Nebraska Center for Writers

Chimney Rock
Quotations for Writers


ON CRAFT
ON EDITORS AND CRITICS
ON PUBLISHING
ON READING
ON TEACHING
ON THE WRITER'S LIFE



ON CRAFT The first and last important rule for the creative writer, then, is that though there may be rules (formulas) for ordinary, easily publishable fiction — imitation fiction — there are no rules for real fiction, any more than there are rules for serious visual art or musical composition. — John Gardner

There are no rules, but you break them at your peril. — Peter Guber

The writer is one who, emnbarking upon a task, does not know what to do. — Donald Barthelme

My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whisky. — William Faulkner

You must break all the rules of painting, but you must also convince me you've had a reason to do so. — Hans Hoffman

Study the rules so that you won't beat yourself by not knowing something. — Babe Didricksen Zaharias

Sometimes I can better describe a person by another person's reaction. In a story in my first book, I couldn't think of a way to sufficiently describe the charisma of a certain boy, so the narrator says, "I knew girls who saved his gum." — Amy Hempel

Everyone has one good poem in his hidden head. — Don Welch

The hard part is getting to the top of page 1. — Tom Stoppard

You have to know the human heart. — Thom Jones

I have nothing to say / and I am saying it / and that is poetry / as I needed it — John Cage

I always do the first line well, but I have trouble doing the others. — Molière

Be obscure clearly. — EB White

I have seldom written a story, long or short, that I did not have to write and rewrite. There are single stories of mine that have taken me ten or twelve years to get written. — Sherwood Anderson

It takes an awful lot of time for me to write anything. I have endless drafts, one after another; and I try out 50, 75, or a hundred variations on a single line sometimes. I work on the process of refining low-grade ore. I get maybe a couple of nu ggets of gold out of 50 tons of dirt. It is tough for me. No, I am not inspired. — James Dickey

The freedom to create is somehow linked with facility of access to those obscure regions below the conscious mind. — Loren Eiseley

There is no iron that can enter the human heart with such stupefying effect, as a period placed at just the right moment. — Isaac Babel, from ďGuy de MaupassantĒ

Wake the happy words. — Theodore Roethke

The drummer's job is to stay out of the way. — Joe Williams

Make the drummer sound good. — Steve Lacy

I turn sentences around. That's my life. I write a sentence and then I turn it around. Then I look at it and I turn it around again. Then I have lunch. Then I come back in and write another sentence. Then I have tea and turn the new sentence around. Then I read the two sentences over and turn them both around. Then I lie down on my sofa and think. Then I get up and throw them out and start from the beginning. — Philip Roth

There's a certain grain of stupidity that the writer of fiction can hardly do without, and this is the quality of having to stare, of not getting the point at once. The longer you look at one object, the more of the world you see in it; and it's well to remember that the serious fiction writer always writes about the whole world. — Flannery O'Connor

If there were a little more silence, if we all kept quiet...maybe we could understand something. — Federico Fellini

The secret is to start a story near the ending. — Chris Offut

Art is elimination of the unnecessary. — Waldo Salt

Creativity is the residue of wasted time. — Albert Einstein

All great art comes from a sense of outrage. — Glenn Close

My God, this novel makes me break out in a cold sweat! Do you know how much I've written in five months, since the end of August? Sixty-five pages! Each paragraph is good in itself and there are some pages that are perfect. I feel certain. But just because of this, it isn't getting on. It's a series of well-turned, ordered paragraphs which do not flow on from each other. I shall have to unscrew them, loosen the joints, as one does with the masts of a ship when one wants the sail to take more wind... — Gustave Flaubert

Homer: "Marge, is this a happy ending or a sad ending?"
Marge: "It's an ending. That's enough." — The Simpsons

It is worth mentioning, for future reference, that the creative power which bubbles so pleasantly in beginning a new book quiets down after a time, and one goes on more steadily. Doubts creep in. Then one becomes resigned. Determination not to give in, and the sense of an impending shape keep one at it more than anything. — Virginia Woolf

The creation of something new is not accomplished by the intellect, but by the play instinct acting from inner necessity. The creative mind plays with the objects it loves. — Carl Gustav Jung

I have written a great many stories and I still don't know how to go about it except to write it and take my chances. — John Steinbeck

The best stories don't come from "good vs bad" but from "good vs good." — Leo Tolstoy

The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it. — Mark Twain

You expect far too much of a first sentence. Think of it as analagous to a good country breakfast: what we want is something simple, but nourishing to the imagination. Hold the philosophy, hold the adjectives, just give us a plain subject and verb and perhaps a wholesome, nonfattening adverb or two. — Larry McMurtry

I no longer gave a sick dog's drop for the wisdom, the reliability and the authority of the public's literary mind, those creeps and old ladies of vested reviewing. — Norman Mailer

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil. — Truman Capote

Whenever you feel an impulse to perpetrate a piece of exceptionally fine writing, obey it — whole-heartedly — and delete it before sending your manuscript to press. Murder your darlings. — Arthur Quiller Couch, On the Art of Writing, 1916.

Literature is always best when it is celebrating its subjects darkly. ... And because it is often by describing the thing lost — a family, a moment of happiness, a child, a father — that we understand the full weight of what we had. — Bill Buford

I was a young cat, and I was very fast, but I wasn't telling no kind of story. — Roy Eldridge

Are all your stars shining? — JD Salinger

Never be sincere — sincerity is the death of writing. — Gordon Lish

Art is rare and sacred and hard work, and there ought to be a wall of fire around it. — Anthony Burgess

There are places where writing is acting and acting is writing. I'm not so interested in the divisions. I'm interested in the way things cross over. — Sam Shepard

Easy reading is damn hard writing. — Nathaniel Hawthorne

Writing itself is an act of faith, and nothing else. EB White

I felt a longing to compose a radical or root poem that would speak to what has its back turned to me. — Robert Bly

Fundamental accuracy of statement is the one sole morality of writing. — Ezra Pound

Substitute "damn" every time you're inclined to write "very"; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. — Mark Twain

Write about it by day, and dream about it by night. — EB White

Advice from this elderly practitioner is to forget publishers and just roll a sheet of copy paper into your machine and get lost in your subject. — EB White

Try to be one on whom nothing is lost. — Henry James

Sincerity is technique. — WH Auden

Remarks aren't literature. — Gertrude Stein

Nothing is more satisfying than to write a good sentence. It is no fun to write lumpishly, dully, in prose the reader must plod through like wet sand. But it is a pleasure to achieve, if one can, a clear running prose that is simple yet full of surprises. This does not just happen. It requires skill, hard work, a good ear, and continued practice. — Barbara Tuchman

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. Samuel Beckett

The big secret is the ability to stay in the room. — Ron Carlson

Composing on the typewriter, I find that I am sloughing off all my long sentences which I used to dote upon. Short, staccato, like modern French prose. The typewriter makes for lucidity, but I am not sure that it encourages subtlety. — TS Eliot in a letter to Conrad Aiken, 1916

In this art form, in any art form, generalities are useless. — Zubin Mehta

You learn from music, from watching great athletes at work — how disciplined they are, how they move. You learn these things by watching a shortstop at work, how he concentrates on one thing at a time. You learn from classic music, from the blues and jazz, from bluegrass. From all this, you learn how to sustain a great line without bringing in unnecessary words. — Ernest Gaines

Writing is easy. Just sit in front of a typewriter, open up a vein and bleed it out drop by drop. — Red Smith

The thing that hath been, it is that which shall be; and that which is done is that which shall be done; and there is no new thing under the sun. Is there anything whereof it may be said, see, this is new? It hath been already of old time, which was before us. — Ecclesiastes 1:9-10

The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution. — Paul Cezanne

If there is a gun hanging on the wall in the first act, it must fire in the last. — Anton Chekhov

Drama is a gun that doesn't go off. — Jonis Agee

Life stand still here. — Virginia Woolf

Art is the lie that tells the truth. — Pablo Picasso

Writing itself is an act of faith, and nothing else. — EB White

Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor. — Anne Lamott

Any fool can take a bad line out of a poem; it takes a real pro to throw out a good line. — Theodore Roethke

You don't want to OD on improvisation. — Patti Smith

My own experience has been that the tools I need for my trade are paper, tobacco, food, and a little whisky. — William Faulkner

You must break all the rules of painting, but you must also convince me you've had a reason to do so. — Hans Hoffman

Everyone has one good poem in his hidden head. — Don Welch

Writing ought either to be the manufacture of stories for which there is a market demand — a business as safe and commendable as making soap or breakfast foods — or it should be an art, which is always a search for something for which there is no market demand, something new and untried, where the values are intrinsic and have nothing to do with standardized values. — Willa Cather

Having your book turned into a movie is like seeing your oxen become bouillon cubes. — John LeCarre

The hard part is getting to the top of page 1. — Tom Stoppard

You have to know the human heart. — Thom Jones

Writing is an exploration. You start from nothing and learn as you go. ... Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way. — EL Doctorow

How do I know what I think, until I see what I say. — WH Auden

Creativity is allowing yourself to make mistakes. Art is knowing which ones to keep. — Scott Adams

Mistakes are the portals of discovery. — James Joyce

I always do the first line well, but I have trouble doing the others. — Molière

What one wants to do with stories is screw them up. — William Gass

There is no rule on how to write. Sometimes it comes easily and perfectly: sometimes it's like drilling rock and then blasting it out with charges. — Ernest Hemingway

I think that one of the compelling themes of fiction is this confrontation between good and evil. — William Styron

Draw, Antonio, draw, Antonio, draw and do not waste time. — Michelangelo

All our heroes, all our great stories are about failure. — Peter Carey

I think fiction is about small ambition, small failed ambition. — Ethan Canin

But novels are never about what they are about; that is, there is always deeper, or more general, significance. The author may not be aware of this till she is pretty far along with it. A novelís whole pattern is rarely apparent at the outset of writing, or even at the end; that is when the writer finds out what a novel is about, and the job becomes one of understanding and deepening or sharpening what is already written. That is finding the theme. — Diane Johnson

Literature is composed of quarter truths, and the quarters are often spent on penny candy. — William Gass

Get your facts first, and then you can distort them as much as you please. — Mark Twain

The difference between fiction and reality? Fiction has to make sense. — Tom Clancy

Change itself is what fascinates me. I am drawn, as a moth to the flame, by edge situations, by situations of metamorphosis. — E Annie Proulx

Push your sentences until they say something interesting. Here's a tiny example, from Denis Johnson's story "Work." A badly hung-over man is helping a friend salvage copper wiring from his ruined house: "I felt weak. I had to vomit in a corner — just a thimbleful of gray bile." Picture the second sentence stopping at the word "corner;" picture it minus the word "thimbleful." Keep coming back to your work. Sneak up on it. You don't have to solve all the problems at once. The more sittings, the more likely you are to find unusual things to add. — David Long

The friends that have I do it wrong
Whenever I remake a song,
Should know what issue is at stake:
It is myself that I remake.
William Butler Yeats

It is a cheap trick merely to surprise and shock the reader, especially at the expense of logic. And a lack of invention on the writers' part cannot be covered up by sensational action and clever prose. It is also a kind of laziness to write the obvious, which does not entertain, really. The idea is an unexpected turn of events, reasonably consistent with the characters of the protagonists. Stretch the reader's credulity, his sense of logic, to the utmost — it is quite elastic — but don't break it. In this way, you will write something new, surprising and entertaining both to yourself and the reader. — Patricia Highsmith

The high note is not the only thing. — Placido Domingo

English usage is sometimes more than mere taste, judgment and education — sometimes it's sheer luck, like getting across the street. — EB White

Often I'll find clues to where the story might go by figuring out where the characters would rather not go. — Doug Lawson

Too many poets write poems which are only difficult on the surface, difficult because the dramatic situation is easily misunderstood. It's not difficult to write poems that are misunderstood. A drunk, a three-year-old-they are easily misunderstood. What is difficult is being clear and mysterious at the same time. The dramatic situation needs to be as clear in a poem as it is in a piece of good journalism. The why is part of the mystery, but the who, what, where, and when should all be understood. — Miller Williams

What I don't write is as important as what I write. — Jamaica Kincaid

The mere habit of writing, of constantly keeping at it, of never giving up, ultimately teaches you how to write. — Gabriel Fielding

The progress of an artist is a continual self-sacrifice, a continual extinction of personality. — TS Eliot

There is no method but to be very intelligent. — TS Eliot

There is no method except yourself. — Harold Bloom

Let your literary compositions be kept from the public eye for nine years at least. — Horace

When the Lord finished the world, He pronounced it good. That is what I said about my first work, too. But Time, I tell you, Time takes the confidence out of these incautious early opinions. — Mark Twain

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English — it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice. — Mark Twain

