So begins Rainer Maria Rilke in his first of a series of letters to a young poet. Scary, brutal frankness to a 19 year-old from a young man not much older than he is (Rilke was only 27 when he wrote the first letter).
You ask whether your verses are any good. You ask me. You have asked others before this. You send them to magazines. You compare them with other poems, and you are upset when certain editors reject your work. Now (since you have said you want my advice) I beg you to stop doing that sort of thing. You are looking outside, and that is what you should most avoid right now. No one can advise or help you – no one. There is only one thing you should do. Go into yourself. Find out the reason that commands you to write; see whether it has spread its roots into the very depths of your heart; confess to yourself whether you would have to die if you were forbidden to write. This most of all: ask yourself in the most silent hour of your night: must I write? Dig into yourself for a deep answer. And if this answer rings out in assent, if you meet this solemn question with a strong, simple “I must”, then build your life in accordance with this necessity; your whole life, even into its humblest and most indifferent hour, must become a sign and witness to this impulse.
There can be no better writing advice in all the world. I’ve reread Rilke’s letters from time-to-time, relearn that like any other condition, the desire to publish sometimes needs to perish before one can learn to write.
And to learn to write, one must simply write. And write again. And keep at it because you can do nothing else to express that peculiar art you have been condemned to perform.