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More writing insight from Rainer Maria Rilke: Mine the art of your life

Letters to a Young Poet

What is your approach and philosophy about writing and the writing life?

Austrian poet and novelist Rainer Maria Rilke offered advice and ideas about writing in a series of letters to a young student, Franz Kappus, who later published them in a collection called, Letters to a Young Poet. You can read more about Rilke’s philosophy in my last blog post, Inspired by Rilke: What you should write about and why.

In his advice about what to write about, Rilke urged Kappus to be cautious of generalities and examine the themes present in everyday life.

“Write about your sorrows, your wishes, your passing thoughts, your belief in anything beautiful. Describe all that with fervent, quiet, and humble sincerity. In order to express yourself, use things in your surroundings, the scenes of your dreams, and the subjects of your memory.”

If you’re unable to find story-worthy material in your life, Rilke said in his first letter to Kappus, “Lament that you are not poet enough to call up its wealth.”

Rilke urges us to observe our lives and the world we inhabit. See the details, listen, draw on memories and note them with all our senses so we can apply this knowledge in our sentences.

What have you observed today that is worth writing about?

From the book Letters to a Young Poet. Copyright © 2000 by Rainer Maria Rilke. Reprinted with permission of New World Library, Novato, CA. www.newworldlibrary.com.

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