Learn punctuation; it is your little drum set, one of the few tools oyu have to signal the reader where the beats and emphases go. (If you get it wrong, any least thing, the editor will throw your manuscript out.) Punctuation is not like musical notation; it doesn't indicate the length of pauses, but instead signifies logical relations. There are all sorts of people out there who know these things very well. You have to be among them even to begin. — Annie Dillard

Sentiment and nostalgia are fatal for fiction. One must go into the territory of the imagination with sure feet, hot fainting with glorious misery. — Lynn Freed

Any claim to actual identification as a drama must rest upon the construction of a plot independent of the assignment of affliction to the protagonist. — David Mamet

Successful people bore me as fictional creations. — Stephen Dixon

I wrote a few children's books ... not on purpose. — Steven Wright

There are significant moments in everyone's day that can make literature. That's what you ought to write about. — Raymond Carver

Who am I? What will I be? Why am I here? Where am I going? — Constantin Stanislavski

I have said that poetry is the spontaneous overflow of powerful feelings; it takes its origin from emotion recollected in tranquility; the emotion is contemplated till, by a species of re-action, the tranquility gradually disappears, and an emotion, kindred to that which was the subject of contemplation, is gradually produced, and does itself actually exist in the mind .—William Wordsworth

I distrust summaries, any kind of gliding through time, any too great a claim that one is in control of what one recounts; I think someone who claims to understand but is obviously calk, someone who claims to write with emotion recollected in tranquility, is a fool and a liar. To understand is to tremble. To recollect is to re-enter and be riven. ... I admire the authority of being on one's knees in front of the event. — Harold Brodkey

And yet, we know how fatal the pursuit of liveliness may be: it may result in ... tiresome acrobatics. ... Flashy effects distract the mind. They destroy their persuasiveness; you would not believe a man was very intent on ploughing a furrow if he carried a hoop with him and jumped through it at every other step. ... When virtuosity gets the upper hand of your theme, or is better than your idea, it is time to quit. — Katherine Anne Porter

Write a novel if you must, but think of money as an unlikely accident. Get your reward out of writing it, and try to be content with that. — Pearl Buck

Nobody wants to see the village of the happy people. — Lew Hunter

Novels are like marriages. You have to get into the mood to write them — not because of what writing them is going to be like, but because it's so sad to end them. When I finished my first book, I really felt like I'd fallen in love with my main character and that she'd died. You have to understand, writing a novel gets very weird and invisible-friend-from-childhood-ish, then you kill that thing, which was never really alive except in your imagination, and you're supposed to go buy groceries and talk to people at parties and stuff. Characters in stories are different. They come alive in the corners of your eyes. You don't have to live with them. — David Foster Wallace

To make your unknown known — that's the important thing. — Georgia O'Keefe

Writing means revealing oneself to excess. — Franz Kafka

A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book. — Ernest Hemingway

If you're looking for messages, try Western Union. — Ernest Hemingway

Make it new. — Ezra Pound

Poets are interested mostly in death and commas. — Carolyn Kizer

The language you use for your poems should be the language you use with your friends. — Robert Bly

The misuse of language induces evil in the soul. — Socrates

At heart, of course, a story itself is consolation's instrument. — Richard Ford

The sentence is the greatest human invention of civilization. — John Banville

Write the truest sentence that you know. — Ernest Hemingway

Thatís my only defense against this world: to build a sentence out of it. — Jim Harrison

I have never produced anything good except by a long succession of slight efforts. — Andre Gide

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure. — Samuel Johnson

You have all the scenes. Just go home and word it in. — Samuel Goldwyn to screenwriters Billy Wilder and IAL Diamond

Always make room for the unexpected in yourself. — Steve Martin

He who knows best knows how little he knows. — Thomas Jefferson

You can't be afraid to deal with your demons. You've got to go there to be able to write. — Lucinda Williams

Fiction is the truth inside the lie. — Stephen King

If you are a novelist of a certain type of termperament, then what you really want to do is re-invent the world. God wasn't too bad a novelist except he was a Realist. — John Barth

I am interested in making up a good case for distortion, as I am coming to believe it is the only way to make people see. — Flannery OíConnor

Writer's block ... is simply a failure of ego. — Norman Mailer

True power is an individual's ability to move from failure to failure with no loss of enthusiasm. — Winston Churchill

Oh it is only a novel!.... in short, only some work in which the greatest powers of the mind are displayed, in which the most thorough knowledge of human nature, the happiest delineation of its varieties, the liveliest effusions of wit and humour, are conveyed to the world in the best chosen language. — Jane Austen

Let's say you're writing the story from Della's point of view. You can say, "Della looked up into Rodney's adoring face," but you can't say, "Della raised her incredibly beautiful violet eyes to Rodney's adoring face." Why not? Because although Della may be aware she's incredibly beautiful and has violet eyes, that's not what Della sees when she looks up. That's what Rodney sees. And Della is the person whose mind you're in. Only Della's perceptions are perceptible. Rodney's aren't. And if Della really is thinking about the color of her own eyes, instead of how adorably adoring Rodney looks, you have to explain why: "She raised her eyes, knowing the effect their violet beauty would have on him."
If this still seems mysterious, consider that the limited third person is very like the first person in some ways; and you know that when you write as "I" you can tell only what "I" see and know. — "I raised my incredibly beautiful violet eyes to Rodney's adoring face." I'm sure you see what you wouldn't write that. — Ursula LeGuin

What is character but the determination of incident? What is incident but the illustration of character? — Henry James

Dialogue is not just quotation. It is grimaces, pauses, adjustments of blouse buttons, doodles on a napkin, and crossings of legs. When people communicate, they communicate with their faces, their bodies, their timing, and the objects around them. Makes this a full conversation. Not just the words part.
The argument itself shouldnít take place in a spatial vacuum. Where people talk is important. In a Jenn-Air-equipped kitchen? In the restaurant at the Metropolitan Museum of Art? Setting is like another character.
Conversations are like icebergs — only the very tops are visible. Most of their weight, their mass, their meanings are under the surface. Make your readers feel the tension between what is above and whatís below, and youíll have a story. — Jerry Stern

In what we think of as bad dialogue, the characters talk directly to each other. — Diane Johnson

I feel that whatever virtues the novel may have are very much connected with the limitations you mention. I am not writing a conventional novel, and I think that the quality of the novel I write will derive precisely from the peculiarity or aloneness, if you will, of the experience I write from. — Flannery O'Connor

All my life I've looked at words as though I were seeing them for the first time. — Ernest Hemingway

In art economy is always beauty. — Henry James

We have become indifferent to content, and react, not even to form, but to technique, to technical efficiency itself. — Czeslaw Milosz

Every story would be another story, and unrecognizable if it took up its characters and plot and happened somewhere else ... Fiction depends for its life on place. Place is the crossroads of circumstance, the proving ground of, What happened? Who's here? Who's coming?... — Eudora Welty

A successful book is not made of what is in it, but what is left out of it. — Mark Twain

God is in the details. — Mies van der Rohe

Detail is the lifeblood of fiction. — John Gardner

The bad poet is usually unconscious where he ought to be conscious, and conscious where he ought to be unconscious. — TS Eliot

I cannot start a story or chapter without knowing how it ends. ... Of course, it rarely ends that way. — Kashua Ishigura

What a lumbering poor vehicle prose is for the conveying of a great thought! ... Prose wanders around with a lantern & laboriously schedules & verifies the details & particulars of a valley & its frame of crags & peaks, then Poetry comes, & lays bare the whole landscape with a single splendid flash. — Mark Twain

I always stopped when I knew what was going to happen next. That way I could be sure of going on the next day. — Ernest Hemingway

Name names. Make your writing physical. Use lots of exact nouns. "Food" is an idea; "black-bean soup" is a thing. Naming not only makes the writing more visceral, it makes the reader trust you. And use your own expertise, whatever "insider information" you have. Use words like soffit, draw shave, spit valve. — David Long

The poet produces the beautiful by fixing his attention on something real. — Simone Weil

Load every rift with ore. — John Keats

Fill the moment and find variety. — Paul Newman

The only obligation to which in advance we may hold a novel, without incurring the accusation of being arbitrary, is that it be interesting. — Henry James

No one can write a best seller by trying to. He must write with complete sincerity; the clichés that make you laugh, the hackneyed characters, the well-worn situations, the commonplace story that excites your derision, seem neither hackneyed, well worn nor commonplace to him. ... The conclusion is obvious: you cannot write anything that will convince unless you are yourself convinced. The best seller sells because he writes with his heart's blood. — Somerset Maugham

Crowding is what Keats meant when he told poets to "load every rift with ore." It's what we mean when we exhort ourselves to avoid flabby language and clichés, never to use ten vague words where two will do, always to seek the vivid phrase, the exact word. By crowding I mean also keeping the story full, always full of what's happening in it; keeping it moving, not slacking and wandering into irrelevancies; keeping it interconnected with itself, rich with echoes forward and backward. Vivid, exact, concrete, accurate, dense, rich: these adjectives describe a prose that is crowded with sensations, meanings, and implications.
But leaping is just as important. What you leap over is what you leave out. And what you leave out is infinitely more than what you leave in. There's got to be white space around the word, silence around the voice. Listng is not describing. Only the relevant belongs. Some say God is in the details; some say the Devil is in the details. Both are correct. ... Tactically speaking, I'd say go ahead and crowd in the first draft — put everything in. Then in revising decide what counts, what tells; and cut and recombine till what's left is what counts. Leap boldly. — Ursula LeGuin

I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows. — Ernest Hemingway

Talent can't be taught, but it can be awakened. — Wallace Stegner

The funniest things are the forbidden. ... The humorous story is told gravely; the teller does his best to conceal the fact that he even dimly suspects that there is anything funny about it. — Mark Twain

Anton Chekhov gave some advice about revising a story: first, he said, throw out the first three pages. As a young writer I figured that if anybody knew about short stories, it was Chekhov, so I tried taking his advice. I really hoped he was wrong, but of course he was right. It depends on the length of the story, naturally; if it's very short, you can only throw out the first three praragraphs. But there are few first drafts to which Chekhov's Razor doesn't apply. Starting a story, we all tend to circle around, explain a lot of stuff, set things up that don't need to be set up. Then we find our way and get going, and the story begins ... very often just about on page 3.
In revision, as a rough rule, if the beginning can be cut, cut it. And if any passsage sticks out in some way, leaves the main trajectory, could possibly come out — take it out and see what the story looks like that way. Often a cut that seemed sure to leave a terrible hole joins up without a seam. It's as if the story, the work itself, has a shape it's trying to achieve, and will take that shape if you'll only clear away the verbiage. — Ursula LeGuin

I leave out the parts that people skip. — Elmore Leonard

Take an object. Do something to it. Do something else to it. Do something else to it. — Jasper Johns

I write it. I read it. If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. — Elmore Leonard

What is easy to read has been difficult to write. The labour of writing and rewriting, correcting and recorrecting, is the due exacted by every good book from its author, even if he knows from the beginning exactly what he wants to say. A limpid style is invariably the result of hard labour, and the easily flowing connection of sentence with sentence and paragraph with paragraph has always been won by the sweat of the brow. — G. M. Trevelyan

I'm not a very good writer, but I'm an excellent rewriter. — James Michener

Revision, once well done, becomes a sort of automatic itch which you scratch in the next work without thinking about it. — Romulus Linney

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. — Samuel Beckett

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in, shock-proof shit detector. This is the writer's radar and all good writers have it. — Ernest Hemingway

Read over your compositions, and where ever you meet with a passage which you think is particularly fine, strike it out. — Samuel Johnson

We are constantly telling ourselves what we most want to know, and at the same time are deaf to it. Why does envy have such a fierce bite? Why do we fall silent or get worried just as our story is about to spring out of our control and into its own life? Whose shadow falls across the page? — Bonnie Friedman

The time to begin writing an article is when you have finished it to your satisfaction. By that time you begin to clearly and logically perceive what it is that you really want to say. — Mark Twain

How you do anything is how you do everything. — Zen proverb

The greatest kindness would put a bullet in his bright eye. — Donald Hall, "Poet at Twenty"

I have thought many times since that if poets when they get discouraged would blow their brains out, they could write very much better when they got well. — Mark Twain

If you succeed not, cast not away the quills yet, nor scratch the wainscot, beat not the poor desk, but bring all to the forge and file again; turn it new. — Ben Jonson

Mere literary talent is common; what is rare is endurance, the continuing desire to work hard at writing. — Donald Hall

Every morning between 9 and 12 I go to my room and sit before a piece of paper. Many times, I just sit for three hours with no ideas coming to me. But I know one thing. If an idea does come between 9 and 12 I am there ready for it. — Flannery O'Connor

There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there ever be. — Doris Lessing

