Distractions, failures? Yeats had them, too

William Butler Yeats, July 1911

Do not wait to strike till the iron is hot; but make it hot by striking.

− William Butler Yeats

Two weeks ago in Dublin, I had the chance to visit the National Library of Ireland.  Dublin is a city of literary landmarks, and I wanted to see every single one of them during the one day I was there.  Tourist map in hand, I rushed around the city like Rochester’s loony wife on a literary mission.

On my harried way to visit Oscar Wilde’s house, I nearly passed by the National Library, which I hadn’t heard about and wasn’t on my map.

National Library of Ireland

When I saw the huge old building and the “LIBRARY” sign above the invitingly open wrought-iron gate, I could not resist going in.  I’m so glad I did because beyond the architectural grandeur of the building, the Library currently features, The Life and Work of William Butler Yeats, one of the most in-depth and fascinating exhibits I’ve ever seen for a single writer.

Honestly, Yeats has not been one of my favorites.  I think the last time I read him was 9th grade English, but seeing this exhibit has prompted me to read his work again, and I must say, I’m enjoying it a lot more than I did when I was 14.

Displays included original manuscripts, videos, interactive exhibits, and a huge assortment of Yeats ephemera donated by Yeats’ wife and son.  But the display that stood out the most for me, and the one I most looked forward to sharing with the Silent Writers, was called The Creativity Questionnaire.

A researcher from Cambridge University attempting to analyze the creative effort sent Yeats the questionnaire.  The first question asked how Yeats responded to the initial creative impulses that led to starting a project. Yeats’ answers were completely human and made me think of those of us who struggle every time we sit down to write.

In response to question, Do you become absorbed in other activities? Yeats answered, “Detective Stories.”

ME, TOO! Except for me it’s detective shows, Law & Order, in particular.  Or it’s Twitter or Facebook or _________ (fill in the blank).

In response to question: Do you find that actual execution starts with a series of failed attempts to work?  Yeats answered, “Always.”


If someone with the prodigious talent of William Butler Yeats goes through this kind of struggle, but keeps on keeping on, we can take inspiration from that.  We can look at our own failed attempts or rejections and know that it’s the writer’s rite of passage.  Not that this takes the struggle away.  It doesn’t.  But understanding that it’s a universal experience for writers makes it easier to bear.

The next question asked:  Do you feel compelled to keep up these apparently fruitless attempts to work until you arrive at adequate expression?

Yeats answered, “Always.”

Well.  I can’t shout out, “Me, too” to that one, but it certainly is another lesson that can benefit all of us.  William Butler Yeats teaches us from that answer, and from the quote that opens this post, whether the iron is hot or not, we have to strike and strike and strike again until our work arrives at its own perfected expression.

Need a motivation boost? Join The Silent Writers Collective on Tuesdays at 9 PM Eastern and/or 9 PM Pacific (US) for the next Silent Write-In.


5 thoughts on “Distractions, failures? Yeats had them, too

  1. Yeats is my favorite male poet in the English Language and I love the quote you found.

    We were, you and I, in Dublin at the same time – sorry I missed you!

    Glad you had a good time, if a bit rushed. And very glad you discovered Yeats again.

  2. Olivia, I am so jealous! How I’d love to wander around Dublin in a literary search. And what a gem you found in that library! I’ve always loved Yeats, though Shelley is my favorite. The quote about striking the iron is perfect for our mission – to just DO IT and not worry about the outcome so much.

    Thanks for a truly inspiring post.

  3. Thanks for the comments, Kevin and Deanna. If you’re interested in seeing more on the exhibit, the National Library has a wonderful online version, which essentially walks you through the entire display. It’s really impressive and so well done. Just click the link in the post.

  4. So glad to know that exhibit is still up. It is truly fabulous. I wrote a piece about my experience there, ‘The Dublin Day’ which is still up on my website, http://www.suchfriends.wordpress.com. The site is about all the early 20th century writers I researched, including Yeats and his friends who founded the Abbey Theatre.
    And if any of you females out there get to the National Library–use the ladies room downstairs. Trust me.

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