Quotes

111 Off-the-Beaten-Path Quotes for Writers

Writer at table

In this post, 111 Quotes for Writers, I’ve culled encouraging, motivating, inspiring and instructional passages from over 100 authors, all from source material; that is, print books, magazines and eBooks (not copy and pasted from online). While there are a dozen or two pithy quotes here, most passages are around 60-100 words…meaty chunks for you to contemplate and apply to your writing life.

Most of the quotes below address the nuts-and-bolts of writing life, both non-fiction and fiction: how we write, why we write, where we get ideas, what we read and what it takes to make it as a working writer, as well as how we deal with anxiety, fear, guilt, envy, shame, perfectionism and other gremlins that accompany the creative temperament. Some quotes capture the emotional urgency and authenticity that needs to be present to elevate our fiction from “Who gives a damn?” to “I can’t stop reading this book!”, as well as the need for discipline, perseverance and courage. After all, writing isn’t for sissies!

So dive in at any point when you need inspired, encouraged or motivated in your writing life.

111 Quotes for Writers

1. Write what you like, then imbue it with life and make it unique by blending in your own personal knowledge of life, friendship, relationships, sex, and work. Especially work. People love to read about work. God knows why, but they do. – Stephen King (On Writing)

2. Read those authors who write the way you hope to write, those who think he way you would like to think. But also read those who do not think as you think or write as you want to write, and so be stimulated in directions you might not take for many years. – Ray Bradbury (Zen in the Art of Writing)

3. Overwriting is irritating to read because oftentimes it’s a way a writer has of showing off, and of making herself too much present in her own material. Most readers want a kind of intimacy only between themselves and what’s being written about, whether it’s fiction or non-fiction. – Elizabeth Berg (Escaping into the Open: The Art of Writing True)

4. The well-made sentence transcends time and genre. A beautiful sentence is a beautiful sentence, regardless of when it was written, or whether it appears in a play or a magazine article. Which is just one of the many reasons why it’s pleasurable and useful to read outside of one’s own genre. – Francine Prose (Reading Like a Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write Them)

5. A pro views her work as craft, not art. Not because she believes art is devoid of a mystical dimension. On the contrary. She understands that all creative endeavor is holy, but she doesn’t dwell on it. She knows if she thinks about that too much, it will paralyze her. So she concentrates on technique. The professional masters how, and leaves what and why to the gods. – Steven Pressfield (The War of Art: Break Through the Blocks and Win Your Inner Creative Battles)

6. In writing, or any creative endeavor, removing yourself from the process for a while can have great benefits. Your brain literally gets an opportunity to make new neurological connections, which are going to take the form of new, inventive ideas, and writing that is very inspired. – Joseph Sestito (Write for Your Lives: Inspire Your Creative Writing with Buddhist Wisdom)

7. Your life will teach you which stories to tell and which details to notice. If you are faithful to the story, if you develop your intuition, prick up your ears, look for the telling details, the detail worth telling, you will be able to condense it all down into wabi sabi words filled with beauty. Then your reader will love you for telling what is real and authentic and moving. – Richard R. Powell (Wabi Sabi for Writers)

8. Too many writers avoid their own strongest feelings because they are afraid of them, or because they are afraid of being sentimental. Yet these are the very things that will make beginning work ring true and affect us. Your stories have to matter to you the writer before they matter to the reader; your story has to affect you, before it can affect us. – Anne Bernays and Pamela Painter (What If? Writing Exercises for Fiction Writers)

9. Good criticism is necessary to any art form, but the unsolicited, negative variety is poison. If comments are unhelpful, ignore them and boldly warp into the next galaxy. – Anne R. Allen (How to Be a Writer in the E-Age…and Keep Your E-Sanity!)

10. In fiction and memoir, the writer’s main responsibilities are to write a thick, juicy steak of a story, and make the readers care, bring us to tears or outrage or heart-thumping worry. Stories with emotional power engage the reader’s intellect, senses, and emotions as he sees and hears the unfolding action. – Jessica Page Morrell (Thanks, But This Isn’t for Us)

11. Writers—all writers, at all ages and all stages—must realize all they have is the now. Just this moment. There’s not another “time” that’s better for you to write. A certain age when it’s all going to click. You haven’t missed anything, and you haven’t started too early or too late. – Heather Sellers (Chapter after Chapter: Discover the Dedication and Focus You Need to Write the Book of Your Dreams)

