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Reflections of a working writer and reader



Quotations On Writing

Good writers define reality; bad ones merely restate it. A good writer turns fact into truth; a bad writer will, more often than not, accomplish the opposite. Edward Albee

People want to be amused, not preached at, you know. Morals don’t sell nowadays. Louisa May Alcott

Writing comes more easily if you have something to say. Sholem Asch

Perfection irritates as well as it attracts, in fiction as in life.
Louis Auchincloss

In relation to a writer, most readers believe in the Double Standard: they may be unfaithful to him as often as they like, but he must never, never be unfaithful to them. W.H. Auden

Then he said to Scheherazade: ‘Sister, for the sake of Allah, tell us a story that will help pass the night.’ The Arabian Nights

I know not, sir, whether Bacon wrote the works of Shakespeare, but if he did not it seems to me that he missed the opportunity of his life. James Matthew Barry

I shall state silences more competently than ever a better man spangled the butterflies of vertigo. Samuel Beckett

What do I know of a man’s destiny? I could tell you more about radishes. Samuel Beckett

Great literature must come from an upheaval in the artist’s soul. If that upheaval is not present, then it must come from the works of any author which happen to be handy and easily adapted. Robert Benchley

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

Among the extremely diverse books lumped together as ‘mysteries,’ I shall try to judge each fairly according to the best standards of the type which the author intended to produce, and not those of another type which I personally prefer. (from “Code for Mystery Reviewers,” by Anthony Boucher)

Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in the mirror which waits always before or behind. Catherine Drinker Bowen

Find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day. Ray Bradbury

Stories are important, stories are crucial, stories teach us who we are – but they don’t reshape us. Fiction is a mirror, not a medicine. Chaz Brenchley

What literature can and should do is change the people who teach the people who don’t read the books. A.S. Byatt

I think you must remember that a writer is a simple-minded person to begin with and go on that basis. He’s not a great mind, he’s not a great thinker, he’s not a great philosopher, he’s a story-teller. Erskine Caldwell

A classic is a book that has never finished saying what it has to say. Italo Calvino

Those who write clearly have readers, those who write obscurely have commentators. Albert Camus

The process of writing has something infinite about it. Even though it is interrupted each night, it is one single notation. Elias Canetti

A boy has to peddle his book. Truman Capote

To me, the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make. Truman Capote

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

Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. Truman Capote

When the plot flags, bring in a man with a gun.
Raymond Chandler

He had one of the rarest qualities in all literature, and it’s a great shame that the word for it has been thoroughly debased by the cosmetic racketeers, so that one is almost ashamed to use it to describe a real distinction. Nevertheless, the word is charm – charm as Keats would have used it. Who has it today? It’s not a matter of pretty writing or clear style. It’s a kind of subdued magic, controlled and exquisite, the sort of thing you get from good string quartettes. Raymond Chandler on F. Scott Fitzgerald

Medicine is my lawful wedded wife and literature my mistress. When one gets on my nerves, I spend the night with the other. Anton Chekhov

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

Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity. GK Chesterton

The palest ink is better than the best memory.
Chinese proverb

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

Writing a book is an adventure: it begins as an amusement, then it becomes a mistress, then a master, and finally a tyrant. Winston Churchill

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

Dear Sir, I am in a Madhouse and quite forget your name or who you are. John Clare

Writers should be read but neither seen nor heard. Daphne du Maurier

I think that you’ve got to be prepared to write a load of nonsense to start with and then you can tart it up. The business of getting going, getting started, is enormously important, and this can be physical. Solvitur Ambulando as the Romans used to say, which means the solution comes through walking. Colin Dexter

If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. Emily Dickinson

Planning to write is not writing. Outlining, researching, talking to people about what you’re doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing. . . . 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. E.L. Doctorow

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

Yes, I suppose some editors are failed writers – but so are most writers. TS Eliot

Heard melodies are sweet, but those unheard are far sweeter… TS Eliot

All novels are about certain minorities: the individual is a minority. Ralph Ellison

The maker of a sentence launches out into the infinite and builds a road into Chaos and old Night, and is followed by those who hear him with something of wild, creative delight. Ralph Waldo Emerson

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’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out of the window. William Faulkner

Life can’t ever really defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer’s lover until death – fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous constant. Edna Ferber

Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth . . . But amusing? Never. Edna Ferber

