quotes for writers

Hemingway: No rule on how to write

There’s no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly. Sometimes it’s like drilling rock and blasting it out with charges.

Ernest Hemingway

Categories: Writing    Tags: ·

Orwell: Why I Write

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery. Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand.

George Orwell, “Why I Write

Categories: Writing    Tags: · ·

Roth: “The ordeal is part of the commitment”

“I have a slogan I use when I get anxious writing, which happens quite a bit: ‘the ordeal is part of the commitment.’ It’s one of my mantras. It makes a lot of things doable.”

Philip Roth

Categories: Writing    Tags: ·

Arlo Guthrie: Songs are like fish

Songs are like fish. You just gotta have your line in the water. And it’s a bad idea to fish downstream from Bob Dylan.

Arlo Guthrie

Categories: Creativity    Tags: ·

The Cure for Procrastination

Before you sweat the logistics of focus: first, care. Care intensely.… Obsessing over the slipperiness of focus, bemoaning the volume of those devil “distractions,” and constantly reassessing which shiny new “system” might make your life suddenly seem more sensible — these are all terrifically useful warning flares that you may be suffering from a deeper, more fundamental problem…. Know in your heart that what you’re making or doing matters… First, care. Then, as you’ll happily and unavoidably discover, all that “focus” business has a peculiar way of taking care of itself.

Merlin Mann

Bellow on Inspiration

“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.”

— Saul Bellow (via)

Categories: Writing    Tags: ·

What “finished” means to a writer

“Only by declaring a book completely finished can one start to see how much remains to be done on it.”

Alain de Botton

Categories: Writing    Tags: ·

The Wages of Worry

“It seems the only way to write a half decent book is to worry oneself sick on an hourly basis that one is producing a complete disaster.”

— Alain de Botton

Categories: Writing    Tags: ·

Katherine Anne Porter: This thing between me and my writing

This thing between me and my writing is the strongest bond I have ever had — stronger than any bond or any engagement with any human being or with any other work I’ve ever done.

Katherine Anne Porter

Sontag: Uncertainties and anxieties

Here is the great difference between reading and writing. Reading is a vocation, a skill, at which, with practice, you are bound to become more expert. What you accumulate as a writer are mostly uncertainties and anxieties.

Susan Sontag, from Writers [On Writing]: Collected Essays from The New York Times (via)

Categories: Writing    Tags: ·

Virginia Woolf: By hook or by crook

By hook or by crook, I hope that you will possess yourselves of money enough to travel and to idle, to contemplate the future or the past of the world, to dream over books and loiter at street corners and let the line of thought dip deep into the stream.

Virginia Woolf, A Room of One’s Own

Categories: Writing    Tags: · ·

Flannery O’Connor: The novel is way to have experience

People without hope not only don’t write novels, but what is more to the point, they don’t read them. They don’t take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience.

Flannery O’Connor (via)

Categories: Books    Tags: ·

Updike’s reader

When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but a vague spot a little east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves, without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teen-aged boy finding them, and having them speak to him.

John Updike

Categories: Writing    Tags: ·

Richard Ford: “make something good”

“I don’t think of characters as people. I think of them as made objects of language. And their only purpose is to be pushed outward toward the reader.… There’s never a time in writing stories at which the characters do what some writers say, which is to take over from me and become the person who writes the story.… I’m unwilling not to be their author.

“I still don’t want to write a book just because I’ve done it for thirty years. I don’t want to write a book just because my last book had good luck. I would like to write a book for the reason that anybody ever writes a book the first time, for those sort of unassailable, unquestionable, high aspirations of wanting to make something good, something good that you can give to somebody else. Over time, you can get very confused about those goals.”

— Richard Ford, Stuff Magazine, September 1997

Categories: Writing    Tags: ·

Innovation and Risk

“The core skill of innovators is error recovery, not failure avoidance.”

Randy Nelson of Pixar Studios

Categories: Creativity    Tags: ·

DeLillo: “The writer leads”

“The novel is whatever novelists are doing at a given time. If we’re not doing the big social novel fifteen years from now, it’ll probably mean our sensibilities have changed in ways that make such work less compelling to us — we won’t stop because the market dried up. The writer leads, he doesn’t follow. The dynamic lives in the writer’s mind, not in the size of the audience. And if the social novel lives, but only barely, surviving in the cracks and ruts of the culture, maybe it will be taken more seriously, as an endangered spectacle. A reduced context but a more intense one.… Writing is a form of personal freedom. It frees us from the mass identity we see in the making all around us. In the end, writers will write not to be outlaw heroes of some underculture but mainly to save themselves, to survive as individuals.”

— Don DeLillo, in a letter to Jonathan Franzen, around 1997

Categories: Books · Writing    Tags: ·

Fitzgerald on creating characters

“Start out with an individual and you find that you have created a type — start out with a type and you find that you have created nothing.”

— F. Scott Fitzgerald

Categories: Writing    Tags: ·

Flaubert on Life and Work

“Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.”

— Gustave Flaubert

Categories: Writing    Tags: ·

A Face Behind the Page

“When one reads any strongly individual piece of writing, one has the impression of seeing a face somewhere behind the page.”

— George Orwell, “Charles Dickens”

Categories: Books    Tags: · ·

The MFA Generation

It is hard to imagine a living American novelist writing a passage like the last four paragraphs of The Great Gatsby, summoning up the “fresh, green breast of the new world.” American novelists by and large do not identify with ordinary Americans any longer, nor with the American dream (“the last and greatest of all human dreams”), but with their intellectual class — the people with whom they went to school, whose minds are furnished with the same authorities and assumptions, who share a similar understanding of the world.… And thus the American novel, once a lively voice in the national debate to specify the American idea, has devolved into the voice of a homogeneous intellectual class.

D. G. Myers on what he has elsewhere called “the emergence of a literary generation whose experience is limited to creative writing.”

Categories: Books    Tags: ·