Octavia Butler Wants You to Forget a Few Things

When it comes to writing, science fiction author Octavia Butler wants you to forget a few things.

“First forget inspiration.”

Habit would serve you better than inspiration ever could, Ms. Butler believed. Because habit sustains you whether you are inspired or not. And it is habit, she said, that helps you finish your writing, not inspiration. In other words, “habit is persistence in practice.”

On the subject of forgetting things, Ms. Butler added, you can forget talent, too. If you have it, use it. If not, no matter. “Continued learning is more dependable than talent,” she wrote. “Never let pride or laziness prevent you from learning.” Plus, when complimented on her writing talent, Ms. Butler would respond that her most important writing talent was persistence.

Lastly, Ms. Butler declared, don’t you worry about imagination. “You have all the imagination you will need.” And you stimulate it by reading, journaling, and learning.

So be outrageous, be wrong, don’t worry about either, were her instructions. Writing is fun. It is letting your interests and your imagination take you all over. If you do this, you’ll have more ideas than you’ll know what to do with, she said. “Then the real work of fashioning a story begins.”

And, after all these things to forget, Ms. Butler ended with a few words to remember: “Stay with it. Persist.”

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