Human language is like a cracked kettle on which we beat out tunes for bears to dance to, when all the time we are longing to move the stars to pity. Gustave Flaubert

Be regular and ordinary in your life like a bourgeois, so that you may be violent and original in your work. Gustave Flaubert

It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes. When I brood over these marvellous pleasures I have enjoyed, I would be tempted to offer God a prayer of thanks if I knew he could hear me. Praised may he be for not creating me a cotton merchant, a vaudevillian, or a wit. Gustave Flaubert

The only books that influence us are those for which we are ready, and which have gone a little farther down our particular path than we have yet got ourselves. E.M. Forster

A novelist can shift his view point if it comes off, and it came off with Dickens and Tolstoy. E.M. Forster

Writing is easy. All you do is stare at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. Gene Fowler

The spoken word belongs half to him who speaks, and half to him who listens. French Proverb

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

Talking is a hydrant in the yard and writing is a faucet upstairs in the house. Opening the first takes all the pressure off the second. Robert Frost

To publish a work of novel length, one must find…some means of satisfying the ordinary reader’s first requirement for any piece of writing longer than fifteen pages, the sense that things are moving, getting somewhere, flowing forward. The common reader demands some reason to keep turning the pages. Two things can keep the . . . reader going: argument or story. John Gardner, On Becoming A Novelist

Poetry is a deal of joy and pain and wonder, with a dash of the dictionary. Kahlil Gibran

The most beautiful things are those that madness prompts and reason writes. André Gide

Great authors are admirable in this respect: in every generation they make for disagreement. Through them we become aware of our differences. André Gide

When I write stories I am like someone who is in her own country, walking along streets that she has known since she was a child, between walls and trees that are hers. Natalia Ginzburg

A novel is an impression, not an argument. Thomas Hardy

The business of the poet and the novelist is to show the sorriness underlying the grandest things, and the grandeur underlying the sorriest things. Thomas Hardy

Easy reading is damn hard writing. Nigel Hawthorne

No author is a man of genius to his publisher. Heinrich Heine

Nothing you write, if you hope to be good, will ever come out as you first hoped. Lillian Hellman

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

All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that it all 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. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer. Ernest Hemingway

When people talk, listen completely. Most people never listen. Ernest Hemingway

You write until you come to a place where you still have your juice and know what will happen next and you stop and try to live through until the next day when you hit it again. Ernest Hemingway

The saddest people in the world today are adults who read Harry Potter. Stephen Henighan

Do your bit to save humanity from lapsing back into barbarity by reading all the novels you can. Richard Hughes

The best part of an author is to be found in his books.
Dr Johnson

Everyone has talent. What is rare is the courage to follow the talent to the dark place where it leads. Erica Jong

Why don’t you write books people can read? Nora Joyce, to her husband, James Joyce

Altogether, I think we ought to read only books that bite and sting us. If the book does not shake us awake like a blow to the skull, why bother reading it in the first place? So that it can make us happy, as you put it? Good God, we’d be just as happy if we had no books at all; books that make us happy we could, in a pinch, also write ourselves. What we need are books that hit us like a most painful misfortune, like the death of someone we loved more than ourselves, that make us feel as though we had been banished to the woods, far from any human presence, like a suicide. A book must be the ax for the frozen sea within us. That is what I believe. Franz Kafka letter to Oskar Pollak January 27, 1904

Plot springs from character . . . I’ve always sort of believed that these people inside of me – these characters – know who they are and what they’re about and what happens, and they need me to help get it down on paper because they don’t type. Anne Lamott

No one, ever, wrote anything as well even after one drink as he would have done without it. Ring Lardner

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

I am a man and alive . . . For this reason I am a novelist. And being a novelist I consider myself superior to the saint, the scientist, the philosopher, and the poet, who are all great masters of different bits of man alive, but never get the whole hog. DH Lawrence

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

I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work, and, two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer. Doris Lessing

Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say ‘infinitely’ when you mean ‘very’; otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite. C. S. Lewis

Don’t say it was ‘delightful’; make us say ‘delightful’ when we’ve read the description. You see, all those words (horrifying, wonderful, hideous, exquisite) are only like saying to your readers ‘Please will you do the job for me.’ C. S. Lewis

