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Writers

  • Sometimes I claim I write because I put in an application at Sears and they've never called back.

  • ... any mystery writer is both magician and moralist ... two species of artist in short supply.

  • ... there is no greater fraud or bore than the writer who has acquired the art of saying nothing brilliantly.

  • Like all great writers ... he puts his best in his books, and sometimes lacks magnetism and fresh thought in talking.

  • Writing was my real life and I was more at home with the people of my imagination than with the best I met in the objective world.

  • Generous with ideas that he had not yet written, apparently as much a dilettante as I, our conversations became our works, outlines on the tablets of bright midnights.

  • What makes bad writers so annoying is their good passages.

    • Natalie Clifford Barney,
    • "Scatterings" (1910), in Anna Livia, ed., A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney ()
  • To those who ask if I have read their book, I reply: I have not yet read Homer.

    • Natalie Clifford Barney,
    • "Scatterings" (1910), in Anna Livia, ed., A Perilous Advantage: The Best of Natalie Clifford Barney ()
  • Writers and artists [are] to be themselves with dignity, not to be always feeling apologetic toward the normal people and trying to explain and adapt themselves.

  • Everybody can write; writers can't do anything else.

  • Authors always take rejection badly. They equate it with infanticide.

  • ... Gertrude Stein ... the Madame Curie of language. Because in her deep research she has crushed thousands of tons of matter to extract the radium of the word.

    • Mina Loy,
    • in Natalie Clifford Barney, Adventures of the Mind ()
  • Never, never ask an author what he is going to write next, a painter what subject he is going to depict next. They most prefer talking about their past achievements.

  • Life really can't utterly defeat a writer who is in love with writing, for life itself is a writer's lover until death; fascinating, cruel, lavish, warm, cold, treacherous, constant ...

  • A writer's working hours are his waking hours. He is working as long as he is conscious and frequently when he isn't.

  • I don't know what it is that makes a writer go to his desk in his shut-off room day after day after year after year unless it is the sure knowledge that not to have done the daily stint of writing that day is infinitely more agonizing than to write.

  • There is no denying the fact that writers should be read but not seen. Rarely are they a winsome sight.

  • ... writers of novels are so busy being solitary that they haven't time to meet one another. But then, a writer learns nothing from a writer, conversationally. If a writer has anything witty, profound or quotable to say he doesn't say it. He's no fool. He writes it.

  • ... once the disease of reading has laid hold upon the system it weakens it so that it falls an easy prey to that other scourge which dwells in the ink pot and festers in the quill. The wretch takes to writing.

  • ... it is the nature of the artist to mind excessively what is said about him. Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinions of others.

  • ... a novelist's chief desire is to be as unconscious as possible. He has to induce in himself a state of perpetual lethargy. He wants life to proceed with the utmost quiet and regularity. He wants to see the same faces, to read the same books, to do the same things day after day, month after month, while he is writing, so that nothing may break the illusion in which he is living — so that nothing may disturb or disquiet the mysterious nosings about, feelings around, darts, dashes, and sudden discoveries of that very shy and illusive spirit, the imagination.

  • As a creator of character his peculiarity is that he creates wherever his eyes rest ... With such a power at his command Dickens made his books blaze up, not by tightening the plot or sharpening the wit, but by throwing another handful of people upon the fire.

  • ... Lord, how tired one gets of one's own writing.

  • If, as I suspected at the time, I was a one-book writer, I wanted to be the kind of one-book writer who writes only one book.

  • My books don't seem to belong to me after I have once written them; and I find myself delivering opinions about them as if I had nothing to do with them.

    • George Eliot,
    • journal (1857), in J.W. Cross, ed., George Eliot's Life as Related in Her Letters and Journals ()
  • A novelist's business is lying. ... In fact, while we read a novel, we are insane — bonkers. We believe in the existence of people who aren't there, we hear their voices, we watch the battle of Borodino with them, we may even become Napoleon. Sanity returns (in most cases) when the book is closed. Is it any wonder that no truly respectable society has ever trusted its artists?

  • Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts — only in the truth.

  • ... as a writer you are free. You are about the freest person that ever was. Your freedom is what you have bought with your solitude, your loneliness. You are in the country where you make up the rules, the laws. You are both dictator and obedient populace. It is a country nobody has ever explored before. It is up to you to make the maps, to build the cities. Nobody else in the world can do it, or ever could do it, or ever will be able to do it again.

