Have you ever doubted whether you had the talent to make it as a writer? Have you wondered whether your writing was good enough to be successful? Did you ever fear that your work would be dismissed as irrelevant?
Even the greatest writers have faced these doubts at one time or another. What is it that keeps them writing? How are they able to overcome these fears?
Perhaps it’s because they’ve discovered the most important question all successful writers need to answer first.
In the winter of 1903, 19-year-old aspiring poet Franz Xaver Kappus was confronted with this question. A student at the Theresian Military Academy in Austria, Kappus wrote poetry in his spare time while wrestling with uncertainty over his future career in the army.
He considered dropping out of school, but how could he be sure his writing dreams weren’t just a passing whim?
One day, Kappus found out that Rainer Maria Rilke, a famous poet he admired, had attended the same academy in the 1880s. Suffering from ill-health, Rilke had ultimately ended up abandoning a military career in favor of writing.
Kappus decided to write to Rilke with the hope that the poet could tell him if his poems showed any promise. To Kappus’s delight, Rilke replied. The poet posed a question that Kappus could answer to help him decide whether he should continue at the academy or pursue his writing dreams.
If you are struggling with self-doubt like Kappus did, read on for Rilke’s simple method for determining if you have what it takes to become a writer.