Writers Daily Quote Archive


(Last updated 5/24/2001)

My feeling about technique in art is that it has the same value as technique in lovemaking. That is to say, heartfelt ineptitude has its charm and so has heartless skill, but what you really want is passionate virtuosity.

--John Barth

I hear and I forget; I see and I remember; I write and I understand.

--Chinese Proverb

Originality does not consist in saying what no one has ever said before, but in saying exactly what you think yourself.

--James Stephen

If you stuff yourself full of poems, essays, plays, stories, novels, films, comic strips, magazines, music, you automatically explode every morning like Old Faithful. I have never had a dry spell in my life, mainly because I feed myself well, to the point of bursting. I wake early and hear my morning voices leaping around in my head like jumping beans. I get out of bed to trap them before they escape.

--Ray Bradbury

Try again. Fail again. Fail better.

--Samuel Beckett

Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down, and write.

--Natalie Goldberg

In the middle of the world, make one positive step. In the center of chaos, make one definitive act. Just write.

--Natalie Goldberg

The rule of the writer is not to say what we can all say but what we are unable to say.

--Anais Nin

I believe in not quite knowing. A writer needs to be doubtful, questioning. I write out of curiousity and bewilderment.

--William Trevor

I’ve never quite believed that one chance is all I get. Writing is my way of making other chances.

--Anne Tyler

I believe talent is like electricity. We don’t understand electricity. We use it. You can plug into it and light up a lamp, keep a heart pump going, light a cathedral, or you can electrocute a person with it. Electricity will do all that. It makes no judgment. I think talent is like that. I believe every person is born with talent.

--Maya Angelou

Even though stories abound in my culture, we have no word for fiction. The only way I could get across . . . the Western concept of fiction was to associate fiction with telling lies.

--Malidoma Patrick Some

The world I create in writing compensates for what the real world does not give me.

--Gloria Anzaldua

Writers have an island, a center of refuge, within themselves. It is the mind's anchorage, the soul's Great Good Place.

--Wright Morris

Slang is a language that rolls up its sleeves, spits on its hands and goes to work.

--Carl Sandburg

One writes to make a home for oneself, on paper, in time, in others’ minds.

--Alfred Kazin

But have the courage to write whatever your dream is for yourself.

--May Sarton

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.

--Douglas Adams

I might write four lines or I might write twenty. I subtract and I add until I really hit something. You don’t always whittle down, sometimes you whittle up.

--Grace Paley

When I use a word, it means what I choose it to mean – neither more nor less.

--Humpty Dumpty (via Lewis Carroll)

If you did not write every day, the poisons would accumulate and you would begin to die, or act crazy or both -- you must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.

--Ray Bradbury

A writer is like a bag lady going through life with a sack and a pointed stick collecting stuff.

--Tony Hillerman

Think of all the other writers out there in the world, taking the same detour from word processor to coffeepot, thesaurus in hand, hopes in tow. We’re all in it together, crossing over and over the elusive bridge between words and literature.

--Abby Frucht

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

--Scott Adams

Imagination is more important than knowledge.

--Albert Einstein

There is no greater agony than bearing an untold story inside you.

--Maya Angelou

I tell my students you have an absolute right to write about people you know and love. You do. But the kicker is you have a responsibility to make the characters large enough that you will not have sinned against them.

--Dorothy Allison

We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection.

--Anais Nin

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

--F. Scott Fitzgerald

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

One of the few things I know about writing is this: Spend it all, shoot it, play it, lose it, all, right away, every time. Do not hoard what seems good for a later place in the book, or for another book, give it, give it all, give it now . . . Some more will arise for later, something better. These things fill from brehind, from beneath, like well water. Similarly, the impulse to keep to yourself what you have learned is not only shameful, it is destructive. Anything you do not give freely and abundantly becomes lost to you. You open your safe and find ashes.

--Annie Dillard

New writers are often told, "Write what you know." I would broaden that by saying, "Write what you know emotionally."

--Marjorie Franco

I’m trying to cause people to be interested in the particulars of their lives because I think that’s one thing literature can do for us. It can say to us: pay attention. Pay closer attention. Pay stricter attention to what you say to your son.

--Richard Ford

I feel at times that I’m making up these little people and I’ve lost my mind.

--Carolyn Chute

It is never too late to be who you might have been.

--George Eliot

Once something is written down, I will argue, I will listen to its music, I will change, reorder and rewrite.

--Serge Gavronsky

Artists and poets must find the light in which they can find themselves.

--Frances Kelly

I know I walk in and out of several worlds every day.

--Joy Harjo

Savor them in your mouth, try them on your typewriter.

--Ray Bradbury

There is nothing wrong with writing, so long as you do it in private and wash your hands afterward

--Robert Heinlein

The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life— and one is as good as the other.

--Ernest Hemingway

Thomas Wolfe ate the world and vomited lava. Dickens dined at a different table every hour of his life. Moliere, tasting society, turned to pick up his scalpel . . .

--Ray Bradbury

Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person. It’s like actors, who try so pathetically not to look in mirrors. Who lean backward trying— only to see their faces in the reflecting chandeliers.

--F. Scott Fitzgerald

I am closer to the work than to anything on earth. That’s the marriage.

--Louise Nevelson

You know that fiction, prose rather, is possibly the roughest trade of all in writing. You do not have the reference, the old important reference. You have the sheet of blank paper, the pencil, and the obligation to invent truer than things can be true. You have to take what is not palpable and make it completely palpable and also have it seem normal and so that it can become a part of experience of the person who reads it.

--Ernest Hemingway

Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say, and say it hot.

--D. H. Lawrence

Never confuse movement with action.

--Ernest Hemingway

When a writer knows home in his heart, his heart must remain subtly apart from it. He must always be a stranger to the place he loves, and its people.

--Willie Morris

Let the readers do some of the work themselves.

--Fyodor Dostoyevsky

I discovered that rejections are not altogether a bad thing. They teach a writer to rely on his own judgment and to say in his heart of hearts, "To hell with you."

--Saul Bellow

All writers have periods when they stop writing, when they cannot write, and this is always painful and terrible because writing is like breathing.

--Audre Lorde

None of the writing is easy, but I no longer refuse to do it for fear that I'll fail to get it right. It can never be right, I know; it can only be done.

--Nancy Mairs

We cannot speak of women writers in our century without speaking also of the invisible, the as innately capable; the born to the wrong circumstances, the diminished, the excluded, the lost, the silenced.

--Tillie Olson

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.

--Willa Cather

Be persistent. Editors change; tastes change; editorial markets change. Too many beginning writers give up too easily.

--John Jakes

When I am not giving forth words, I am not certain any longer who I am.

--Susan Griffy

My job is not all that difficult, but I do have to know the entire alphabet.

--Vanna White

What another would have done as well as you, do not do it. What another would have said as well as you, do not say it; written as well, do not write it. Be faithful to that which exists nowhere but in yourself -- and thus make yourself indispensable.

--Andre Gide

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

--Richard Bach

The greatest thing a human soul ever does in this world is to see something, and tell what he saw in a plain way.

--John Ruskin

Do not let great ambitions overshadow small successes.

--Fortune cookie

I have a nice teak desk, long and wide, on which I keep special things: crisp new legal pads and No. 2 pencils with good rubber erasers that don't leave red smears; a dark blue draftsman lamp that twists and bends like a tall, limber skeleton; a small quartz clock that silently flicks the minutes; an earth-colored ceramic box in which I keep a beechnut I picked up from Isak Dinesen's grave in Denmark and a piece of rock I picked up near D. H. Lawrence's shrine in Taos, New Mexico; and an orange tomcat who lies on a blanket and snores.

--Gail Godwin

When I work, I try not to waste time. I have to write from 8:30 a.m. to 1 p.m. Then my babysitter goes home. I work outside of the house. I go to an office. I don't take phone calls. I feel I am at work. Discipline is in the details. You get beyond your feelings of distraction. A serious writer goes to work even when he or she doesn't want to . . . Routine is a great grace. It's as if you don't have to invent your life. It's actually propelled by routine. You do what's expected of you.

--Mary Gordon

I have to begin all over every day. I get up at 6 or 6:30 to clean the house, and feed the children, and cook our supper ahead of time, so that I can be perfectly free the instant the children leave for school; but then when they're gone I find I'd rather do almost anything than go into my study. The door is so tall and dark; it looms. The whole room smells like a carpenter's shop because of the wooden bookcases. Ordinarily it's a pleasant smell, but mornings, it makes me feel sick. I have to walk in as if by accident, with my mind on something else. Otherwise, I'd never make it.

--Anne Tyler

Use the day before the day. Early morning hours have gold in their mouth.


Have some sort of private place to work in. Put up a sign to keep from being interrupted. Mine says: "PLEASE, do =not= knock, do =not= say hello or goodbye, do =not= ask what's for dinner, do =not= disturb me unless the police or firemen have to be called." It works only if I take the sign seriously myself and don't encourage violation of its rules. The telephone is enemy number one. Try not to have one in your work room and train your friends not to call during work hours.

--Judith Krantz

I set myself 600 words a day as a minimum output, regardless of the weather, my state of mind or if I'm sick or well. There must be 600 finished words -- not almost right words. Before you ask, I'll tell you that yes, I do write 600 at the top of my pad every day, and I keep track of the word count to insure I reach my quota daily - without fail.

--Arthur Hailey

My working habits are simple: long periods of thinking, short periods of writing.

--Ernest Hemingway

One of the reasons a writer writes, I think, is that his stories reveal so much he never thought he knew.

--Cecelia Holland

Fiction is an act of revenge.

--John Hawkes

I started writing because of a terrible feeling of powerlessness.

--Anita Brookner

I began to write because I was too shy to talk, and too lonely not to send messages.

--Heather McHugh

I'm sure a beautiful empty notebook was the reason I wrote my first book. It was begging for filling.

--Jacqueline Jackson

I write because I don't know what I think until I read what I say.

--Flannery O'Connor

Writing is my vacation from living.

--Eugene O'Neill

I always have a roomful of company.

--Tennessee Williams

Always write (and read) with the ear, not the eye. You should hear every sentence you write as if it was being read aloud or spoken.

--C. S. Lewis

Content yields to form, form to "voice." But no one knows what "voice" is; only when it is absent; when one hears nothing.

--Joyce Carol Oates

Ever since I was first read to, then started reading to myself, there has ever been a line read that I didn't =hear.= As my eyes followed the sentence, a voice was saying it silently to me. It isn't my mother's voice, or the voice of any person I can identify, certainly not my own. It is human, but inward, and it is inwardly that I listen to it. It is to me the voice of the story or the poem itself . . . .

My own words, when I am at work on a story, I hear too as they go, in the same voice that I hear when I read in books. When I write and the sound of it comes back to my ears, then I act to make changes. I have always trusted this voice.

--Eudora Welty

I still read everything aloud. I have a fundamental conviction that if a sentence cannot be read aloud with sincerity, conviction, and communicable emphasis, it's not a good sentence. Good writing requires good rhythms and good words.

--Richard Marius

The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader.

--Robert Frost

Every book should have its own voice -- what you hear in your head as you read to yourself.

--Mary Lee Settle

Regularity is the secret. I write five pages every morning and then go down to the store. If I stick to that schedule I write quite easily and I can get through the day without feeling guilty.

--Larry McMurtry

I set myself a minimum number of pages, as a way to get from beginning, through middle, to end. The number of pages varies with circumstance. I have never set the limit lower than two pages a day, or higher than five. Unless I'm on a roll, I stop when I've written my quota.

--Robert B. Parker

Writing for me was always an inside thing. It's always been the way in which I maintain my sanity.

--William Gibson.

Be a scribe! Your body will be sleek, your hand will be soft . . . You are one who sits grandly in your house; your servants answer speedily; beer is poured copiously; all who see you rejoice in good cheer. Happy is the heart of him who writes; he is young each day.

--Ptahotep, 4500 B.C.

Ask yourself in the quietest hour of the night: =must= I write? Dig down into yourself for a deep answer. And if this should be in the affirmative, if you may meet this solemn question with a strong and simple, =I must=, then build your life according to this necessity.

--Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet

Inspiration is wonderful when it happens, but the writer must develop an approach for the rest of the time. The approach must involve getting something down on the page: something good, mediocre or even bad. It is essential to the writing process that we unlearn all those seductive high school maxims about waiting for inspiration. The wait is simply too long.

--Leonard S. Bernstein

I don't like work -- no man does -- but I like what is in the work -- the chance to find yourself.