  • ... meeting writers is always so disappointing. ... There is this terrific book that has changed your life, and then you meet the author, and he has shifty eyes and funny shoes and he won't talk about anything except the injustice of the United States income tax structure toward people with fluctuating income, or how to breed Black Angus cows, or something.

  • Any artist must expect to work amid the total, rational indifference of everybody else to their work, for years, perhaps for life ...

  • Prose writers are interested mostly in life and commas.

  • ... all writers who can claim to be called 'living' must be political in a sense. They must have what the Quakers call a concern to understand what is happening in the world, and must engage themselves, in their writing, to promote no comfortable lies, of the sort which people will pay well to be told rather than the truth ...

  • The writer — more especially the novelist — who has not, at one moment or another, considered his publisher unworthy of him, has still to be conceived.

  • Writing was a chimney for my blazing ambitions.

  • I feel I should not be ... so at the mercy of people's regard. And yet — it is the artist's desire for communication too; without the answering voice you get so numb; you lose faith in your powers to communicate.

  • Straitened and serious elder daughter of her time, she swept the house of literature ... Encumbered by this drift and refuse of English, Charlotte Brontë yet achieved the miracle of her vocabulary. It is less wonderful that she should have appeared out of such a parsonage than that she should have arisen out of such a language.

    • Alice Meynell,
    • "The Brontës," Essays of Today and Yesterday ()
  • What a mistake for an author to emerge from her secret fastness. Authors were shy, unsociable creatures, atoning for their lack of social aptitude by inventing their own companions and conversations.

  • I can't imagine why everybody is always so keen for authors to talk about writing. I should have thought it was an author's business to write, not talk.

  • ... where two people are writing the same book, each believes he gets all the worries and only half the royalties.

    • Agatha Christie,
    • news item, 1955, in James Beasley Simpson, Best Quotes of '54, '55, '56 ()
  • ... I changed from an amateur to a professional. I assumed the burden of a profession, which is to write even when you don't want to, don't much like what you are writing, and aren't writing particularly well.


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  • The discipline of the writer is to learn to be still and listen to what his subject has to tell him.

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    • speech ()
  • A writer looking for subjects inquires not after what he loves best, but after what he alone loves at all.

  • Your work is to keep cranking the flywheel that turns the gears that spin the belt in the engine of belief that keeps you and your desk in midair.

  • It should surprise no one that the life of the writer — such as it is — is colorless to the point of sensory deprivation. Many writers do little else but sit in small rooms recalling the real world.

  • The writer ... is careful of what he reads, for that is what he will write.

  • The publication of a book only brings very paltry results to its author.

    • George Sand,
    • 1872, in Raphaël Ledos de Beaufort, ed., Letters of George Sand, vol. 3 ()
  • [On female novelists:] 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,
    • in Malcolm Cowley, ed., Writers at Work, 1st series ()
  • To me writing was not a career but a necessity. And so it remains, though I am now, technically, a professional writer. The strength of this inborn desire to write has always baffled me. It is understandable that the really gifted should feel an overwhelming urge to use their gift; but a strong urge with only a slight gift seems almost a genetic mistake.

  • I feel like a divorced wife once my book is published and has left me, and hate to be brought back into intimate contact!

  • I live, I live, with an absolutely continuous sense of failure. I am always defeated, always. Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea. The years pass and one has only one life. If one has a thing at all one must do it and keep on and on and on trying to do it better.

  • The most potent and sacred command which can be laid upon any artist is the command: wait.

  • All artists dream of a silence which they must enter, as some creatures return to the sea to spawn.

  • Once in a while I catch myself wondering whether I would have found the courage to write if I had not started to write when I was too young to know what was good for me.

    • Ama Ata Aidoo,
    • "To Be a Woman," in Robin Morgan, ed., Sisterhood Is Global ()
  • Real artists, it seems to me, are those who don't repeat themselves.

  • I feel within myself an immense power, but I cannot bring it out. I stand a barren vine-stalk; no grape will swell, though the richest wine is slumbering in its roots.

    • Margaret Fuller,
    • in Thomas Wentworth Higginson, Margaret Fuller Ossoli ()
  • Writing is the perfect balance between self-confidence and self-doubt, with a bit of self-delusion thrown in.

  • ... she was constitutionally unable to believe that all other writers didn't have it easy. For it was obvious that their words were hummingbirds, a bright whir of them over the typewriter, seeking only a landing strip. She alone stared at the white paper.

