At least one email per week comes in asking about my writing process, what got me started, and what I do to keep motivated.
Responses are different for each person, but my general advice is to read classics, develop your vision, and go out and live life like a madman–then see what you give birth to.
Recently I revisited a book that was given to me as a teenager, Letters to a Young Poet, by Rainer Maria Rilke.
When I first read it, most of it went over my head and wasn’t appreciated, but now that I’ve gained enough world experience, the message in it speaks directly to my core.
I highly recommend it for anyone who is interested in creative arts and will be directing any future emails on the subject to this post.
Letters to a Young Poet is a collection of letters that Rilke wrote in response to a student who was interested in the role of a writer/poet and the components necessary to perform the duty. The letters can be applied to any creative process, and they address universal issues that any artist must confront.
Rilke begins with the importance of style, how you need to develop your own in order to stand out. In order to do this, being solitary is necessary. If you are uncomfortable in solitude, you will never be able to form your own opinions and ideas–a theme that runs throughout Rilke’s philosophy.
For the creator must be a world for himself and must find everything in himself and Nature, to whom his whole life is devoted.
But after this descent into yourself and into your solitude, perhaps you will have to renounce being a poet…your life will still find its own paths from there, and that they may be good, rich, and wide.
What is necessary, after all, is only this: solitude, vast inner solitude. To walk inside yourself and meet no one for hours–that is what you must be able to attain. To be as solitary as you were when you were a child, when the grownups walked around involve with matters that seemed large and important because they looked so busy and because you didn’t understand a thing about what they were doing.
And when you realize that their activities are shabby, that their vocations are petrified and no longer connected with life, why not then continue to look upon it all as a child would, as if you were looking at something unfamiliar, out of the depths of your own world, from the vastness of your own solitude which is itself work and status and vocation?
Only the individual who is solitary…when he walks out into the rising dawn or looks out into the event-filled evening and when he feels what is happening there, all situations drop from him as if from a dead man, though he stands in the midst of pure life.
Fuck Facebook. Delete it.
Rilke also puts great emphasis on the importance of studying Nature seriously and finding meaning in the ‘Things’ of the natural world. If the creative process is difficult, exercise by deep meditation on these ‘Things’.
Search into the depths of Things: there, irony never descends–and when you arrive at the edge of greatness find out whether this way of perceiving the world arises from a necessity of your being. For under the influence of serious Things it will either fall away from you, or else it will grow strong, and become a serious tool and take its place among the instruments which you can form your art with.
The importance and necessity of sex is something that is stressed throughout the book as well. Rilke understood the nature of desire and creation that came from sexual union and compared it to creating art.
“Living an writing in heat”–and in fact the artist’s experience lies so unbelievable close to the sexual, to its pain and its pleasure, that the two phenomena are really just different forms of one and the same longing and bliss. And if instead of ‘heat’ one could say ‘sex’–sex in the great, pure sense of the word, free of any sin attached to it by the Church–then his art would be very great and infinitely important. His poetic power is great and as strong as a primal instinct: it has its own relentless rhythms in itself and explodes from him like a volcano.
…sex is difficult, yes. But those tasks that have been entrusted to us are difficult, almost everything serious is difficult, and everything is serious.
He also was in tune enough with human behavior to break down the most meaningful acts from each of the sexes.
The beauty of a girl is motherhood…a mothers beauty is motherhood that serves…in man too there is motherhood…physical and mental: his engendering is also a kind of birthing, and it is birthing when he creates out of his innermost fullness.
Anxiety and depression are issues that most creatives will face in their lifetime. I suffered through them for most of my life and still have to fight to stay positive. Every real artist I’ve met has admitted the same and has had to learn to overcome the shame that results from experiencing these demons. Rilke gives the best advice I’ve ever heard on combating anxiety.
If you trust in Nature, in what is simple in Nature, in the small Things that hardly anyone sees and that can so suddenly become huge, immeasurable: if you have this love for what is humble and try very simply, as someone who serves, to win the confidence of what seems poor: then everything will become easier for you, more coherent and somehow more reconciling, not in your conscious mind perhaps, which stays behind, astonished, but in your innermost awareness, awakeness, and knowledge.
More on treating depression:
Perhaps all the dragons in our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us act, just once, with beauty and courage. Perhaps everything that frightens us is, in its deepest essence, something helpless that wants our love. So you mustn’t be frightened, if a sadness rises in front of you, larger than any you have ever seen: if an anxiety moves over your hands and over everything you do…realize that something is happening to you, that life has not forgotten you…
Why do you want to shut out of you life any uneasiness, any misery, any depression, since after all you don’t know what work these conditions are doing inside you?
Just bear in mind that sickness is the means by which an organism frees itself from what is alien.
These are just a few snippets from pages that are packed with brilliant, incisive advice from one of the greatest poets to ever live.
I would highly recommend reading the book in its entirety, in solitude if you can. I’m up alone in the mountains right now and was able to digest Letters to a Young Poet for the second time this month.
Read Letters to a Young Poet, especially if you are a sensitive observer making his way through a fucked up world.
Buy it here.
While your at it, make sure you read my newly produced book “The Man From Brooklyn” and get a glimpse into the way I handle women on a more intimate level.