quotes for writers

Calvino: And then something happens

Every morning I tell myself, Today has to be productive—and then something happens that prevents me from writing.

Italo Calvino (via theparisreview)

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Not the fact, the feeling

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader — not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.

E.L. Doctorow

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Put down that book

Every time people force themselves to carry on with a book they’re not enjoying, they reinforce the idea that reading is a duty.

Nick Hornby (via droppingtheball)

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Reading vs. Writing

Sometimes I think a writer should make up his mind whether he’s going to be a writer or a reader. There isn’t time for both.

Jessamyn West (via The Paris Review).

That is exactly how I feel: can’t read when I’m writing, can’t write when I’m reading.

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Margaret Atwood: Books are frozen voices

Books are frozen voices, in the same way that musical scores are frozen music. The score is a way of transmitting the music to someone who can play it, releasing it into the air where it can once more be heard. And the black alphabet marks on the page represent words that were once spoken, if only in the writer’s head. They lie there inert until a reader comes along and transforms the letters into living sounds. The reader is the musician of the book: each reader may read the same text, just as each violinist plays the same piece, but each interpretation is different.

Margaret Atwood

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David Mitchell: Plot and character

I prefer to discuss the human heart through characterization, and to address the human condition through plot.

David Mitchell (via theparisreview)

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Kundera: Lightness of form

My lifetime ambition has been to unite the utmost seriousness of question with the utmost lightness of form.

Milan Kundera (via theparisreview)

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What to Write

“Write about the thing that frightens you most.”

Marsha Norman

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Laziness will not do

So avoid using the word very because it’s lazy. A man is not very tired, he is exhausted. Don’t use very sad, use morose. Language was invented for one reason, boys: to woo women. And in that endeavor, laziness will not do. It also won’t do in your essays.

Dead Poet’s Society

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The embodiment of raw experience

I’ve never thought of writing as the mere arrangement of words on the page but the attempted embodiment of a vision; a complex of emotions; raw experience. The effort of memorable art is to evoke in the reader or spectator emotions appropriate to that effort.

Joyce Carol Oates, The Faith of a Writer (via)

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Malamud: “work in uncertainty”

To any writer: Teach yourself to work in uncertainty. Many writers are anxious when they begin, or try something new. Even Matisse painted some of his Fauvist pictures in anxiety. Maybe that helped him to simplify. Character, discipline, negative capability count. Write, complete, revise. If it doesn’t work, begin something else.

— Bernard Malamud (via Paris Review)

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Enjoy the process of creation

Perhaps the most important quality, the one that is most consistently present in all creative individuals, is the ability to enjoy the process of creation for its own sake. Without this trait, poets would give up striving for perfection and would write commercial jingles, economists would work for banks where they would earn at least twice as much as they do at universities, and physicists would stop doing basic research and join industrial laboratories where the conditions are better and the expectations more predictable.

Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi, “The Creative Personality”

Quote of the Day

The chief beauty about time is that you cannot waste it in advance. The next year, the next day, the next hour are lying ready for you, as perfect, as unspoiled, as if you had never wasted or misapplied a single moment in all your life. You can turn over a new leaf every hour if you choose.

Arnold Bennett (via)

Fuck you, Melville!

I spent ten years writing Oscar Wao, and I definitely didn’t spend the ten years being like, “I’m amazing! This has taken ten years because this much genius requires a decade!” [laughter] I spent the whole time, you know, fucked up, unhappy, really miserable and convinced that I’d ruined the whole thing, and all the stuff you get when you spend a really long time lost in the desert. I think more than anything, my basic lesson as an artist has been humility.… The crazy thing about the arts is it’s not like other stuff where you can build up muscle to help you with the next project. A friend of mine, he’s a surgeon, he’s like a combat surgeon in Iraq, and we grew up together and immigrated together, and he tells me every surgery makes you even more awesome for the next surgery. I’ve never felt that anything I’ve written has made me more awesome. So I think for me it’s going to be a struggle for whatever the next project is, and if you’re an artist and you work long enough at this, you begin to understand your rhythm, and what I’m beginning to understand is my rhythm is very slow. I felt like my first book was just an accident, but what I’m discovering now is that this is my rhythm. I take forever. Friends of mine hear this and they want to fucking throw themselves off a bridge, because the first ten years drove them crazy.… Melville wrote Moby-Dick — does anyone remember how many months it took him? Like fourteen months! Fuck you, Melville!

— Junot Díaz, interviewed by Dave Eggers in The Boston Review

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Fitzgerald: What people are ashamed of

“What people are ashamed of usually makes a good story.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

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Salman Rushdie: writing out of “your best self”

… when you write, you in a way write out of what you think of as your best self, you know, the part of you that is lacking in foibles and weaknesses and egotism and vanities, so on. You’re just trying to really say something as truthful as you can out of the best that you have in you. And somehow the physical act of doing it is the only way you have of having access to that self. When you’re not physically writing, you don’t have the key to that door. But when you get in — certainly speaking for me, when I get into a state of properly concentrated attention — then I think of that as my best self, the self that does that. I wish I had access to it the rest of the time.

Salman Rushdie articulating a feeling that rings very true to me

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A kiss in the dark

A short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.

Stephen King

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Updike: Words that enter in silence and intimacy

“I think ‘taste’ is a social concept and not an artistic one. I’m willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else’s living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another’s brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves.”

— John Updike, Hugging the Shore

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Chuck Close: Inspiration is for amateurs

“The advice I like to give young artists, or really anybody who’ll listen to me, is not to wait around for inspiration. Inspiration is for amateurs; the rest of us just show up and get to work. If you wait around for the clouds to part and a bolt of lightning to strike you in the brain, you are not going to make an awful lot of work. All the best ideas come out of the process; they come out of the work itself. Things occur to you. If you’re sitting around trying to dream up a great art idea, you can sit there a long time before anything happens. But if you just get to work, something will occur to you and something else will occur to you and something else that you reject will push you in another direction. Inspiration is absolutely unnecessary and somehow deceptive. You feel like you need this great idea before you can get down to work, and I find that’s almost never the case.”

Chuck Close (via)

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The contract with the reader

“A novel can educate to some extent, but first a novel has to entertain. That’s the contract with the reader: you give me ten hours and I’ll give you a reason to turn every page. I have a commitment to accessibility. I believe in plot. I want an English professor to understand the symbolism while at the same time I want the people I grew up with — who may not often read anything but the Sears catalog — to read my books.”

Barbara Kingsolver

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