Seamus Heaney on Writing

Nobel Prize winning Seamus Heaney, poet and teacher, had many uniquely interesting words to say abouheaney-seamus-4t poetry and the writing of it. He said that when he taught writing, he preferred those students who were just willing to give it a go. He wanted them to ‘enter with their imaginations and good sense of play‘ – a philosophy I follow in Writing for Wellbeing.

He himself never had a writing class, though he taught writing for most of his career. He just read literature of all sorts during his BA in English, ranging from Anglo-Saxon and Middle English to 20th-century poets like Eliot, Auden, and Hopkins. I agree that reading is one of the best ways to learn about writing. Though from my point of view, a few workshops or classes can help get the words flowing!

While saying that writers should trust their writing, Heaney also admitted that sometimes when teaching he didn’t write for 5 or 6 months in a year, noting that living your life is more important than art. This reminds us that writing isn’t necessarily about quantity, and that ultimately your words will arise from the experiences of your own life. Nonetheless Heaney has also said, ‘If you have the words, there’s always a chance that you’ll find the way’ and that ‘If poetry and the arts do anything, they can fortify your inner life, your inwardness.’ So we are reminded that expressing ourselves through writing is a road towards growth and emotional wellness.

But I think perhaps Heaney’s best advice is ‘The main thing is to write for the joy of it.’ For indeed, what could matter more than the feeling of inner wellness and joy that comes with creative self-expression?