Rainier Maria Rilke on Writing
This post is inspired by a letter Rainier Maria Rilke wrote to Kappus (in “Letters to a Young Poet”) as a response to Kappus’ request to have his poems critiqued.
Although Rilke made clear he believed one shouldn’t critique others’ work (because things can be easily misunderstood) he continues to write wonderful wisdom.
He told Kappus his poems “have no identity of their own.”
Rilke goes on to say, “You are looking to the outside, and that above all you should not be doing now. Nobody can advise you and help you, nobody. There is only one way. Go into yourself.”
“This above all: ask yourself in your night’s quietest hour: must I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if it should be affirmative…then construct your life according to its necessity; your life right into its most inconsequential and slightest hour must become a sign and witness of this urge.”
Ask yourself, “Is writing something I MUST do?” After some introspection, if the answer is an unequivocal YES AND YES then keep reading.
Do You NEED to Write?
Rilke says that if you write from a need, the depth of your soul, then no longer will you feel the need to ask anyone if you’re writing is good. Nor try to pique the interest of magazines or other publications.
“for in them you will see your beloved natural possessions, a piece, and a voice, of your life. A work of art is good if it has risen out of necessity (emphasis added).”
That’s not to say a good writer shouldn’t want to share their words with the world.
This is merely a way to keep yourself in line with the true reason you’re writing. Once you’re lost in the superficial it’s hard to write from the heart.
Creativity is in the air we breathe, the ethereal realm where God and other supreme matter lie, and each time you write from the heart you commune with this higher divinity.
To no longer be a vessel or connecting channel between what lies inside of you and the creativity that lies without would be heartbreaking.
What to Do Next
If you found out “Yes! I NEED to write” then he suggested some small but natural next steps for the beginner to take.
Among his suggestions was to write about nature, then, “to say what you see and experience and love and lose.” Your nature, experience, and what’s inside of you should fuel your writing.
Stay away from love poems and any other forms which “are too familiar and habitual.” One typically needs great maturity to produce something in a familiar form where already brilliant examples have been passed down from writers before.
He beautifully stated:
“depict your sadnesses and desires, passing thoughts and faith in some kind of beauty — depict all this with intense, quiet, humble sincerity and make use of whatever you find about you to express yourself, the images from your dreams and the things in your memory.”
This is great advice for anyone overwhelmed with how to start writing. This gives you a great starting point.
What if you feel you lack material in your everyday life?
Rilke says you are to blame, not your life. To “tell yourself that you are not poet enough to summon up its riches, for there is no lack for him who creates and no poor, trivial place.” He also says that even if you were in prison you have no excuse. Your childhood alone should be a deep enough spring of memories from which to fill your bucket with.
Write What You Know
You have an abundance of stories and experiences to be written about right this very moment. If you’re like me and many writers here on Medium you have a need for writing. A thirst that needs to be quenched daily. A yearning is bubbling under the surface waiting for you to pay attention and give it life.
What can you write about? What is unique about you and your life?
Earlier this week I created a list of unique things about myself (and my life) as suggested by Shaunta Grimes in her post on ‘How to Know What to Write About’.
We have to start somewhere. Even if you feel extremely slow and progress seems nonexistent keep going. You’ll catch glimpses as you go. It’s beautiful to absorb the process and watch yourself grow bit by bit.
It’s easier to notice if you set tangible goals and intentions. Know your WHY. Move forward with Rilke’s advice in mind:
“go into yourself and to examine the depths from which your life springs; at its source you will find the answer to the question of whether you have to write.”