From a technical point of view there are two essential things to solve or create when writing a novel. The first is the invention of the narrator. I think the narrator is the most important character in a novel. In some cases this importance is obvious because the narrator is also a central figure, a central character in the novel. In other cases, the narrator is not a character, not a visible figure, but an invisible person whose creation is even more complicated and difficult than the creation of one of the characters.
When I wrote The Time of the Hero, I was not aware of the role of the narrator, I was not conscious of it. Instinctively, I discovered that the creation of the narrator is extremely important because if you are not coherent in establishing the laws under which the narrator works, develops the action, approaches the action, or takes a distance from the action he is narrating, then the whole persuasive force of the novel will disappear. Therefore, coherence is what is important. You can give any kind of power to the narrator, but always within a coherent system. If the system is clear and coherent, the novel's power of persuasion will be achieved. If not, if there are incoherences and the narrator acts in an arbitrary way, this immediately translates into disbelief for the reader. The reader feels that something is wrong, that what he has been told is not really happening but has been imposed on him peremptorily. And so the narrator must be faithful to the laws that create the system of narration in a novel.
The second essential problem a novelist should solve is the organization of time. The narrator and time give fiction its sovereignty, its independence from the real world. A novel is never similar to the real world; a novel is always a separate world, a world that has something essentially different from real reality. It is a fictitious reality that is always in opposition to real reality. The difference between fictitious reality and real reality is the presence of this narrator, which in real reality does not exist, and of the time structure, which in fiction is never similar to that of real life. Chronology, the organization of time, and the way in which time flows in fiction are different from real time; and the organization of time is one of the aspects in which you can trace the originality of a fictitious world. The way in which each novelist, each fiction writer organizes the time structure is what gives his literary work its originality and, again, its sovereignty. — Mario Vargas Llosa

Time is what makes good stories. Much has been cooking for a long time, and at last finds an out in narration one day. Thatís a supreme joy. And why the characters keep showing up. — Barry Hannah, Paris Review interview

A good novel tells us the truth about its hero; but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author. — GK Chesterton

Talents of the novelist: ... observation of character, analysis of emotion, people's feelings, personal relations ... — Virginia Woolf

The first thing you have to consider when writing a novel is your story, and then your story — and then your story! — Ford Madox Ford

The first draft of everything is shit. — Ernest Hemingway

When a thing has been said and well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it. — Anatole France

I don't know exactly how it's done. I let it alone a good deal. — Saul Bellow

...after a few days at the desk, telling the truth in an interesting way turns out to be as easy and pleasurable as bathing a cat. — Anne Lamott

Mediocre writers borrow; great writers steal. — TS Eliot

Yes sir. You can be more careless, you can put more trash in [a novel] and be excused for it. In a short story thatís next to the poem, almost every word has got to be almost exactly right. In the novel you can be careless but in the short story you canít. I mean by that the good short stories like Chekhov wrote. Thatís why I rate that second — itís because it demands a nearer absolute exactitude. You have less room to be slovenly and careless. Thereís less room in it for trash. — William Faulkner

The complete novelist would come into the world with a catalog of qualities like this. He would own the concentration of a Trappist monk, the organizational ability of a Prussian field marshal, the insight into human relations of a Viennese psychologist, the discipline of a man who prints the Lord's Prayer on the head of a pin, the exquisite sense of timing of an Olympic gymnast, and by the way, a natural instinct and flair for exceptional use of language. — Leon Uris

The whole process of writing a novel is having this great, beautiful idea and then spoiling it. — Diane Johnson

A good poem is almost always good housekeeping. — Don Welch

You want in all cases for the story to get through the writing. — Alice Munro

I'm writing a book. I've got the page numbers done. — Steven Wright

Step off assuredly into the blank of your mind. / Something will come to you. — Richard Wilbur

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English — it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them — then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice. — Mark Twain

Fiction reveals truths that reality obscures. — Jessamyn West

On the whole, audiences prefer that art be not a mirror held up to life, but a Disneyland of the soul, containing Romanceland, Spyland, Pornoland and all the other escapelands which are so much more agreeable than the complex truth. — Geoffrey Wiseman

A poem is a serious joke, a truth that has learned jujitsu. — William Stafford

In going where you have to go, and doing what you have to do, and seeing what you have to see, you dull and blunt the instrument you write with. But I would rather have it bent and dulled and know I had to put it on the grindstone again and hammer it into shape and put a whetstone to it, and know that I had something to write about, than to have it bright and shining and nothing to say, or smooth and well oiled in the closet, but unused. — Ernest Hemingway

There is one story and one story only. — Robert Graves

You have to talk to the stone, and it has to talk to you. — Ben Nighthorse Campbell

A novelist can shift view-point if it comes off. ... Indeed, this power to expand and contract perception (of which the shifting view-point is a symptom), this right to intermittent knowledge — I find one of the great advantages of the novel-form ... this intermittence lends in the long run variety and colour to the experiences we receive. — EM Forster

The art of fiction does not begin until the novelist thinks of his story as a matter to be shown, to be so exhibited that it will tell itself. — Percy Lubbock

[T]he visibility of styles is itself a product of historical consciousness. ... The very notion of "style" needs to be approached historically. Awareness of style as a problematic and isolable element in a work of art has emerged in the audience for art only at certain historical moments — as a front behind which other issues, ultimately ethical and political, are being debated. — Susan Sontag

I may therefore venture to say that the air of reality (solidity of specification) seems to me to be the supreme virtue of the novel — the merit upon which all its other merits ... hopelessly and submissively depend. If it be not there they are all as nothing, and if these be there, they owe their effect to the success with which the author has produced the illusion of life. The cultivation of this success, the study of this exquisite process, form, to my taste, the beginning and the end of the art of the novelist. They are his inspiration, his despair, his reward, his torment, and his delight. — Henry James

There are three rules for writing the novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. — W Somerset Maugham

There are nine-and-sixty ways of constructing tribal lays, / And every single one of them is right. — Rudyard Kipling

There are three necessary elements in a story — exposition, development, and drama. Exposition we may illustrate as "John Fortescue was a solicitor in the little town of X"; development as "One day Mrs Fortescue told him she was about to leave him for another man"; and drama as "You will do nothing of the kind," he said. — Frank O'Connor

Character gives us qualities, but it is in actions — what we do — that we are happy or the reverse. ... All human happiness and misery take the form of action. — Aristotle

Things in motion sooner catch the eye / Than what not stirs. — William Shakespeare

Tragedy is an imitation not only of a complete action, but of events inspiring fear and pity. Such an effect is best produced when the events come on us by surprise; and the effect is heightened when, at the same time, they follow as cause and effect. The tragic wonder will then be great than if they happened of themselves or by accident; for even coincidences are most striking when they have an air of design. — Aristotle

The beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, and the fiction writer begins where the human perception begins. He appeals through the senses, and you cannot appeal through the senses with abstractions. — Flannery O'Connor

At the beginning of their careers many writers have a need to overwrite. They choose carefully turned-out phrases; they want to impress their readers with their large vocabularies. By the excesses of their language, these young men and women try to hide their sense of inexperience. With maturity the writer becomes more secure in his ideas. He finds his real tone and develops a simple and effective style. — Jorge Luis Borges

Obscenities are too often used for shock value, as a kind of shorthand for real expression of emotion. You've got to scale down your monstrosities. A scream is not a discovery. — John L'Heureux

To write simply is as difficult as to be good. — W Somerset Maugham

Suit the action to the word, the word to the action. — William Shakespeare

In composing, as a general rule, run a pen through every other word you have written; you have no idea what vigor it will give your style. — Sydney Smith

The only way of expressing emotion in the form of art is by finding an "objective correlative"; in other words, a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula for that particular emotion; such that when the external facts, which must terminate in sensory experience, are given, the emotion is immediately evoked. — TS Eliot

Writing a first draft is like groping one's way into a dark room, or overhearing a faint conversation, or telling a joke whose punchline you've forgotten. As someone said, one writes mainly to rewrite, for rewriting and revising are how one's mind comes to inhabit the material fully. — Ted Solotaroff

When rewriting, move quickly. It's a little like cutting your own hair. — Robert Stone

Rewriting is like scrubbing the basement floor with a toothbrush. — Pete Murphy

So I made an outline. Well, you know, days are going by, and I am not writing anything because this thing is laid out in front of me. It's as if you get every brochure for a trip you are going to go on and you get the minutest details of every step along the way. Well, I really doubt you're going to then get in the car and go. You know, it's like, why bother if it's all laid out in front of you? — Steve Tesich

Look if you like, but you will have to leap. — WH Auden

We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down. — Kurt Vonnegut

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. — EL Doctorow

A novel should be an experience and convey an emotional truth rather than arguments. — Joyce Cary

Anybody can write a short story — a bad one, I mean — who has industry and paper and time enough; but not everyone may hope to write even a bad novel. It is the length that kills. The accepted novelist may take his novel up and put it down, spend days upon it in vain, and write not any more that he makes haste to blot. Not so the beginner. Human nature has certain rigths; instinct — the instinct of self-preservation — forbids that any man (cheered and supported by the consciousness of no previous victory) should endure the miseries of unsuccessful literary toil beyond a period to be measured in weeks. — Robert Louis Stevenson

Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don't try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It's the one and only thing you have to offer. — Barbara Kingsolver

In a given scene I may know nothing more than how it's supposed to end, most of the time not even that. Scenes are improvised. A character does or says something, and with as much spontaneity and schizophrenia as I can muster, another character responds. In this way, everything I write is spontaneous chain reaction and I'm running around playing leapfrog in my brain trying to "be" all my people. — Richard Price

No time for poetry but exactly what is. — Jack Kerouac

Time spent peddling an unfinished novel could be better spent finishing it. — Margaret Reavey

First thought, best thought. — Allen Ginsberg

Third thought, best thought. — Frank Conroy

Get black on white. — Guy de Maupassant

By an epiphany he meant a sudden spiritual manifestation, whether in the vulgarity of speech or of gesture or memorable phrase of the mind itself. He believed it was for the man of letters to record these epiphanies with extreme care (saving them for later use, that is), seeing that they themselves are the most delicate and evanescent of moments. — James Joyce

Try and write straight English; never using slang except in dialogue and then only when unavoidable. Because all slang goes sour in a short time. I only use swear words, for example, that have lasted at least a thousand years for fear of getting stuff that will be simply timely and then go sour. — Ernest Hemingway

A poem is never finished, only abandoned. — Paul Valéry

Only a mediocre writer is always at his best. — W Somerset Maugham

Whatever one wishes to say, there is one noun only by which to express it, one verb only to give it life, one adjective only which will describe it. One must search until one has discovered them, this noun, this verb, this adjective, and never rest content with approximations, never resort to trickery, however happy, or to vulgarism, in order to dodge the difficulty. — Guy de Maupassant, quoting Gustave Flaubert

Let us define plot. We have defined a story as a narrative of events arranged in their time-sequence. A plot is also a narrative of events, the emphasis falling on causality. "The king died and then the queen died" is a story. "The king died and then the queen died of grief" is a plot. The time-sequence is preserved, but the sense of causality overshadows it. Or again: "The queen died, no one knew why, until it was discovered that it was through grief at the death of the king." This is a plot with a mystery in it, a form capable of high development. It suspends the time-sequence, it moves as far away from the story as its limitations will allow. Consider the death of the queen. If it is in a story we say "and then?" If it is in a plot we ask "why?" — EM Forster

I donít praise plots as accurate representations of life, but as ways to keep readers reading. When I used to teach creative writing, I would tell the students to make their characters want something right away — even if itís only a glass of water. ... When you exclude plot, when you exclude anyoneís wanting anything, you exclude the reader, which is a mean-spirited thing to do. You can also exclude the reader by not telling him immediately where the story is taking place, and who the people are. ... And you can put him to sleep by never having characters confront each other. Students like to say that they stage no confrontations because people avoid confrontations in modern life. ďModern life is so lonely,Ē they say. This is laziness. Itís the writerís job to stage confrontations, so the characters will say surprising and revealing things, and educate and entertain us all. — Kurt Vonnegut

This element of surprise or mystery — the detective element as it is sometimes rather emptily called — is of great importance in a plot. It occurs through a suspension of the time-sequence; a mystery is a pocket in time, and it occurs crudely, as in "Why did the queen die?" and more subtly in half-explained gestures and words, the true meaning of which only dawns pages ahead. Mystery is essential to plot, and cannot be appreciated without intelligence. ... To appreciate a mystery, part of the mind must be left behind, brooding, while the other part goes marching on. — EM Forster

Mystery is the basic element of all works of art. — Luis Buñuel

Sometimes a plot triumphs too completely. The characters have to suspend their natures at every turn, or else are so swept away by the course of Fate that our sense of their reality is weakened. ... Hardy arranges events with emphasis on causality, the ground plan is a plot, and the characters are ordered to acquiesce in its requirements. ... In other words the characters have been required to contribute too much to the plot. ... Nearly all novels are feeble at the end. This is because the plot requires to be wound up. ... Incidents and people that occurred at first for their own sake now have to contribute to the dnouement. ... logic takes over the command from flesh and blood. If it was not for death and marriage I do not know how the average novelist would conclude. Death and marriage are almost his only connection between his characters and his plot. ... [T]he writer, poor fellow, must be allowed to finish up somehow, he has his living to get like anyone else, so no wonder that nothing is heard but hammering and screwing. This — as far as one can generalize — is the inherent defect of novels: they go off at the end; and there are two explanations of it: firstly, failure of pep, which threatens the novelist like all workers: and secondly, the difficulty which we have been discussing: the characters have been getting out of hand, laying foundations and declining to build on them afterwards, and now the novelist has to labour personally, in order that the job may be done to time. He pretends that the characters are acting for him. He keeps mentioning their names and using inverted commas. But the characters are gone or dead. — EM Forster