12. Quoting Buddhist master Chogyam Trungpa Rinpoche, Allen Ginsberg reminded us, “first thought, best thought”. This first thought comes from your intuitive mind, where the creative process finds its foothold and the ego holds no sway. This is the place of rich images and deep thoughts. Grasp your pen lightly and let come what wants to come. – Judy Reeves (A Writer’s Book of Days)

13. The metaphor is the strongest imagistic intimate in the writer’s bag of tricks. – Walter Mosley (This Year You Write Your Novel)

14. Like fiction, nonfiction accomplishes its purpose better when it evokes emotion in the reader. We might prefer everyone on earth to be rational, but the fact is that people are moved more by what they feel than by what they understand. – Sol Stein (Stein on Writing)

15. Don’t wait for anything to guide your work. Dig deep inside of yourself. You are the collective memory of your culture. – N.M. Kelby (The Constant Art of Being a Writer)

16. On the surface, it appears that as the author you are the dominant person in your relationship with your reader, for, after all, the book would not exist without you. But rest assured that readers are quite capable of chucking your book in the trash if they don’t feel you are speaking to them—that somehow you have listened to them, have heard their wants and needs. – Hal Zina Bennett (Write Starts: Prompts, Quotes, and Exercises to Jumpstart Your Creativity)

17. While the blank page and the lack of time are both obstacles to writing, there’s another, more insidious, threat to the beginning writer: perfectionism. – Barbara DeMarco-Barrett (Pen on Fire)

18. We must become writers who accept things as they are, come to love details, and step forward with a yes on our lips so there can be no more noes in the world, noes that invalidate life and stop these details from continuing. – Natalie Goldberg (Writing Down the Bones)

19. Curiosity may have killed the cat, but impatience is definitely the most lethal attitude for a writer. – Sage Cohen (The Productive Writer)

20. Above all else, believe in your abilities to become successful as a writer. Let your love of writing and the joy you find in it carry you toward your dreams. If you keep at it, you will get there. – Kelly L. Stone (Time to Write)

21. As you craft your story, make it a point to experiment with opposites and seek out surprise: publicly fastidious lawyer has a messy closet; pious church deacon has a gay lover; bucolic setting becomes the home of a serial killer. – Nancy Lamb (The Art and Craft of Storytelling)

22. When in doubt, or wherever possible, tell the whole story of the novel in the first sentence. – John Irving

23. The writers of deep and beautiful works spend real time gathering words. They learn the names of words and tools and types of roof. They make lists of color words (ruby, scarlet, cranberry, brick). They savor not only the meanings, but also the musicality of words. They are hunting neither big words nor pompous words nor Latinate words but mainly words they like. – Priscilla Long (The Writer’s Portable Mentor)

24. Make yourself your intended reader. By writing to you as your reader, you get closer than at any other time to getting your real voice on the page. You write naturally. – Les Edgerton (Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing)

25. Writing is about honesty. It is almost impossible to be honest and boring at the same time. – Julia Cameron

26. No matter what is going on in your life, know that ideal situations are not necessary for finishing a book. People who succeed in life do so because they have grit—the ability to work toward their goals whether they feel like it or not. Laura Hillenbrand, the best-selling author of Seabiscuit: An American Legend, has Chronic Fatigue Syndrome. At times, she could only write a paragraph or two a day. She had to perch her laptop on books because looking down at the screen made the room spin. Yet she stuck with it. Her grit—anchored in her passion for the topic—kept her writing. – Rochelle Melander (Write-a-Thon)

27. As a young writer, I don’t think I really understood that you need to prepare for writing; I figured you could just sit down and begin. But I’ve come to see that I need to be warmed up. I need to have something gestating in my head, even it’s just a little niggling idea, unformed and unknowable until I start to lure it out. – Brenda Miller and Holly J. Hughes (The Pen and the Bell: Mindful Writing in a Busy World)

28. If you want to engage in a vibrant conversation with the wisdom that dwells just a hair below your conscious awareness, write. – Janet Connor (Writing Down Your Soul)

29. Getting a novel written consists not of joyous rapture but of applying your bottom to the chair and your fingers to the keyboard and grinding things out word by word, sentence by sentence. You can whine or you can write, but you can’t do both. – Todd A. Stone (Novelist’s Boot Camp)

30. The best advice is not to write what you know, it’s to write what you like. Write the kind of story you like best—write the story you want to read. – Austin Kleon (Steal Like an Artist)

