I used to have my collection of writing quotes on the right sidebar. They rotated, which jolted the page, which some people found irritating. So I took them off. But I still add to them now and then (I added one today, as a matter of fact) and I decided to put them here all at once. Do you have a favorite among these? Do any of them strike you as off? If you have a favorite that isn’t here, please put it in the comments.
Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
A story is told as much by silence as by speech.
Rule one of reading other people’s stories is that whenever you say ‘well that’s not convincing’ the author tells you that’s the bit that wasn’t made up. This is because real life is under no obligation to be convincing.
A writer’s brain is like a magician’s hat. If you’re going to get anything out of it, you have to put something in it first.
Perfectionism is a mean, frozen form of idealism, while messes are the artist’s true friends.
I do not think I can get any nearer than this to the sources of my story-telling; I can only say that the process, though it takes place in some secret region on the sheer edge of consciousness, is always illuminated by the full light of my critical attention.
Being a writer means having homework for the rest of your life.
There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately no one knows what they are.
A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people.
People have writer’s block not because they can’t write, but because they despair of writing eloquently.
Even writers need relief from words.
Blind people got a hummin jones if you notice.
I’ve never known a writer who didn’t feel ill at ease in the world. … We write about the world because it doesn’t make sense to us. Through writing, maybe we can penetrate it, elucidate it, somehow make it comprehensible.
There is only one plot—things are not what they seem.
If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.
Easy reading is damn hard writing.
If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it.
Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others
The secret of being a bore is to tell everything.
So the writer who breeds more words than he needs, is making a chore for the reader who reads.
You have brains in your head. You have feet in your shoes. You can steer yourself, any direction you choose.
Writing: the only time in your life when you really are Master of a Universe.
Happy families are all alike; every unhappy family is unhappy in its own way.
You don’t know about me without you have read a book by the name of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer; but that ain’t no matter.
I had the story, bit by bit, from various people, and, as generally happens in such cases, each time it was a different story.
I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.
A synonym is a word you use when you can’t spell the other one.
Writing is both mask and unveiling.
It’s all a draft until you die.
Fiction is the truth inside the lie.
The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.
Cut out all these exclamation points. An exclamation point is like laughing at your own joke.
The business of the novelist is not to relate great events, but to make small ones interesting.
The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamouring to become visible
Inspiration exists but it has to find you working.
The writer’s job is to get the main character up a tree, and then when they are up there, throw rocks at them.
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.
There is a busybody on your staff who devotes a lot of time to chasing split infinitives… I call for the immediate dismissal of this pedant. It is of no consequence whether he decides to go quickly or to quickly go or quickly to go. The important thing is that he should go at once.
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.
…writing stories is one of the most assertive things a person can do. Fiction is an act of willfulness, a deliberate effort to reconceive, to rearrange, to reconstitute nothing short of reality itself. Even among the most reluctant and doubtful of writers, this willfulness must emerge. Being a writer means taking the leap from listening to saying, ‘Listen to me.’
Starting to write a book: There is no agony like it.
They sicken of the calm who know the storm.
The writing is – I’m free from pain. It’s the place where I live; it’s where I have control; it’s where nobody tells me what to do; it’s where my imagination is fecund and I am really at my best. Nothing matters more in the world or in my body or anywhere when I’m writing.
History is the unfolding of miscalculations.
if a book is well written, I always find it too short.
The art of writing is the art of applying the seat of the pants to the seat of the chair.
After nourishment, shelter and companionship, stories are the thing we need most in the world.
Write what should not be forgotten
If a story is not about the hearer, he will not listen. And here I make a rule—a great and interesting story is about everyone or it will not last.
The story–from Rumplestiltskin to War and Peace–is one of the basic tools invented by the human mind for the purpose of understanding. There have been great societies that did not use the wheel, but there have been no societies that did not tell stories.
Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stitch that unravels fear’s caul.
If something inside of you is real, we will probably find it interesting, and it will probably be universal. So you must risk placing real emotion at the center of your work. Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you’re a writer you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act—truth is always subversive.
It’s a terrible poison, writing.
The more research you do, the more at ease you are in the world you’re writing about. It doesn’t encumber you, it makes you free.
Every moment happens twice: inside and outside, and they are two different histories.
If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn’t expecting it.
I pretty much love them all. Also, on the Talking Heads post poll, I was the (as of this morning) lone voter for a book of your choosing….simply out of curiosity to see what you would have chosen.
I suppose that means that you’re a little more adventurous than the average commenter. Or trusting. Or both. If you were to win, I would probably ask you some questions before I decide what book to send you. I like finding just the right book for an individual, and over the years I think I’ve developed a small talent for it.
Having read them again, if I had to choose favorites, I would chose the Hanna Arendt quote and the Susan Griffin one.
Those are the most subtle and probably the truest of the bunch.
I have always been partial to the Introduction to The Left Hand of Darkness by Ursula K LeGuin. This is a good quote on writing:
“Fiction writers, at least in their braver moments, do desire the truth: to know it, speak it, serve it. But they go about it in a peculiar and devious way, which consists in inventing persons, places, and events which never did and never will exist or occur, and telling about these fictions in detail and at length and with a great deal of emotion, and then when they are done writing down this pack of lies, they say, There! That’s the truth!”
oh wow, Kenzie. I love that one.
It’s a more vivid rendition of “Fiction is the truth inside the lie.” (Stephen King)
One of my favorites by “Dutch” Leonard was : “If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.”
I’m also fond of this one by Enid Bagnold : “Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. … It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down, to build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus.”
There you have a perfect title for a book on writing >in pursuit of the cactus<