Putting nettles to good use

When the world lost Terry Pratchett not so long ago, The Guardian posted an article from Neil Gaiman titled, “Terry Pratchett isn’t jolly. He’s angry.” The gist of the article is summed up in these two paragraphs:

“There is a fury to Terry Pratchett’s writing: it’s the fury that was the engine that powered Discworld. It’s also the anger at the headmaster who would decide that six-year-old Terry Pratchett would never be smart enough for the 11-plus; anger at pompous critics, and at those who think serious is the opposite of funny; anger at his early American publishers who could not bring his books out successfully. . . .

“Anger is the engine that drives him, but it is the greatness of spirit that deploys that anger on the side of the angels, or better yet for all of us, the orangutans.”

The first time I skimmed through this article, I thought the point was that anger fueled Terry Pratchett’s writing. I thought, “That’s interesting,” and almost moved on.

But then I stopped, reread a little closer, and saw a completely different point: that Terry Pratchett chose to use his anger to fuel his writing. Where he could have let his anger grow and chafe and destroy, he instead directed his anger to create.

It reminded me of one of my favorite quotes from Les Miserables: “With very little trouble, nettles can be put to use; being neglected they become obnoxious and are therefore destroyed. How many men share the fate of the nettle!” (160)

What are we doing with our anger, our nettles, our weaknesses? Are we ashamed of them? Do we feed them hot air and let them fester? Do we use them to destroy?

Or do we harness those things, channel them, focus them, and put them to good use?

One of the most beautiful things I’ve learned as a writer is that you don’t touch your readers with perfect characters. Even the most heroic hero must have flaws to forge a connection with similarly flawed human hearts. Flaws make us human, and overcoming obstacles in spite of those flaws (or even with the help of those flaws) makes us heroic.

Use your weaknesses to create something good in a world that is always looking to destroy. Use your weaknesses to lift and strengthen others. Use your weaknesses to change the world.

You might just find that you’re not as flawed as you once thought.



  1. I have so many irrational fears, too much anger bubbling inside me because of all the injustice I experienced and witnessed and still seeing around me. There is so many things I don’t understand. I’m restless and full of questions, longing for a better world. A world devoid of colours so we can all be equals. I write all of those thoughts swirling in my head.

  2. This puts me in mind of a Harry Potter quote. (I can’t help it).
    “It is our choices, Harry, that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities.”
    Like you said, it’s the channel he used, not the fact that he had anger. Anger is an ingrained part of us all, but finding the correct outlet is what decides how we’ll live: with bitterness or boundless talent.

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