--Joseph Conrad

As a writer, you appear to be doing nothing most of the time.

--Laurel Speer

I had marked down in my notebook three characteristics a work of fiction must possess in order to be successful:

It must have a precise and suspenseful plot.

The author must feel a passionate urge to write it.

He must have the conviction, or at least the illusion, that he is the only one who can handle this particular theme.

--Isaac Bashevis Singer

I would hurl words into the darkness and wait for an echo. If an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight.

--Richard Wright

[Writing is like splitting wood.] Aim past the wood; aim through the wood; aim for the chopping block.

--Annie Dillard

Find a subject you care about and which you in your heart feel others should care about. It is this genuine caring, and not your games with language, which will be the most compelling and seductive element in your style.

I am not urging you to write a novel, by the way - although I would not be sorry if you wrote one, provided you genuinely cared about something. A petition to the mayor about a pothole in front of your house or a love letter to the girl next door will do.

--Kurt Vonnegut

Express yourself in a plain, easy manner, in well-chosen, significant, and decent terms, and give an harmonious and pleasing turn to your periods.


Know the story - the whole story, if possible - before you fall in love with your first sentence, not to mention your first chapter. If you don't know the story before you begin the story, what kind of a storyteller are you? Just an ordinary kind, just a mediocre kind - making it up as you go along, like a common liar.

--John Irving

Ye who write, choose a subject suited to your abilities.


Begin where the reader will be invited to do the most anticipating of the story, where the reader will be most compelled to guess wrong. If anticipation is a pleasure, so is surprise.

--John Irving

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

--attributed to W. Somerset Maugham

From things that have happened and from things as they exist and from all things that you know and all those you cannot know, you make something through your invention that is not a representation but a whole new thing truer than anything true and alive, and you make it alive, and if you make it well enough, you give it immortality. That is why you write and for no other reason that you know of. But what about all the reasons that no one knows?

--Ernest Hemingway

A writer should concern himself with whatever absorbs his fancy, stirs his heart, and unlimbers his typewriter.

--E. B White

We do not write because we want to; we write because we must.

--W. Somerset Maugham

I lay out the story in blocks, like a checkerboard. Each vertical column is a time frame (Mon., Tues., last year, whatever). I assign a horizontal row to each character, who tells his version of the story in sequence, through the time frames. In that way, I can look at any time frame and see exactly what all of the characters are doing at that moment.

When I get the chart blocked out, I sit and stare at it, testing every event, every character, challenging everything. I uncover all kinds of discrepancies, and I always see ways to make the story better, ways to increase the suspense, to eliminate unnecessary characters. I might make eight or ten revised plot charts before I'm satisfied.

--William Hallahan.

 What's so hard about the first sentence is that you're stuck with it. Everything else is going to flow out of that sentence. And by the time you've laid down the first =two= sentences, your options are gone.

--Joan Didion

For several days I'd been going around with this sentence in my head: "He was running the vacuum cleaner when the telephone rang." I knew a story was there and that it wanted telling. I felt it in my bones, that a story belonged with that beginning, if I could just have the time to write it. I found the time, an entire day - twelve, fifteen hours even - if I wanted to make use of it. I did, and I sat down in the morning and wrote the first sentence, and other sentences promptly began to attach themselves. I made the story just as I'd make a poem; one line and then the next, and the next. Pretty soon I could see a story, the one I'd been wanting to write.

I have that opening line and then everything seems to radiate out from that line.

--Raymond Carver

I suffer as always from the fear of putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straightening shyness that assails one.

--John Steinbeck

All I ever know is the first line, the first sentence, the first page.

--Erskine Caldwell

The first sentence was true. The second was invention. But together - to me, the writer - they had done something extraordinary. Though they had left out everything - the setting, the historical time, the racial and social complexities of the people concerned - they had suggested it all; they had created the world of the street.

--V. S. Naipaul

The main thing is to take a blank sheet of paper and write the first sentence. From that first sentence springs the second, by some miracle, and then the subject emerges - what the critics call the basic concept or the conception of the work.

--Valentin Katayev

I just hang over the typewriter waiting to see what is going to happen. It begins with the very first sentence. I don't will the sentence to come; I wait, as actively passive as I can possibly be.

--William Maxwell

There are a hundred ways to begin a story but only one to end it, and the writer must know the end before he begins.

--Katherine Anne Porter

I always know the end. The end of everything I write is somehow always implicit from the beginning. What I don't know is the middle. I don't know how I'm going to get there.

--William Gibson

Most often I know how a story is going to end early on. I get the first line and the ending some way ahead.

--Raymond Carver

I always know exactly how the novel will end, even the wording of the final paragraph.

--Joyce Carol Oates

I always write the end of everything first. I always write the last chapters of my books before I write the beginning. I wrote the end of "Answered Prayers" seven or eight years ago. It runs about 300 pages. Then I go back to the beginning. I mean, it's always nice to know where you're going, is my theory.

--Truman Capote

There's nothing mind-boggling about creating a story. I developed a set of characters and decided in advance how they'd end up in the story, their fate. I worked backwards. I always work backwards. Everything the characters do, how they react, where they go, what happens to them - is all focused and channeled to how they end up. I know the characters' destination in the narrative sense before I even start to write.

--Richard Condon

The last words I write of a book are very often the first, so it doesn't much matter how you start.

--Raymond Hill

It is a peculiarity of mine that I always know the last sentence of a book before I begin.

--John Gregory Dunne

I blame myself for not often enough seeing the extraordinary in the ordinary. Somewhere in his journals Dostoyevsky remarks that a writer can begin anywhere, at the most commonplace thing, scratch around in it long enough, pray and dig away long enough, and lo!, soon he will hit upon the marvelous.

--Saul Bellow

Writers always go back to their young days, to their young lives. If a writer writes about his life, and he is serious, he will go back there, just like a criminal goes back to the place of his crime.

--Isaac Bashevis Singer

One of the secrets of literature that every writer knows is that any life will do. It's not necessary to go bathe one's feet in the Ganges and travel around the world and work on a steamer to be a poet . . . Meaning is in small things.

--Marvin Bell

The point of a notebook is to jumpstart the mind.

--John Gregory Dunne

A man's work is nothing but the slow trek to rediscover, through the detours of art, those two or three great and simple images in whose presence his heart first opened.

--Albert Camus

My writing is full of lives I might have led. A writer imagines what could have happened, not what really happened.

--Joyce Carol Oates

A writer is a man walking down a street thinking how he would describe himself as a man walking down the street . . . A novelist is someone who wonders why people act as they do, and he doesn't know, so he imagines an explanation and that's his novel.

-- Theodore Morrison

I write, therefore, I am.

--Samuel Johnson

I found that it was boring =not= to write. It made the world emptier and thinner for me.

--Alison Lurie

A good plumber or a good doctor works a full eight hour day, and I don't see why a writer is any different. For the writing time of my life, I have found a scheme that is good for me. I work ten four-hour sessions a week: six full mornings, two afternoons and two evenings.

--Garson Kanin

Anyone who says he wants to be a writer and isn't writing, doesn't.

--Ernest Hemingway

When we encounter a natural style we are always surprised and delighted, for we thought to see an author and found a man.

--Blaise Pascal

The plot is the line on which I hang the wash, and the wash is what I care about.

--Robert B. Parker

I had three or four bulletin boards in my office. I started pinning up the cards, and then shifting them around, looking for a sequence. Eventually, the play found its shape.

--Arthur Kopit

True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,

As those move easiest who have learn'd to dance.

--Pope (1688-1744)

Says the God of Art:

I shall give you hunger, and pain, and sleepless nights. Also beauty, and satisfactions known to few, and glimpses of the heavenly life. None of these you shall have continually, and of their coming and going you shall not be foretold.

--Howard Lindsay

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 together. Now, it's your turn. Jump!

--Ray Bradbury

Writing emotionally is risky. Trying to evoke emotions in your writing is deadly. Perhaps the best way to write emotionally is to not write emotionally at all, but to find something extraordinarily emotional and write about it with understatement. As a device, understatement can be used to drive home tragedy, poignance, sadness, terror, and humor.

--Linton Weeks

To sum it all up, if you want to write, if you want to create, you must be the most sublime fool that God ever turned out and sent rambling. You must write every single day of your life.You must read dreadful dumb books and glorious books, and let them wrestle in glorious fights inside your head, vulgar one moment, brilliant the next. You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads. I wish for you a wrestling match with your Creative Muse that will last a lifetime. I wish craziness and foolishness and madness upon you. May you live with hysteria, and out of it make fine stories - science fiction and otherwise. Which finally means, maybe you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And, out of that love, remake a world.

--Ray Bradbury

What is written without effort is in general read without pleasure.

--Samuel Johnson

Or don’t you like to write letters. I do because it’s such a swell way to keep from working and yet feel you’ve done something.

--Ernest Hemingway

I write to find out what I'm thinking about.

--Edward Albee

If writers were good businessmen, they'd have too much sense to be writers.

--Irvin S. Cobb

A novelist is, like all mortals, more fully at home on the surface of the present than in the ooze of the past.

--Vladimir Nabokov

Remembering the past gives power to the present.

--Fae Myenne Ng

Avoid words that can’t even scratch at the hundred hidden meanings in objects and structures.

--Eduardo Paolozzi

I have a sense of these buried lives striving to come out through me to express themselves.

--Marge Piercy

It seems to me that writing is a marvelous way of making sense of one's life, both for the writer and for the reader.

--John Cheever

What about a chocolate factory that makes fantastic and marvelous things - with a crazy man running it?

--Roald Dahl, from notes that led to Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

I get pieces, flashes of an idea, an image, and I won't know what it means, but I'll be fascinated by it. It's all there in that first instant -- it's complete - but all I know is the wonder and the curiosity. I have to make myself conscious of what the story is, what the wonder is.

You look out the window and you see the tip of a tiger outside, and you know there's a whole tiger attached to that tip, and you wonder about the tiger: What's a tiger doing in Dover? What is the tiger like, how does it feel, what does it think? You have to track it down until you find the whole tiger. If you're really smart, you carry a pound of raw hamburger with you.

--Mekeel McBride

Write about what you're most afraid of.

--Donald Barthelme

Good writing takes place at intersections, at what you might call knots, at places where the society is snarled or knotted up.

--Margaret Atwood

I'm still doing business at the same old stand - love, work, war, death, what the world is like outside the window tonight.

--Alan Dugan

For writers it is always said that the first 20 years of life contain the whole of experience - the rest is observation.

--Graham Greene

Your writing is trying to tell you something. Just lend an ear.

--Joanne Greenberg

Let your fiction grow out of the land beneath your feet.

--Willa Cather

It's a reactive thing, like a Geiger counter; you click whenever you come close to whatever you were built to do.

--Stephen King

I think that to write really well and convincingly, one must be somewhat poisoned by emotion. Dislike, displeasure, resentment, fault-finding, imagination, passionate remonstrance, a sense of injustice - they all make fine fuel.

--Edna Ferber

You've got to be smart enough to write, and stupid enough not to think about all the things that might go wrong.

--Sarah Gilbert

Think no evil, see no evil, hear no evil -- and you will never write a best-selling novel.

--Dan Bennett

Whatever it is you do, the last impression is what people remember. Begin well, with attack and accuracy. Drive it through. But, whatever else, make the end the best. Know exactly what you are aiming for and finish with a bang.

--Alma Gluck, mother of the author Marcia Davenport, to her young daughter

I have read every imaginable kind of book all my life, and even before I began to write books I saw an awful lot of books that were very interesting in the beginning. The writer would build up your interest and the scope and drive of the plot, and keep you going halfway or two-thirds or three-quarters of the way through, and all of a sudden -- blah. The end was nothing. I was aware of this, if only subconsciously. And when I began to write, the one thing that I knew was: Every single thing you do, all the way through, has got to lead to a sound, inarguable conclusion. And so I developed that habit; I wrote the last line first, and I do so to this day.

--Marcia Davenport, Alma Gluck's daughter, at age 87

It's no use. I find it impossible to work with security staring me in the face.

--Sherwood Anderson

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

--Gustave Flaubert

After I get up it takes me an hour and a half of fiddling around before I can get up the courage and nerve to go to work.

--James Jones

There's no such thing as a born writer. It's a skill you've got to learn. You've got to write X number of words before you can write anything that can be published, but nobody is able to tell you how many words that is. You will know when you get there, but you don't know how long it will take.