31. People who are “ready” give off a different vibe from people who aren’t. Animals can smell fear. And the lack thereof. The minute you become ready is the minute you stop dreaming. Suddenly it’s no longer about “becoming”. It’s about “doing”. You don’t get the dream job because you walk into the editor’s office for the first time and go, “Hi, I would really like to be a sportswriter one day, please.” You get the job because you walk into the editor’s office and go, “Hi, I’m the best frickin’ sportswriter on the planet.” And somehow the editor can tell you aren’t lying, either. You didn’t go in there, asking the editor to give you power. You went in there and politely informed the editor that you already have the power. That’s what being “ready” means. That’s what “taking power” means. Not needing anything from another person in order to be the best in the world. – Hugh MacLeod (Ignore Everybody and 39 Other Keys to Creativity)

32. Take the essence of your story and amp it. Add characters and pile on the emotion. Playwrights used to limit the number of characters in their stories, not wanting to crowd the stage. But when Williams crams six or eight people onto the scene at once and sets them all at one another’s throats, we get a chance to feel their emotional claustrophobia and unwanted interdependence. Amp up your action by adding cunning, vindictiveness, jealousy, fear of exposure, stupidity, even death. – Elizabeth Sims (Writer’s Digest November/December 2012)

33. If you want to be any kind of artist, you’ve got to have that tenacity to keep beating your head against the wall…The idea of the impossible is an illusion, and it will look very different on the other side. It’s a matter of persevering. – Dave Cullen (Writer’s Digest October 2011)

34. “I don’t have enough time/people/experience”. Stop whining. Less is a good thing. Constraints are advantages in disguise. Limited resources force you to make do with what you’ve got. There’s no room for waste. And that forces you to be creative. Ever seen the weapons prisoners make out of soap or a spoon? They make do with what they’ve got. Now we’re not saying that you should go out and shank somebody—but get creative and you’ll be amazed at what you can make with just a little. Shakespeare reveled in the limitations of sonnets (fourteen-line lyric poems in iambic pentameter with a specific rhyme scheme). Haiku and limericks also have strict rules that lead to creative results. Writers like Ernest Hemingway and Raymond Carver found that forcing themselves to use simple, clear language helped them deliver maximum impact. – Jason Fried and David Heinemeier Hansson (Rework)

35. No one says you have to write your book in strict chronological order. Some writers start at the end and write their way back to the beginning. Or they write one complete plot strand, getting completely immersed in all its possibilities and the personalities involved. When that’s done, they write another complete strand, and another. Then they chop them all together like rough-cutting a movie. – Roz Morris (Nail Your Novel)

36. Each piece you complete is an act of faith in the process and value of creativity, a great big Molly Bloom yes to your curious, creative, courageous side. – Bonni Goldberg

37. Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered potholder. – Raymond Chandler

38. I am a writer who came of a sheltered life. A sheltered life can be a daring life as well. For all serious daring starts from within. – Eudora Welty

39. Bam. Bam. Bam. That’s what this writing thing feels like sometimes. But you get up and keep hitting back. You have to know, going in, that you need to develop rhino skin to survive. The good news is you can develop it. Every time you come back from a setback and write some more, you create a little more of that protective coating, that inner strength. So if you can look at the big picture, with all the odds stacked against you…if you can understand full well that you will be taking hit after hit…if you can understand all that and still have that inner ferret that says, “write, dang you!”—then no, you shouldn’t quit. – James Scott Bell (Writing Fiction for All Your Worth)

40. Once we have begun it, we continue reading a novel largely because we care about what happens to the character. But for us actually to care about these actors in the drama on these printed pages, they must become real people to us. An event alone cannot hold a story together. Nor can a series of events. Only characters effecting events and events affecting characters can do that. – Elizabeth George (Write Away: One Writer’s Approach to the Novel)

41. A story must have the ability to engender a sense of urgency from the first sentence. Everything else—fabulous characters, great dialogue, vivid imagery, luscious language—is gravy. This is not to disparage great writing in any way. I love a beautifully crafted sentence as much as the next person. But make no mistake: learning to “write well” is not synonymous with learning to write a story. And of the two, writing well is secondary. Because if the reader doesn’t want to know what happens next, so what if it’s well written? In the trade, such exquisitely rendered, story-less novels are often referred to as a beautifully written “Who cares?” – Lisa Cron (Wired for Story)

42. I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. In many ways writing is the act of saying I, of imposing oneself upon other people, of saying listen to me, see it my way, change your mind. It’s an aggressive, even a hostile act. There’s no getting around the fact that setting words on paper is the tactic of a bully, an invasion, an imposition of the writer’s sensibility on the reader’s most private space. – Joan Didion (The New York Times Book Review)