Fuck the plot. — Edna O'Brien

Fiction shows the external effects of internal conditions. Be aware of the tension between internal and external movement. — Raymond Carver

Never confuse movement with action. — Ernest Hemingway

You should let dialogue get as nearly out of control as you can. Characters should say what they say to each other instead of what they mean to say. The worst purpose of dialogue is to elicit information: "You know why we're out on this space station, Carruthers — to save the universe!" — Robert Stone

The universe is made of stories, not of atoms. — Muriel Rukeyser

Dialogue in fiction is what characters do to one another. — Elizabeth Bowen

Character is the very life of fiction. Setting exists so that the character has someplace to stand, something that can help define him, something he can pick up and throw, if necessary, or eat, or give to his girlfriend. Plot exists so the character can discover for himself (and in the process reveal to the reader) what he, the character, is really like: plot forces the character to choice and action, transforms him from a static construct to a lifelike human being making choices and paying for them or reaping the rewards. And theme exists only to make the character stand up and be somebody: theme is elevated critical language for what the character's main problem is. — John Gardner

The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises it is flat. Flat characters ... in their purest form ... are constructed round a single idea or quality; when there is more than one factor to them, we get the beginning of the curve toward the round. The really flat character can be experessed in one sentence such as, "I will never desert Mr Micawber." There is Mrs Micawber — she says she won't desert Mr Micawber; she doesn't, and there she is. — EM Forster

Let good people sin. Give virtue to rotters. — John L'Heureux

Negative Capability, that is when man is capable of being in uncertainties, Mysteries, doubts, without any irritable reaching after fact & reason. — John Keats

The great majority of modern third-person narration is "I" narration very thinly disguised. — John Fowles

That accurst autobiographic form which puts a premium on the loose, the improvised, the cheap, and the easy. — Henry James on the first-person singular point-of-view

Everyone is interesting except the narrator in a first-person story. — William Kennedy

Characters must not brood too long. They must not waste time running up and down ladders in their own insides. — EM Forster

The meaning of being only becomes apparent in events. — Alvin Kernan

Lord, we know what we are, but know not what we may be. — William Shakespeare

Plausibility is the morality of fiction. — Edith Mirrilees

The secret of successful fiction is a continual slight novelty. — Edmund Gosse

Show, don't tell. — Henry James

You must render: never report. — Guy De Maupassant

The object of the novelist is to keep the reader entirely oblivious of the fact that the author exists — even of the fact he is reading a book. — Ford Madox Ford

The novel is a prose narrative of some length that has something wrong with it. — Randall Jarrell

My language is the universal whore whom I have to make into a virgin. — Karl Kraus

Any work of art must first of all tell a story. — Robert Frost

Good enough is never good enough. — AB Guthrie

Nothing leads so straight to futility as literary ambitions without systematic knowledge. — HG Wells

However great a man's natural talent may be, the act of writing cannot be learned all at once. — Jean Jacques Rousseau

Nobody knows anything. — William Goldman on Hollywood

You write about the thing that sank its teeth into you and wouldn't let go. — Paul West

You must get beyond divertissement, sketch, anecdote, the interesting moment. You must get to the mystery of human personality. What is the line of the story that leads us to a point where we see or intuit something we haven't before? — John L'Heureux

We want someone to bring us the news. — William Gaddis

The furthest out is the only place to be. — Stanley Elkin

Tap into what you don't want to say. Tap into that secret place, despite the agony, despite the personal pain, over and above the fatigue. — Arthur Penn

The adoption of the required attitude of mind towards ideas that seem to emerge "of their own free will" and the abandonment of the critical function that is normally in operation against them seem to be hard of achievement for some people. The "involuntary thoughts" are liable to release a most violent resistance, which seeks to prevent their emergence. If we may trust that great poet and philosopher Friedrich Schiller, however, poetic creation must demand an exactly similar attitude. — Sigmund Freud

If only she could put them together, she felt, write them out in some sentence, then she would have got at the truth of things. — Virginia Woolf

No tricks. — Raymond Carver

The more horses you yoke the quicker everything will go — not the rending of the block from its foundation, which is impossible, but the snapping of the traces and with that the gay and empty journey. — Franz Kafka

The shot will go smoothly only when it takes the archer himself by surprise. — Eugene Herrigel

When you describe the miserable and unfortunate, and want to make the reader feel pity, try to be somewhat colder — that seems to give a kind of background to another's grief, against which it stands out more clearly. Whereas in your story the characters cry and you sigh. Yes, be more cold. ... The more objective you are, the stronger will be the impression you make. — Anton Chekhov

You need not expect to get your book right the first time. Go to work and revamp or rewrite it. God only exhibits his thunder and lightning at intervals, and so they always command attention. These are God's adjectives. You thunder and lightning too much; the reader ceases to get under the bed, by and by. — Mark Twain

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. — Robert Frost

No ideas but in things. — William Carlos Williams

Cross out as many adjectives and adverbs as you can. ... It is comprehensible when I write: "The man sat on the grass," because it is clear and does not detain one's attention. On the other hand, it is difficult to figure out and hard on the brain if I write: "The tall, narrow-chested man of medium height and with a red beard sat down on the green grass that had already been trampled down by the pedestrians, sat down silently, looking around timidly and fearfully." The brain can't grasp all that at once, and art must be grasped at once, instantaneously. — Anton Chekhov

A movie is not a book. If the source material is a book, you cannot be too respectful of the book. All you owe to the book is the spirit. Everything else — just tear that motherfucker apart. — Richard Price

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug. — Mark Twain

Is the story developing an attitude or victimized by it. — Leonard Michaels

There's hardly anywhere in literature where you don't find a triangle. — Leonard Michaels

Literal transcriptions of tape-recorded speech may be accurate in the legal sense, but they are curiously lifeless. Shorn of gesture, emphasis, timbre and cadence, they are the empty husks of what was once a real conversation. Often, they make their speakers sound completely half-witted. What was said with an ironic twist of the voice now reads as a solemn pontification; what was said with intense seriousness comes out as a passing aside. Read almost any newspaper interview, and you'll conclude that the dialogue of real people is more stilted and implausible than the dialogue of invented characters. Trying to make real people sound real on the page is necessarily an exercise in impressionism. Nothing teaches one the subtleties of punctuation so well as an attempt to take a skein of actual speech and restore to it the pauses, ellipses, switches of tone and speed, that it had in life. Lumbered with a rough and ready supply of dots, dashes and stops, you ache for a system of musical notation: if only this word could be written as a semi-quaver ascending, on a series of rising notes to that word, a breve. ... You isolate the speaker's tics and tricks of speech, his keywords, and make him say them slightly more often than he did in fact; you give him small bits of stage business to mark his silences; you invent lines of dialogue for yourself to break up a paragraph of solid talk that looks too long to be believable. You are trespassing, perhaps, into writing fiction, but the fiction will still be truer to the man and to the occasion than the literal transcription. — Jonathan Raban

My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements. — Ernest Hemingway,

The prose as such has to be singing the song the story is telling. — Leonard Michaels

There's something about a parenthesis in fiction that puts one off, saying, "It's me, moi, jumping in now. — John L'Heureux

Using language like jungle growth isn't the solution to telling a story. — John L'Heureux

My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements. — Ernest Hemingway

Improvisation is a great mystery. You play something, and you play an answer to it. Then you play something to wrap it up. Nothing is going through your mind; you're not thinking of anything. Every now and then you surprise yourself. Where did that come from? — Jimmy Knepper

Write from what you know into what you don't know. — Grace Paley

Nothing on earth in fiction is less interesting than characters under the influence of alcohol. — John L'Heureux

My eyes glaze over at a writer solving tiny problems. — Doris Grumbach

Simplify. Then complicate all over again. — Paul West

I wish I could write a beautiful book to break those hearts that are soon to cease to exist: a book of faith and small neat worlds and of people who live by the philosophies of popular songs. — Zelda Fitzgerald

Bad books are about things the writer already knew before he wrote them. — Carlos Fuentes

"I love you," said Brenda Ueland to Brenda Ueland.
"I love you, too," Brenda answered shyly, with a sincere look in her fine, strong face. — Brenda Ueland

Sometimes language gets in the way of the story's feelings. The reader finds himself experiencing the language of the story rather than the story. The words sit there on the page like coins, with their own opacity, as though they're there for their own sake. "A man goes into a phone booth, stirring coins in his palm." "Stirring" is such an obviously selected word. You can feel the writer looking for the word as he sat at the typewriter. — Leonard Michaels

Plot does not simply move with time, but spreads out conceptually in metaphorical space. — John L'Heureux

Self-confidence can be crippling. — Leonard Michaels

Poor Faulkner. Does he really think big emotions come from big words? He thinks I don't know the ten-dollar words. I know them all right. But there are older and simpler a nd better words, and those are the ones I use. — Ernest Hemingway

Short words are best and the old words when short are best of all. — Winston Churchill

Language is a cracked kettle on which we bang out tunes to make the bears dance, when what we long for is to move the stars to pity — Gustave Flaubert


ON EDITORS
AND CRITICS
Listen carefully to first criticisms made of your work. Note just what it is about your work that critics don't like — then cultivate it. That's the only part of your work that's individual and worth keeping. — Jean Cocteau

The habit of writing clearly soon comes to the writer who is a severe critic to himself. — Anthony Trollope, An Autobiography, p 181

Neanderthal man listened to stories, if one may judge by the shape of his skull. The primitive audience was an audience of shock-heads, gaping around the camp-fire, fatigued with contending against the mammoth or wooly-rhinoceros, and only kept awake by suspense. What would happen next? The novelist droned on, and as soon as the audience guessed what happened next, they either fell asleep or killed him. — EM Forster

How often we recall, with regret, that Napoleon once shot at a magazine editor and missed him and killed a publisher. But we remember with charity, that his intentions were good. — Mark Twain

Honest criticism and sensible appreciation are directed not upon the poet but upon the poetry. — TS Eliot

Critical articles, even the unjust, abusive kind, are usually met with a silent bow. Such is literary etiquette. Answering back goes against custom, and anyone who indulges in it is justly accused of excessive vanity. ... The fate of literature (both major and minor) would be a pitiful one if it were at the mercy of personal opinions. Point number one. And number two, there is no police force in existence that can consider itself competent in matters of literature. I agree that we can't do without the muzzle or the stick, because sharpers ooze their way into literature just as anywhere else. But no matter how hard you try, you won't come up with a better police force for literature than criticism and the author's own conscience. People have been at it since the beginning of creation, but they've invented nothing better. — Anton Chekhov

Any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae. — Kurt Vonnegut

An editor should have a pimp for a brother, so he'd have somebody to look up to. — Gene Fowler

Editors are extremely fallible people, all of them. Don't put too much trust in them. — Maxwell E Perkins

The reviewer always has hold of the wrong horror. — Flannery OíConnor

Critics are like eunuchs in a harem; they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves. — Brendan Behan

From the moment I picked up your book until I laid it down, I was convulsed with laughter. Some day I intend reading it. — Groucho Marx

I am opposed to writing about the private lives of living authors and psychoanalyzing them while they are alive. Criticism is getting all mixed up with a combination of the Junior FBI-men, discards from Freud and Jung and a sort of Columnist peep-hole and missing laundry list school. ... Every young English professor sees gold in them dirty sheets now. Imagine what they can do with the soiled sheets of four legal beds by the same writer and you can see why their tongues are slavering. — Ernest Hemingway

Any writer, I suppose, feels that the world into which he was born is nothing less than a conspiracy against the cultivation of his talent. — James Baldwin

No man has an appreciation so various that his judgment is good upon all varieties of literary work. — Mark Twain

You need a good editor because every writer thinks he can write a War and Peace, but by the time he gets it on paper, it's not War and Peace anymore; it's comic-book stuff.