--Larry Brown

Envy is a con man, a tugger at your sleeve, a knocker at your door. Let me in for just a moment, it says, for just one moment of your time . . . . The antidote to envy is one's own work. Not the thinking about it. Not the assessing of it. But the =doing= of it. The answers you want can come only from the work itself.

--Bonita Freedman

Is it true that writers are pillagers of privacy? Yes. And it is also true that others get hurt along the way. But what are a few hurt feelings along the fiction trail? After all, thousands died to build the railroads, millions were crippled and wounded in wars that were presumably fought to create better worlds. Am I saying that the literary end justifies the shady means? I'm saying that writers had better believe it or else they'll be trapped in moral quicksand and swallowed up whole.

--Anne Roiphe

I always write with a Ticonderoga #2 pencil. I started out with it, and I'll go to that Great Bookstore in the Sky with one of those in my hand.

--Robert Ludlum

 Imagination is a good horse to carry you over the ground - not a flying carpet to set you free from probability.

--Robertson Davies

When I have commenced a new book, I have always prepared a diary, divided into weeks, and carried it on for the period which I have allowed myself for the completion of the work. In this I have entered, day by day, the number of pages I have written, so that if at any time I have slipped into idleness for a day or two, the record of that idleness has been there, staring me in the face.

--Anthony Trollope

So you want to be a writer? OK. Be one.

--Ed Wood, Jr. (Yes, =that= Ed Wood)

If you would be a reader, read; if a writer, write.


A writer uses a journal to try out the new step in front of the mirror.

--Mary Gordon

Success is a finished book, a stack of pages each of which is filled with words. If you reach that point, you have won a victory over yourself no less impressive than sailing single-handed around the world.

--Tom Clancy

Before I start writing a novel I read Candide over again so that I may have in the back of my mind the touchstone of that lucidity, grace and wit.

--W. Somerset Maugham

You must be unintimidated by your own thoughts.

--Nikki Giovanni

Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.

--Willa Cather

I put things down on sheets of paper and stuff them in my pockets. When I have enough, I have a book.

--John Lennon

I can always find plenty of women to sleep with but the kind of woman that is really hard for me to find is a typist who can read my writing.

--Thomas Wolfe

The faster I write the better my output. If I'm going slow I'm in trouble. It means I'm pushing the words instead of being pulled by them.

--Raymond Chandler

If you have a skeleton in your closet, take it out and dance with it.

--Carolyn MacKenzie

Literature was not born the day when a boy crying "wolf, wolf" came running out of the Neanderthal valley with a big gray wolf at his heels; literature was born on the day when a boy came crying "wolf, wolf" and there was no wolf behind him.

--Vladimir Nabokov

Everything goes by the board: honor, pride, decency . . . 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

 The last third of the book only takes about 10 percent of the time. I don't know whether that's due to confidence or because the alternatives have been narrowed down.

--Joseph Heller

You have to have that feeling of "I'll show them." If you don't have it, don't become a writer. It's part of the animal, it's primitive, but if you don't want to rise above the crowd, forget it.

--Leon Uris

Virginia Woolf said writers must be androgynous. I'll go a step further. You must be bisexual. If you can't carry out the act . . . that's up to you; you'd better get as close as you can imaginatively. You must create men who love women and women who love men or your books will be lopsided. In the beginning of everyone's work the dice are always loaded toward one's own sex or sex preference. Learning to unload those dice, to throw the bones honestly, is what maturity as an individual and as a writer is all about.

--Rita Mae Brown

Although it is not necessary for a writer to be a prick, neither does it hurt. A writer is an eternal outsider, his nose pressed against whatever window on the other side of which he sees his material. Resentment sharpens his eye, hostility hones his killer instinct.

--John Gregory Dunne

Rage is to writers what water is to fish.

--Nikki Giovanni

What the writer needs is an empty day ahead.

--Catherine Drinker Bowen

Read! Read! Read! And then read some more. When you find something that thrills you, take it apart paragraph by paragraph, line by line, word by word, to see what made it so wonderful. Then use those tricks the next time you write.

--W. P. Kinsella

 It's really scary just getting to the desk - we're talking now five hours. My mouth gets dry, my heart beats fast. I react psychologically the way other people react when the plane loses an engine.

--Fran Lebowitz

I suffer as always from putting down the first line. It is amazing the terrors, the magics, the prayers, the straightening shyness that assails one.

--John Steinbeck

I write on napkins. One time, this seventeen-year-old waitress says to me, "Do you write on napkins because it doesn't count?" And bingo. That's exactly why I do it! When you're jotting on a napkin, you're not committing yourself. It's only a napkin, right? You can throw it away. You'd be surprised. It loosens you up. Some of the best stuff I've written has been done on napkins.

--August Wilson

All my life, I've been frightened at the moment I sit own to write.

--Gabriel Garcia Marquez

I write in terror. I have to talk myself into bravery with every sentence, sometimes every syllable.

--Cynthia Ozick

You go in with a certain fear and trembling. You know one thing. You know you will not be the same person when this voyage is over. But you don't know what's going to happen to you between getting on the boat and getting off.

--James Baldwin

Gazing at the typewriter in moments of desperation, I console myself with three thoughts: alcohol at six, dinner at eight, and to be immortal you've got to be dead.

--Gyles Brandeth

Writing a book is not as tough as it is to haul thirty-five people around the country and sweat like a horse five nights a week.

--Bette Midler

I don't enjoy writing, and I certainly would not do it for a living. Some people do, but some people enjoy flagellation.

--Prince Phillip, Duke of Edinburgh

That's the horrible thing starting out, you get distracted a lot because anything is easier than writing. It's just the same enemy - blank paper.

--Jimmy Breslin

Writing is so difficult that I often feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.

--Jessamyn West

Writing is easy; all you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until the drops of blood form on your forehead.

--Gene Fowler

There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

--Red Smith

I just sit at a typewriter and curse it a bit.

--P. G. Wodehouse


A story is: the king died, the queen died. A plot is: the king died, the queen died of grief.

--E. M. Forster

I try to leave out the parts that people skip.

--Elmore Leonard

You write for the people in high school who ignored you. We all do.

--Carolyn Kizer

The fun is the creative stuff, when you're sitting out there and you say, What the hell happens here? And all of a sudden POW! And you're just lifted out of your chair by it. That is sensational!

--William Kinsolving

I write because I like to write.

--Paddy Chayefsky

The good thing about writing fiction is that you can get back at people. I've gotten back at lawyers, prosecutors, judges, law professors and politicians, I just line 'em up and shoot 'em.

--John Grisham

Getting even is one reason for writing.

--William Gass

I was writing - learning and growing along with the children - until eventually I was writing fiction worthy of publication. It might have happened sooner had I had a room of my own and fewer children, but somehow I doubt it. For as I look back on what I have written, I can see that the very persons who have taken away my time and space are those who have given me something to say.

--Katherine Paterson

Beware the highly publicized autograph session at bookstores. It is terribly embarrassing to sit behind a tall stack of your own books for two hours while customers sidestep your table, throwing sneaky or hostile glances, en route to selecting an armful of cookbooks, diet books, and how-to books written by total strangers.

--Larry L. King

Writing is thinking by other means. Any writer who claims writers' block actually means thoughtlock.


Still no response from my editor in New York. Almost two months now since I sent back the manuscript. There are problems, I saw today, but nothing insurmountable. It's the other thing, this silence, that sits on my chest and crushes the breath out of me.

--Bill Barich

The world is in my head. My body is in the world.

--Paul Auster

Sneaking up on it sometimes helps; I've found that I can be very productive for an hour before dinner, because there obviously isn't enough time to really do anything, so I can kid myself I'm just screwing around.

--Michael Crichton

Delay is natural to a writer. I walk around, straightening pictures on the wall, rugs on the floor - as though not until everything in the world is lined up and perfectly true could anybody reasonable expect me to set a word down on paper.

--E. B. White

I hate writing. I will do anything to avoid it. The only way I could write less was if I was dead.

--Fran Lebowitz

Tell almost the whole story.

--Anne Sexton

Planning to write is not writing. Outlining a book is not writing. Researching is not writing. Talking to people about what you're doing, none of that is writing. Writing is writing.

--E. L. Doctorow

Never let a domestic quarrel ruin a day's writing. If you can't start the day fresh, get rid of your wife.

--Mario Puzo

I felt like you can write forever, but you have a short time to raise a family. And I think a family is a lot more important than writing.

--Ken Kesey

If you are in difficulties with a book, try the element of surprise: attack it at an hour when it isn't expecting it.

--H. G. Wells

Part of becoming a writer is the desire to have everything mean something.

--Louise Erdrich

Every exit is an entry somewhere else.

--Tom Stoppard

 A novel is like getting on a train to Louisiana. All you know at the moment is that you're getting on the train, and you're going to Louisiana. But you don't know who you're going to sit behind, or in front of, or beside; you don't know what the weather is going to be when you pass through certain areas of the country; you don't know what's going to happen South; you don't know all these things, but you know you're going to Louisiana.

--Ernest J. Gaines

Think before you speak, is criticism's motto; speak before you think is creation's.

--E. M. Forster

Follow the accident, fear the fixed plan - that is the rule.

--John Fowles

I have a character named Nora Jane Whittington who lives in Berkeley, California, and who has so much free will that I can't even find out from her whether the twin baby girls she is carrying belong to her old boyfriend, Sandy, or her new boyfriend, Freddy Harwood. I can't finish my new book of stories until Nora Jane agrees to an amniocentesis. She is afraid the needle will penetrate the placenta and frighten the babies.

I created Nora Jane but I have to wait on her to make up her mind before I can finish the title story of my new book. This is a fiction writer's life.

--Ellen Gilchrist

You'll notice there are little pads of paper everywhere? It works for me to write down the things I want to know. Regarding a character, the progress of a scene . . . . Even before I begin to write, I will say, "These are the things I must know before I start to write." I'll simply make the list of questions. Over the course of the next couple of weeks or months I'll get the answers to those questions.

--Marsha Norman

Inch by inch, the words surprised me.

--William Kennedy

There is no mystery about art. Do the things that you can see, they will show you those that you cannot see. By doing what you can you will gradually get to know what it is that you want to do and cannot do, and so be able to do it.

--Samuel Butler

I recall a curious quotation from, I think, Roger Fry: A precocious child who was talented at drawing explained his method of composition by saying, "First I think and then I draw a line around my think." In the case of my stories it is the exact opposite: the verbal line that will draw them is started without any prior "think"; it is like a great coagulation, raw material that is already taking shape in the story, that is perfectly clear even though it might seem that nothing could be more confused; in this it is like the inverted signs of the dream - we have all had dreams of midday clarity that become formless shapes, meaningless masses, when we awoke. Do you dream while you are awake when you write a short story?

--Julio Cortazar

The novelist should, I think, always settle when he starts what is going to happen, what his major event is to be. He may alter this event as he approaches it. Indeed, he probably will, indeed he probably had better, or the novel becomes tied up and tight. But the sense of a solid mass ahead, a mountain round or over or through which the story must somehow go, is most valuable and, for the novels I've tried to write, essential.

--E. M. Forster

He's my friend and he talks to me. When I'm writing him, I can't wait to get to the typewriter and find out what he's going to say.

--Thomas Berger

It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.

--William Faulkner

I love you sons of bitches. You're the only ones with guts enough to really care about the future, who really notice what machines do to us, what wars do to us, what cities do to us, what tremendous misunderstanding, mistakes, accidents, catastrophes do to us. You're the only ones zany enough to agonize over time and distance without limit, over the fact that we are right now determining whether the space voyage for the next billion years or so is going to be Heaven or Hell.

--Kurt Vonnegut, to a group of science fiction writers via the drunken hero of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater

The best time for planning a book is while you're doing the dishes.

--Agatha Christie

The only reason I didn't kill myself after I read the reviews of my first book was because we have two rivers in New York and I couldn't decide which one to jump into.

--Wilfrid Sheed

Writing's not terrible, it's wonderful. I keep my own hours, do what I please. When I want to travel, I can. I'm doing what I most wanted to do all my life. I'm not into the agonies of creation.

--Raymond Carver

All writers are vain, selfish, and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives there lies a mystery.

--George Orwell

To write simply is as difficult as to be good.

--W. Somerset Maugham

Authors are sometimes like tomcats: they distrust all other toms, but they are kind to kittens.

--Malcolm Cowley

Good prose is like a windowpane.

--George Orwell

I write whenever it suits me. During a creative period I write every day; a novel should not be interrupted. When I cease to be carried along, when I no longer feel as though I were taking down dictation, I stop.

