A Word of Advice From Dr. Seuss…and That Word is “Unless….”

My brother and I were both big fans of Dr. Seuss when we were little, so last Friday found us standing in line with a pack of four and five year olds, waiting to see The Lorax on the big screen. We both adored the film so much that I am still thinking about it as I sit down to write this week’s blog post.

I reminded myself that Dr. Seuss was a writer. It’s easy to forget this, since Dr. Seuss stories have that timeless quality of something that has just always been there. I can’t imagine, for example, an exhausted Theodore Geisel gulping coffee in front of a typewriter at two in the morning and grumbling, “What am I going to do with that damned Cat in the Hat?”

“Dr. Seuss was a writer,” I thought to myself. “I wonder what advice he’d have to offer to aspiring writers today?”

I did a bit of digging around and came up with a few quotes that may be of great interest for those looking for some words of wisdom on writng. There’s:

So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.

…and:

Writing simply means no dependent clauses, no dangling things, no flashbacks, and keeping the subject near the predicate. We throw in as many fresh words we can get away with. Simple, short sentences don’t always work. You have to do tricks with pacing, alternate long sentences with short, to keep it vital and alive… Virtually every page is a cliffhanger–you’ve got to force them to turn it.

…and my personal favorite:

Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It’s not.

Okay, so the more seasoned Seuss fans will recognize that that last quote comes not from a how-to writing book, but was actually plucked from The Lorax. So sue me.

In context, the quote of course refers to the mass deforestation of the Loraxs’ truffula trees. Towards the end of story, (in both the book and the film) a character called the Once-Ler looks out over the destroyed forest and directs the audience’s attention to a circle of stones in the ground. One word has been carved in the stones, and that word is Unless.

The Once-Ler tells the little boy in the story (and the story’s audience) that unless they care, nothing will ever change. Nothing will ever improve.

It’s a message about the environment, and though I’d heard it before, I almost cried when it came up in the movie. I was struck, in a way I never was a child, by the sheer truth of that simple statement.

It’s true in regard to the enviornment. It’s also true in regard to just about any social issue. Really, it’s true in regard to just about anything that could ever be done to improve the world on a grand scale.

And yes, that goes for writing, too.

When I read The Lorax as a little girl, the message seemed so simple that it felt almost unnecessary. Dr. Seuss didn’t need to tell me to care. Of course I cared. Everyone cared. And in times of trouble, there’d always be a long line of heroes waiting to jump up and do the right thing (the right thing being obvious in all cases, of course).

But as I grew older, I found myself again and again surprised by the number of people who do not care.

I’m referring, of course, to the kind of person who floats through life without taking a major stand on any controversial subject. The kind of person who goes to work, comes home, goes to work again the next day, and maintains this routine without ever considering his or her place in the grander scheme of the human experience. This kind of person is typically put off by more extreme individuals. “Why do you have to be so radical?” they’ll say, as they go off to work yet again. “This thing you’re so concerned about is not going to change… Can’t you learn to just get along?”

There’s nothing wrong with being this kind of person, of course. Many, many people are this kind of person. Many of my closest friends and family members are this kind of person.

They’re not bad people, by any means, and they’re not hurting anyone per se. it’s just that this kind of person will never change the world.

I know people who care, and I know people who don’t. Not every person who cares is a writer, of course. But I can say with confidence that every writer (at least the ones I know) is a person who cares.

To be writer, we must be struck by a burning desire to see something change. This is why we write, after all–we have some vital message to share, and it’s of the utmost importance that we, and we alone, impart this message to the world.

It doesn’t matter, in this context, what that message is. Maybe you have strong politcal views to express in satircal articles and cartoons (as Dr. Seuss himself did, before hitting it big with children’s books). Maybe you want to write a short novella about teen angst, so depressed young people will feel a little less alone. Maybe you ultimately plan to release a cookbook of easy recipes, intended to show your standard culinary novice that anyone can put together a delicious and healthy meal.

Yes, if you’re a writer of any sort, you must care. I know you must care, because if you didn’t, you wouldn’t be writing. Instead, you’d be off doing something a whole lot easier.

“Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot,” Dr. Seuss tells us, through the Once-Ler, “nothing is going to get [written]. It’s not.” (Changes are mine).

So, if you are a writer who’s been struggling to write something, take a moment and ask yourself what it is you really care about.

Now–go write about that thing.


Writer and educator Sara Goas is a graduate of Lycoming College, and she specializes in creating content for the web. Her site saragoas.com has more examples of her work.

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2 thoughts on “A Word of Advice From Dr. Seuss…and That Word is “Unless….”

  1. When I post my blog each week, there is a quote that comes up that wordpress puts there. Of course, it’s always regarding writing and last week the quote was the quote you just wrote about. It certainly applies.

  2. Dear Sara,
    I came across your blog by accident when I was researching Dr. Seuss, and I’m glad I did because I’ve been struggling as a writer for quite some time, always starting a project, never quite finishing. I must’ve written about everything under the sun, and in every style (poems, songs, short stories, half a book…) as a result my writing has been out of focus with little conviction. I can’t seem to make anything stick…. But your post made me feel something, and gave me insight, and for that I thank you.

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