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Inspired by Rilke: What you should write about and why

If you ever feel stalled with your writing, you might find inspiration in Rainer Maria Rilke’s Letters to a Young Poet.

Rilke, a Bohemian-Austrian poet and novelist, is known as one of the most significant writers in the German language.

He wrote the letters to 19-year-old student Franz Kappus, who had sent Rilke poems to review. Rilke declined to specifically review the poems, but his letters offer a meditation on creativity and the writing life. After Rilke died, Kappus published the classic collection of letters, including the first one you can view at poets.org.

His letters have helped many writers consider the place writing has in their lives.

Rilke responded to Kappus’s concerns about rejection, telling him he was looking outward and encouraged Kappus to look within for answers and test his desire to write.

“Does it stretch out its roots in the deepest place of your heart? Can you avow that you would die if you were forbidden to write? Above all, in the most silent hour of your night, ask yourself this: Must I write? Dig deep into yourself for a true answer. And if it should ring its assent, if you can confidently meet this serious question with a simple, “I must,” then build your life upon it. It has become your necessity. Your life, in even the most mundane and least significant hour, must become a sign, a testimony to this urge.

Then Rilke urged Kappus to draw near to nature. “Pretend you are the very first man and then write what you see and experience, what you love and lose.”

How deep is your desire to write? What can you do to build a life around writing?

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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