--Francois Mauriac

It is all very well to write books, but can you wiggle your ears?

--Sir James M. Barrie to H. G. Wells

You go to dark places so that you can get there, steal the trophy, and get out. That is more important than to be psychologically safe.

--Frederick Busch

How can you write if you can't cry?

--Ring Lardner

If you're a singer, you lose your voice. A baseball player loses his arm. A writer gets more knowledge, and if he's good, the older he gets, the better he writes.

--Mickey Spillane

I think writing does come out of a deep well of loneliness and a desire to fill some kind of gap. No one in his right mind would sit down to write a book if he were a well-adjusted, happy man.

--Jay McInerney

Why do people always expect authors to answer questions? I am an author because I want to ask questions. If I had answers, I'd be a politician.

--Eugene Ionesco

I would never read a book if it were possible for me to talk half an hour with the man who wrote it.

--Woodrow Wilson

I write a lot - every day, seven days a week - and I throw a lot away. Sometimes I think I write to throw away; it's a process of distillation.

--Donald Barthelme

You go to dark places so that you can get there, steal the trophy, and get out. That is more important than to be psychologically safe.

--Frederick Busch

How can you write if you can't cry?

--Ring Lardner

If you're a singer, you lose your voice. A baseball player loses his arm. A writer gets more knowledge, and if he's good, the older he gets, the better he writes.

--Mickey Spillane

I think writing does come out of a deep well of loneliness and a desire to fill some kind of gap. No one in his right mind would sit down to write a book if he were a well-adjusted, happy man.

--Jay McInerney

Why do people always expect authors to answer questions? I am an author because I want to ask questions. If I had answers, I'd be a politician.

--Eugene Ionesco

I would never read a book if it were possible for me to talk half an hour with the man who wrote it.

--Woodrow Wilson

I write a lot - every day, seven days a week - and I throw a lot away. Sometimes I think I write to throw away; it's a process of distillation.

--Donald Barthelme

Style, like the human body, is especially beautiful when the veins are not prominent and the bones cannot be counted.


Training to be a writer is a slow and continuous process, with time off for human behavior.


And this is the way a novel gets written, in ignorance, fear, sorrow, madness, and a kind of psychotic happiness as an incubator for the wonders being born.

--Jack Kerouac

I think the day to day continuity helps one to see the larger movement and pay less attention to each damned day in itself.

--C. S. Lewis

I stake my destiny upon hours of uninterrupted work.

--Charles Baudelaire

Whatever becomes of the work, the occupation of writing has been a real boon to me. It took me out of dark and desolate reality into an unreal but happier region . . . imagination lifted me when I was sinking . . . I am thankful to God who gave me this faculty.

--Charlotte Bronte

If thou art a writer, write as if thy time were short, for it is indeed short at the longest.

--Henry David Thoreau

Fictional characters, for me, soon take on a life of their own. They run with the bit between their teeth.

--Jay Parini

The art of fiction is freedom of will for your characters.

--Cynthia Ozick

Style should be like a transparent varnish . . . it should spread completely over the colors, make them brighten, but not alter them.


Writers have no real area of expertise. They are merely generalists with a highly inflamed sense of punctuation.

--Lorrie Moore

The vague is more dangerous than the arid.

--Theodore Roethke

Some poets use the language as if it were a lock they had once picked accidentally -- but don't know the combination.

--J. D. McClatchy

The use of point of view is to bring the reader into immediate and continuous contact with the heart of the story and sustain him there.

--Tom Jenks

If you use the word "I" in a poem, then clearly you're talking to someone else. Using "you" directed toward the self is one way of talking to one's self.

--C. K. Williams

A good writer refuses to be socialized. He insists on his own version of things, his own consciousness. And by doing so he draws the reader's eye from its usual groove into a new way of seeing.

--Bill Barich

Never present ideas except in terms of temperaments and characters.

--Andre Gide

Make the people live. Make them live. But my people must be more than people. They must be an over-essence of people.

--John Steinbeck

Technique alone is never enough. You have to have passion. Technique alone is just an embroidered pot holder.

--Raymond Chandler

First I must look, then I must learn.

--Theodore Roethke (my favorite poet)

The power of the symbol comes from the nature of perception and thought. The train whistle makes us see the train, the footstep in the hall reminds us of the family relative. The oranges bring back the breakfast table.

--Delmore Schwartz

The fact is that blank pages inspire me with terror. What will I put on them? Will it be good enough? Will I have to throw it out?

--Margaret Atwood

There shouldn't be difficult moments. As soon as things get difficult, I turn on my heel and let the damned idea percolate on its own. I pretend to abandon it! It soon follows and comes to heel. You can't push or pressure ideas. You can't try, ever! You can only do. Doing is everything.

--Ray Bradbury

Don't say the old lady screamed -- bring her on and let her scream.

--Mark Twain

Writer's block often results from overwriting; the general has gotten too far ahead of his army and finds his supply lines cut.

--William Burroughs

I try to envision the story as a silent movie before I start adding dialogue.

--John Sayles

The more particular, the more specific you are, the more universal you are.

--Nancy Hale

In art, economy is always beauty.

--Henry James

I don't worry about inspiration, or anything like that. It's a matter of just sitting down and working . . . coming back and reading what I have produced, I am unable to detect the difference between what came easily and when I had to sit down and say, "Well, now it's writing time and now I'll write." There's no difference on paper between the two . . . you sit down and you just have conditioned yourself to: now it's writing time and you have a deadline sitting out there somewhere and you're going to do the very best you can here at this moment; and so you do it.

--Frank Herbert

The writer is one who writes . . . He withdraws to some quiet corner, a bedroom perhaps, or any cubicle with a chair and table, and applies himself to his blank paper. Two hours a day are needed, three hours are better, four are heroic.

--Gerald Warner Brace

If one wants to write, one simply has to organize one's life in a mass of little habits.

--Graham Greene

Even during this time [the final days of World War II] I steadfastly maintained my inveterate habit of barring out all outside impressions during the morning hours from nine to twelve or half past twelve, of reserving these hours wholly, as a matter of principle, for solitude and work.

--Thomas Mann

The history of literature is the history of prolific people. I always say to students, give me four pages a day, every day. That's 3- or 400 thousand words a year.

--Ray Bradbury

I have to work every day - it's like weaving, you have to know all the threads.

--Ahron Appelfeld

I am a galley slave to pen and ink.

--Honore de Balzac

The work was like peeling an onion. The outer skin came off with difficulty . . . but in no time you’d be down to its innards, tears streaming from your eyes as more and more beautiful reductions became possible.

--Edward Blishen

The poet is the one who is able to keep the fresh vision of the child alive.

--Anais Nin

Creative minds have always been known to survive any kind of bad training.

--Anna Freud

After being Turned Down by numerous Publishers, he had decided to write for Posterity.

--George Ade (1866–1944), U.S. humorist

I do not write as I want to; I write as I can.

--Somerset Maugham

Why is it that reality, when set down untransposed in a book, sounds


--Simone Weil

Poetry is language surprised in the act of changing into meaning.

--Stanley Kunitz

Aggression, the writer’s main source of energy.

--Ted Solotaroff

I do not ask the wounded person how he feels -- I myself become the wounded person.

--Walt Whitman

When I write, everything is visual, as brilliantly as if it were on a lit stage. And I talk out the lines as I write.

--Tennessee Williams

The real risks for any artist are taken . . . in pushing the work to the limits of what is possible, in the attempt to increase the sum of what it is possible to think. Books become good when they go to this edge and risk falling over it— when they endanger the artist by reason of what he has, or has not, artistically dared.

--Salman Rushdie

You never get the book you wanted, you settle for the book you get.

--James Baldwin

I reread the novel many times and whenever I'd spot a passage that was too well written, I'd mess it up.

--Leonard Michaels

Don't get it right, get it written.

--James Thurber

I work all day, morning and afternoon. The torment comes in getting my bottom there like that for two or three years; at the end I have a book.

--Phillip Roth

Well, some days I find it impossible to begin, but I always spend my four hours down there and I may read magazines, I may do a crossword puzzle or check all the baseball averages or get some work done; there are days when it goes and days when it doesn't go. But I think I have to go every day in order to earn the good days.

--Mordecau Richler

Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write. You feel dull, you have a headache, nobody loves you, write. If 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 clearly against it - go to your desk, no matter what your mood, face the very challenge of the paper - write.

--J. B. Priestley

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 is no one right way. Each of us finds a way that works for him. But there is a wrong way. The wrong way is to finish your writing day with no more words on paper than when you began. Writers write.

--Robert B. Parker

He should sit on his bottom in front of a table equipped with writing materials. If his top end fails, at least his nether end won't.

--Aubrey Menen

To be a writer is to sit down at one's desk in the chill portion of every day, and to write; not waiting for the little jet of the blue flame of genius to start from the breastbone - just plain going at it, in pain and delight.

--John Hersey

The best thing is to write anything, anything at all that comes into your head, until gradually there is a calm and creative day.

--Stephen Spender

Hard days, lots of work, no money, too much silence. Nobody's fault. You chose it.

--Bill Barich

What happens when a writer doesn't want to write anymore? When the progression of fingers across the keyboard is like an old dry horse hitched to the millstone, blinders and yoke lashed, the only path between day and nightfall one's own scoured rut of circling footsteps? This is of no use to anyone, if anything is of use, if utility is to be more than what one suspects it is - the plank across the mudhole.

--Rita Dove

The poet is a man who lives by watching his moods. An old poet comes at last to watch his moods as narrowly as a cat does a mouse.

--Henry David Thoreau

I'm in good form, taking no interest in things, neglecting clothes, meals, company, and feeling calm and stable as I write. Each word has broken out of its shell; sentences come thrusting up straight from my breast. I just copy them down.

--Bertolt Brecht

If you despise your readers, they will probably despise you.

--Andrew Greeley

The most essential gift for a good writer is a built-in shock-proof shit-detector.

--Ernest Hemingway

No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader's intelligence, or whose attitude is patronizing.

--E. B. White

When I was a ten-year-old book worm and used to kiss the dustjacket of authors as if they were icons, it used to amaze me that these remote people could provoke me to love.

--Erica Jong

The mystery story is two stories in one: the story of what happened and the story of what appeared to happen.

--Mary Roberts Rinehart

In Act 1, Get your characters up a tree; in Act 2, throw stones at them; and in Act 3, get them down again.

--George M. Cohan

The first discipline is the realization that there -is- a discipline - that all art begins and ends with discipline - that any art is first and foremost a craft.

--Archibald MacLeish

I enjoy the process of writing. The torment comes in getting my bottom on the chair and in front of the typewriter.

--Caryl Rivers

The best kind of writing, and the biggest thrill in writing, is to suddenly read a line from your typewriter that you didn't know was in you.

--Larry L. King

 I finished my play today . . . . Three acts, six scenes, a masterpiece completed in a few weeks . . . . The play only exists as a tiny scrawl in my notebooks -- things I carry about in my pockets.

--George Bernard Shaw

. . . every feeling has its word, everyone who has the feeling cannot seize the word; and yet we live in a time when expression is so universal and appears to facile that all who have the feeling imagine they can find the expression too -- but it is not so.

--Matthew Arnold

I think if I get into the habit of writing a bit about what happens, or rather doesn't happen, I may lose a little of the sense of loneliness and desolation which abides in me.

--Alice James

Kafka said that writing is a form of prayer. I know that he never meant it as literally as I do today, this very instant, writing this.

--Rosellen Brown

Never to be satisfied: all of art is there.

--Jules Renard

Talent is a long patience.

--Gustave Flaubert

This is not a pen, it is a prayer, one must have compassion for that.

--Fyodor Dostoyevsky

An idea has to have some dirt on its shoes, or it's just air.

--Marvin Bell

I am going to write because I cannot help it.

--Charlotte Bronte

I always picture myself as that person at a cocktail party standing in the corner and watching.

--Neil Simon

While you're in the midst of a story, so many things in your daily life seem to apply to it -- you see something on the bus and think how you can use it. The story's like a magnet and without it, you'd never notice all these things.

--Phillip Roth

The scene inside your house, inside your head, is more important than the scene outside.

--John Barth

I believe in luck. I believe in training yourself to go to a place and sit and to try to get in touch with a voice that you listen to inside of yourself. And maybe that's what I understand by inspiration.

--Peter Everwine

When you can't write you feel you've been banished from yourself.