43. I write to make peace with the things I cannot control. I write to create fabric in a world that often appears black and white. I write to discover. I write to uncover. I write to meet my ghosts. I write to begin a dialogue. I write to imagine things differently and in imagining things differently perhaps the world will change. – Terry Tempest Williams (Northern Lights magazine)

44. To create a novel’s emotional landscape you must first open yourself to your own. That’s hard to do. If it’s difficult to confide your feelings to those close to you, consider how much more fearful it is to do with strangers. But that’s what you’re doing whether you’re aware of it or not. There is wired inside you a terror of exposing yourself to embarrassment, shame, and ridicule. But here you are writing fiction. Are you nuts? Or, more to the point, is that what people will think of you when they read your work? The inhibiting effect of shame cannot be overstated. It explains why some writers slide into genre clichés or literary imitation. To put authentic emotions on the page, you need to own them. When you do, readers will respect you. Its’ when you hide that readers feel shortchanged, cheated, and only minimally involved. – Donald Maass (Writing 21st Century Fiction)

45. As a man who has knocked about the arts for some time, I can only say that in the presence of a poet I am struck with awe that I should behold so courageous a man. I never felt that way about generals or admirals, for our society is organized to protect the warrior. – James A. Michener

46. Muddiness is not merely a disturber of prose, it is also a destroyer of life, or hope: death on the highway caused by a badly worded road sign, heartbreak among lovers caused by a misplaced phrase in a well-intentioned letter, anguish of a traveler expecting to be met at a railroad station and not being met because of a slipshod telegram. – William Strunk and E.B. White (The Elements of Style)

47. Writers kid themselves—about themselves and other people. Take the talk about writing methods. Writing is just work—there’s no secret. If you dictate or use a pen or type with your toes—it is just work. – Sinclair Lewis

48. 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, the melancholia, the panic fear which is inherent in a human condition. –Graham Greene

49. The art of writing cannot be taught, but the craft of writing can. No one can teach you how to tap inspiration, how to gain vision and sensibility, but you can be taught to write lucidly, to present what you say in the most articulate and forceful way. Vision itself is useless without the technical means to record it. – Noah Lukeman (The First Five Pages)

50. Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write. If it all feels hopeless, if that famous “inspiration” will not come, write. If you are a genius, you’ll make your own rules, but if not—and the odds are against it—go to your desk, not matter what your mood, face the icy challenge of the paper—write. – J.B. Priestly

51. The idea of “inspiration”, as it’s commonly understood, does a great deal of damage to writers. For one thing, it devalues craft, which I think is the most important part of writing. It also, as I’ve cautioned before, reinforces the notion that the writer himself or herself is somehow not enough. That some special talent or knowledge or divine gift—something outside of the writer—is necessary. – Dennis Palumbo (Writing from the Inside Out)

52. Almost all good writing begins with terrible first efforts. You need to start somewhere. Start by getting something—anything—down on paper. A friend of mine says that the first draft is the down draft—you just get it down. The second draft is the up draft—you fix it up. You try to say what you have to say more accurately. And the third draft is the dental draft, where you check every tooth, to see if it’s loose or cramped or decayed, or even, God help us, healthy. – Anne Lamott (Bird by Bird)

53. This is the ultimate magic trick of language: to evoke in the reader not just an understanding of the thing described but the sensation of it. It’s not enough just to tell a reader the thing exists and ask him to take its existence on faith; you must allow him to experience it for himself. – Joseph Bates (The Nighttime Novelist)

54. When the conditions are right, live things creep up. The author does not need to airlift them in. No need to insert a reptile here, something symbolic over there. The most potent meaning arises indigenously. It looks like earth, like mud, like a log. The more your eyes discern the particulars of the physical world and its inhabitants, the more meaningful your work becomes. This is the meaning that, when it’s laid dormant in the sun long enough, strikes with a devouring force…To write well, we must sink into the silt of this world. – Bonnie Friedman (Writing Past Dark)

55. Every day you are afraid. Every day you move through fear to your desk, and as soon as you pick up your pen, or read the sentence left over from the night before, incomplete, needing an adjustment in rhythm—a stronger verb, a slash of color or the taste of bitter herbs—in that moment of solving the problems, all fear dissolves. You are writing again. – Sophy Burnham (For Writers Only)