Your manuscript is both good and original. But the part that is good is not original, and the part that is original is not good. — Samuel Johnson

Fear your admirers! Learn in time to hear, understand, and love the cruel truth about yourselves!" — Constantin Stanislavski

Critics are like brushers of noblemen's clothes. — George Herbert

Book reviewers are little old ladies of both sexes. — John O'Hara

If you are attacked as regards your style, never reply; it is for your work alone to make answer. — Voltaire

The job of the critic is to report to us his moods. — Oscar Wilde

To escape criticism — say nothing, do nothing, be nothing. — Elbert Hubbard

The difference between critics and audiences is that one is a group of humans and one is not. — Edward Albee

I've been reading reviews of my stories for twenty-five years, and can't remember a single useful point in any of them, or the slightest good advice. The only reviewer who ever made an impression on me was Skabichevsky, who prophesied that I would die drunk in the bottom of a ditch. — Anton Chekhov

The public is the only critic whose opinion is worth anything at all. — Mark Twain

God knows people who are paid to have attitudes toward things, professional critics, make me sick; camp following eunuchs of literature. They won't even whore. They're all virtuous and sterile. And how well meaning and high minded. But they're all camp followers. — Ernest Hemingway

Critics are like eunuchs in a harem: they know how it's done, they've seen it done every day, but they're unable to do it themselves. — Brendan Behan

Uninvited criticism is insult. — John L'Heureux

Confronted by an absolutely infuriating review it is sometimes helpful for the victim to do a little personal research on the critic. Is there any truth to the rumor that he had no formal education beyond the age of eleven? In any event is he able to construct a simple English sentence? Do his participles dangle? When moved to lyricism does he write "I had a fun time"? Was he ever arrested for burglary? I don't know that you will prove anything this way, but it is perfectly harmless and quite soothing. — Jean Kerr

Publishing a volume of verse is like dropping a rose-petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for an echo. — Don Marquis

I have just read your lousy review. You sound like a frustrated old man who never made a success, an eightulcer man on a four ulcer job ... I have never met you but if I do, you'll need a new nose, a lot of beefsteak for black eyes, and a supporter below. — Harry S Truman (to critic Paul Hume after his unflattering review of daughter Margaret's singing recital)

If one reads major journals on aesthetics, for instance, one cannot help but notice that most of the people who write about the arts seem never to have noticed how the arts really work. — John Gardner

Critics sometimes appear to be addressing themselves to works other than those I remember writing. — Joyce Carol Oates

The artists who want to be writers, read the reviews; the artists who want to write, don't. — William Faulkner

Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers. — TS Eliot

Pay no attention to what the critics say; there has never been set up a statue in honor of a critic. — Jean Sibelius

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else's draft. — HG Wells

The critic's symbol should be the tumble-bug: he deposits his egg in somebody else's dung, otherwise he could not hatch it. — Mark Twain

If the book is good, is about something that you know, and is truly written, and reading it over you see that this is so, you can let the boys yip and the noise will have that pleasant sound coyotes make on a very cold night when they are out in the snow and you are in your own cabin that you have built or paid for with your work. — Ernest Hemingway

Asking a working writer what he feels about critics is like asking a lamp-post what it feels about dogs. — John Osborne

Don't make the mistake of enclosing a self-addressed envelope big enough for the manuscript to come back in. This is too much of a temptation for the editor. — Ring Lardner

One should fight like the devil the temptation to think well of editors. They are all, without exception — at least some of the time, incompetent or crazy. — John Gardner


ON PUBLISHING Publishing is the only industry I can think of where most of the employees spend most of their time stating with great self-assurance that they don't know how to do their jobs. "I don't know how to sell this," they explain, frowning, as though it's your fault. "I don't know how to package this. I don't know what the market is for this book. I don't know how we're going to draw attention to this." In most occupations, people try to hide their incompetence; only in publishing is it flaunted as though it were the chief qualification for the job. — Donald Westlake

A lot of manuscripts that come in, you wonder by what outrageous fantasy the author believes that this should be pressed into print. — Lawrence Ferlinghetti

It is healthier, in any case, to write for the adults one's children will become than for the children one's "mature" critics often are. — Alice Walker

You don't want to depend on an editor. If you want to regret something for the rest of your life, you want to make sure you're responsible for it. — Robert Stone

Anbody can make an easy deal, but only a true agent can sell a dog. — Irving "Swifty" Lazar

That's very nice if they want to publish you, but don't pay too much attention to it. It will toss you away. Just continue to write. — Natalie Goldberg

Lighting does occasionally strike and occasional the result isn't a corpse. — Tillie Olsen on publication

The difference between journalism and literature is that journalism is unreadable and literature is not read. — Oscar Wilde

You'd better discover a more important motive than publication for your work or else you'll go crazy. My sense is that you'll be writers only if you are convinced that to write is something for which there is no substitute in your life. You must therefore be ambitious for your work rather than for its promotion. The good news here is that if you assign secondary importance to publishing and primary to writing itself, you will write better, and will thus increase your odds of getting publishing. — Sydney Lea

Publication — is the auction of the mind... — Emily Dickinson

Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing. — Sylvia Plath

The free-lance writer is a man who is paid per piece or per word or perhaps. — Robert Benchley

If you want to get rich from writing, write the sort of thing that's read by persons who move their lips when they're reading to themselves. — Don Marquis

There's only one thing more frightening than being asked to do a book tour, and that's not being asked to do a book tour. — Gerald Petievich

We have read your manuscript with boundless delight. If we were to publish your paper, it would be impossible for us to publish any work of lower standard. And as it is unthinkable that in the next thousand years we shall see its equal, we are, to our regret, compelled to return your divine composition, and to beg you a thousand times to overlook our short sight and timidity. — rejection slips from a Chinese economic journal

The sales department always wants a novel. They want to turn everything into a novel. They would have turned the New Testament into one if it had come to us for publication. — Maxwell Perkins

I'd like to have money. And I'd like to be a good writer. These two can come together, and I hope they will, but if that's too adorable, I'd rather have money. — Dorothy Parker


ON READING When you're a young poet, reading is a search for your lost family. — Gregory Orr

One of the paradoxes of creativity [is] that in order to think originally, we must familiarize ourselves with the ideas of others. — George Kneller, The Art and Science of Creativity

Read, read, read. Read everything — trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window. — William Faulkner

I hate to be a nag, but you have got to read. Like most authors, I run creative writing workshops from time to time, and speak, when invited to writers' circles and at summer schools, and I'm continually amazed at the number of would-be writers who scarcely read. For ideas to germinate and proliferate there has to be fertile ground to sow them in, and for the ground to be fertile it must be mulched with observation, imagination, and other writing. — Sarah Harrison

Reading is to the mind what exercize is to the body. — Richard Steele

For I bless God in the libraries of the learned
and for all the
booksellers in the world. — Christopher Smart

Books seem to me to be pestilent things, and infect all that trade in them...with something very perverse and brutal. Printers, binders, sellers, and others that make a trade and gain out of them have universally so odd a turn and corruption of mind that they have a way of dealing peculiar to themselves, and not conformed to the good of society and that general fairness which cements mankind. — John Locke

Everything which is good in me should be credited to books. — Maxim Gorky

You really ought to read more books — you know, those things that look like blocks but come apart on one side. — F Scott Fitzgerald

It makes one hope and believe that a day will come when, in the eye of the law, literary property will be as sacred as whiskey, or any other of the necessaries of life. It grieves me to think how far more profound and reverent a respect the law would have for literature if a body could only get drunk on it. — Mark Twain

Get stewed:/Books are a load of crap. — Philip Larkin

I find television very educating. Every time somebody turns on the set, I go into the other room and read a book. — Groucho Marx

There is no such thing as a moral or immoral book. Books are well written or poorly written. That is all. — Oscar Wilde

The book shd. be a ball of light in one's hand. — Ezra Pound

Never read bad stuff if you're an artist; it will impair your own game. I don't know if you ever played competitive tennis, but you learn not to watch bad tennis; it messes up your game. Art's the same way. — James Lee Burke

No one can go very far in the discerning enjoyment of poetry who is incapable of enjoying any poetry other than that of his own time and place. It is in fact a part of the function of education to help us to escape — not from our own time, for we are bound by that — but from the intellectual and emotional limitations of our own time. — TS Eliot

God protects those he loves from worthless reading. — JK Lavater

...the books we need are the kind that act upon us like a misfortune, that make us suffer like the death of someone we love more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we were on the verge of suicide, or lost in a forest remote from all human habitation — a book should serve as the ax for the frozen sea within us. — Franz Kafka

The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life, or better to endure it. — Samuel Johnson

Having to read a footnote resembles having to go downstairs to answer the door while in the midst of making love. — Noel Coward

When I want to read a novel, I write one. — Benjamin Disraeli

When I get a little money I buy books; and if any is left I buy food and clothes. — Erasmus

I don't believe any of you have ever read Paradise Lost, and you don't want to. That's something that you just want to take on trust. It's a classic ... something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read. — Mark Twain

Let us read, and let us dance — two amusements that will never do any harm to the world. — Voltaire

I never desire to converse with a man who has written more than he has read. — Samuel Johnson

Without tradition, art is a flock of sheep without a shepherd. Without innovation, it is a corpse. — Winston Churchill

Of all the diversions of life, there is none so proper to fill up its empty spaces as the reading of useful and entertaining authors. — Joseph Addison

There is no happiness like mine. I have been eating poetry. — Mark Strand

I have now a library of nearly nine hundred volumes, over seven hundred of which I wrote myself. — Henry David Thoreau

The book should act as a window to the word. — Harry Duncan

Outside of a dog, a book is a man's best friend. Inside of a dog, it's too dark to read. — Groucho Marx

All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn. American writing comes from that. There was nothing before. There has been nothing as good since. — Ernest Hemingway

There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them. — Joseph Brodsky

There is only one expert who is qualified to examine the souls and the life of a people and make a valuable report — the native novelist. ... And when a thousand able novels have been written, there you have the soul of the people; and not anywhere else can these be had. — Mark Twain

We never tire of the friendships we form with books. — Charles Dickens

Writing and reading decrease our sense of isolation. They deepen and widen and expand our sense of life; they feed the soul. When writers make us shake our heads with the exactness of their prose and their truths, and even make us laugh about ourselves or life, our buoyancy is restored. We are given a shot at dancing with, or at least clapping along with, the absurdity of life, instead of being squashed by it over and over again. It's like singing on a boat during a terrible storm at sea. You can't stop the raging storm, but singing can change the hearts and spirits of the people who are together on that ship. — Anne Lamott

I have no liking for novels or stories — none in the world; and so, whenever I read one — which is not oftener than once in two years, and even in these same cases I seldom read beyond the middle of the book — my distaste for the vehicle always taints my judgment of the literature itself, as a matter of course; and also of course makes my verdict valuless. Are you saying "You have written stories yourself." Quite true: but the fact that an Indian likes to scalp people is no evidence that he likes to be scalped. — Mark Twain

Stories are for joining the past to the future. Stories are for those late hours in the night when you can't remember how you got from where you were to where you are. Stories are for eternity, when memory is erased, when there is nothing to remember except the story. — Tim O'Brien

This is not a novel to be tossed aside lightly. It should be thrown with great force. — Dorothy Parker

A big leather-bound volume makes an ideal razorstrap. A thin book is useful to stick under a table with a broken caster to steady it. A large, flat atlas can be used to cover a window with a broken pane. And a thick, old-fashioned heavy book with a clasp is the finest thing in the world to throw at a noisy cat. — Mark Twain

What is literature but an insider's newsletter about affairs relating to molecules, of no importance to anything in the Universe but a few molecules who have the disease called "thought." — Kurt Vonnegut

I feel a kind of reverence for the first books of young authors. There is so much aspiration in them, so much audacious hope and trembling fear, so much of the heart's history, that all errors and shortcomings are for a while lost sight of in the amiable self assertion of youth. — Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

What I like best is a book that's at least funny once in a while. ... What really knocks me out is a book that, when you're all done reading it, you wish the author that wrote it was a terrific friend of yours and you could call him up on the phone whenever you felt like it. That doesn't happen much, though. — JD Salinger

There is no such thing as a moral or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. — Oscar Wilde

Because for some of us, books are as important as almost anything else on earth. What a miracle it is that out of these small, flat, rigid squares of paper unfolds world after world after world, worlds that sing to you, comfort and quiet or excite you. Books help us understand who we are and how we are to behave. They show us what community and friendship mean; they show us how to live and die. They are full of all the things that you don't get in real life — wonderful, lyrical language, for instance, right off the bat. And quality of attention: we may notice amazing details during the course of a day but we rarely let ourselves stop and really pay attention. An author makes you notice, makes you pay attention, and this is a great gift. My gratitude for good writing is unbounded; I'm grateful for it the way I'm grateful for the ocean. — Anne Lamott

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse, and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. — Ernest Hemingway

Why are we reading, if not in hope of beauty laid bare, life heightened and its deepest mystery probed? — Annie Dillard

We slip into a dream, forgetting the room we're sitting in, forgetting it's lunchtime or time to go to work. We recreate, with minor and for the most part unimportant changes, the vivid and continuous dream the writer worked out in his mind (revising and revising until he got it right) and captured in language so that other human beings, whenever they feel like it, may open his book and dream that dream again. — John Gardner