  • When the writer looks back upon her own childhood, it seems to her that she lived in company with a delightful host of little playmates, bright, busy, clever children, whose cheerful presence remains more vividly in her mind than that of many of the real little boys and girls who used to appear and disappear disconnectedly as children do in childhood, when friendship and companionship depend almost entirely upon the convenience of grown-up people.

  • I can't think why I was cursed with this inordinate desire to write, if the high gods weren't going to give me some more adquate means of expressing myself than that which my present pedestrian prose affords.

    • Winifred Holtby,
    • 1921, in Alice Holtby and Jean McWilliam, eds., Letters to a Friend ()
  • ... the damned book I am writing is like the driveling of a weak-kneed sea calf. If I were sufficiently strong minded, I should tear it up an start again. But I don't.

    • Winifred Holtby,
    • 1923, in Alice Holtby and Jean McWilliam, eds., Letters to a Friend ()
  • ... as regards artists of any kind the position is this: that all the self which they are able to communicate to the world is in their work, and is manifest in its best form in the work. To expect to get more out of direct contact with the man than one gets from his work is pretty well bound to lead to disappointment — the work is his means of expression, and is his genuine self. What is left over is the discarded stuff, or the lumber-room of raw material, so to speak, out of which the next work is going to be made. People are always imagining that if they get hold of the writer himself and so to speak shake him long and hard enough, something exciting and illuminating will drop out of him. But it doesn't. What's due to come out has come out in the only form in which it ever can come out. All one gets by shaking is the odd paper-clips and crum[p]led carbons from his waste-paper basket.

    • Dorothy L. Sayers,
    • 1941, in Barbara Reynolds, ed., The Letters of Dorothy L. Sayers, vol. 2 ()
  • Anyone who is going to be a writer knows enough at fifteen to write several novels.

  • I have never written a book that was not born out of a question I needed to answer for myself.

  • A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down ... Kathleen is about to publish a book. If it's a good book, nothing can harm her. If it's a bad book, nothing can help her.

  • You sell a screenplay like you sell a car. If somebody drives it off a cliff, that's it.

  • It's an act of faith to be a writer in a postliterate world.

  • Show me a writer, any writer, who hasn't suffered and I'll show you someone who writes in pastels as opposed to primary colors.

  • Writers are the moral purifiers of the culture. We may not be pure ourselves but we must tell the truth, which is a purifying act.

  • People who can write a book usually do.

  • Every writer will pick up the phone the instant it rings, because we have to know. It could be anybody. We pick up phones even when we're sleeping. I personally will ignore a phone only if I'm fighting or fucking, but some writers won't, even then.

  • 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,
    • in Joan Wylie Hall, ed., Conversations with Audre Lorde ()
  • It is for this, partly, that I write. How can I know what I think unless I see what I write?

  • Writing is one of the few professions left where you take all the responsibility for what you do. It's really dangerous and ultimately destroys you as a writer if you start thinking about responses to your work or what your audience needs.

    • Erica Jong,
    • in William Packard, ed., The Craft of Poetry ()
  • When I was a ten-year-old book worm and used to kiss the dust jacket pictures of authors as if they were icons, it used to amaze me that these remote people could provoke me to love.

    • Erica Jong,
    • in William Packard, ed., The Craft of Poetry ()
  • It is a sad paradox that when male authors impersonate women ... they are said to be dealing with 'cosmic, major concerns' — but when we impersonate ourselves we are said to be writing 'women's fiction' or 'women's poetry.'

  • I did not write it. God wrote it. I merely did His dictation.

    • Harriet Beecher Stowe,
    • on Uncle Tom's Cabin, in Raymond Weaver, introduction to 1938 edition of Uncle Tom's Cabin ()
  • No one ever found wisdom without also being a fool. Writers, alas, have to be fools in public, while the rest of the human race can cover its tracks.

    • Erica Jong,
    • in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 1 ()
  • ... writers do not choose their subjects; their subjects choose them.

  • What a damnably lonely profession writing is! In order to do it, one must banish the world, and having banished it, one feels cosmically alone.

  • [Henry Miller] was such a scribomaniac that even when he lived in the same house as Lawrence Durrell they often exchanged letters. For most of his life, Henry wrote literally dozens of letters a day to people he could have easily engaged in conversation — and did. The writing process, in short, was essential. As it is to all real writers, writing was life and breath to him. He put out words as a tree puts out leaves.

  • ... it is not unusual to hate great writers before we learn to love them. Because they have created something that did not yet exist, they must also create their audience. Sometimes the audience is not yet ready. Sometimes it has yet to be born.