56. The best time for planning a book is while you are doing the dishes. – Agatha Christie

57. In his ambrosial book Zen in the Art of Writing, Ray Bradbury answers the pestering questions he gets about the origins of his ideas emphasizing the daily need to move forward. “Every morning I jump out of bed and step on a landmine. The landmine is me. After the explosion, I spend the rest of the day putting the pieces back together”. He does this in a surprisingly simple fashion, by venturing into his museum-like writing studio and fingering one of his thousands of travel souvenirs, or opening a dictionary and choosing a single world. He then seizes the memory, emotion, or word and, as Klee said, takes it out for a walk—which invariably results in a story he didn’t even know he had in him. The operative word, again, is seize, as in the moment, our destiny as creative souls. – Phil Cousineau (Stoking the Creative Fires)

58. The place of stillness that you have to go to write, but also to read seriously, is the point where you can actually make responsible decisions, where you can actually engage productively with an otherwise scary and unmanageable world. – Jonathan Franzen

59. Style is knowing who you are, what you want to say, and not giving a damn. – Gore Vidal

60. I’m not sure if it takes deep denial or courage to sit at one’s desk day after day doing this. In the middle of my writing career, I once studied to go into a different profession; the main lure was having a desk out of the house and coworkers. Not to mention a regular paycheck. I studied for two years and had a good time doing this job, but I couldn’t get over the sense of not being in my own skin and had to quit. – Barbara Abercrombie (A Year of Writing Dangerously)

61. Remember, nobody is born a professional. So this stuff has to be learned and practiced. Stephen King used to be some guy who had a traumatic experience in his childhood. Janet Evanovich did not always have her face plastered across a bus. There was a time when no one knew what a muggle was, not even J.K. Rowling. These writers and, indeed, all writers, were once simply somebody’s baby—a mother’s son, a father’s daughter, and then, eventually, they became writers. At some point thereafter, they became darn good writers, and then even farther down the road they became the writers we know and love today. Writing is work, just like many other kinds of work that require a certain amount of artfulness and intuition. And the more willingly you acknowledge the more well-rounded qualities of the writing life, the better you will far. – Christina Katz (The Writer’s Workout)

62. A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down… If it is a good book, nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book, nothing can help him. – Edna St. Vincent Millay

63. When a reader fully believes our story, both intellectually and emotionally, he moves in and unpacks his bags. No longer a tourist living out of a suitcase, ordering room service and watching suspiciously from his hotel window as the natives bustle on the street below, he has become, for the moment at least, a native himself. He changes into comfortable clothes, strolls the avenues, eats in open-air cafes, even tries the local catch-of-the-day. He turns another page in the book. Anything is possible. Who knows? He might even fall in love. – Rebecca McClanahan (Word Painting)

64. If you won’t enjoy reading it, you won’t enjoy writing it. – Chris Baty (No Plot? No Problem!)

65. There’s a certain charm in what is spontaneous. I want the reader to feel that I’m telling the story to him or her in particular. When you tell a story in the kitchen to a friend, it’s full of mistakes and repetitions. I try to avoid that in literature, but I still want it to be a conversation, like storytelling usually is. It’s not a lecture. – Isabel Allende (Why We Write)

66. You can only write regularly if you’re willing to write badly. You can’t write regularly and well. One should accept bad writing as a way of priming the pump, a warm-up exercise that allows you to write well. – Jennifer Egan (Why We Write)

67. Writers make their way toward intensity via soul-jarring themes, stories awash in peril, characters on the edge, smoldering conflict, manic introspection, inflamed dialogue, and other such strategies. But the foot soldiers along the march are words and their style of delivery: words that advance steadily until, at key moments, they gather force to penetrate the reader’s armored resistance. – Arthur Plotnik (The Elements of Expression)

68. If you feel comfortable telling people about your novel in advance, more power to you, but be aware that you might be affected by their responses. If they give you too much praise, will you feel the weight of trying to live up to their expectations? Will this energize your writing or give you writer’s block? If the response is reserved or negative, will you doubt the value of your story? Will a cool response diminish your own love for the idea? If you think the work might be damaged by poor reactions and if you can live without the instant gratification of advertising your novel before it is written, protect the process of writing your book by keeping it to yourself. – Ann Rittenberg and Laura Whitcomb (Your First Novel)

69. Seeing sharply and accurately is part of the contract the author makes with the reader. When we talk about a writer’s vision, we’re usually talking metaphorically…but we’re most persuaded by an author who literally has an acuity of vision. – Tony Eprile (Poets & Writers, March/April 2013)