--Harold Pinter

The solitude of writing is also quite frightening. It's quite close sometimes to madness, one just disappears for a day and loses touch.

--Nadine Gordimer

The characters audition in their opening scene -- I listen to them, see how they sound. The plots develop on their own.

--Elmore Leonard

The hardest thing about writing, in a sense, is not writing. I mean, the sentence is not designed to show you off, you know. It's not supposed to be "look at me!" 'Look, no hands!" It's supposed to be a pipeline between the reader and you. One condition of the sentence is to write so well that no one notices that you're writing.

--James Baldwin

Take care of the sounds, and the sense will take care of itself.

--Lewis Carroll

For me, a page of good prose is where one hears the rain.

--John Cheever

Style is absolutely embedded in the way you perceive.

--Martin Amis

Let thy speech be short, comprehending much in few words.


In America, only the successful writer is important, in France all writers are important, in England no writer is important, and in Australia you have to explain what a writer is.

--Geoffrey Cottrell, New York Journal-American, September 22, 1961

Novelists have, on the average, about the same IQs as the cosmetic consultants at Bloomingdale's department store. Our power is patience. We have discovered that writing allows even a stupid person to seem halfway intelligent, if only that person will write the same thought over and over again, improving it just a little bit each time. It is a lot like inflating a blimp with a bicycle pump. Anybody can do it. All it takes is time.

--Kurt Vonnegut

The great artist is the simplifier.

--Henri Frederic Amiel

It takes a great deal of experience to become natural.

--Willa Cather

I think it’s a question which particularly arises over women writers: whether it’s better to have a happy life or a good supply of tragic plots.

--Wendy Cope

I think of an author as somebody who goes into the marketplace and puts down his rug and says, "I will tell you a story," and then he passes the hat.

--Robertson Davies

As artists they’re rot, but as providers they’re oil wells; they gush. Norris said she never wrote a story unless it was fun to do. I understand Ferber whistles at her typewriter. And there was that poor sucker Flaubert rolling around on his floor for three days looking for the right word.

--Dorothy Parker

He is a man of thirty-five, but looks fifty. He is bald, has varicose veins and wears spectacles, or would wear them if his only pair were not chronically lost. If things are normal with him, he will be suffering from malnutrition, but if he has recently had a lucky streak, he will be suffering from a hangover. At present it is half past eleven in the morning, and according to his schedule he should have started work two hours ago; but even if he had made any serious effort to start he would have been frustrated by the almost continuous ringing of the telephone bell, the yells of the baby, the rattle of an electric drill out in the street, and the heavy boots of his creditors clumping up the stairs. The most recent interruption was the arrival of the second post, which brought him two circulars and an income tax demand printed in red. Needless to say this person is a writer.

--George Orwell

If a nation loses its storytellers, it loses its childhood.

--Peter Handke

I type single space, to get as much of the landscape of the book as possible on one page. So if I do a single space page with small margins, that's about six hundred words. If I do one page I'm very happy; that's my day's work. If I do two, that's extraordinary. But there's always a danger to doing two, which is you can't come up with anything the next day.

--E. L. Doctorow

Great writers arrive among us like new diseases— threatening, powerful, impatient for patients to pick up their virus, irresistible.

--Craig Raine

For a creative writer possession of the "truth" is less important than emotional sincerity.

--George Orwell

Any man who can write a page of living prose adds something to our life, and the man who can, as I can, is surely the last to resent someone who can do it even better. An artist cannot deny art, nor would he want to. A lover cannot deny love.

--Raymond Chandler

Whores and writers, Mahound. We are the people you can’t forgive.

--Salman Rushdie 

The writer is either a practising recluse or a delinquent, guilt-ridden one; or both. Usually both.

--Susan Sontag

Survival, with honor, that outmoded and all-important word, is as difficult as ever and as all-important to a writer. Those who do not last are always more beloved since no one has to see them in their long, dull, unrelenting, no-quarter-given-and-no-quarter-received, fights that they make to do something as they believe it should be done before they die. Those who die or quit early and easy and with every good reason are preferred because they are understandable and human. Failure and well-disguised cowardice are more human and more beloved.

--Ernest Hemingway

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.

--Virginia Woolf, "Orlando"

In a sense the world dies every time a writer dies, because, if he is any good, he has been a wet nurse to humanity during his entire existence and has held earth close around him, like the little obstetrical toad that goes about with a cluster of eggs attached to his legs.

--E. B. White

Good writers are those who keep the language efficient. That is to say, keep it accurate, keep it clear.

--Ezra Pound

Men like women who write. Even though they don’t say so. A writer is a foreign country.

--Marguerite Duras

The writer who loses his self-doubt, who gives way as he grows old to a sudden euphoria, to prolixity, should stop writing immediately: the time has come for him to lay aside his pen.


The critical opinions of a writer should always be taken with a large grain of salt. For the most part, they are manifestations of his debate with himself as to what he should do next and what he should avoid.

--W. H. Auden

A writer never reads his work. For him, it is the unreadable, a secret, and he cannot remain face to face with it. A secret, because he is separated from it.

--Maurice Blanchot

Each writer is born with a repertory company in his head. Shakespeare has perhaps 20 players, and Tennessee Williams has about 5, and Samuel Beckett one— and maybe a clone of that one. I have 10 or so, and that’s a lot. As you get older, you become more skillful at casting them.

--Gore Vidal

But this I know; the writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master— something that at times strangely wills and works for itself. . . . If the result be attractive, the World will praise you, who little deserve praise; if it be repulsive, the same World will blame you, who almost as little deserve blame.

--Charlotte Bronte

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

--Robert Benchley

A mere literary man is a dull man; a man who is solely a man of business is a selfish man; but when literature and commerce are united, they make a respectable man.

--Samuel Johnson

In America, the race goes to the loud, the solemn, the hustler. If you think you’re a great writer, you must say that you are.

--Gore Vidal

He is outside of everything, and alien everywhere. He is an aesthetic solitary. His beautiful, light imagination is the wing that on the autumn evening just brushes the dusky window.

--Henry James

I make no complaint. I am a writer. I do not accept my condition; I will strive to change it; but I inhabit it, I am trying to learn from it.

--Salman Rushdie

I believe that it is my job not only to write books but to have them published. A book is like a child. You have to defend the life of a child.

--George Konrád

Justice to my readers compels me to admit that I write because I have nothing to do; justice to myself induces me to add that I will cease to write the moment I have nothing to say.

--C. C. Colton

A man’s got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book.

--Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), U.S. author. Letter, 6 Dec. 1924

The books one has written in the past have two surprises in store: one couldn’t write them again, and wouldn’t want to.

--Jean Rostand

A book is like a man— clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.

--John Steinbeck

The travel writer seeks the world we have lost— the lost valleys of the imagination.

--Alexander Cockburn (b. 1941), Anglo-Irish journalist. "Bwana Vistas," in Harper’s (New York, Aug. 1985; repr. in Corruptions of Empire, pt. 1, 1988).

All books are either dreams or swords,
You can cut, or you can drug, with words.

--Amy Lowell (1874–1925), U.S. poet. Sword Blades and Poppy

I have the conviction that excessive literary production is a social offence.

--George Eliot (1819–80), English novelist. Letter, 11 Sept. 1871.

Do you remember how old Ford was always writing how Conrad suffered so when he wrote? How it was un metier de chien etc. Do you suffer when you write? I don’t at all. Suffer like a bastard when don’t write, or just before, and feel empty and fucked out afterwards. But never feel as good as while writing.

--Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), U.S. author. Letter, 14 Nov. 1945, to poet and critic Malcolm Cowley (published in Selected Letters, ed. by Carlos Baker, 1981), on the writers Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad.

I always write a good first line, but I have trouble in writing the others.


One sheds one’s sicknesses in books— repeats and presents again one’s emotions, to be master of them.

--D. H. Lawrence

If you describe things as better than they are, you are considered to be a romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you will be called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you will be thought of as a satirist.

--Quentin Crisp (b. 1908), British author. The Naked Civil Servant, ch. 24 (1968)

Why did I write? what sin to me unknown
Dipt me in ink, my parents’, or my own?

--Alexander Pope

Mostly, we authors must repeat ourselves— that’s the truth. We have two or three great moving experiences in our lives— experiences so great and moving that it doesn’t seem at the time that anyone else has been so caught up and pounded and dazzled and astonished and beaten and broken and rescued and illuminated and rewarded and humbled in just that way ever before.

--F. Scott Fitzgerald

How can one not dream while writing? It is the pen which dreams. The blank page gives the right to dream.

--Gaston Bachelard (1884–1962), French scientist, philosopher, literary theorist. The Poetics of Reverie,

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

A genius can never expect to have a good time anywhere, if he is a genuine article, but America is about the last place in which life will be endurable at all for an inspired writer of any kind.

--Samuel Butler

Habits in writing as in life are only useful if they are broken as soon as they cease to be advantageous.

--W. Somerset Maugham (1874–1965), British author. The Summing Up

The last thing one discovers in composing a work is what to put first.

--Blaise Pascal (1623–62), French scientist, philosopher. Pensées (1670; no. 976 ed. by Krailsheimer, no. 19 ed. by Brunschvicg).

A talent for drama is not a talent for writing, but is an ability to articulate human relationships.

--Gore Vidal (b. 1925), U.S. novelist, critic. New York Times (17 June 1956).

We are too civil to books. For a few golden sentences we will turn over and actually read a volume of four or five hundred pages.

--Ralph Waldo Emerson, Journals

Creativity is really the structuring of magic.

--Anne Kent Rush

The discipline of the written word punishes both stupidity and dishonesty.

--John Steinbeck (1902–68), U.S. author. "In Awe of Words"

No one who cannot limit himself has ever been able to write.

--Nicolas Boileau-Despréaux, L'Art Poetique

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. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!

--Edna Ferber (1887–1968), U.S. writer. A Peculiar Treasure,

You sell a screenplay like you sell a car. If someone drives it off a cliff, that’s it.

--Rita Mae Brown (b. 1944), U.S. feminist writer. Newsweek

The travel writer seeks the world we have lost— the lost valleys of the imagination.

--Alexander Cockburn (b. 1941), Anglo-Irish journalist. "Bwana Vistas," in Harper’s (New York, Aug. 1985; repr. in Corruptions of Empire, pt. 1, 1988).

All books are either dreams or swords,
You can cut, or you can drug, with words.

--Amy Lowell (1874–1925), U.S. poet. Sword Blades and Poppy

I have the conviction that excessive literary production is a social offence.

--George Eliot (1819–80), English novelist. Letter, 11 Sept. 1871.

Do you remember how old Ford was always writing how Conrad suffered so when he wrote? How it was un metier de chien etc. Do you suffer when you write? I don’t at all. Suffer like a bastard when don’t write, or just before, and feel empty and fucked out afterwards. But never feel as good as while writing.

--Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), U.S. author. Letter, 14 Nov. 1945, to poet and critic Malcolm Cowley (published in Selected Letters, ed. by Carlos Baker, 1981), on the writers Ford Madox Ford and Joseph Conrad.

I always write a good first line, but I have trouble in writing the others.


One sheds one’s sicknesses in books— repeats and presents again one’s emotions, to be master of them.

--D. H. Lawrence

If you describe things as better than they are, you are considered to be a romantic; if you describe things as worse than they are, you will be called a realist; and if you describe things exactly as they are, you will be thought of as a satirist.

--Quentin Crisp (b. 1908), British author. The Naked Civil Servant, ch. 24 (1968).

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

--Logan Pearsall Smith

It’s very hard to be a gentleman and a writer.

--W. Somerset Maugham

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

--James Baldwin

Books choose their authors; the act of creation is not entirely a rational and conscious one.

--Salman Rushdie (b. 1947), Indian-born British author. Independent on Sunday

Writing is turning one’s worst moments into money.

--J. P. Donleavy (b. 1926), Irish-American novelist. Playboy

I still believe that if your aim is to change the world, journalism is a more immediate short-term weapon.

--Tom Stoppard (b. 1937), British playwright. Guardian (London, 18 March 1988).

A playwright . . . is . . . the litmus paper of the arts. He’s got to be, because if he isn’t working on the same wave length as the audience, no one would know what in hell he was talking about. He is a kind of psychic journalist, even when he’s great.

--Arthur Miller (b. 1915), U.S. dramatist. Paris Review (Flushing, N.Y., Summer 1966).

There never was a good biography of a good novelist. There couldn’t be. He is too many people, if he’s any good.