  • All authors know that any book is a casting of runes, a reading of cards, a map of the palm and heart. We make up the ocean — then fall in. But we also write the life raft.

  • Writers are doubters, compulsives, self-flagellants. The torture only stops for brief moments.

  • Despite all the cynical things writers have said about writing for money, the truth is we write for love. That is why it is so easy to exploit us.

    • Erica Jong,
    • "My Italy," What Do Women Want? ()
  • ... we write as if our lives depended upon it. They do.

    • Erica Jong,
    • "Gestations," What Do Women Want? ()
  • Writers tend to be addicted to houses ... We work at home, indulging the agoraphobia endemic to our kind. We are immersed in our surroundings to an almost morbid degree.

    • Erica Jong,
    • "Books and Houses," What Do Women Want? ()
  • But we should ask the question: Why should a writer be more than a writer? Why should a writer be a guru? Why are we supposed to be psychiatrists? Isn't it enough to write and tell the truth? It's not like telling the truth is common. Writers are the earthworms of society. We aerate the soil. That's enough.

  • Writers are always at the edge of the inferno, and the fire is licking at our toes. Luckily, this turns us on!

  • I am never so calm as after I have written. And the next morning I will feel the familiar anxiety and I will have to begin the process all over again.

  • Writers are notorious for using any reason to keep from working: over-researching, retyping, going to meetings, waxing the floors — anything.

  • No writer, however popular, disdains a reader, however humble.

  • I love hearing details of writers' craft, as cannibals eat the brains of clever men to get cleverer.

  • If I am to write, I must have a room to myself, which shall be my room.

    • Harriet Beecher Stowe,
    • letter to her husband (1840), in Annie Fields, ed., Life and Letters of Harriet Beecher Stowe ()
  • ... I truly was neither flesh, fowl nor good red herring, for this is what a writer is, a rogue who is outside any and every group, even the 'group' of writers.

  • ... the communal mental picture of the artist starving in a garret seems to me to have a grain of truth in it. What may be less familiar as an idea is my own notion that the artist creates his own garret and goes on hunger strike. ... The artist starves in his garret because he must have the resistance of the garret and the starvation but these privations can take many forms.

  • Writers 'get started' the day they are born. The minds they bring into the world with them are the amazing machines their stories will come out of, and the more they feed into it, the richer those stories will be.

  • Miserable is the fate of writers: if they are agreeable, they are offensive; and if dull, they starve.

  • My age is my own private business and I intend to keep it so — if I can. I am not so old that I am ashamed of my age and I am not so young that I couldn't have written my book and that is all the public needs to know about my age.

    • Margaret Mitchell,
    • 1936, in Richard Harwell, ed., Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind Letters 1936-1949 ()
  • ... I have a passionate desire for personal privacy. I want to stand before the world, for good or bad, on the book I wrote, not on what I say in letters to friends, not on my husband and my home life, the way I dress, my likes and dislikes, et cetera. My book belongs to anyone who has the price, but nothing of me belongs to the public.

    • Margaret Mitchell,
    • 1938, in Richard Harwell, ed., Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind Letters 1936-1949 ()
  • It is axiomatic among writers that no one ever sues the writer of an unsuccessful book. Just let a book go over twenty-five thousand copies and it is surprising how many people's feelings are hurt, how many screwballs think their brain children have been stolen, and how many people feel that they have been portrayed in a manner calculated to bring infamy upon them.

    • Margaret Mitchell,
    • 1944, in Richard Harwell, ed., Margaret Mitchell's Gone With the Wind Letters 1936-1949 ()
  • Writing is so difficult that I often feel that writers, having had their hell on earth, will escape all punishment hereafter.

  • The writer must be willing, above everything else, to take chances, to risk making a fool of himself — or even to risk revealing the fact that he is a fool.

  • Was Thoreau never lonely? Certainly. Where do you think writing like his comes from? Camaraderie?

  • If I had been told that Hemingway was seated at the next table, I would certainly have stared my eyes out. And perhaps been disappointed in what I saw. The best of a good writer — and Hemingway was a great one — goes into his writing. What's left over may be less than an eyeful.

  • Writing fiction is an almost certain way of making a fool of yourself.

    • Jessamyn West,
    • introduction, Collected Stories of Jessamyn West ()
  • To note an artist's limitations is but to define his genius. 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 talent.

    • Willa Cather,
    • preface, The Best Short Stories of Sarah Orne Jewett ()
  • ... most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.

