On Writing Mantras

by Lisa Bradley 

Family portrait of the writer F Scott Fitzgerald (1896 - 1940), his wife Zelda (1900 - 1948), and daughter Frances 'Scottie' Fitzgerald, 1925. (Photo by PhotoQuest/Getty Images)
Portrait of the writer F Scott Fitzgerald (1896 – 1940)

Nearly all writers have a writing mantra (or fifty) tacked to their bulletin boards or sticky taped to their computer screens. We’ve torn them from magazines, scribbled them down on legal paper from writing how-to books, and printed them off social media. But what purpose does a writing mantra serve and should you really have more than one? For a writing mantra to be significant it needs to resonate with the writer. This is why my writing mantra is different than yours. Our needs and goals are different. Incidentally, it’s also why you shouldn’t worry a writer will “steal” your idea if you share an early pitch or ask a friend for a critique. Other writers aren’t looking to mine your heart; they want to mine their own. It’s why the story I write will always be different than the story you write. We write for ourselves first and our writing mantra should reflect this. So it makes sense that the little catch phrases or post-its I tack beside my writing space—words that inspire and push me to ask WHY, and then ask WHY again—resonate as if written solely for me. Now, of course, I know this isn’t true, but that’s how strongly I believe in my writing mantra. If you’re a writer who has fifty yellow post-its with other writers’ words lining the sides of your computer screen while attempting to write from your heart, I offer you this: Pick one. Select the gold nugget of writing advice, the green light in the fog, that reflects the heart of your writing, and throw out (or recycle) the others. Focus on this one piece of advice or inspiration as you craft your next line, next chapter, or next verse. Notice how your writing mantra gets at the heart of what matters most to you as a writer. And it should, and will be, different for each of us. As for my writing mantra, the great F. Scott Fitzgerald once wrote in a letter to an aspiring writer, “You’ve got to sell your heart.” Whenever I read Fitzgerald’s work, I am reminded of this piece of writing advice (and delicious characters we love to hate like the Buchanans). This line is tacked beside my writing desk, the words a rallying cry to dig deeper. They push me to coax out every emotion (even the contradictions, especially the contradictions) from my characters’ inner lives and put it all on the page. So to even contemplate a new writing project requires a mental break, a re-fueling, in essence, to grow a new heart. That is the expectation for any writer.

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