Questioning a Quote: Do We Adhere to Quotes too Easily?

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader.

– Robert Frost

While searching for inspiration to write a short story about a year ago, I stumbled upon this Robert Frost quote. Frost (1874-1963) is most well known for writing the poem “The Road Not Taken,” which is one of the most well known, most commonly taught in schools, most often quoted, and most wonderfully and widely interpreted poems ever written.  (It is also quite popular as a tattoo!)

Robert Frost
Robert Frost

Because Frost wrote a poem so well known, there is the almost inevitable mistake of trusting that what Frost is quoted as saying is an absolute statement of genius, and, from time to time, I am one of those people that succumbs. Because I admire Frost, I did not question the logic of his quote, and sloppily wrote the quote on a post-it note to go with the other motivational quotes on post-it notes above my writing desk.

Looking back on my years of writing, I have written countless short stories that have produced no emotion from within me, and the lack of emotion was visible when friends read those stories, too. For years I was struggling to reproduce the emotional response I gained from a short story I wrote when I was nineteen in a creative writing class. The story was written six months after I had major surgery, and it was about the days I spent in the hospital under drugs, in horrendous pain, and in a physical state that most people will be lucky enough to never experience in their lives. Because it was so fresh in my mind, the emotions came pouring out of me; I cried as I wrote the story. When I finished it, I panicked that it was too personal, so I rewrote and presented it as a fictional piece. I’d gotten sick and lost my voice on the day I was supposed to present it, so I asked a friend to read it to the class. I nearly cried (I blamed my cold for my sniffling). In the workshop, people commented on the emotions they felt from hearing the story in its earliest draft. It has been four years, but I can still remember the emotions contained within the four walls of the classroom on that February day. Knowing that my own words written on a page can produce such strong emotions makes me want to write all the more.

As a writer giving advice to fellow writers, I would advise you to let your emotions shine through in your writing. Everyone experiences emotions, but not everyone knows how to write about them; we, as writers, have the ability to put into words what so many others cannot. Emotions are only transmitted through words if you can feel them pouring out of you from your heart to your fingertips to the words on the page before you, and, finally, to the readers of the finished work.

Every few months, I try to re-organize and search for new quotes to stick on my wall, yet I always end up leaving Frost’s. Today, Frost’s quote is the lone post-it left on my wall because I’ve found that the more I sit down to write at my desk, the more pleased I am with what I write after reading his words. Although I did not question his words at first, I have come to trust them as truth.

Go ahead and put Robert Frost’s quote up above your writing desk, your bed, your computer screen, or even get a little wild and get it as your next tattoo. It has helped my writing become more meaningful, and I bet it could have the power to do the same for yours.

– Allison Bellows


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