I don't take drugs, I take books. — Ingeborg Bachmann, Malina

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. — Rudyard Kipling

One of my latest sensations was going to Lady Airlie's to hear Browning read his own poems — with the comport of finding that, at least, if you don't understand them, he himself apparently understands them even less. He read them as if he hated them and would like to bite them to pieces. — Henry James

I like the poem on the page and not at the podium. I like to address the poem in peace and quiet, not on the edge of a folding chair with a full bladder. I can't stand hearing a poem that I can't see. I did a reading at Wayne State, and it ended with the comedy such occasions deserve. I'd seated myself on a piano bench, and discovered upon attempting to arise at the end that the varnish had softened and I was stuck fast. The hinge was to the front, under my knees, so that as I tried to get up, I merely opened the lid. — Ted Kooser


ON TEACHING Every book that anyone sets out on is a voyage of discovery that may discover nothing. Any voyager may be lost at sea, like John Cabot. Nobody can teach the geography of the undiscovered. All he can do is encourge the will to explore, plus impress upon the inexperienced a few of the dos and don'ts of voyaging. — Wallace Stegner

What's next? Shall we appoint elephants to teach zoology? — Roman Jakobson, on the proposal of Vladimir Nabokov to a chair in literature at Harvard University

I believe the teacher's work is largely negative, that it is largely a matter of saying, "This doesn't work because ..." or "This does work because ..." The because is very important. The teacher can help you understand the nature of your medium, and he can guide you in your reading. — Flannery O'Connor

I ask the students in my workshops to begin with descriptive criticism; that is, what they noticed about the work under discussion, what they remembered about it, what they thought its intentions were. Often I will ask for a simple plot summary. After an initial ten or fifteen minutes of such criticism, including some indication of what the reader thought was at stake in the chapter or story, we will move on to a discussion of writer's strengths and weaknesses. ... It is a fixed position with me that good workshops do not start out with evaluation, but with description. I tend to close the discussion with a summary and an underscoring of what was said, particularly when the comments have ranged over a wide amount of territory. Good workshops can be both supportive and direct, as long as the author feels that the other workshop members have read his/her work with careful attention. — Charles Baxter

But you know, where did the Brontes go to college? Where did George Eliot go to college? Where did Thomas Paine or Thomas Jefferson or George Washington go? Did George Washington go to college? This idea which we now have that people ought to have these credentials is really ridiculous. Where did Homer go to college? — Jamaica Kincaid

Teaching writing is a hustle. — Cormac McCarthy

He said, "You have pigs in this poem; pigs are not poetic." I got up and walked out of that class and never went back. — Carolyn Kizer

My notion of a failed writing workshop is when everybody comes out replicating the teacher and imitating as closely as possible the great original at the head of the table. I think that's a mistake, in obvious opposition to the ideal of teaching whic h permits a student to be someone other than the teacher. ... The successful teacher has to make each of the students a different product rather than the same. — Nicholas Delbanco

I have a feeling that art is something you do for yourself, and that any time you turn your decisions over to someone else you're postponing at best, your own development. The atmosphere of the workshop should be that of trying out one's own work and accepting the signals from others but not accepting the dictation of others because that is a violation of the spirit of art. Art can't be done by somebody else, it has got to be done by the artist. — William Stafford, Paris Review #129, p 67

What is disappointing to me is the number of my students at both schools who seem far more interested in "how to get into the business" than they are in learning anything about writing. Forget about concealing exposition, developing conflict, saying it with action instead of dialogue. How do I get myself an agent? How do I get a chance to direct? How do I get to be the head of a studio? Is there a cheaper way of taking over a movie company than making a tender offer? I keep telling them that their best chance to break into the world of motion pictures, whatever their ultimate goal, is to write a screenplay that is bought and produced and becomes a successful film. After that, they will be more than halfway home. — Ernest Lehman

I have just been to a city in the West, a city full of poets, a city they have made safe for poets. The whole city is so lovely that you do not have to write it up to make it poetry; it is ready-made for you. But, I don't know — the poetry written in that city might not seem like poetry if read outside of the city. It would be like the jokes made when you were drunk; you have to get drunk again to appreciate them. — Robert Frost

The common workshop goal is revision, not suicide. — Hilma Wolitzer

A too explicit elucidation in education destroys much of the pleasure of learning. There should be room for sly hinters, masters of suggestion. — Theodore Roethke

A creative writing class may be one of the last places you can go where your life still matters. — Richard Hugo

The damage of teaching: the constant contact with the undeveloped. — Theodore Roethke

Teach as an old fishing guide takes out a beginner. — Theodore Roethke

O Lord, may I never want to look good. O Jesus, may I always read it all: out loud and the very way it should be. May I never look at the other findings until I have come to my own true conclusions: May I care for the least of the young: and become aware of the one poem that each may have written; may I be aware of what each thing is, delighted with form, and wary of the false comparison; may I never use the word "brilliant." — Theodore Roethke

At Stanford we dealt with hundreds of applicants for fellowships. Candidates wrote a letter saying what they hoped to do, and sent along a sample of what they had done. I remember one year when I picked up two application letters together.
One was full of pretension, metaphysical conceits, strained metaphors, flowers of rhetoric. It was Faulkner crossed with Tristan Tzara or Monty Python — so turgid that one strained for its meaning — and it was four pages long.
The other one was four lines long. It said only that what spoke to this candidate in our program, was its willingness to give every talent a chance to be itself; she hoped to write stories and hoped to write them well.
The second candidate's name was Tillie Olsen, and she did write stories, and write them well. We gave her a fellowship, and did not give one to the other applicant, because what spoke to us from her letter was directness and honesty, and what spoke to us from his was pretension and self-consciousness. He wanted, terribly, to be "literary." She wanted to write stories. — Wallace Stegner

I hate two kinds of sentences you hear in workshops, the ones beginning "I really like ..." and the ones beginning "My problem with this poem is ..." — Denis Johnson

There must be a balance of honesty and charity in the workshop. Everyone must be aware of a fellow human being behind the work being discussed, and criticism has to be useful, not just derogatory or laudatory. — Hilma Wolitzer

When a new writer defends his "style," the teacher smiles (or cringes) because real style isn't an artifice. Real style — voice — arrives on its own, as an extension of a writer's character. When style is done self-consciously and purposefully it becomes affectation, and as transparent as any affectation — an English accent on an old college chum from New Jersey, for example. — Bill Roorbach

Young writers should be encouraged to write, and discouraged from thinking they are writers. — Wallace Stegner

I can only gesture at what makes a story good. — Leonard Michaels

The lessons I learned that were most important were the ones that hurt my feelings. — Robert Stone

Decision by democratic majority vote is a fine form of government, but it's a stinking way to create. — Lillian Hellman

Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a best-seller that could have been prevented by a good teacher. — Flannery O'Connor

A student brings something to discuss, saying, "I don't know whether this is really good, or whether I should throw it in the wastebasket." The assumption is that one or the other choice is the right move. No. Almost everything we say or think or do — or write — comes in that spacious human area bounded by something this side of the sublime and something above the unforgivable. — William Stafford

The writer who survives by teaching writing may discover, however, that his teaching hurts his art. Dealing day in and day out with beginning writers, he finds himself forced continually to think in analytical fashion about problems he would normally solve in other ways. To make his student see clearly what is wrong in his or her fiction, the writer-teacher has no choice but to work in a fully conscious, intellectual way. Every writer at some point must go through an analytical period, but in time he must get his own characteristic solutions into his blood, so that when confronted by a problem in a novel he's writing he does not consult his literary background. He feels his way to the solution. — John Gardner

A writing workshop, even the best, is wanton with energy and talent; it can crush the weak and empower the crass; it offers endless opportunity to give and receive injury: it is frequently as frustrating, indeed as maddening, as life itself. Surely the writing workshop is the oddest, most problematic, most dangerous, and least economical route to take on the way to becoming a writer. ... when all the bad things about it have been said, the writing workshop finally is the one place where you can be sure you and your work are taken seriously, where your writing intentions are honored, where even in a mean-spirited comment you can divine — if you wish — the truth about your writing, its strength and its weaknesses. ... It is where somehow you pick up the notion that what you're doing is a good and noble thing, and though you may not write as well as you'd like, it is enough and will suffice. — John L'Heureux

Grrr. You taught me language, and my profit on't is I know how to curse. — William Shakespeare


ON THE WRITER'S LIFE If you write well, you don't have to dress funny. — James Dickey

Writing, at its best, is a lonely life. Organizations for writer palliate the writer's loneliness but I doubt if they improve his writing. He grows in public stature as he sheds his loneliness and often his work deteriorates. For he does his work alone and if he is a good enough writer he must face eternity, or the lack of it, each day. — Ernest Hemingway (Nobel Prize acceptance speech)

A writer's inspiration is not just to create. He must eat three times a day. — Pierre Beaumarchais

No man but a blockhead ever wrote, except for money. — Samuel Johnson

Being a real writer means being able to do the work on a bad day. — Norman Mailer

Writing is pretty crummy on the nerves. — Paul Theroux

Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing. They are the ones who discover what is most important and strangest and most pleasurable in themselves, and keep believing in the value of their work, despite the difficulties. — Bonnie Friedman

Writing is a dog's life, but the only life worth living. — Gustave Flaubert

If you have any young friends who aspire to become writers, the second-greatest favor you can do them is to present them with copies of The Elements of Style. The first-greatest, of course, is to shoot them now, while they're happy. — Dorothy Parker

Everywhere I go I find that a poet has been there before me. — Sigmund Freud

You must squeeze out of yourself every sensation, every thought, every image, — mercilessly, without reserve and without remorse: you must search the darkest corners of your heart, the most remote recesses of your brain, — you must search them for the image, for the glamour, for the right expression. And you must do it sincerely, at any cost: you must do it so that at the end of your day's work you should feel exhausted, emptied of every sensation and every thought, with a blank mind and an aching heart, with the notion that there is nothing, — nothing left in you. — Joseph Conrad

Go to the desk. Stay at the desk. Thrive at the desk. — William Matthews

It is hard to fight an enemy who has outposts in your head. — Audre Lord

Half of my life is an act of revision. — John Irving

When a writer is born into a family, that family is finished. — Czeslaw Milosz

No complete son of a bitch ever wrote a good sentence. — Malcolm Cowley

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. — Thomas Mann

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. — Ray Bradbury

One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture, and, if it were possible, to speak a few reasonable words. — Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe

Write without pay until someone offers pay. If nobody offers within three years, the candidate may look upon this as a sign that sawing wood is what he was intended for. — Mark Twain

Work was impossible. The geeks had broken my spirit. They had done too many things wrong. It was never like this for Mencken. He lived like a Prussian gambler — sweating worse than Bryant on some nights and drunker than Judas on others. It was all a dehumanized nightmare ... and these raddled cretins have the gall to complain about my deadlines. — Hunter Thompson

Whenever you write, whatever you write, never make the mistake of assuming the audience is any less intelligent than you are. — Rod Serling

We find certains things about seeing puzzling, because we do not find the whole business of seeing puzzling enough. — Ludwig Wittgenstein

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes. — Marcel Proust

I can't go on flying apart just for those who want the benefit of a few verbal kicks. My God, do you know what poems like that cost? They're not written vicariously: they come out of actual suffering, real madness. — Theodore Roethke

The only thing man knows instinctively is how to weep. — Pliny the Elder

Everything hurts! — Michaelangelo Antonioni

It's a despicable thing to share your personal inner torment for money. — Frank Zappa

Writing is the only profession where no one considers you ridiculous if you earn no money. — Jules Renard

The house of fiction has in short not one window, but a million — a number of possible windows not to be reckoned, rather; every one of which has been pierced, or is still pierceable, in its vast front, by the need of the individual vision and by the pressure of the individual will. These apertures, of dissimilar shape and size, hang so, all together, over the human scene that we might have expected of them a greater sameness of report than we find. They are but windows at best, mere holes in a dead wall, disconnected, perched aloft; they are not hinged doors opening straight upon life. But they have this mark of their own that at each of them stands a figure with a pair of eyes, or at least with a field glass, which forms again and again, for observation, a unique instrument, insuring to the person making use of it an impression distinct from any other. He and his neighbors are watching the same show, but one seeing more where the other sees less, one seeing black where the other sees white, one seeing big where the other sees small, one seeing coarse where the other sees fine. — Henry James

There ought to be a man with a hammer behind the door of every happy man. — Anton Chekhov

We care what happens to people only in proportion as we know what people are. — Henry James

I wouldn't trade anything for my story now. — Maya Angelou

Some American writers who have known each other for years have never met in the daytime or when both were sober. — James Thurber

We could live like counts. ... If all that money is out there, I might as well hack a little on the side and put the novel off. — William Faulkner on Hollywood

You can take all the sincerity in Hollywood, place it in the navel of a fruit fly and still have room enough for three caraway seeds and a producer's heart. — Fred Allen

The best thing is to read and write, no matter what. Don't live with a lover or roommate who doesn't respect your work. ... Write what will stop your breath if you don't write. — Grace Paley