--F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), U.S. author. The Crack-Up, "Notebook L" (ed. by Edmund Wilson, 1945).

His meter was bitter, and ironic and spectacular and inviting: so was life. There wasn’t much other life during those times than to what his pen paid the tribute of poetic tragic glamour and offered the reconciliation of the familiarities of tragedy.

--Zelda Fitzgerald (1900–1948), U.S. writer. Hemingway/Fitzgerald Annual (1974; repr. in Matthew J. Bruccoli, Some Sort of Epic Grandeur, ch. 61, 1981).

To write it, it took three months; to conceive it— three minutes; to collect the data in it— all my life.

--F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), U.S. author. The Author’s Apology, a letter to the Booksellers’ Convention, April 1920 (published in The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. by Andre

A book is a part of life, a manifestation of life, just as much as a tree or a horse or a star. It obeys its own rhythms, its own laws, whether it be a novel, a play, or a diary. The deep, hidden rhythm of life is always there— that of the pulse, the heart beat.

--Henry Miller (1891–1980), U.S. author. The Cosmological Eye, "Un Etre Etoile" (1939).

I hate the actor and audience business. An author should be in among the crowd, kicking their shins or cheering them on to some mischief or merriment.

--D. H. Lawrence (1885–1930), British author. Letter, 22 Jan. 1925 (published in The Letters of D. H. Lawrence

One reason writers write is out of revenge. Life hurts; certain ideas and experiences hurt; one wants to clarify, to set out illuminations, to replay the old bad scenes and get the Treppenworte said— the words one didn’t have the strength or ripeness to say when those words were necessary for one’s dignity or survival.

--Cynthia Ozick (b. 1928), U.S. novelist, short-story writer. Writers at Work (Eighth Series, 1988).

No pen, no ink, no table, no room, no time, no quiet, no inclination.

--James Joyce

I think "taste" is a social concept and not an artistic one. I’m willing to show good taste, if I can, in somebody else’s living room, but our reading life is too short for a writer to be in any way polite. Since his words enter into another’s brain in silence and intimacy, he should be as honest and explicit as we are with ourselves.

--John Updike (b. 1932), U.S. author, critic. Interview in New York Times Book Review (10 April 1977; repr. in Hugging the Shore, Appendix, 1984).

To be a woman and a writer
is double mischief, for
the world will slight her
who slights "the servile house,"

and who would rather
make odes than beds.

--Dilys Laing (1906–60), Canadian poet, editor. Sonnet to a Sister in Error

Great writers are the saints for the godless.

--Anita Brookner (b. 1938), British novelist, art historian. Novelists in Interview

In the tale, in the telling, we are all one blood. Take the tale in your teeth, then, and bite till the blood runs, hoping it’s not poison; and we will all come to the end together, and even to the beginning: living, as we do, in the middle.

--Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929), U.S. author. "It Was A Dark and Stormy Night; Or, Why Are We Huddling About the Campfire?," speech, 1979, University of Chicago

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.

--Ernest Hemingway

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

--George Sand, The Letters of George Sand

Writing books is the closest men ever come to childbearing.

--Norman Mailer (b. 1923), U.S. author. "Mr. Mailer Interviews Himself" (first published in New York Times Book Review, 17 Sept. 1965; repr. in Conversations with Norman Mailer, ed. by J. Michael Lennon, 1988).

Do not worry. You have always written before and you will write now. All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.

--Ernest Hemingway

Writing every book is like a purge; at the end of it one is empty . . . like a dry shell on the beach, waiting for the tide to come in again.

--Daphne DuMaurier

The word! I collected them in all shapes and sizes and hung them like bangles in my mind.

--Hortense Calisher

I fool myself, in a good way, into dodging the pressure. I tell myself that I’m not trying to write a scene, I’m just making some notes for the day.

--Marsha Norman

I could be just a writer very easily. I am not a writer. I am a screenwriter, which is half a filmmaker. . . . But it is not an art form, because screenplays are not works of art. They are invitations to others to collaborate on a work of art.

--Paul Schrader

The work of a writer, his continuing work, depends for breath of life on a certain privacy of heart -- and how is he to maintain it with that wreath on his head and that crowd at his heels?

--Tennessee Williams

The kind of imagination I use in writing, when I try to lose control of consciousness, works very much like dreams.

--Amy Tan

 Creativity oscillates between what is given and what can be discovered.

--Deena Metzger

All writing is communication; creative writing is communication through revelation - it is the Self escaping into the open.

--E.B. White

In the dark time, the eye begins to see.

--Theodore Roethke

Writing a novel is not merely going on a shopping expedition across the border to an unreal land: it is hours and years spent in the factories, the streets, the cathedrals of the imagination.

--Janet Frame, New Zealand novelist, poet. The Envoy from Mirror City

A petty reason perhaps why novelists more and more try to keep a distance from journalists is that novelists are trying to write the truth and journalists are trying to write fiction.

--Graham Greene, Letter, 18 Jan. 1981, to critic Stephen Pile at the London Sunday Times

America is essentially a woman’s country — why shouldn’t the leading novelists be women?

--Henry Miller, "Reunion in Brooklyn"

It is not the first duty of the novelist to provide blueprints for insurrection, or uplifting tales of successful resistance for the benefit of the opposition. The naming of what is there is what is important.

--Ian McEwan, A Move Abroad, Preface (1989)

Language most shews a man: Speak, that I may see thee.

--Ben Jonson (1573–1637), English dramatist, poet. Timber, or Discoveries Made upon Men and Matter, para. 121, "Explorata: Oratio Imago Animi" (1641)

Words convey the mental treasures of one period to the generations that follow; and laden with this, their precious freight, they sail safely across gulfs of time in which empires have suffered shipwreck and the languages of common life have sunk into oblivion.

--Anonymous. Quoted in: Richard Chevenix Trench, On the Study of Words, Lecture 1 (1858).

I’m a writer first and a woman after.

--Katherine Mansfield, Letter, 3 Dec. 1920, to her husband

The artist writes compulsively, as a way of knowing himself . . . He writes for those glimpses of order that form can make momentarily visible.

--John Ciardi

A poem . . . begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness. . . . It finds the thought and the thought finds the words.

--Robert Frost (1874–1963), U.S. poet. Letter, 1 Jan. 1916, to poet and anthologist Louis Untermeyer (published in The Letters of Robert Frost to Louis Untermeyer, 1963).

A dramatist is one who believes that the pure event, an action involving human beings, is more arresting than any comment that can be made upon it.

--Thornton Wilder, Writers at Work

There is nothing fiercer than a failed artist. The energy remains, but, having no outlet, it implodes in a great black fart of rage which smokes up all the inner windows of the soul. Horrible as successful artists often are, there is nothing crueler or more vain than a failed artist.

--Erica Jong, Fear of Flying

The easiest thing to do on earth is not write.

--William Goldman, "Which Lie Did I Tell?"

Rationality squeezes out much that is rich and juicy and fascinating.

--Anne Lamott

Some collaboration has to take place in the mind between the woman and the man before the art of creation can be accomplished. Some marriage of opposites has to be consummated. The whole of the mind must lie wide open if we are to get the sense that the writer is communicating his experience with perfect fullness.

--Virginia Woolf

Sometimes, neophytes ask me what it takes to be a writer, and how can they know if they have it. I tell them, go home and bang your head on a porcelain sink until it doesn't hurt any more. If you can't wait to do it again tomorrow, you probably have what it takes to become a writer.

--Bradd Hopkins, author of The Fourth Corner of the Ninth Room

No one asks you to throw Mozart out of the window. Keep Mozart. Cherish him. Keep Moses too, and Buddha and Lao tse and Christ. Keep them in your heart. But make room for the others, the coming ones, the ones who are already scratching on the window-panes.

--Henry Miller (1891–1980), U.S. author. The Air-Conditioned Nightmare

Art is never chaste. It ought to be forbidden to ignorant innocents, never allowed into contact with those not sufficiently prepared. Yes, art is dangerous. Where it is chaste, it is not art.

--Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Spanish artist. Quoted in: Antonina Vallentin, Pablo Picasso,

The artist is extremely lucky who is presented with the worst possible ordeal which will not actually kill him. At that point, he’s in business.

--John Berryman (1914–72), U.S. poet. Interview in Writers at Work , fourth edition

 I write out of revenge.

--William Goldman, "Which Lie Did I Tell?"

The more you reason the less you create.

--Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), U.S. author. Letter, 28 Oct. 1947, to Atlantic Monthly editor Charles W. Morton (published in Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1962)

Screenwriting is turning 100 pages of paper into an island in the South Pacific.

--David Weisman, movie producer

A writer is someone who writes, that's all. You can't stop it; you can't make yourself do anything else but that.

--Gore Vidal

Writing is the only place I can be myself and not feel judged.

--Terry McMillan, "Easing My Heart Inside" (Why I Write, edited by Will Blythe)

I want always to be writing the book I was born to write.

--Pat Conroy, "Stories" (Why I Write, edited by Will Blythe)

We chose this, after all, we write because we wanted to do it more than anything else, and even when we hate it, there is nothing better.

--Ann Patchett, "Writing and a Life Lived Well" (Why I Write, edited by Will Blythe)

The biggest mistake people make in life is not trying to make a living at doing what they most enjoy.

--Malcolm Forbes

I write. The longer I live, the more convinced I become that I cultivate my truest self in this one way. I pay more attention when I'm writing, and I hear myself more clearly when I'm writing . . . If I'm not doing it now, I should be.

--Tom Chiarella, "Collecting Myself" (Why I Write, edited by Will Blythe)

Those with "something to fall back on" invariably fall back on it. They intended to all along. That is why they provided themselves with it.

--David Mamet, True or False

Drama is life with the dull bits left out.

--Alfred Hitchcock

Whatever you are by nature, keep to it; never desert your line of talent. Be what nature intended you for, and you will succeed.

--Sydney Smith (1771-1845 British writer and clergyman)

Writing is easy. All you have to do is cross out the wrong words.

--Mark Twain

One should never write down or up to people, but out of yourself.

--Christopher Isherwood

The act of writing requires a constant plunging back into the shadow of the past where time hovers ghost-like.

--Ralph Ellison

What I like to do is treat words as a craftsman does his wood or stone or what-have-you, to hew, carve,mould, coil. Polish, and plane them into patterns, sequences, sculptures, figures of sound expressing some lyrical impulse, some spiritual doubt or conviction, some dimly realized truth that I must try to reach and realize.

--Dylan Thomas

I run my finger along their spines: how to write a novel in your spare time, how to be your own agent. How to let your dreams write your books, how your inner child can help your poetry. I think the secret yearning here is, how do we encounter our own minds?

--Natalie Goldberg, "Thunder and Lightning"

When we write, we need simply to become aware when we're moving in on something and to stay there; even if our knees wobble and tears spring from our eyes, we need to keep that hand moving.

--Natalie Goldberg, "Thunder and Lightning"

I try to work every day, even when I'm not motivated. Ritual is very important to me.

--Mel Ramos

For every person who will say yes, there are twenty who will say no. For a positive response, you must find the twenty-first person.

--Chuck Reaves

The fact is that the intrinsic worth of the book, play, or whatever the author is trying to sell is the least, last factor in the whole transaction. There is probably no other trade in which there is so little relationship between profits and actual value, or into which sheer chance so large enters.

--George Bernard Shaw

Prose books are the show dogs I breed and sell to support my cat

--Robert Graves, explaining why he writes prose to support his poetry

One not only writes a book. One lives it. Upon completing it there are certain symptoms of death.

--John Cheever

I've had it with these cheap sons of bitches who claim they love poetry but never buy a book.

--Kenneth Rexroth

It's a very excruciating life facing that blank piece of paper every day and having to reach up somewhere into the clouds and bring something down out of them.

--Truman Capote, "Conversations with Capote"

Literature takes shape and life in the body, in the wombs of the mother tongue: always: and the Fathers of Culture get anxious about paternity. They start talking about legitimacy. They steal the baby. They ensure by every means that the artist, the writer, is male. This involves intellectual abortion by centuries of women artists, infanticide of works by women writers, and a whole medical corps of sterilizing critics working to purify the Canon, to reduce the subject matter and style of literature to something Ernest Hemingway could have understood.

--Ursula K. Le Guin (b. 1929), U.S. author. Bryn Mawr Commencement Address, 1986 (published in Dancing at the Edge of the World, 1989).

Fear is the mind-killer.

