quotes for writers

Orwell in torment

It is now 16 years since my first book was published, & abt 21 years since I started publishing articles in the magazines. Throughout that time there has literally been not one day in which I did not feel that I was idling, that I was behind with the current job, & that my total output was miserably small. Even at the periods when I was working 10 hours a day on a book, or turning out 4 or 5 articles a week, I have never been able to get away from this neurotic feeling, that I was wasting time. I can never get any sense of achievement out of the work that is actually in progress, because it always goes slower than I intend, & in any case I feel that a book or even an article does not exist until it is finished. But as soon as a book is finished, I begin, actually from the next day, worrying that the next one is not begun, & am haunted with the fear that there will never be a next one—that my impulse is exhausted for good & all. If I look back & count up the actual amount that I have written, then I see that my output has been respectable: but this does not reassure me, because it simply gives me the feeling that I once had an industriousness & a fertility which I have now lost.

— George Orwell, 1949 notebook entry (via)

Categories: Productivity · Writing    Tags: ·

Conrad: The sitting is all

I sit down religiously every morning, I sit down for eight hours every day — and the sitting down is all.

Joseph Conrad, letter to Edward Garnett, Mar. 29, 1898 (via)

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Junot Diaz: You keep writing anyway

In my view a writer is a writer because even when there is no hope, even when nothing you do shows any sign of promise, you keep writing anyway.

Junot Diaz

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Ian McEwan on the ideal length of a story

I believe the novella is the perfect form of prose fiction.

Ian McEwan

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Zadie Smith’s Ten Rules for Writers

  1. When still a child, make sure you read a lot of books. Spend more time doing this than anything else.
  2. When an adult, try to read your own work as a stranger would read it, or even better, as an enemy would.
  3. Don’t romanticise your “vocation.” You can either write good sentences or you can’t. There is no “writer’s lifestyle.” All that matters is what you leave on the page.
  4. Avoid your weaknesses. But do this without telling yourself that the things you can’t do aren’t worth doing. Don’t mask self-doubt with contempt.
  5. Leave a decent space of time between writing something and editing it.
  6. Avoid cliques, gangs, groups. The presence of a crowd won’t make your writing any better than it is.
  7. Work on a computer that is disconnected from the internet.
  8. Protect the time and space in which you write. Keep everybody away from it, even the people who are most important to you.
  9. Don’t confuse honours with achievement.
  10. Tell the truth through whichever veil comes to hand — but tell it. Resign yourself to the lifelong sadness that comes from never being satisfied.

Zadie Smith (via)

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Tchaikovsky: Work without inspiration

Do not believe those who try to persuade you that composition is only a cold exercise of the intellect. The only music capable of moving and touching us is that which flows from the depths of a composer’s soul when he is stirred by inspiration. There is no doubt that even the greatest musical geniuses have sometimes worked without inspiration. This guest does not always respond to the first invitation. We must always work, and a self-respecting artist must not fold his hands on the pretext that he is not in the mood. If we wait for the mood, without endeavouring to meet it half-way, we easily become indolent and apathetic. We must be patient, and believe that inspiration will come to those who can master their disinclination.

A few days ago I told you I was working every day without any real inspiration. Had I given way to my disinclination, undoubtedly I should have drifted into a long period of idleness. But my patience and faith did not fail me, and today I felt that inexplicable glow of inspiration of which I told you; thanks to which I know beforehand that whatever I write today will have the power to make an impression and to touch the hearts of those who hear it. I hope you will not think I am indulging in self-laudation if I tell you that I very seldom suffer from this disinclination to work. I believe the reason for this is that I am naturally patient. I have learnt to master myself, and I am glad I have not followed in the steps of some of my Russian colleagues, who have no self-confidence and are so impatient that at the least difficulty they are ready to throw up the sponge. This is why, in spite of great gifts, they accomplish so little, and that in an amateur way.