“There are many lines that could be spared from the book you are reading,” she said, her voice primly firm and dogmatic. “I must ‘a’ missed ’em,” he announced. “What I read was the real goods. It was all lighted up an’ shining, an’ it shun right into me an’ lighted me up inside, like the sun or a searchlight. That’s the way it landed on me, but I guess I ain’t up much on poetry, miss.” Jack London, Martin Eden [Martin and Ruth, discussing the poet Martin called “Swineburne”]

The writer by nature of his profession is a dreamer and a conscious dreamer. He must imagine, and imagination takes humility, love and great courage. How can you create a character without love and the struggle that goes with love? Carson McCullers

Write your heart out. Bernard Malamud, (advice to young writers)

All writing depends on the generosity of the reader. Alberto Manguel

Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all. Katherine Mansfield

I have discovered that I cannot burn the candle at one end and write a book with the other. Katherine Mansfield

Each novel written, each play completed is another step on the road to silencing the furies within. Patrick McCabe

One of the most difficult things is the first paragraph. I have spent many months on a first paragraph, and once I get it, the rest just comes out very easily. In the first paragraph you solve most of the problems with your book. The theme is defined, the style, the tone. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

The writer’s very attempt to portray reality often leads him to a distorted view of it. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

Unfortunately many young writers are more concerned with fame than with their own work . . . It’s much more important to write than to be written about. Gabriel Garcia Marquez

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. William Somerset Maugham

Character in decay is the theme of the great bulk of superior fiction. HL Mencken

Criticism hurt me when I had failures. I thought: I’ll never write another play: But I’m an alligator. Only the alligators remain. The others get out of the water. Arthur Miller

Writers write to learn, to explore, to discover, to hear themselves saying what they do not expect to say. Donald Murray

Our ancestors wrote prose in long, beautiful sentences, convoluted like curls; although we still learn to do it that way in school, we write in short sentences that cut more quickly to the heart of the matter; and no one in the world can free his thinking from the manner in which his time wears the cloak of language. Thus no man can know to what extent he actually means what he writes and in writing, it is far less that people twist words than it is that words twist people. Robert Musil

That trite little whimsy about characters getting out of hand; it is as old as the quills. My characters are galley slaves. Vladimir Nabokov

The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to become visible. Vladimir Nabokov

Of all the characters that a great artist creates, his readers are the best. Vladimir Nabokov

Style and Structure are the essence of a book; great ideas are hogwash. Vladimir Nabokov

No artist tolerates reality. Nietzsche

Every book is an effort: every book extends vision. I am not a writer who ends as he begins. My world changes as I write. VS Naipaul

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

Everywhere I go, I’m asked if I think the universities stifle 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

There are worse words than cuss words, there are words that hurt. Tillie Olsen

Just get it down on paper, and then we’ll see what to do with it. Maxwell Perkins

Samuel Beckett. The farther he goes the more good it does me. I don’t want philosophies, tracts, dogmas, creeds, ways out, truths, answers, nothing from the bargain basement. He is the most courageous, remorseless writer going and the more he grinds my nose in the shit the more I am grateful to him.
He’s not fucking me about, he’s not leading me up any garden path, he’s not slipping me a wink, he’s not flogging me a remedy or a path or a revelation or a basinful of breadcrumbs, he’s not selling me anything I don’t want to buy — he doesn’t give a bollock whether I buy or not — he hasn’t got his hand over his heart. Well, I’ll buy his goods, hook, line and sinker, because he leaves no stone unturned and no maggot lonely. He brings forth a body of beauty.
His work is beautiful. Harold Pinter

You ask me why I spend my life writing?
Do I find entertainment?
Is it worthwhile?
Above all, does it pay?
If not, then, is there a reason?…
I write only because
There is a voice within me
That will not be still.
Sylvia Plath

Genius is spiritual greed. V.S. Pritchett

One of the reasons why bad novels are bad is not that the charcters do not live, but that they do not live with one another. They read one another’s minds through the author. V.S. Pritchett

Anyone who conceives of writing as an agreeable stroll towards a middle-class lifestyle will never write anything but crap. Derek Raymond

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

A l’aurore, armés d’une ardente patience, nous entrerons aux splendides Villes. In the dawn, armed with a burning patience, we shall enter the splendid Cities. Rimbaud

I can fix bad writing. I can’t fix a blank page.
Nora Roberts

A book is a version of the world. If you do not like it, ignore it; or offer your own version in return. Salman Rushdie, 1990

It is 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. Growth is exciting; growth is dynamic and alarming. Growth of the soul, growth of the mind. Vita Sackville-West

