quotes for writers

A character who yearns

“All works of fiction are built around a character who yearns, and if you’re in touch with what the character is yearning for, then every detail is filtered through that emotional center.”

Robert Olen Butler

Neil Gaiman: Make Good Art

When you start out on a career in the arts you have no idea what you are doing. This is great. People who know what they are doing know the rules, and know what is possible and impossible. You do not. And you should not. The rules on what is possible and impossible in the arts were made by people who had not tested the bounds of the possible by going beyond them. And you can.

Neil Gaiman, “Make Good Art” (read it here)

The Silence

Q: Looking back, how do you recall your 50-plus years as a writer?

Roth: Exhilaration and groaning. Frustration and freedom. Inspiration and uncertainty. Abundance and emptiness. Blazing forth and muddling through. The day-by-day repertoire of oscillating dualities that any talent withstands — and tremendous solitude, too. And the silence: 50 years in a room silent as the bottom of a pool, eking out, when all went well, my minimum daily allowance of usable prose.

Philip Roth

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After you finish

“After you finish a book, you know, you’re dead. But no one knows you’re dead. All they see is the irresponsibility that comes in after the terrible responsibility of writing.”

Ernest Hemingway

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Leon Uris: Research feeds your writing

Research to me is as important or more important than the writing. It is the foundation upon which the book is built.

Leon Uris

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Quote of the Day

Be daring, be different, be impractical, be anything that will assert integrity of purpose and imaginative vision against the play-it-safers, the creatures of the commonplace, the slaves of the ordinary.

Cecil Beaton

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Fitzgerald: “utter helplessness”

I am thirty-six years old. For eighteen years save for a short space during the war writing has been my chief interest in life, and I am in every sense a professional. Yet even now when, at the recurrent cry of “Baby Needs Shoes,” I sit down facing my sharpened pencils and a block of legal-sized paper, I have a feeling of utter helplessness. I may write my story in three days or, as is more frequently the case, it may be six weeks before I have assembled anything worthy to be sent out. I can open a volume from a criminal law library and find a thousand plots. I can go into highway and byway, parlor and kitchen, and listen to personal revelations that at the hands of other writers might endure forever. But all that is nothing — not even enough for a false start.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, “One Hundred False Starts” (1933)

Creating vs. analyzing

“Do not try to create and analyze at the same time… they are different processes.”

— John Cage

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Auden: “a genuine writer forgets”

Just as a good man forgets his deed the moment he has done it, a genuine writer forgets a work as soon as he has completed it and starts to think about the next one; if he thinks about his past work at all, he is more likely to remember its faults than its virtues. Fame often makes a writer vain, but seldom makes him proud.

W.H. Auden

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Writing as meditation

I see writing as a form of meditation, where I can let everything else fall away for a few moments and just stay with this one activity. It means I need to get my mind into the writing space, notice when the urge to go to distraction comes up, and not just automatically follow the urge. I can look within myself and let feelings flow out through the written word, or see the truths within me and try to channel those onto the page.

Leo Babauta, “Training To Be a Good Writer

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Quote of the day

I’m most in awe of novelists, who move sets, lights, scenery, and act out all the parts in your mind for you. My kind of writing requires collaboration with others to truly ignite. But I think of Dickens, or Cervantes, or Márquez, or Morrison, and I can describe to you the worlds they paint and inhabit. To engender empathy and create a world using only words is the closest thing we have to magic.

Lin-Manuel Miranda

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Horace: Artless art

“The art lies in concealing the art.”

Horace

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The Writer’s Anxiety

No matter how many awards you’ve won or how many sales you’ve got, come the next book it’s still a blank sheet of paper and you’re still panicking like hell that you’ve got nothing new to say. I still panic that the ideas aren’t going to come, it’s not going to be as good as my previous book, I’ve got nothing new to say, people are fed up with me, younger writers are doing better work. There are all kinds of fears that keep pushing at you. Thank God, otherwise you’d just sit back and write any old crap.

Ian Rankin

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Self-doubt

Happy are they who don’t doubt themselves and whose pens fly across the page. I myself hesitate, I falter, I become angry and fearful, my drive diminishes as my taste improves, and I brood more over an ill-suited word than I rejoice over a well-proportioned paragraph.

Gustave Flaubert, letter to Maxime du Camp, October 1847

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DeLillo: who I write for

“I don’t have an audience; I have a set of standards.”

Don DeLillo

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Calvino #1

[M]ost of the books I have written and those I intend to write originate from the thought that it will be impossible for me to write a book of that kind: when I have convinced myself that such a book is completely beyond my capacities of temperament or skill, I sit down and start writing it.

Italo Calvino

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Calvino #2

One starts off writing with a certain zest, but a time comes when the pen merely grates in dusty ink, and not a drop of life flows, and life is all outside, outside the window, outside oneself, and it seems that never more can one escape into a page one is writing, open out another world, leap the gap.

Italo Calvino

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Calvino #3

Instead of making myself write the book I ought to write, the novel that was expected of me, I conjured up the book I myself would have liked to read, the sort by an unknown writer, from another age and another country, discovered in an attic.

Italo Calvino

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All alike

Sooner or later, the great men turn out to be all alike. They never stop working. They never lose a minute. It is very depressing.

V.S. Pritchett, “Gibbon and the Home Guard” (via)

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Twain on “show, don’t tell”

Don’t say the old lady screamed. Bring her on and let her scream.

Mark Twain

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