--Frank Herbert, "Dune"

In a very real sense, the writer writes in order to teach himself, to understand himself, and to satisfy himself; the publishing of his ideas, though it brings satisfactions, is a curious anticlimax.

--Alfred Kazin

There's no such thing beneath the heavens as conditions favorable to art. Art must crash through or perish.

--Sylvia Ashton-Warner

An author who gives a manager or publisher any rights in his work except those immediately and specifically required for its publication or performance is for business purposes an imbecile. As 99 per cent of English authors and 100 per cent of American ones are just such imbeciles, managers and publishers make a practice of asking for every right the author possesses.

--George Bernard Shaw

There have been many, many rejections. If you want to write it your own way, that's the chance you take.

--Marchette Chute

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

--Maxwell Perkins

I don't know whether I like it, but it is what I meant.

--Ralph Vaughan Williams

I think the writer in America doesn't enjoy a very exalted position: he's really a third-rate citizen.

--James Michener

In the past I was no so wise as I am now. I left nearly all my business to an agent. I am still encumbered with his slovenly and disadvantageous agreements.

--H. G. Wells

What I found myself writing, after the success of my first book, was a second book based on what I thought various people wanted -- something fairy tale-like, or exotic, or cerebral, or cultural, or historical, or poetic, or simple, or complex.

--Amy Tan

I am convinced that all writers are optimists whether they concede the point or not. How otherwise could any human being sit down to a pile of blank sheets and decide to write, say, two hundred thousand words on a given theme?

--Thomas Costain

As any young artist would, I made all the necessary efforts to enter the system and be recognized by it. Once I was in the system, my only problem was how to get out of it.

--Sandro Chia

Some reviews give pain. That is regrettable, but no author has the right to whine. He invited publicity, and he must take the publicity that comes along.

--E. M. Forster

I'm afraid of coaching, of writer's classes, of writer's magazines, of books on how to write. They give me centipede trouble -- you know the yarn about the centipede who was asked how he managed all his feet? He tried to answer, stopped to think about it, and was never able to walk another step.

--Robert A. Heinlein, Letter to Blassingame, 16 May 1947

Who is more real? Homer or Ulysses? Shakespeare or Hamlet? Burroughs or Tarzan?

--Robert A. Heinlein

I've never known a storyteller who was unhappy when telling stories.

-- Alan Dean Foster (1977)

The shelf life of the modern hardback writer is somewhere between the milk and the yoghurt.

--John Mortimer

Every drop of ink in my pen ran cold.

Horace Walpole (1717–97), English author. Letter, 3 July 1752

In science fiction, everything relates.

-- Alan Dean Foster (1977)

Manuscript: something submitted in haste and returned at leisure.

--Oliver Herford

Of the making of books, there is no end.

--Ecclesiastes, 12

Words convey the mental treasures of one period to the generations that follow; and laden with this, their precious freight, they sail safely across gulfs of time in which empires have suffered shipwreck and the languages of common life have sunk into oblivion.

--Anonymous. Quoted in: Richard Chevenix Trench, On the Study of Words, Lecture 1 (1858).

I hear things in a kinesthetic way. I tap into a rhythm of language to portray what I feel.

--Mary Gordon

After a certain number of years, our faces become our biographies.

--Cynthia Ozick

To know one thing, you must know the opposite.

--Henry Moore

I love all men who dive. Any fish can swim near the surface, but it takes a great whale to go downstairs five miles or more.

--Herman Melville

Every artist joins a conversation that's been going on for generations, even millennia, before he or she joins the scene.

-- John Barth

Memory is a net.

--Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.

Not knowing when the dawn will come I open every door.

--Emily Dickinson

You know, you don’t always have a choice of what you’re going to write. You’re not a cow than can give cream with one udder and milk with another.

--Bruce Duffy

The past is not only that which happened but also that which could have happened but did not.

--Tess Gallagher

There are unknown forces within nature; when we give ourselves wholly to her, without reserve, she leads them to us; she shows us those forms which our watching eyes do not see, which our intelligence does not understand or suspect.

--Auguste Rodin

The true mystery of the world is the visible, not the invisible.

--Oscar Wilde

The aim of every artist is to arrest motion, which is life, by artificial means.

--William Faulkner

Those rituals of getting ready to write produce a kind of trance state.

--John Barth

It doesn’t matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was.

--Anne Sexton

Censor the body and you censor breath and speech at the same time.

--Helene Cixous

My object is to show what I have found, not what I am looking for.

--Pablo Picasso

What can we writers learn from lizards, lift from birds?

--Ray Bradbury

I have to make myself up every day.

--Spalding Gray

Smell is a potent wizard that transports us across thousands of miles and all the years we have lived.

--Helen Keller

Only those that risk going too far can possibly find out how far one can go.

--T. S. Eliot

We tend to think of the erotic as an easy, tantalizing sexual arousal. I speak of the erotic as the deepest life force, a force which moves us toward living in a fundamental way.

--Audre Lorde

No matter what the subject, the subject is always love.

--Ingrid Bengis

The Eskimos had fifty-two names for snow because it was important to them: there ought to be as many for love.

--Margaret Atwood

When writing a novel a writer should create living people; people not characters. A character is a caricature.

--Ernest Hemingway

Language is the only homeland.

--Czeslaw Milosz (from joy de Kok)

His clothes and ring and shoes are all going to talk . . .

--Anne Lamott

Secrets simmer. Deals are cut. Recipes are altered, stirred up. Something is cooking . . . ready, waiting, calling us home.

--B.G. from "Kitchen"

The writer’s point of view is a choice among tools.

--Tracy Kidder

I think that what we do is take what we understand of both ourselves and what we see around us. Our own nature makes a selection; it selects which things please you more.

--Louise Nevelson

The novel is rescued life.

--Hortense Calisher

Curiosity urges you on - the driving force.

--John Dos Passos

I think that what we do is take what we understand of both ourselves and what we see around us. Our own nature makes a selection; it selects which things please you more.

--Louise Nevelson

Teatime - Trying to write - God! I have a brain like a peanut . . . "Found a peanut, found a peanut" echoes in my head the insane song

--John Dos Passos

When I hear about writer's block, this one and that one! Fuck off! Stop writing, for Christ's sake: Plenty more where you came from.

--Gore Vidal

A serious writer is not to be confounded with a solemn writer. A serious writer may be a hawk or a buzzard or even a popinjay, but a solemn writer is always a bloody owl.

--Ernest Hemingway

Give me a condor’s quill! Give me Vesuvius’ crater for an inkstand!

--Herman Melville

I must admit I've never known where my stories are going. The idea starts and along the way, characters become involved and develop - the key word is develop. I've never, for instance, known an ending to my own stories and it's more fun. The characters just take over, and I become only an instrument through which they exist. I believe this is one of the most important aspects to any story. If your characters don't live, they can't possibly be believable. They must live their own lives and reap their own destinies.

--Ed Wood, Jr

Put it before them briefly so they will read it, clearly so they will appreciate it, picturesquely so they will remember it and, above all, accurately so they will be guided by its light.

-- Joseph Pulitzer

Writing is finally a series of permissions you give yourself to be expressive in certain ways. To invent. To leap. To fly. To fall. To find your own characteristic way of narrating and insisting; that is, to find your own inner freedom. To be strict without being too self-excoriating. Not stopping too often to think it's going well (or not too badly), simply to keep rowing along. No waiting for inspiration's shove.

--Susan Sontag, "Writers on Writing" - The New York Times (December 18, 2000)

I wrote to find beauty and purpose, to know that love is possible and lasting and real, to see day lilies and swimming pools, loyalty and devotion, even though my eyes were closed and all that surrounded me was a darkened room. I wrote because that was who I was at the core, and if I was too damaged to walk around the block, I was lucky all the same. Once I got to my desk, once I started writing, I still believed anything was possible.

--Alice Hoffman, "Writers on Writing" - The New York Times (August 14, 2000)

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.


Don't think. Thinking is the enemy of creativity. It's self-conscious, and anything self-conscious is lousy. You can't try to do things. You simply must do things.

--Ray Bradbury

Storytelling reveals meaning without committing the error of defining it.

--Hannah Arendt

The public have an insatiable curiosity to know everything. Except what is worth knowing. Journalism, conscious of this, and having tradesman-like habits, supplies their demands.

--Oscar Wilde 

What is laid down, ordered, factual is never enough to embrace the whole truth: life always spills over the rim of every cup.

--Boris Pasternak, author of "Doctor Zhivago"

I certainly wasn't happy. Happiness has to do with reason, and only reason earns it. What I was given was the thing you can't earn, and can't keep, and often don't even recognize at the time; I mean joy.

--Ursula K. LeGuin, author

Hold fast to dreams for if dreams die, life is a broken winged bird that cannot fly.

--Langston Hughes, author of "Shakespeare in Harlem"

We read frequently, if unknowingly, in quest of a mind more original than our own.

--Harold Bloom

This life is yours. Take the power to choose what you want to do and do it well. Take the power to love what you want in life and love it honestly. Take the power to walk in the forest and be a part of nature. Take the power to control your own life. No one else can do it for you. Take the power to make your life happy.

--Susan Polis Schutz, founder of Blue Mountain Arts

The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and , if they can't find them, make them.

--George Bernard Shaw

Hold a book in your hand and you're a pilgrim at the gates of a new city.

--Anie Michaels, citing a Hebrew saying in "Fugitive Pieces" 

I cannot live without books.

--Thomas Jefferson

When I only begin to read, I forget I'm on this world. It lifts me on wings with high thoughts.

--Anzia Yezierska, novelist

I still find each day too short for all the thoughts I want to think, all the walks I want to take, all the books I want to read, and all the friends I want to see.

--John Burrough

Know from whence you came. If you know whence you came, there are absolutely no limitations to where you can go.

--James Baldwin

I like to listen. I have learned a great deal from listening carefully. Most people never listen.

--Ernest Hemingway

It is books that are a key to the wide world; if you can't do anything else, read all that you can.

--Jane Hamilton, The Book of Ruth

Always read stuff that will make you look good if you die in the middle of it.

--P. J. O'Rourke

 Don't fear failure so much that you refuse to try new things. The saddest summary of a life contains

three descriptions: could have, might have, and should have.

--Louis E. Boone

Writing is a labor of love--there certainly are no guarantees of publication, still less of fame and fortune--so you'd better love what you write, or you won't get far.

--Diana Gabaldon (thanks to Lisa)

Censorship, like charity, should begin at home, but unlike charity, it should end there.

--Clare Boothe Luce

Art can't hurt you.

--Fred Babb

To be matter of fact about the world is to blunder into fantasy -- and dull fantasy at that, as the real

world is strange and wonderful.

--Robert A. Heinlein

Ah, good taste! What a dreadful thing! Taste is the enemy of creativeness.

--Pablo Picasso (1881–1973), Spanish artist. Quote (Anderson, S.C., 24 March 1957).

A perfect method for adding drama to life is to wait until the deadline looms large.

--Alyce P. Cornyn-Selby, Procrastinator's Success Kit

I cringe when critics say I’m a master of the popular novel. What’s an unpopular novel?

--Irwin Shaw (b. 1913), U.S. author. Observer (London, 6 March 1983).

I’m the kind of writer that people think other people are reading.

--V. S. Naipaul (b. 1932), Trinidad-born British writer. Radio Times (London, 24 March 1979).

Nothing so fretful, so despicable as a Scribbler, see what I am, & what a parcel of Scoundrels I have brought about my ears, & what language I have been obliged to treat them with to deal with them in their own way;— all this comes of Authorship.

--Lord Byron (1788–1824), English poet. Letter, 2 Sept. 1811, to Byron’s half-sister, Augusta Leigh (published in Byron’s Letters and Journals, vol. 2, ed. by Leslie A. Marchand, 1973–81).

Words ought to be a little wild for they are the assaults of thought on the unthinking.

--John Maynard Keynes

If a person feels he can't communicate, the least he can do is shut up about it.

--Tom Lehrer

Art is a deliberate recreation of a new and special reality that grows from your response to life. It cannot be copied; it must be created.


The writer probably knows what he meant when he wrote a book, but he should immediately forget what he meant when he’s written it.

--William Golding (1911–93), British author. Novelists in Interview (ed. by John Haffenden, 1985).

Since when was genius found respectable?

--Elizabeth Barrett Browning, poet

Some luck lies in not getting what you thought you wanted but getting what you have, which once you have got it you may be smart enough to see is what you would have wanted had you known.

--Garrison Keillor

I am enough of an artist to draw freely upon my imagination. Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world.