70. It is an immutable law of the universe that humans simply cannot, under any circumstances, no matter how hard they try, be completely objective about what they’ve written. That’s why, once you finish a draft of your proposal or manuscript, it’s important to let it sit and ferment, marinate and settle. Move away from your work for a bit. This will help you with your objectivity. In fact, there’s a direct correlation between the amount of objectivity you can achieve and the time you spend away from your material. – Arielle Eckstut and David Henry Sterry (The Essential Guide to Getting Your Book Published)

71. Every writer aims to immerse the reader so deeply into the story, to so hypnotize the reader with the details and the writing, that she continues turning the pages. You want your reader to feel like she’s literally present in your fictional world, running right alongside your characters as they get swept up in the action of the story. This is, after all, one of the reasons people read: to lose themselves in a world more interesting than their own. – Sarah Domet (90 Days to Your Novel)

72. Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. habit is persistence in practice. – Octavia Butler

73. I warm up and break through the ice called writer’s block by writing poetry. If I can’t come up with a topic for a poem, I’ll look at the headlines in newspapers or magazines and find something to write a poem about. Once I write the poem, I’m ready to return to the longer work like a short story or novel. – Lloyd Lofthouse

74. Only kings, editors, and people with tapeworm have the right to use the editorial “we”. – Mark Twain

75. Forget the boring old dictum “write what you know”. Instead, seek out an unknown yet knowable area of experience that’s going to enhance your understanding of the world and write about that. – Rose Tremain

76. I type in one place, but I write all over the house. – Toni Morrison

77. What to do with your dreams? Some of us mumble them to our families over breakfast or dinner. Others write them down in a dream journal. Jacquelyn Mitchard took one of her dreams and molded it into the best-selling novel The Deep End of the Ocean. Author Stephanie Meyer was a mom and a homemaker when she had a dream that became the basis for her best-selling Twilight series. – Rochelle Melander (Write-a-Thon)

78. A word is a bud attempting to become a twig. How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives us the right to dream. – Gaston Bachelard

79. Write something to suit yourself and many people will like it; write something to suit everybody and scarcely anyone will care for it. – Jesse Stuart

80. What works for one writer becomes paralyzing for the next. – Karen E. Peterson

81. One telling detail will take you further than a page of description. – Michael Connelly

82. Most beginning writers (and I was the same) are like chefs trying to cook great dishes that they’ve never tasted themselves. How can you make a great (or even adequate) bouillabaisse if you’ve never had any? If you don’t really understand why people read mysteries (or romances or literary novels or thrillers or whatever), then there’s no way in the world you’re going to write one that anyone wants to publish. – Daniel Quinn

83. Stories move people to think and act. Anais Nin said, “What we are familiar with we cease to see. The writer shakes up the familiar scene, and as if by magic, we see new meanings in it.” Art, in the form of a story well told, may literally transform the reader and the culture from the inside out. “A book ought to be an ice pick to beak up the frozen sea within us”, said Franz Kafka. Stories hold the power to transform the very society they are said to reflect, making storytelling among the highest of callings. – Elizabeth Lyon (A Writer’s Guide to Fiction)

84. I’m a full-time believer in writing habits. You may be able to do without them if you have genius but most of us only have talent and this is simply something that has to be assisted all the time by physical and mental habits or it dries up and blows away. – Flannery O’Connor

85. Words can sometimes, in moments of grace, attain the quality of deeds. – Elie Wiesel

86. Writing longhand will help you experience your writing in a different way. Your mind will think in a different manner, both because writing longhand is a slower process and also because you won’t have the opportunity to backspace and erase the words you’ve just written. Writing in longhand is a more deliberate act. There is an elegant simplicity to writing longhand: it takes writing back to a primal and pleasing place. As an added incentive, there’s also a sense of instant gratification. The moment you make a mark, it is real. Unlike the sometimes dicey business of storing your writing on a computer’s hard drive, the handwritten page won’t disappear into a mysterious Ethernet void. – Amy Peters (The Writer’s Devotional)

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

88. Mining the places you have lived can be a great way to unearth ideas. Too often we feel that the places we were born and raised lack the sort of exoticism that will attract readers. We think this because the places are not exotic to us. We take them for granted. I was born and raised in Ohio, which is synonymous with, even symbolic of, bland America. Of course, what is ordinary to us can be exotic to someone else. The key is being able to truly see the world around you, finding the details that evoke it. A world that is keenly evoked will be exotic to those who don’t know it well and will allow those who do know it well to see it with fresh eyes. – Jack Heffron (The Writer’s Idea Book)

