Free image courtesy or KathrynMaloney at

It’s been a long time since I’ve shared some good writing advice from an author. This piece comes from Ross Gay, award-winning poet and essayist, whose latest collection, The Book of Delights: Essays came out earlier this year. He’s also a professor at Indiana University and a big sports fan and former college football player–and what delights Gay are many and varied things, which is, for this reader, delightful.

Before I share his advice, I’ll share a story: I’m a little embarrassed to say that while I’m only 27K into my new WIP, I already have its epigraph–you know, the quote or quotes at the start of a book that suggest theme. In my WIP’s case, the working themes are around loss, sorrow, and joy. Loss we can all try to get our heads around together.

But sorrow is really loaded–especially for me as a Catholic. Funny thing, a friend of ours recently learned what my family’s parish is called. “Our Lady of Sorrows,” he said. “How depressing.” I’d never thought about the name, a common descriptor for Jesus’s mother, Mary, as depressing. For, like Mary’s, our sorrows are borne together; sometimes, they’re necessary, even life-changing, lifting us all up. I couldn’t articulate this to our friend at the time, but his words got me to thinking about the transformative power of sorrow.

That’s about when I started reading Ross Gay, and who knows if his words will stick as one of two quotes in the epigraph of a novel not even half finished, but these words of his, from his essay “Joy is Such a Human Madness,” have served as a good thematic guide:

What if we joined our sorrows, I’m saying. / I’m saying: What if that is joy?

Ross Gay, The BOOK Of Delights: Essays

About the time I jotted this quote down was when I learned that Gay, like this aspiring author, is a Northeast Ohio native–making the possibility that I might one day hear him read in person pretty decent. (Joy!)

Until then, I’ll read his poems and essays and delight in learning about this inspirational author through interviews, like this one with Toni Fitzgerald in The Writer, in which Gay talks about his writing inspirations and process–our writing advice for the day:

…usually it’s thinking, reading, studying, trying to find something that turns you on and going for a bit.

Ross Gay

17 thoughts on “a bit of writerly advice for July 20, 2019

    1. It sure can. Yes, and I think sometimes this writer (me) focuses on the slogging hard work of writing instead of the joy in it. Today, I’m working on being delighted by what I read and write. Thank you for stopping by!


  1. I can think of instances of beauty in my life that were born of great sorrow. I never thought of that beauty (and the joy derived from it) as being created by a joining of sorrows, but that can be so true. Thank you for sharing Gay’s insight.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thanks, Becca! So often (especially in fiction writing) we writers are told to probe what scares us, what keeps us up at night. But I think it’s also beneficial to probe what we find joy in. I appreciate you stopping by!


  2. All I could think of when I read your words, loss, sorrow, and joy, was the journey I shared with my mom and her dementia. Or our dementia. All the loss, all the sorrow, all ended in joy for the final release from the loss and sorrow. Excellent advice you’ve shared. xx

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Oh goodness, Shelley, I got all misty reading your words. I’m so glad you found joy after such a tough journey at your mom’s side. I mean, sometimes this kind of advice sounds like us Midwesterners putting icing on something that really stinks, but if we can’t find joy, then what? I’m so glad this post hit home for you–and that writer’s advice has for me!

      Liked by 1 person

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