I loathe writing. On the other hand I'm a great believer in money. — SJ Perelman

The best thing is to read and write, no matter what. Don't live with a lover or roommate who doesn't respect your work. Don't lie, buy time, borrow to buy time. Write what will stop your breath if you don't write. — Grace Paley

The time to work is shorter all the time and if you waste it you ... have committed a sin for which there is no forgiveness. — Ernest Hemingway

I write because I hate. A lot. Hard. — William Gass

Live or die but don't poison everything. — Saul Bellow

Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work. — Gustave Flaubert

There are no dull subjects. There are only dull writers. — HL Mencken

I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand. — Chinese proverb

We work in the dark — we do what we can — we give what we have. Our doubt is our passion, and our passion is our task. The rest is the madness of art. — Henry James

Creole began to tell us what the blues were all about. They were not about anything bvery new. He and his boys up there were keeping it new, at the risk of ruin, destruction, madness, and death, in order to find news ways to make us listen. For, while the tale of how we suffer, and how we are delighted, and how we may triumph is never new, it always must be heard. There isn't any other tale to tell, it's the only light we've got in all this darkness." — James Baldwin

This writing business. Pencils and whatnot. Overrated, if you ask me. — Winnie the Pooh

Write a little every day, without hope and without despair. — Isak Dinesen

Fourteen hours on snowshoes and wish I had a pie. — Early California Settler

"Writing poetry after Auschwitz is barbaric." — Theodor W Adorno

"In the dark time will there also be singing?"
Yes, there will be singing about the dark time." — Bertolt Brecht

He insisted on a single trade secret: that you had to survive, find some quiet, and work hard every day. — Jay McInerny on Raymond Carver

The only certainty about writing and trying to be a writer is that it has to be done, not dreamed of or planned and never written, or talked about (the ego eventually falls apart like a soaked sponge), but simply written; it's a dreadful, awful fact that writing is like any other work. — Janet Frame

It is easy to finish things. Nothing is simpler. Never does one lie so cleverly as then. — Toulouse Lautrec

May I die like a dog rather than hasten the ripening of a sentence by a single second! — Gustave Flaubert

Anybody who has survived childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. If you can't make something out of a little experience, you probably won't be able to make much out of a lot. The writer's business is to contemplate experience, not to be merged into it. — Flannery O'Connor

I have always had the ability to attach my demons to my chariot. — Ingmar Bergman

The things that you know more about than you want to know are very useful. — Robert Stone

Pick up the specific terminology of a different field each year. — Paul West

You must be prepared to work always without applause. — Ernest Hemingway

The Arts are man's most useless ... and essential ... activity. — Eugene Ionesco

Poets are the unacknowledged legislators of mankind. — Percy Bysshe Shelley

The one who tells the stories rules the world. — Hopi proverb

Art has an obligation to offend — Edward Albee

We cannot write well or truly but what we write with gusto. — Henry David Thoreau

Zest is the secret of all beauty. There is no beauty that is attractive without zest. — Christian Dior

More energy — Less taste! Remember, keep moving! — Robert Frank

I might mention another embarrassment involved in the writer's habit of close attention. Once when I was driving through Colorado with a friend, traveling down a narrow mountain pass, we came upon an accident. A pickup truck and a car had collided, and from fifty feet away we could see the blood. We pulled over and ran to help. All the time I was running, all the time I was trying, with my friend's help, to pry open the door of the car in which a nine-months-pregnant woman had been impaled through the abdomen, I was thinking: I must remember this! I must remember my feelings! How would I describe this? I do not think I behaved less efficiently than my nonliterary friend, who was probably not thinking such thoughts; in fact, I may possibly have behaved more swiftly and efficiently, trying in my mind to create a noble scene. Nonetheless, what I felt above all was disgust at my mind's detachment, its inhumane fascination with the precise way the blood pumped, the way flesh around a wound becomes instantly proud, that is, puffed up, and so on. I would have been glad at that moment to be a literary innocent. — John Gardner

You are right in demanding that an artist approach his work consciously, but you are confusing two concepts: the solution of a problem and the correct formulation of a problem. Only the second is required of the artist. — Anton Chekhov

In Italy, for thirty years under the Borgias, they had warfare, terror, murder and bloodshed, but they produced Michelangelo, Leonardo de Vinci, and the Renaissance. In Switzerland they had brotherly love, they had five hundred years of democracy and peace, and what did they produce? The cuckoo clock. — Orson Welles

Writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painfull illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon one can neither resist nor understand. — George Orwell

Keep going; never stop; sit tight; / Read something luminous at night. — Edmund Wilson

There are three reasons for becoming a writer: the first is that you need the money; the second, that you have something to say that you think the world should know; the third is that you can't think what to do with the long winter evenings. — Quentin Crisp

A writer is a controlled schizophrenic. — Edward Albee

Writing is a socially acceptable form of schizophrenia. — EL Doctorow

Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human situation. — Graham Greene

Many people hear voices when no one is there. Some of them are called mad and are shut up in rooms where they stare at the walls all day. Others are called writers and they do pretty much the same thing. — Meg Chittenden

I write for the same reason I breathe — because if I didn't, I would die. — Isaac Asimov

Times are bad. Children no longer obey their parents, and everyone is writing a book. — Cicero

If I exorcise my devils, all my angels may go, too. — Tom Waits

Good writers are almost never dangerous. — John Gardner

They believe that if they do get published, a wonderful new life is in store. It will turn out that deep down they are really valuable people and will have lots of money from now on and really cool people like Ethan Hawke will be dropping by all the time. But it's a lie. Being a published writer will make them long to be ONLY as mentally ill as they are now. Their current level of obsession and doubt and self-loathing will look like the good old days. Honest. — Anne Lamott

A novelist is a person who lives in other people's skins. — EL Doctorow

No one ever committed suicide while reading a good book, but many have tried while trying to write one. — Robert Byrne

It is not inspiration; it is expiration. — Jean Cocteau

If you really want to hurt your parents and you don't have nerve enough to be homosexual, the least you can do is go into the arts. — Kurt Vonnegut

The monotony of staying in one place is the best thing for writing a novel. Having regular habits, a kind of security, but especially no big surprises, no shocks. — Paul Theroux

That's one thing I like about Hollywood. The writer is there revealed in his ultimate corruption. He asks no praise, because his praise comes to him in the form of a salary check. In Hollywood the average writer is not young, not honest, not brave, and a bit overdressed. But he is darn good company, which book writers as a rule are not. He is better than what he writes. Most book writers are not as good. — Raymond Chandler

Getting even is one reason for writing. — William Gass

Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the yard and shot it. — Truman Capote

Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for love, and then for a few close friends, and then for money. — Moliere

I will now claim — until dispossesed — that I was the first person in the world to apply the typewriter to literature. ... The early machine was full of caprices, full of defects- devilish ones. It had as many immoralities as the machine of today has virtues. After a year or two I found that it was degrading my character, so I thought I would give it to Howells. ... He took it home to Boston, and my morals began to improve, but his have never recovered. — Mark Twain

Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. — Georges Simenon

I really recommend that anyone who wants to write have a very physical hobby that takes you away from books and criticism, because it teaches you, it informs you, and it changes your writing. — Jo-Ann Mapson

I have been an author for 20 years and an ass for 55. — Mark Twain

When we remember we are all mad, the mysteries disappear and life stands explained. — Mark Twain

The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If the stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other's memory. — Barry Lopez

A man's got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book. — Ernest Hemingway

I know of three ways to recognize another writer: Writers are shamelessly nosy. Writers tell good stories, even about dumb old, daily things. On most writers, the earmarks of thrift, if not outright povery, are evident. — Joyce Thompson

If you feel yourself to be a full member in the world, you probably won't turn to writing, because other methods of communication, more direct methods, will strike you as being more available. — Margot Livesey

Get up very early and get going at once. In fact, work first and wash afterwards. — WH Auden

When he was nine, he protested. "Everybody else in my class stays up until nine or ten o'clock," he said. "How come I go to bed at 6:30?" And I said, "Because your mother writes." We made a deal. He could stay up, but he couldn't interrupt me unless he was bleeding to death or the house was on fire. I emerged at 9:30 or 10:00 every night, gave him a kiss, and tucked him in. — Karen Swenson

The primary distinction of the artist is that he must actively cultivate that state which most men, necessarily, must avoid: the state of being alone. — James Baldwin

The responsibility of a writer is to excavate the experience of the people who produced him. — James Baldwin

Very few people who met my adoptive mother in the last 20 years of her life could abide her, while many people who have seen my play find her fascinating. Heavens, what have I done?! — Edward Albee

Who is more to be pitied, a writer bound and gagged by policemen or one living in perfect freedom who has nothing more to say? — Kurt Vonnegut

Some years ago, not long after I moved to Los Angeles from New York, I attended a television industry party. When a man asked my profession, I told him that I was a writer. He sipped his drink. "Half-hour or hour?" he inquired. There was a long silence. "Lifelong," I replied. — Carol Muske Dukes

The real payoff is the writing itself, that a day when you have gotten your work done is a good day, that total dedication is the point. — Anne Lamott

To make your unknown known — that is the important thing. — Georgia O'Keeffe

Keep your eye on your inner world and keep away from ads, idiots and movie stars. — Dorothy Tanning

You try to sit down at approximately the same time every day. This is how you train your unconscious to kick in for you creatively. ... You put a piece of paper in the typewriter, or you turn on your computer and bring up the right file. ... You begin rocking, just a little at first, and then like a huge autistic child. ... Then your mental illnesses arrive at the desk like your sickest, most secretive relatives. And they pull up chairs in a semicircle around the computer, and they try to be quiet but you know they are there with their weird coppery breath, leering at you behind your back. — Anne Lamott

That terrible mood of depression of whether it's any good or not is what is known as The Artist's Reward. — Hemingway

Our writing equipment takes part in forming our thoughts. — Friedrich Nietzsche

I always write about my own experiences, whether I've had them or not. — Ron Carlson

They're fancy talkers about themselves, writers. If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don't listen to writers talking about writing or themselves. — Lillian Hellman

Nowadays three witty turns of phrase and a lie make a writer. — GC Lichtenberg

You can't rely on inspiration. I don't even believe in inspiration. I just believe in working. — David Long

You need not leave your room. Remain sitting at your table and listen. You need not even listen, simply wait, just learn to become quiet, still, and solitary. The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked. It has no choice; it will roll in ecstasy at your feet. — Franz Kafka

No professional writer can afford only to write when he feels like it. If he waits till he is in the mood, till he has the inspiration, he waits indefinitely and ends by producing little or nothing. The professional writer creates the mood. He has his inspiration too, but he controls and subdues it to his bidding by setting himself regular hours of work. But in time writing becomes a habit, and like the old actor in retirement, who gets restless when the hour arrives at which he has been accustomed to go down to the theatre and make up for the evening performance, the writer itches to get to his pens and paper at the hours at which he has been used to write. Then he writes automatically. — Somerset Maugham

Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. — Sharon O'Brien

You can't wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. — Jack London

We are the species that clamors to be lied to. — Joyce Carol Oates

In Sri Lanka a well-told lie is worth a thousand facts. — Michael Ondaatje

A novelist is someone who sits around the house all day in his underwear, trying not to smoke. — Scott Spencer

The only thing I can say that is not bullshit is that you do have to learn to write in a way that you would learn to play the violin. Everybody seems to think that you should be able to turn on the faucet one day and out will come the novel. I think for most people it's just practice, practice, practice, that sense of just learning your instrument until — when you have an idea on the violin, you don't have to translate it into violin-speak anymore — the language is your own. It's not something you can think your way into, or outsmart. you've just got to do it. — Kevin Canty

The rebellion of art is a daily rebellion against the state of living death routinely called real life. — Jeanette Winterson

An author who speaks about his own books is almost as bad as a mother who talks about her own children. — Benjamin Disraeli

An author, like any other so-called artist, is a man in whom the normal vanity of all men is so vastly exaggerated that he finds it a sheer impossibility to hold it in. His over-powering impulse is to gyrate before his fellow men, flapping his wings and emitting defiant yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized nations, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper. Such is the thing called self-expression. — HL Mencken

Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence. — Alice Walker

Why do writers write? Because it isn't there. — Thomas Berger

The trade of authorship is a violent, and indestructible obsession. — George Sand

This fact was something I also learned from this first novel that I needed personal experience to invent, to fantasize, to create fiction, but at the same time I needed some distance, some perspective on this experience in order to feel free enough to manipulate it and to transform it into fiction. If the experience is very close, I feel inhibited. I have never been able to write fiction about something that has happened to me recently. If the closeness of the real reality, of living reality, is to have a persuasive effect on my imagination, I need a distance, a distance in time and in space. — Mario Vargas Llosa