89. Everything that I have written has the closest possible connection with what I have lived through inwardly. – Henrik Ibsen

90. First, there is the writing, then the exhilaration from feeling good about writing, then the guilt for the time spent writing when there are a dozen other obligations that should be met. So what’s the appeal? Why torture yourself? The appeal is that you are burning to say something, to express yourself, to make someone feel happy or sad or angry or just laugh. The appeal is that you believe what you have to say can make a difference in someone’s life, and you just might reach a bigger audience and impact several lives. You are the only one who can say what you have to say in just your way. And if it’s something powerful, something that can improve humanity or bring insights or change the world, or make people think or laugh—then why feel guilty? What are you waiting for? Get busy writing. – Nancy Ellen Dodd (The Writer’s Compass)

91. I don’t necessarily start with the beginning of the book. I just start with the part of the story that’s most vivid in my imagination and work forward and backward from there. – Beverly Cleary

92. Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph. Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about quality. Do feel anxiety—it’s the job. – Roddy Doyle

93. It’s necessary to write, if the days are not to slip emptily by. How else, indeed, to clap the net over the butterfly of the moment? For the moment passes, it is forgotten; the mood is gone; life itself is gone. That is where the writer scores over his fellows: he catches the changes of his mind on the hop. – Vita Sackville-West

94. If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster. – Isaac Asimov

95. Even with descriptions that have nothing to do with character emotion, there are ways you can show rather than tell. Rather than telling your readers that your hero’s car is an old broken down wreck, you can show him twisting two bare wires together to turn on the headlights, or driving through a puddle and being sprayed from the holes on the floor. That way your readers can draw their own conclusions about the car’s condition for themselves. – Renni Browne and Dave King (Self-Editing for Fiction Writers)

96. In my writing, as much as I could, I tried to find the good, and praise it. – Alex Haley

97. One of my theories about writing is that the process involves an ongoing interchange between Left Brain and Right. The journal provides a testing ground where the two can engage. Left Brain is analytical, linear, the timekeeper, the bean counter, the critic and editor, a valuable ally in the shaping of the mystery novel or any piece of writing for that matter. Right Brain is creative, spatial, playful, disorganized, dazzling, nonlinear, the source of the Aha! or imaginative leap. Without Right Brain, there would be no material for Left Brain to refine. Without Left Brain, the jumbled brilliance of Right Brain would never coalesce into a satisfactory whole. – Sue Grafton (Writing the Private Eye Novel)

98. If your whole reason for writing is to pontificate on, for example, the dangers of certain habits or lifestyles, you risk sounding preaching…If your theme is the danger of alcoholism, simply tell a story in which an alcoholic suffers because of his bad decisions and give the reader credit. If your story is powerful enough, your theme will come through. – Jerry B. Jenkins (Writer’s Digest, August 2006)

99. I know writers who write only when inspiration comes. How would Isaac Stern play if he played the violin only when he felt like it? He would be lousy. – Madeleine L’Engle

100. Writing genre fiction is a calling more prone to humiliation than most fields of creative endeavor. Yes, we face the same rejections from agents and publishers, the mortification of being asked if we write under our own names, the shame of events where only two people turn up. But we also face the indignity of being one of a bunch in the review section’s crime round up. And possible worst of all, the perennial question: “Have you ever thought of writing a proper novel?” – Val McDermid (Motification: Writers’ Stories of Their Public Shame)

101. I never had any doubts about my abilities. I knew I could write. I just had to figure out how to eat while doing this. – Cormac McCarthy

102. I never knew what was meant by “finding your voice”. Not for ages. I think I now know. I believe it means finding a way to write what is comfortable for you. It’s finding the method to tell your story that seems natural and unaffected. That way you’re not going to get caught out all the time trying to keep up with some kind of style that you think may be appropriate. – Maeve Binchy (The Mave Binchy Writer’s Club)

103. And writing a book may take you the same amount of time as it does to build a house. Having a long project that will need to transpire over time has its own advantages: as it goes along, it will become a measure of your capacity to stick to this often-thankless-feeling work. It will also continually teach you new things. Your novel will tell you things you never knew about your own soul, these being those truths known so far by no one else but you. – Jane Vandenburgh (Architecture of the Novel 