--Albert Einstein

The creations of a great writer are little more than the moods and passions of his own heart, given surnames and Christian names, and sent to walk the earth.

--W. B. Yeats (1865–1939), Irish poet, playwright. Letter to the editor of the Daily Express (Dublin, 27 Feb. 1895; published in Collected Letters, vol. 1, ed. by John Kelly, 1986).

To note an artist’s limitations is but to define his talent. A reporter can write equally well about everything that is presented to his view, but a creative writer can do his best only with what lies within the range and character of his deepest sympathies.

Willa Cather (1873–1947), U.S. author. Not Under Forty, "Miss Jewett" (1936).

Science fiction writers foresee the inevitable, and although problems and catastrophes may be inevitable, solutions are not.

--Isaac Asimov (1920–92), Russian-born U.S. author. "How Easy to See the Future," in Natural History (New York, April 1975; repr. in Asimov on Science Fiction, 1981).

Of course I’m a black writer. . . . I’m not just a black writer, but categories like black writer, woman writer and Latin American writer aren’t marginal anymore. We have to acknowledge that the thing we call "literature" is more pluralistic now, just as society ought to be. The melting pot never worked. We ought to be able to accept on equal terms everybody from the Hasidim to Walter Lippmann, from the Rastafarians to Ralph Bunche.

--Toni Morrison (b. 1931), U.S. novelist, editor. Quoted in: Newsweek (New York, 30 March 1981).

I have given up reading books; I find it takes my mind off myself.

--Oscar Levant (1906 - 1972)

Would you convey my compliments to the purist who reads your proofs and tell him or her that I write in a sort of broken-down patois which is something like the way a Swiss waiter talks, and that when I split an infinitive, God damn it, I split it so it will stay split, and when I interrupt the velvety smoothness of my more or less literate syntax with a few sudden words of bar-room vernacular, that is done with the eyes wide open and the mind relaxed but attentive.

--Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), U.S. author. Letter, 18 Jan. 1948, to Atlantic Monthly editor Edward Weeks (published in Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1962

Among all men on the earth bards have a share of honor and reverence, because the muse has taught them songs and loves the race of bards.

--Homer (~700 BC)

The most durable thing in writing is style, and style is the most valuable investment a writer can make with his time. It pays off slowly, your agent will sneer at it, your publisher will misunderstand it, and it will take people you have never heard of to convince them by slow degrees that the writer who puts his individual mark on the way he writes will always pay off.

--Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), U.S. author. Letter, 7 March 1947 (published in Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1962).

The only reason for being a professional writer is that you can't help it.

--Leo Rosten

If a writer wrote merely for his time, I would have to break my pen and throw it away.

--Victor Hugo

The way you define yourself as a writer is that you write very time you have a free minute. If you didn't behave that way you would never do anything.

--John Irving

Every reader finds himself. The writer's work is merely a kind of optical instrument that makes it possible for the reader to discern what, without this book, he would perhaps never have seen in himself.

--Marcel Proust (1871 - 1922)

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

--Thomas Berger

Artistic growth is, more than it is anything else, a refining of the sense of truthfulness. The stupid believe that to be truthful is easy; only the artist, the great artist, knows how difficult it is.

--Willa Cather (1873–1947), U.S. author. The Song of the Lark, pt. 6, ch. 11 (1915).

Screenwriters? Schmucks with Underwoods.

--Jack Warner

Scott took LITERATURE so solemnly. He never understood that it was just writing as well as you can and finishing what you start.

--Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), U.S. author. Letter, 12 May 1950, to Arthur Mizener (published in Selected Letters, ed. by Carlos Baker, 1981). Mizener wrote a biography of Scott Fitzgerald, and edited his essays and short stories.

If a young writer can refrain from writing, he shouldn't hesitate to do so.

--Andre Gide

Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post how it feels about dogs.

--Christopher Hampton

For a true writer each book should be a new beginning where he tries again for something that is beyond attainment. He should always try for something that has never been done or that others have tried and failed. Then sometimes, with great luck, he will succeed.

--Ernest Hemingway (1898 - 1961), in his Nobel Prize acceptance speech

All of the books in the world contain no more information than is broadcast as video in a single large American city in a single year. Not all bits have equal value.

--Carl Sagan

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

--Oscar Wilde (1854 - 1900)

When I am attached by gloomy thoughts, nothing helps me so much as running to my books. They quickly absorb me and banish the clouds from my mind.

--Michel de Montaigne (1553 - 1592)

Books...are like lobster shells, we surround ourselves with 'em, then we grow out of 'em and leave 'em behind, as evidence of our earlier stages of development.

--Dorothy L. Sayers, The Unpleasantness at the Bellow Club, 1928

He felt about books as doctors feel about medicines, or managers about plays - cynical, but hopeful.

--Rose Macaulay, Crewe Train, 1926

Some books are to be tasted, others to be swallowed, and some few to be chewed and digested: that is, some books are to be read only in parts, others to be read, but not curiously, and some few to be read wholly, and with diligence and attention.

--Sir Francis Bacon (1561 - 1626)

The rules have changed. True power is held by the person who possesses the largest bookshelf, not gun cabinet or wallet.

--Anthony J. D'Angelo, The College Blue Book

Where do I find the time for not reading so many books?

--Karl Kraus (1874 - 1936)

The reason why so few good books are written is that so few people who can write know anything.

--Walter Bagehot (1826 - 1877)

Any ordinary man can...surround himself with two thousand books...and thenceforward have at least one place in the world in which it is possible to be happy.

--Augustine Birrell (1850 - 1933)

Books are the carriers of civilization. Without books, history is silent, literature dumb, science crippled, thought and speculation at a standstill. I think that there is nothing, not even crime, more opposed to poetry, to philosophy, aye, to life itself than this incessant business.

--Henry David Thoreau (1817 - 1862)

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

--Arthur Schoenhauer

Crime is terribly revealing. Try and vary your methods as you will, your tastes, your habits, your attitude of mind, and your soul is revealed by your actions.

--Agatha Christie (1891–1976), British mystery writer. Poirot, in The ABC Murders, ch. 17 (1936).

I'll publish right or wrong. Fools are my theme, let satire be my song.

--Lord Byron

The good parts of a book may be only something a writer is lucky enough to overhear or it may be the wreck of his whole damn life— and one is as good as the other.

--Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), U.S. author. Letter, 4 Sept. 1929, to F. Scott Fitzgerald (published in Selected Letters, ed. by Carlos Baker, 1981).

There are people who can write their memoirs with a reasonable amount of honesty, and there are people who simply cannot take themselves seriously enough. I think I might be the first to admit that the sort of reticence which prevents a man from exploiting his own personality is really an inverted sort of egotism.

--Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), U.S. author. Letter, 22 Sept. 1954, to publisher Hamish Hamilton, rejecting a proposal that Chandler write his memoirs (published in Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1962).

To write it, it took three months; to conceive it— three minutes; to collect the data in it— all my life.

--F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896–1940), U.S. author. The Author’s Apology, a letter to the Booksellers’ Convention, April 1920 (published in The Letters of F. Scott Fitzgerald, ed. by Andrew Turnbull, 1963), referring to his novel This Side of Paradise.

These are not books, lumps of lifeless paper, but minds alive on the shelves.

--Gilbert Highet

Let us never accept the point of view that mysteries are written by hacks. The poorest of us shed our blood over every chapter. The best of us start from scratch with every new book.

--Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), U.S. author. Letter, Oct. 1955 (published in Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1962).

The fancy that extraterrestrial life is by definition of a higher order than our own is one that soothes all children, and many writers.

--Joan Didion (b. 1934), U.S. essayist. The White Album, "Doris Lessing" (1979).

An artist is a creature driven by demons. He don’t know why they choose him and he’s usually too busy to wonder why. He is completely amoral in that he will rob, borrow, beg, or steal from anybody and everybody to get the work done.

--William Faulkner (1897–1962), U.S. novelist. Interview in Writers at Work (First Series, ed. by Malcolm Cowley, 1958).

A book is like a man— clever and dull, brave and cowardly, beautiful and ugly. For every flowering thought there will be a page like a wet and mangy mongrel, and for every looping flight a tap on the wing and a reminder that wax cannot hold the feathers firm too near the sun.

--John Steinbeck (1902–68), U.S. author. Writers at Work, "On Publishing" (Fourth Series, ed. by George Plimpton, 1977).

The creative artist seems to be almost the only kind of man that you could never meet on neutral ground. You can only meet him as an artist. He sees nothing objectively because his own ego is always in the foreground of every picture.

--Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), U.S. author. Letter, 23 June 1950, to publisher Hamish Hamilton (published in Raymond Chandler Speaking, 1962).

A man’s got to take a lot of punishment to write a really funny book.

--Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), U.S. author. Letter, 6 Dec. 1924 (published in Selected Letters, ed. by Carlos Baker, 1981).

Poetry is not an expression of the party line. It’s that time of night, lying in bed, thinking what you really think, making the private world public, that’s what the poet does.

--Allen Ginsberg (1926–97), U.S. poet. Quoted in: Barry Miles, Ginsberg: A Biography, ch. 17 (1989).

Art, it seems to me, should simplify . . . finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole— so that all that one has suppressed and cut away is there to the reader’s consciousness as much as if it were in type on the page.

--Willa Cather (1873–1947), U.S. author. On Writing, "On the Art of Fiction" (1949).

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius -- and a lot of courage -- to move in the opposite direction.

--E. F. Schumacher

Major writing is to say what has been seen, so that it need never be said again.

--Delmore Schwartz

Actually if a writer needs a dictionary he should not write. He should have read the dictionary at least three times from beginning to end and then have loaned it to someone who needs it. There are only certain words which are valid and similes (bring me my dictionary) are like defective ammunition (the lowest thing I can think of at this time).

--Ernest Hemingway (1899–1961), U.S. author. Letter, 20 March 1953, to the critic Bernard Berenson (published in Selected Letters, ed. by Carlos Baker, 1981). Hemingway’s spelling, as shown in his letters, was appalling.

The agent never receipts his bill, puts his hat on and bows himself out. He stays around forever, not only for as long as you can write anything that anyone will buy, but as long as anyone will buy any portion of any right to anything that you ever did write. He just takes ten per cent of your life.

--Raymond Chandler (1888–1959), U.S. author. "Ten Per Cent of Your Life," in Atlantic Monthly (Boston, Feb. 1952).

When the book comes out it may hurt you— but in order for me to do it, it had to hurt me first. I can only tell you about yourself as much as I can face about myself.

--James Baldwin (1924–87), U.S. author. A Dialogue (1973; with Nikki Giovanni), from a conversation in London, 4 Nov. 1971.

Great writers are the saints for the godless.

--Anita Brookner (b. 1938), British novelist, art historian. Novelists in Interview (ed. by John Haffenden, 1985).

I was brought up in the great tradition of the late nineteenth century: that a writer never complains, never explains and never disdains.

--James A. Michener (b. 1907), U.S. novelist. Quoted in: Observer (London, 26 Nov. 1989).

The writer isn’t made in a vacuum. Writers are witnesses. The reason we need writers is because we need witnesses to this terrifying century.

--E. L. Doctorow (b. 1931), U.S. novelist. Interview in Writers at Work (Eighth Series, ed. by George Plimpton, 1988).

The writer in western civilization has become not a voice of his tribe, but of his individuality. This is a very narrow-minded situation.

--Aharon Appelfeld (b. 1932), Israeli novelist. International Herald Tribune, (Paris, 10 Aug. 1989).

Given that external reality is a fiction, the writer’s role is almost superfluous. He does not need to invent the fiction because it is already there.

--J. G. Ballard (b. 1930), British author. Interview in Friends (London, 30 Oct. 1970; repr. in Re/Search, no. 8/9, San Francisco, 1984).

Every secret of a writer’s soul, every experience of his life, every quality of his mind is written large in his works.

--Virginia Woolf (1882–1941), British novelist. Orlando, ch. 4 (1928).

Whatever an author puts between the two covers of his book is public property; whatever of himself he does not put there is his private property, as much as if he had never written a word.

--Gail Hamilton (1833–96), U.S. writer, humorist. Country Living and Country Thinking, Preface (1862).

Without, or with, offence to friends or foes,
I sketch your world exactly as it goes.

--Lord Byron (1788–1824), English poet. Don Juan, cto. 8, st. 89

Writers are always selling somebody out.

--Joan Didion (b. 1934), U.S. essayist. Slouching Towards Bethlehem, Preface (1968).


(Updated 5/24/2001)