No matter how this may shock mankind, the duty of philosophy is to say everything. Marquis de Sade

Writing is just having a sheet of paper, a pen and not a shadow of an idea of what you are going to say. Francoise Sagan

The English language has a deceptive air of simplicity; so have some little frocks; but they are both not the kind of thing you can run up in half an hour with a machine. Dorothy L. Sayers

I shall never be ashamed of citing a bad author if the line is good. Seneca

Put your ear down close to your soul and listen hard. Anne Sexton

Books are like a mirror. If an ass looks in, you can’t expect an angel to look out. Arthur Schopenhauer

I no longer feel free to imagine things. I’m afraid to say things that might happen. Leonardo Sciascia, Sicilian writer

An author ought to write for the youth of his own generation, the critics of the next, and the school-masters of ever afterward. F. Scott Fitzgerald

All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath. F. Scott Fitzgerald

Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I’ll tell you a story. F. Scott Fitzgerald

In literature the ambition of the novice is to acquire the literary language: the struggle of the adept is to get rid of it. George Bernard Shaw

The power of accurate observation is commonly called cynicism by those who have not got it. George Bernard Shaw

Well, the first paragraph is done. Time for a brownie. Marge Simpson, The Simpsons, writing a book. . .

When I was a little boy, they called me a liar, but now that I am grown up, they call me a writer. Isaac Bashevis Singer

The waste basket is the writer’s best friend. Isaac Bashevis Singer

Experience has shown me that there are no miracles in writing. The only thing that produces good writing is hard work. It’s impossible to write a good story by carrying a rabbit’s foot in your pocket. Isaac Bashevis Singer

A great many people now reading and writing would be better employed keeping rabbits. Edith Sitwell

What I like in a good author isn’t what he says, but what he whispers. Logan Pearsall Smith

Perversity is the muse of modern literature. Susan Sontag

Every idea is reducible to a cliche, and the function of a cliche is to castrate an idea. Susan Sontag

Unless the bastards (critics) have the courage to give you unqualified praise, I say ignore them. John Steinbeck

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

The difficulty of literature is not to write, but to write what you mean; not to affect your reader, but to affect him precisely as you wish. Robert Louis Stevenson

All speech, written or spoken, is a dead language, until it finds a willing and prepared hearer. Robert Louis Stevenson

The body is a house of many windows: there we all sit, showing ourselves and crying on the passers-by to come and love us.
Robert Louis Stevenson

The job of the artist is to omit that which is tedious and irrelevant, and to suppress that which is tedious and necessary. Robert Louis Stevenson

You know I can’t stand Shakespeare’s plays, but yours are even worse. Leo Tolstoy to Anton Chekov

Listening starts in the womb. Tomatis

Immature artists imitate; mature artists steal.
Lionel Trilling

Three hours a day will produce as much as a man ought to write. Anthony Trollope

There ain’t nothing more to write about and I’m rotten glad of it, because if I’d knowd what a trouble it was to write a book, I wouldn’t a tackled it. Mark Twain, The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn

I really don’t want to encourage young writers. Keep them down and out and silent is my motto. John Updike

First coffee. Then a bowel movement. Then the muse joins me. Gore Vidal

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

No passion in the world is equal to the passion to alter someone else’s draft. H.G. Wells

Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends, and society are the natural enemies of the writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted, and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking. Jessamyn West (Hide and Seek)

When you say something, make sure you have said it. The chances of your having said it are only fair. EB White

Writing is hard work and bad for the health. EB White

Do I contradict myself? Very well then I contradict myself; I am large, I contain multitudes. Walt Whitman

I am more resolute because all have denied me, than I could ever have been had all accepted me; I heed not, and have never heeded, either experience, cautions, majorities, nor ridicule; And the threat of what is call’d hell is little or nothing to me; And the lure of what is call’d heaven is little or nothing to me; Walt Whitman

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

Poke around. William Carlos Williams

All you have to do is close your eyes and wait for the symbols. Tennessee Williams

Because you have covered pages in the past does not mean that you will cover them in the future. Jeanette Winterson

The limits of my language are the limits of my mind. All I know is what I have words for. Ludwig Wittgenstein

I have no theory of stories, just a theory for each story I write. A particular form is right for a given story and that’s all. I don’t like generalizations about literature – I think the general is the enemy of the particular and the particular is the friend of the writer. Tobias Wolff