Pyotr Tchaikovsky, letter to a benefactor, 1878 (via Brain Pickings)

Categories: Creativity    Tags: ·

Jeffrey Eugenides: Not the audience, the reader

I think about the reader. I care about the reader. Not “audience.” Not “readership.” Just the reader. That one person, alone in a room, whose time I’m asking for. I want my books to be worth the reader’s time, and that’s why I don’t publish the books I’ve written that don’t meet this criterion, and why I don’t publish the books I do until they’re ready. The novels I love are novels I live for. They make me feel smarter, more alive, more tender toward the world. I hope, with my own books, to transmit that same experience, to pass it on as best I can.

Jeffrey Eugenides, Paris Review

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Picasso: I am always doing what I cannot do

I am always doing what I cannot do, in order that I may learn how to do it.

Pablo Picasso (via)

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Bradbury: Action is hope

Action is hope. At the end of each day, when you’ve done your work, you lie there and think, Well, I’ll be damned, I did this today. It doesn’t matter how good it is, or how bad — you did it. At the end of the week you’ll have a certain amount of accumulation. At the end of a year, you look back and say, I’ll be damned, it’s been a good year.

Ray Bradbury

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Tweet of the Day

Good work tends to happen only at the end of day: when the fear of accomplishing nothing finally exceeds fear of doing it badly.

Alain de Botton

How to Start

“The only possible way to begin a book is to tell oneself that its eventual failure is guaranteed — but survivable.”

Alain de Botton

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Just create to create

You may not be a Picasso or Mozart but you don’t have to be. Just create to create. Create to remind yourself you’re still alive. Make stuff to inspire others to make something too. Create to learn a bit more about yourself.

The Right Brain Terrain Manifesto

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Quote of the Day

Summer is a discouraging time to work — you don’t feel death coming on the way it does in the fall when the boys really put pen to paper.

Ernest Hemingway in a letter to Fitzgerald, from Hemingway: The 1930s (via wwnorton)

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Every writer is a thief

Every writer is a thief, though some of us are more clever than others at disguising our robberies. The reason writers are such slow readers is that we are ceaselessly searching for things we can steal and then pass off as our own…

Joseph Epstein (via austinkleon)

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Mencken on great artists and virtuous men

The great artists of the world are never Puritans, and seldom even ordinarily respectable. No virtuous man — that is, virtuous in the Y.M.C.A. sense — has ever painted a picture worth looking at, or written a symphony worth hearing, or a book worth reading.

H.L. Mencken

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Orhan Pamuk: “A writer is…”

A writer is someone who spends years patiently trying to discover the second being inside him and the world that makes him who he is. When I speak of writing, what comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or literary tradition; it is a person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward. Amid its shadows, he builds a new world with words. This man — or this woman — may use a typewriter, profit from the ease of a computer, or write with a pen on paper, as I have done for thirty years. As he writes, he can drink tea or coffee, or smoke cigarettes. From time to time he may rise from his table to look out through the window at the children playing in the street, and, if he is lucky, at trees and a view, or he can gaze out at a black wall. He can write poems, plays, or novels, as I do. All these differences come after the crucial task of sitting down at the table and patiently turning inwards. To write is to turn this inward gaze into words, to study the world into which that person passes when he retires into himself, and to do so with patience, obstinacy, and joy.

— Orhan Pamuk, from his acceptance speech for the Nobel Prize in Literature, December 2006 (via)

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Write because you feel like writing

All this advice from senior writers to establish a discipline — always to get down a thousand words a day whatever one’s mood — I find an absurdly puritanical and impractical approach. Write, if you must, because you feel like writing, never because you ought to write.

— John Fowles (via Advice to Writers, where you’ll find lots more of this sort of thing)

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Any way but lightly

You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair — the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page.

I’m not asking you to come reverently or unquestioningly; I’m not asking you to be politically correct or cast aside your sense of humor (please God you have one). This isn’t a popularity contest, it’s not the moral Olympics, and it’s not church. But it’s writing, damn it, not washing the car or putting on eyeliner. If you can take it seriously, we can do business.

Stephen King (via)

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Quote of the Day

Every author ought to write every book as if he were going to be beheaded the day he finished it.

F. Scott Fitzgerald, This Side of Paradise (via)

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Quote of the Day

I thought of myself as a writer for years before I got around to writing anything.

E. L. Doctorow

Me too.

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