When to write – advice from the past

No one expected me to become a writer. I was supposed to become a pharmacist, then a microbiologist, and then a computer specialist. The career of “writer,” for whatever reason, was never mentioned.

later onOften I have wondered how things might have turned out differently had I been guided at an earlier age. I wish, when thinking about my days spent in youth, that someone had given me words of advice specific to a writer – a bit of inspiration, a smidgen of insight on going forward. How I would have held on to those words and cherished them. How I would have believed that they applied to me, to my life.

But no one did and as we all know, unless you want to mire yourself forever in the tangled webs of the past, you need to move on. You didn’t get what you thought you needed in the past, get over it. You’ll just have to find it elsewhere, life goes on.

This past weekend, while visiting my brother and his family, I was gifted with a box of family photos saved from my parents’ house when they recently moved from Virginia to Connecticut. Amongst the pictures of relatives and childhoods long gone, I found a simple, yellowed newspaper clipping, no date, just very old. I was almost about to throw it away when I took a second, closer look.

I don’t know who saved it, I don’t know who it was for, but the words rang as loudly to me as if a mentor were leaning over my shoulder and speaking directly into my ear.

Quite by fortune, in a box of near-forgotten memories, I finally found the words of advice from my past that are missing no more.

When to Write

by Edgar A. Guest

Now’s the time to write a letter,

Now you have it on your mind.

Never moment that is better

In a lifetime  you will find.

The thought that prompts you to it

Seize immediately upon,

For you’ll seldom get to do it

If you wait till later on.

You may think: “I’ll write it tomorrow,”

But it’s ten to one you don’t

Write it now or to your sorrow

You’ll forget it and you won’t.

In an minutes you’ll have penned it

And be glad to know it’s gone,

But you may not live to send it

If you wait till later on.

Oh the time for iron smiting

Is the moment iron’s hot,

And the time for letter writing

Is today – upon the dot.

Seize the minutes and to do it,

For the odds are ten to one

That you’ll never get to do it

If you wait till later on.


Wendy Thomas is an award winning journalist, columnist, and blogger who believes that taking challenges in life will always lead to goodness. She is the mother of 6 funny and creative kids and it is her goal to teach them through stories and lessons.

Wendy’s current project involves writing about her family’s experiences with chickens (yes, chickens). (www.simplethrift.wordpress.com)

And yup, that clipping is currently framed and hanging by my desk.

23 thoughts on “When to write – advice from the past

  1. What a wonderful piece and wonderful advice! I grew up with no special ambitions so I started a family and concentrated on my life as a mother. Now that I am retired, I renewed my interest in writing. So, I don’t think anyone expected me to be a writer, but here I am!

    I love the poem and am going to print it out and hang it in my writing area! Thank you for pointing the way to such sage advice.

  2. Woke up this morning turned on computer, this post was in front of my eyes introducing me to Edgar A. Guest. Wet to Goodreads and found another great one that hit home as well:
    “He was just a small church parson when the
    war broke out, and he
    Looked and dressed and acted like all parsons
    that we see.
    He wore the cleric’s broadcloth and he hooked
    his vest behind.
    But he had a man’s religion and he had a strong
    man’s mind.
    And he heard the call to duty, and he quit his
    church and went.
    And he bravely tramped right with ’em every-
    where the boys were sent.

    He put aside his broadcloth and he put the
    khaki on;
    Said he’d come to be a soldier and was going
    to live like one.
    Then he’d refereed the prize fights that the boys
    pulled off at night,
    And if no one else was handy he’d put on the
    gloves and fight.
    He wasn’t there a fortnight ere he saw the sol-
    diers’ needs,
    And he said: “I’m done with preaching; this
    is now the time for deeds.”

    He learned the sound of shrapnel, he could tell
    the size of shell
    From the shriek it make above him, and he knew
    just where it fell.
    In the front line trench he laboured, and he knew
    the feel of mud,
    And he didn’t run from danger and he wasn’t
    scared of blood.
    He wrote letters for the wounded, and he cheered
    them with his jokes,
    And he never made a visit without passing round
    the smokes.

    Then one day a bullet got him, as he knelt be-
    side a lad
    Who was “going west” right speedy, and they
    both seemed mighty glad,
    ‘Cause he held the boy’s hand tighter, and he
    smiled and whispered low,
    “Now you needn’t fear the journey; over there
    with you I’ll go.”
    And they both passed out together, arm in arm
    I think they went.
    He had kept his vow to follow everywhere the
    boys were sent.”
    ― Edgar A. Guest

    • I don’t know much about Edgar Guest, I sort of assumed he was a poet-Ann Landers but from the poem I listed and now yours it’s clear that he teaches through his poetic stories.