With no other privilege than that of sympathy and sincere good wishes, I would address an affectionate exhortation to the youthful literati, grounded on my own experience. It will be but short; for the beginning, middle, and end converge to one charge: NEVER PURSUE LITERATURE AS A TRADE. — Samuel T Coleridge

...You have to pass an exam, and the jobs that you get are either to shine shoes, or to herd cows, or to tend pigs. Thank God, I don't want any of that! Damn it! And besides that they smack you for a reward; they call you an animal and it's not true, a little kid, etc..
Oh! Damn Damn Damn Damn Damn! — Arthur Rimbaud (at age 10)

Let me tell you about my day. I get up at 8 o'clock in the morning. At 8:30 am, I leave the house and I arrive at my office at 8:37. I stay in the office until 2 o'clock in the afternoon. I get in my Porsche and I'm home at 2:03 because the one-way streets make it faster for me to drive. And between 8:36 am and 2 pm, I'm doing one of three things: I'm writing. I'm staring out the window. Or I'm writhing on the floor. — Thomas Harris

Reading student papers, blue books, etc., a form of torture ... a matter of rubbing an iron file over one's teeth, or holding urine in one's mouth, or having the racket of a bulldozer in one's ear for an hour or two on end. — Newton Arvin

It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn't give it up because by that time I was too famous. — Robert Benchley

There are few things, apparently, more helpful to a writer than having once been a weird little kid. — Katherine Paterson

With sixty staring me in the face, I have developed inflammation of the sentence structure and a definite hardening of the paragraphs. — James Thurber

Death of the Father would deprive literature of many of its pleasures. If there is no longer a Father, why tell stories? Doesn't every narrative lead back to Oedipus? Isn't storytelling always a way of searching for one's origin, speaking one's conflicts with the Law, entering into the dialectic of tenderness and hatred? — Roland Barthes

A novelist is a man who doesn't like his mother. — Georges Simenon

Writers are always selling somebody out. — Joan Didion

Poetry gave me back my voice. — Maya Angelou

A defeated nation is always explaining itself. That's why the best storytellers are always from vanquished nations. — Mark Richard

The best job that was ever offered to me was to become a landlord in a brothel. In my opinion it's the perfect milieu for an artist to work in. — William Faulkner

The world must be all fucked up ... when men travel first class and literature goes by freight. — Gabriel García M´rquez

I get up and I have coffee and I speak to no man and I go to my desk. — Hortense Calisher

Literature doesn't matter! The only thing that matters is money and getting your teeth fixed! — Delmore Schwartz

People should practice an art in order to make their souls grow and not to make money or become famous. Paint a picture. Write. — Kurt Vonnegut

That was the deep fun of the job: to feel within my body that I was pushing out to new areas of feeling, strange landmarks of emotion, tramping upon foreign soil, compounding new relationships of perception, making new and — until that very split second of time! — unheard-of and unfelt effects with words. It had a bouying and tonic impact upon me; my senses would strain to seek for more and more of such relationships; my temperature would rise as I worked. That is writing as I feel it, a kind of significant living. — Richard Wright

The poet is a good citizen turned inside out. — WB Yeats

An artist is his own fault. — John O'Hara

If I were reincarnated, Iíd want to come back a buzzard. Nothing hates him or envies him or wants him or needs him. He is never bothered or in danger, and he can eat anything. — William Faulkner

Why does my muse only speak when she is uhnhappy?
She does not, I only listen when I am unhappy. — Stevie Smith

The arts are the only things that separate us from the other animals. The arts are not decorative. ... They are essential to our comprehension of consciousness and ourselves. — Edward Albee

The fiction writer has to engage in a continual examination of conscience. He has to be aware of the freak in himself. — Flannery O'Connor

It may, after all, be the bad habit of creaive talents to invest themselves in pathological extremes that yield remarkable insights but no durable way of life for those who cannot translate their psychic wounds into significant art or thought. — Thodore Roszak

It is true that many creative people fail to make mature personal relationships, and some are extremely isolated. It is also true that, in some instances, trauma, in the shape of early separation or bereavement, has steered the potentially creative person toward developing aspects of his personality which can find fulfillment in comparative isolation. But this does not mean that solitary, creative pursuits are themselves pathological. — Anthony Storr

The reason I'm here today, the reason I own a brand new Harley-Davidson motorcycle and the reason I have a big log cabin and I got cars and all kinds of stuff is because I'm a writer and writers own everything. So you learn how to write. — Dan Ackroyd, to elementary school students in Halifax, Nova Scotia

I get very tense working, so I often have to get up and wander around the house. It is very bad on my stomach. I have to be mad to be working well anyway, and then I am mad about the way things are going on the page in addition. My ulcer flourishes and I have to chew lots of pills. When my work is going well, I am usually sort of sick. — William Gass

We want to be famous as a writer, as a poet, as a painter, as a politician, as a singer, or what you will. Why? Becauwse we really don't lov what we are doing. If you loved to sing, or to paint, or to write poems — if you really loved it — you would not be concerned with whether you are famous or not. ... Our present education is rotten because it teaches us to love

Nothing is allowed to die in a society of storytelling people. — Harry Crews

I must go home periodically to renew my sense of horror. — Carson McCullers

Everyone thinks writers must know more about the inside of the human head, but that is wrong. They know less, that's why they write. Trying to find out what everyone else takes for granted. — Margaret Atwood

A nap clears the head wonderfully, besides giving fresh energy. I realize that about half the people of the world cannot nap without feeling logy afterward, but for those who can, a nap is a time-saver, not a time-waster. In my twenties, I had to do my own writing in the evenings, as my days were taken up with jobs or hack work. I got into the habit of napping around six, or of being able to if I wished, and of bathing and changing my clothes. This gave me an illusion of two days in one and made me as fresh for the evening, under the circumstances, as I could possibly be. Problems in writing can come unknotted in a miraculous way after a nap. I go to sleep with the problem, and wake up with the answer. — Patricia Highsmith

When I am asked by young poets what advice I have to offer them about the conduct of their lives, I'm inclined to warn them about the dangers of hothouse anemia. "Do something else," I tell them. "Develop any other skill; turn to any other branch of knowledge; learn how to use your hands. Try woodworking, bird watching, gardening, mushrooming, cooking, fishing, sailing, weaving, pottery, zoology, astronomy, cosmology, take your pick. Whatever activity you engage in as trade or hobby, or field of study, will tone up your body and clear your head. (At the very least, it will help you with your metaphors.) — Stanley Kunitz

Better to write for yourself and have no public, than to write for the public and have no self. — Cyril Connolly

One of the things that happens to careers out here is that people destroy themselves because they begin to think theyíre wonderful. They begin to think they know what theyíre doing, and the minute that happens, itís over. — William Goldman

Life isn't a support system for art. It's the other way around. — Stephen King

The ideal view for daily writing, hour on hour, is the blank brick wall of a cold-storage warehouse. Failing this, a stretch of sky will do, cloudless if possible. — Edna Ferber

Writers should be read, but neither seen nor heard. — Daphne Du Maurier

What I am saying, I suppose, is that you write as if everyone is dead. Then you face the music. I don't know any other way to keep the teeth sharp and the spirit alive. — Lynn Freed

Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence. — Alice Walker

Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind. — Rudyard Kipling

When, however, one reads of a witch being ducked, of a woman possessed by devils, of a wise woman selling herbs, or even a very remarkable man who had a mother, then I think we are on the track of a lost novelist, a suppressed poet. . . indeed, I would venture to guess that Anon, who wrote so many poems without signing them, was often a woman. — Virginia Woolf

You see I'm trying in all my stories to get the feeling of the actual life across — not to just depict life — or criticize it — but to actually make it alive. So that when you have read something by me you actually experience the thing. You can't do this without putting in the bad and the ugly as well as what is beautiful. Because if it is all beautiful you can't believe in it. Things aren't that way. It is only by showing both sides — 3 dimensions and if possible 4 that you can write the way I want to. — Ernest Hemingway (in a letter to his father)

What obsesses a writer starting out on a lifetime's work is the panic-stricken search for a voice of his own. — John Mortimer

Having been unpopular in high school is not just cause for book publications. — Fran Lebowitz

How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live. — Henry David Thoreau

If you can't annoy somebody, there's little point in writing. — Kingsley Amis

If I had to give young writers advice, I would say don't listen to writers talking about writing or themselves. — Lillian Hellman

If you make people laugh or cry about little black marks on sheets of white paper, what is that but a practical joke? All the great story lines are great practical jokes that people fall for over and over again. — Kurt Vonnegut

One of the greatest gifts you can get as a writer is to be born into an unhappy family. — Pat Conroy

Writing well is the best revenge. — Dorothy Parker

Writing is fighting. — Muhammad Ali

Of course Nebraska is a storehouse of literary material. Everywhere is a storehouse of literary material. If a true artist were born in a pigpen and raised in a sty, he would still find plenty of inspiration for his work. The only need is the eye to see. — Willa Cather

There was never a good biography of a good novelist. There couldn't be. He is too many people if he's any good. — F Scott Fitzgerald

If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldnít brood. Iíd type a little faster. — Isaac Asimov

I don't want to achieve immortality through my work; I want to achieve it through not dying. — Woody Allen

Like other kinds of intelligence, the storytellerís is partly natural, partly trained. It is composed of several qualities, most of which, in normal people, are signs of either immaturity or incivility: wit (a tendency to make irreverent connections); obstinacy and a tendency toward churlishness (a refusal to believe what all sensible people know is true); childishness (an apparent lack of mental focus and serious life purpose, a fondness for daydreaming and telling pointless lies, a lack of proper respect, mischievousness, an unseemly propensity for crying over nothing); a marked tendency toward oral or anal fixation or both (the oral manifested by excessive eating, drinking, smoking, and chattering; the anal by nervous cleanliness and neatness coupled with a weird fascination with dirty jokes); remarkable powers of eidetic recall, or visual memory (a usual feature of early adolescence and mental retardation); a strange admixture of shameless playfulness and embarrassing earnestness, the latter often heightened by irrationally intense feelings for or against religion; patience like a catís; a criminal streak of cunning; psychological instability; recklessness, impulsiveness, and improvidence; and finally, an inexplicable and incurable addiction to stories, written or oral, bad or good. Not all writers have exactly these same virtues, of course. Occasionally one finds one who is not abnormally improvident. — John Gardner

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don't feel I should be doing something else. — Gloria Steinem

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards. — Robert Heinlein

If you can't annoy somebody with what you write, I think there's little point in writing. — Kingsley Amis

This country's crazy in terms of fame and what people think it means. They expect a writer to be something between a Hollywood starlet and the village idiot. — Kent Haruf

Whether it is done quickly or slowly, however splendid the results, the process of writing fiction is inherently, inevitably, indistinguishable from wasting time. — Deborah Eisenberg

You have to protect your writing time. You have to protect it to the death. — William Goldman

A professional writer is an amateur who didn't quit. — Richard Bach

I ended up at fifty, over-the-hill, thinking I had no future. Finally, I realized that I had allowed myself to write less than I could. ... As writers true to ourselves, it will always be hard, and if we're good, we'll always be in trouble. Let's be sure we deserve it. — Waldo Salt

It's not always easy to tell the difference between thinking and looking out of the window. — Wallace Stevens

Dollars damn me; and the malicious Devil is forever grinning in upon me, holding the door ajar. ... What I feel most moved to write, that is banned — it will not pay. Yet, altogether, write the other way I cannot. So the product is a final hash, and all my books are botches. — Herman Melville

Read all you can. Try to make good language every day, at the hour best suited to your metabolism; if that isnít possible — if, as it was with me in the early days, when I sat in the bathroom of our Greenwich Village one-room apartment and typed on the portable typewriter set on the shut toilet seat so that my clacking-away wouldnít wake Judy, exhausted from holding down the viable job — then just plug away, trying to steal an hour or two. You can write a novel if you can steal an hour.

You don't write a novel out of sheer pity any more than you blow a safe out of a vague longing to be rich. A certain ruthlessness and a sense of alienation from society is as essential to creative writing as it is to armed robbery. — Nelson Algren

If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence. — George Eliot

The writer's only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the "Ode on a Grecian Urn" is worth any number of old ladies. — William Faulkner

In company with people of your own trade you ordinarily speak of other writers' books. The better the writers the less they will speak about what they have written themselves. Joyce was a very great writer and he would only explain what he was doing to jerks. Other writers that he respected were supposed to be able to know what he was doing by reading it. — Ernest Hemingway

I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork. — Peter De Vries

You shall know the truth, and it will make you odd. — Flannery O'Connor

I have offended God and mankind because my work did not reach the quality it should have. — Leonardo da Vinci (his dying words)

Being a writer is like having homework every night for the rest of your life. — Lawrence Kasdan

If we had time and no money, living by our wits, what story would you tell? — Adrienne Rich

[Human beings] will begin to recover the moment we take art as seriously as physics, chemistry or money. — Ernst Levy

The unique must be fulfilled. — Martha Graham

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