104. Good writing is remembering detail most people want to forget. Don’t forget things that were painful or embarrassing or silly. Turn them into a story that tells the truth. – Paula Danzinger

105. Carry a heavy rock around with you (in your purse, backpack, or briefcase) to represent your barriers, fears, or problems in your writing. Carry it for several days until you become really annoyed with the burden. Then—without getting caught—place the rock in the garden of someone who annoys you. Or, on a more positive note, throw the rock in a lake and enjoy watching your fears symbolically sink out of sight. – Bill O’Hanlon (Write is a Verb)

106. I would advise anyone who aspires to a writing career that before developing his talent he would be wise to develop a thick hide. – Harper Lee

107. You have to follow your own voice. You have to be yourself when you write. In effect, you have to announce, “This is me, this is what I stand for, this is what you get when you read me. I’m doing the best I can—buy me or not—but this is who I am as a writer.” – David Morrell

108. We’re past the age of heroes and hero kings. If we can’t make up stories about ordinary people, who can we make them up about? …Most of our lives are basically mundane and dull, and it’s up to the writer to find ways to make them interesting. – John Updike

109. You better make them care about what you think. It had better be quirky or perverse or thoughtful enough so that you hit some chord in them. Otherwise it doesn’t work. I mean we’ve all read pieces where we thought, “Oh, who gives a damn”. – Nora Ephron

110. In truth, I never consider the audience for whom I’m writing. I just write what I want to write. – J. K. Rowling

111. The most important thing is you can’t write what you wouldn’t read for pleasure. It’s a mistake to analyze the market thinking you can write whatever is hot. You can’t say you’re going to write romance when you don’t even like it. You need to write what you would read if you expect anybody else to read it. – Nora Roberts

-- Janet


What's So Great About the Truth?


After watching an episode titled "Back to Nature" on The Andy Griffith Show where Andy deceives Barney into thinking he has pioneer skills, I was offended. "It's a total lie", I said to my son, who was watching the show with me.


Noah then asked me a rather profound question: "What's so great about the truth?"

Back to nature 300I sputtered, "Being true to yourself! Being authentic!"

But as I thought about my obsession with striving for authenticity and honesty on social media--and where it's got me (don't ask--it's the liars and ass-kissers that get ahead)--I had to wonder if my child had a point.

Then, I happened to read James Frey's interview in the book Why We Write. You know, the James Frey that was burned at the stake by Oprah and the world for writing a fictional memoir (a book, by the way, that Frey tried to convince his publishers to sell as fiction--but they refused and went with memoir). 

Frey loves making up pseudonyms, saying:

Being a writer is about creating a public mythology, creating a writerly persona, as much as it's about what you write.

On Hemingway, Kerouac and others, Frey notes:

[They] had big public personas, and their public personas almost destroyed them. They got lost. They forgot that there's a line between who you are at home and who you are in public.

After reading this, I realized that there's one letter separating "public" and "pubic".

But I digress...

Compared to losing a kid, losing a friend, having your heart broken--those horrific experiences as a writer are just bad days at work.

Frey should know; he and his wife lost their son Leo 11 days after he was born.

I had an epiphany after reading Frey's insightful interview. 

Wow, I thought, maybe instead of striving for authenticity online--which always backfires--maybe I should strive for public artifice (otherwise known as "business as usual" for most other writers). 

Instead of closing the gap between the "real me" and the "public me", I should widen it like a canyon--never allowing the two to touch, let alone overlap.

Maybe it's the "artist's life" (or "artist's illusion") that destroys so many writers.

Maybe writers are better off regarding writing as "punching the clock", while research, daydreaming and germinating are nothing but overtime.

When I'm at the machine, when I'm James Frey the writer, that evaporates. I have no fear. Nobody can hurt me, nobody can say shit that means anything to me. When I'm in the act of writing that's not ego, it's just work, just struggle and challenge. I keep a pretty strict wall between those things. People get into trouble when that wall falls down.

Wise words. More writers, including myself, would benefit from building a thick, high wall between their personal Self and public Self.

That's the beauty of it: all the bullshit in the world, and all that really matters to me, to readers, to history, is are the books good enough.

Isn't that the million dollar question? Are our books good enough?


My Life is Not an Apology - Ralph Waldo Emerson

My life is not an apology, but a life. It is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. ― Ralph Waldo Emerson

Grass
What do you feel Emerson meant by this quote? How might it apply to the writing life?

What is the difference between writing that is "genuine and equal" versus "glittering and unsteady"?