Monday, September 28, 2015

On Thorns, the Writing Life, and Henryk Sienkiewicz

September 2015
"The profession of the writer has its thorns about which the reader does not dream."
                                                                                               --Henryk Sienkiewicz

Ah, I came across this quote after facing down the above thorn tree (actually a honey locust tree) on a recent walk. What do you suppose were Mr. Sienkiewicz's thorns?

I was not familiar with Henryk Adam Aleksander Pius Sienkiewicz until I came across this quote. I felt an affinity with him right away--what writer wouldn't? We're always grappling with the thorns so common to writing: doubt, insecurity, time management, procrastination, perfectionism, lack of focus, writer's block, rejection. These things prick us, worry us, bring us pain.

But Mr. Sienkiewicz? Turns out he was a well-known Polish writer of the 19th century. A journalist, Nobel Prize-winning novelist, and, later, a philanthropist. His best known work? Quo Vadis, a novel set in Nero's Rome, from which a movie was made in the 1950s.

He met with great success, it would seem. But he also endured his share of life's thorns, including a period of poverty, early death of his wife, political upheaval of the times. Yet today he is celebrated in Poland by statues in his honor, streets named after him, and a legacy of honored writings.

I think I read Quo Vadis as a teen. At least it sounds familiar, or is it only because they made a movie based on it that I might have seen years ago? Otherwise, I knew nothing of Henryk before coming across his quote. But now I feel an affinity with him, and not just because hubby's mother's side of the family came from Poland. But because he expressed a common struggle. The reader often cannot imagine the thorns the writer battles to get those words in print. The reader, it would seem, has the easier part.

And yet, the reader is demanding. The story must ring true. The story must catch and keep the reader's attention. The story must sing and not cause the reader to stumble. How to do this? That is the true challenge. Sticky thorns so often get in the way.

Thank you Mr. Sienkiewicz, for initiating the discussion. Whatever thorns troubled you in your writing career, we can see you didn't let them stop you.

So, what writing thorns challenge you? What thorns poke and prod you so that your reader, unaware of the struggle, will enjoy the reading?

To me, we can interpret the photo in one of two ways. Ouch, don't touch! Or: appreciate the beauty of nature's sculpture. Perceived that way, thorns can be a positive, not a negative. A prod and not a deterrent. An incentive and a reminder of those things we need to be mindful of.

Any thoughts on thorns in your writing life?


  1. Thorns create never-ending challenges, which keep writing interesting to me. If I ever felt I had learned and mastered everything, I would grow bored. I doubt that will ever happen. There's still so very much to learn.

  2. I have endless thorns, but have discovered I'm a problem solver at heart. I find motivation in the challenge of solving a problem. If there were no challenges, things would get rote and boring. But I doubt that will ever happen. It certainly hasn't happened yet, and from my current vantage point, there are still numerous, incredibly steep mountains to climb.

  3. Cathy, what a helpful observation, that of how the challenge of solving problems can spur us on, not defeat us. Even motivate us. It can particularly characterize a writer--after all, we're always trying to solve plotting problems, character development, etc. No boredom there :-) Thanks for sharing...

  4. I do like this quote. He was a wise man! Thorns come with the territory. But then what profession is thorn free, right? Without them we would not grow (that doesn't make me like them any better though, lol). I wonder if we wouldn't feel as much of a sense of accomplishment either, if we didn't encounter thorns.

  5. Karen, glad you like the quote, and you are so right, thorns serve a purpose--for the tree and the writer! Interesting how something so commonplace can serve as a teaching lesson. That, too, is part of the fun of writing :-) Thanks for your thoughts...

  6. So many thorns, so little time ...

    One I'm working on right now is perfectionism. I love revising. So I rewrite and rewrite, endlessly tinkering with every scene in an effort to make it perfect.

  7. "So many thorns, so little time..." You made me laugh with this one, Peggy. Great line, thank you! And I feel your pain on the revision thing. I'm guilty of that, too. The WIP waits while I go back just one more time to edit the finished book? Something wrong with that picture...

    Have a great rest of the week :-)

  8. I have a lot of thorns in my writing life right now. Learning a new genre. Self-doubt. And motivation. I enjoyed reading about this write and what he endured.

  9. Thanks, Terri--I found Henryk interesting, too. Good luck battling your thorns, especially learning a new genre. Motivation is often a thorn for me, too, although right now my biggest thorn is making time for writing. But then again, don't we all battle that a lot? Thanks for stopping by :-)