Harper Lee delivered one of the most quintessentially American novels in To Kill a Mockingbird, and it was turned into a fabulous movie by Horton Foote and Robert Mulligan. That title has shaken the world since it came out. The book gets banned, people argue about its meaning, all while behind the scenes, Lee just lived her life in a small southern town. Lee was a notorious recluse, once telling Oprah Winfrey that the character she was most like in the book was not Scout, but the unseen neighbor Boo Radley. 

Still, in the early years after Mockingbird's publishing, Lee did make the rounds.

Open Culture recently dug up this 1964 interview for WQXR’s Counterpoint, where she gives advice to young writers. Lee talks about writing in a very honest way, saying, “I hope to goodness that every novel I do gets better and better, not worse and worse.” 

Check out the whole interview below, and let's talk after. 

What I loved about this chat was the open honesty. She pulled no punches, saying, “People who write for reward by way of recognition or monetary gain don’t know what they’re doing. They’re in the category of those who write; they are not writers.”

And she had a lot more advice where that came from. Here;'s a handy breakdown of what was said. 

Harper Lee’s Advice for Writers

  • Hope for the best and expect nothing in terms of recognition
  • Write to please an audience of one: yourself
  • Write to exorcise your divine discontent
  • Gather material from the world around you, then turn inward and reflect
  • Don’t major in writing

These are all fantastic bits of advice that really translate well from novels to Hollywood. So much of the work is sitting down, doing it, and writing the stories that fill your soul. Talk about the way you see the world. If you make your works pop and you pour your heart and soul into them, the rest will follow.

What do you see in the world? What are the things you want and who are the characters you see? This is not just, "Write what you know," but it's more, "Write what moves you." 

Take us places we haven't seen and give us a window into your soul. 

I'll leave you with what Lee said parents should do for young writers in their midst: "Nurture the creative spirit by regularly prying the digital devices from young writers’ hands (and minds)."

Let us know what you think in the comments.