      What a great way to pass on his messages.


  3. I’ve been following this blog for almost a year. I am a playwright, acknowledged locally and the recipient of a few writing grants. I follow because I appreciate the words of other writers. What I don’t understand, and what I have a difficult time generating compassion for, are the successful, award winning writers who complain and/or whine. I don’t think that is what you are doing here, I believe you are attempting to share a somewhat “aha” moment when the universe was there to tell you to keep on going. Which I love. But you also note a curiosity, wondering what would have happened had you been guided earlier towards a career in writing.

    There are so many people attempting to make a go at it as writers. I am forever wondering what officially makes someone a writer. I do not have a degree in writing, and through a career of performing on stage, and day jobs copywriting for various marketing departments, I sort of found this passion/ drive late in life. I don’t know if I am any good. I’ve received grants so maybe I am, or someone thinks so, but I honestly never know. I get an inkling to tell a story and it continues to cause an itch until I scratch it and start writing the story. That said though, what makes someone a writer?

    I think perhaps it is acknowledgement of ones unique talent that provides the open door to officially say, “Hey, you guys.. I AM A WRITER.” And a check. Receiving payment kind of sort of does the same thing, ” Hey, you guys… I AM A WRITER… and I have the check to prove it!”

    That said, I believe all of the writers contributing to “Live to Write – Write to Live ” have received success in some way or another as writers. Yes? If so, if you’re wanting to complain, vent, whine about the state of your current writing career, it might benefit readers, like me, to have more detail. For example, why do you wonder what might have happened had you been inspired earllier? More recognition? Fame? Published books? Less of a struggle? Anything less just sounds like complaining and from when I read that you are “an award wining journalist, columnist and blogger” I don’t care anymore. Because from where I sit, you’re seat looks very nice.

    • I’m not quite sure how to respond to this. You say that you didn’t think my intent was to whine or complain and then you turn around and ask me to explain exactly why I’m whining and complaining.

      I assure you that in that little piece I am neither whining nor complaining.
      As you’ve noticed, I am a writer, a blogger, a columnist, a poet, and I have won some awards for my pieces. There is not a week that goes by where I don’t get paid by some market for my work.

      Does that make me a writer? You betcha.

      Does it make me think that I can rest on my laurels and that there will never be future improvement? Does it mean I’ve reached my life goal and I’m done? Does it also mean I won’t learn any new techniques, styles, or methods? Absolutely not. Although I love to write, I am and will continue to be a work in progress.

      The term “writer,” as far as I’m concerned, is a verb. A writer is in constant motion, always growing, always changing. A writer who does not evolve is one who is already dead.

      You also write that I seem to be wondering what would have happened had I been guided earlier towards a career in writing?

      In that case, yes – you’ve hit the nail on the head, I absolutely do wonder about how my life might have been different had I embraced the career of writer at a younger age. Would I have been a field journalist reporting on wars in foreign lands? Would I have worked for a large newspaper and had drinks with the other writers after work in the local bar down the street?

      Of course I wonder how things could have been different, it’s the nature of the job. It’s one of the hazards of being a storyteller.

  4. How wonderful to read such inspiration this afternoon! I very much enjoyed the poem and like Greg, I also discovered other poems by Edgar A. Guest because of your post. Thank you for sharing!

  5. Wendy,
    Thanks for sharing this. I didn’t find any whine in it at all. Guess I’m just not that deep. When I was young, I wanted to be a ballerina…but my parents convinced me that ballerinas went off traveling with the circus and never saw their family again. When I wanted to be a movie star, they crossed their eyes at me. When I said I wanted to be a writer…they said that was a bad idea too because no one makes money as a writer (to them this was a repeat of the artist period I went thru) . The only vocations they endorsed for me were being either a doctor or an attorney. Law sounded like a screaming bore to me (but my uncle would pay my way). So, I chose medicine.
    The kicker? When it came time to start college, my parents said they couldn’t pay for me to go to school for something so expensive.
    Hmmm. So I went out on my own, got a job, took ballet lessons for fun and made my own way in the world along side my husband (we were married at 19).
    I have written to support myself all thru my life. But the support until recent years has only been of the emotional kind. Journaling, keeping up long-distance freindships, and using my talents in all my volunteer roles…these things have all added up to my own “education” in the practice of writing.
    Sometimes, I just wanna stick my tongue out at the well meaning poo-pooers of my past. Most days though, I just write my heart out and cash checks here and there.
    ps…I really liked the poem, it’s going on my famous fridge 🙂

  6. Pingback: In Spurts | Btwn Shadow & Soul

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