlying reason for writing is to bridge the gulf between one person and another.” ~ W.H. Auden

“I believe that art saves. I believe that artists are the last line of defense.  I believe we speak the truth we believe, regardless of polls or economics.” ~ Janis Ian

“The purpose of a writer is to keep civilization from destroying itself.” ~ Albert Camus

🌼 🌸 Keep the Faith. Focus. Write On!  🌸🌼


poetry fridayThe lovely and talented Jone MacCulloch is hosting the Roundup at Check It Out. Scamper over for the full menu of poetic goodness being served up in the blogosphere this week.

Copyright © 2017 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

76 thoughts on “good advice for creative types from Marge Piercy

  1. “how much do I really want this – what price am I willing to pay?” this really resonates with me for some reason. I hated sharing anything I wrote with anybody, especially people I know. I thoroughly enjoyed this post 🙂


  2. “No sane person would willingly choose the loneliness, rejection, crippling self doubt and relative poverty that are part and parcel of the writing life.” Yes, yes, yes. Thank you, Jama, for encouraging words at just the right time. In case I haven’t said it lately, you write beautifully, and enrich so many with your posts (including me). ❤


  3. Wow, needed to read this today: “Work is its own cure. You have to
    like it better than being loved.” – so true! I, too, see writing as an act of resistance, especially when sometimes the only thing I write in a day is letters to Congress. Thank you for these inspiring words, Jama! Keep calm and write on! =)


  4. “You have to like it better than being loved.”
    That resonates so strongly with me. Do we like it better than being loved? Do we want to take the risks? So many want to just have written and not have worked and done the research and taken the time to get it right… and still they want to be lauded, to be loved. But. That’s not what writing is for…


  5. A post to remember, as yours often are, Jama. It certainly sends a hug to me today with each day becoming more filled with anxiety about our government. I love your words, and the poem, too, ” hobby like knitting” connects well. Hugs east to you, too!


  6. I really needed this today, too. I have slowly, tentatively been getting back in touch with my inner writer. As a young person I loved to write, I found great joy and satisfaction in creating and imagining, but as I grew older the self-doubt just crippled me. I felt that if I couldn’t make a living as a writer, if I wasn’t good enough to write bestsellers or win awards, I just couldn’t “waste” precious time on this hobby. Slowly, though, I’ve been rediscovering that young girl, and trying to battle those self-doubt demons who second-guess everything I do. This is a wonderful reminder that writing should be about self-expression and release. If other people connect to your work, all the better, but in the end that should never be your primary motivation. I should write for me!


    1. Wonderful to hear that you’re getting back in touch with your inner writer! Self doubt kills creativity — we know that, but somehow we can never totally get rid of it. We should all follow our instincts, and if that is to express oneself through writing or any of the other creative arts, we shouldn’t suppress that. Write for yourself!


  7. A lovely post, Jama. Your words really hit home with me. How much do I want it and what price am I willing to pay have ben questions I’ve asked myself over and over. Thanks for showing me I’m not alone. Love this Marge Piercy poem, so much truth there.


  8. A somewhat different post for you this week, Jama. But whether you’re focused on someone else or ruminating inwardly, you are nonetheless thoughtful… as in thought-FULL (though you are always thoughtful, too!) Thanks for this post, Jama, and thanks for being you. xo


  9. I usually come here to feed my body/soul with your yummy food/poetry posts. Today, my writer/soul is filled to the brim. This is a post that will cheer us on and keep us writing as if our lives depended on it. (They do.) Thank you.


    1. The freedom and privilege to write and express ourselves is crucial to our identities as human beings. We are seeing that right being threatened now and it’s frightening.


  10. I am printing this out for my writer’s notebook, Jama. And I am branding these lines onto my writing brain:
    Work is its own cure. You have to
    like it better than being loved.

    Amen…and YES!!!!


      1. Titcomb was born in the town where I work. I wrote a profile of her for Women of the Granite State. A warehouse containing much of her work burned in the early 1900s, so there isn’t much available to see. 😦


  11. This one is definitely a keeper, Jama – appreciations for the thoughtfulness and boldness and raw honesty. Would you believe that this weekend, I stayed home from a trip my hubby took to see his folks and OUR KIDS, to hole myself up in the quiet and write? I’ll probably circle back to this post more than once on breaks… Thank you! XO


  12. Your words today are inspiration as I gear up for the Two Writing Teachers March Slice of Life Challenge. “Having written” is sometimes the only thing that keeps me going. Thank you.


  13. I love everything about this post, Jama. Just plain inspiring! A keeper! Especially notable to me are Marge Piercy’s words: “Work is its own cure. You have to like it better than being loved.” and yours: “Let us remain drunk on words.”

    Liked by 1 person

  14. Jama,

    Thank you so much for this wonderful post! I am new to blogging/writing publicly and really connected with your sentence, “When it’s hard to write, write harder.” Sometimes I psych myself out just knowing what I write will be seen by others so the beauty of words and poetry immediately leave my mind but you’ve just encouraged me to push through! And push through strongly I might add! I look forward to reading your continued posts! Have a great day!

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks for your nice comment, Maria. I’m glad you’re blogging and that this post resonated with you. We all need encouragement to keep writing — which in itself is an act of courage. Be brave and speak your heart. 🙂

      Liked by 1 person

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