Advice from the Masters: Willa Cather

Dec 9, 2015 | Better Writing

I have a lot of favorite authors. Some wrote what colleges call “literature,” like Scott Fitzgerald and Ernest Hemingway and Robert Penn Warren and Reynolds Price. And some wrote genre fiction like Dashiell Hammett and Raymond Chandler. But only one of my favorite authors could write my favorite novel. That would be Willa Cather. The novel is Death comes for the Archbishop.

The thing about Willa Cather is that she was very good at all kinds of writing. She worked as a journalist and the editor of the great magazine of her time, McClure’s in addition to writing some of the great novels of the real American West.

I’ve been hunting for advice from her for years now. It turns out that her best bit of advice is not original with her. Here it is.

“The end is nothing; the road is all.”

If you’re writing a book, remember that. The experience and struggle of writing your book is the important part. Take the time. Make the effort. Do the work.

Willa Cather often gets credit for that line, but it’s not her own. Instead she’s quoting the French historian, Jules Michelet.

Want more from and on Willa Cather? Check out this marvelous edition of Brain Pickings.

Want more Advice from the Masters? Check out the complete list of Advice from the Masters posts

Sign Up For Blog Posts Via Email