  • So long as a novelist works selfishly for the pleasure of creating character and situation corresponding to his own illusions, ideals and intuitions, he will always produce something worth while and natural. Directly he takes himself too seriously and begins for the alleged benefit of humanity an elaborate dissection of complexes, he evolves a book that is more ridiculous and tiresome than the most conventional cold cream girl novel of yesterday.

    • Willa Cather,
    • interview (1923), in L. Brent Bohlke, ed., Willa Cather in Person ()
  • A day which passed without a poem from my pen I considered lost and misused.

  • A story demanded to be written, and that is why I have not answered your letter before: a wrong-headed story, that would come blundering like a moth on my window, and stare in with small red eyes, and I the last writer in the world to manage such a subject. One should have more self-control. One should be able to say, Go away. You have come to the wrong inkstand, there is nothing for you here. But I am so weakminded that I cannot even say, Come next week.

  • ... about ten days ago I got started on a new book, and am completely, brazenly devoted to it: my hair is uncut, my letters are unwritten, the house is a shambles, and I sit here as happy as Mrs. Jellaby, though I am in 1836, not Africa. It won't go on like this, I shall fall over some obstacle, and wake out of my dreams with a black eye and broken shins: but while it does last, I daren't interrupt it. I haven't had such a spell of writing for nearly three years.

  • ... for the last six weeks I have found myself pestered by some characters in search of an author ...

  • ... I don't think four thousand copies such a wretched sale. You should try to take a longer view of it. If you had sold four thousand female tortoiseshell kittens, for instance, you would think you had done marvels.

  • I had always envisioned the literary life or, as we used to say in East Texas, 'being an arthur,' as involving a lot of hanging out at Elaine's in New York City with terribly witty people. I have finally become an arthur and I find myself hanging out at obscure radio stations, trying to think of answers to questions like, 'So, what is it about Texas?'

    • Molly Ivins,
    • "Being an 'Arthur'," in Mother Jones ()
  • The wretched Artist himself is alternatively the lowest worm that ever crawled when no fire is in him: or the loftiest God that ever sang when the fire is going.

  • There is nothing harder for an Artist than to retain his Artistic integrity in the tomb of success. A tomb, nevertheless, which nearly every Artist: whether he admits it or not; naturally wants to get into.

  • There is a secret and wholesome conviction in the heart of every man or woman who has written a book that it should be no easy matter for an intelligent reader to lay down that book unfinished. There is a pardonable impression among reviewers that half an hour in its company is sufficient.

  • Authorship has never been with me a matter of choice. I have not done it for amusement, or for money, or for fame, or for any reason but because I could not help it.

  • While feeling far less injured by toil than my friends took for granted I must be, I yet was always aware of the strong probability that my life would end as the lives of hard literary workers usually end, — in paralysis, with months or years of imbecility.

  • I have suffered, like other writers, from indolence, irresolution, distaste to my work, absence of 'inspiration,' and all that: but I have also found that sitting down, however reluctantly, with the pen in my hand, I have never worked for one quarter of an hour without finding myself in full train ...

  • When once experience taught me that I could work when I chose, and within a quarter of an hour of my determining to do so, I was relieved, in a great measure, from those embarrassments and depressions which I see afflicting many an author who waits for a mood instead of summoning it, and is the sport, instead of the master, of his own impressions and ideas.

  • The crowning evil which arises from the system of 'lionism' is, that it cuts off the retreat of literary persons into the great body of human beings. They are marked out as a class, and can no longer take refuge from their toils and their publicity in ordinary life. ... the author has to do with those two things precisely which are common to the whole race, — with living and thinking. He is devoted to no exclusive department of science; and the art which he practices, — the writing what he thinks, — is quite a subordinate part of his business. The very first necessity of his vocation is to live as others live, in order to see and feel, and to sympathize in human thought. In proportion as this sympathy is impaired, will his views be partial, his understanding, both of men and books, be imperfect, and his power be weakened accordingly.

  • I wrote because I could not help it. There was something that I wanted to say, and I said it: that was all. The fame and the money and the usefulness might or might not follow. It was not by my endeavor if they did.

  • You say I must write another book? But I've just written this one. / You like it so much that's the reason? Read it again then.

    • Stevie Smith,
    • "To An American Publisher," Harold's Leap ()
  • ... a great artist ... takes what he did not make and makes of it something that only he can make ...

  • I have written chiefly because, though I have often dreaded the necessity, I have found it more painful, in the end, not to write.

  • But not until I was seven or more, did I begin to pray every night, 'O God, let me write books! Please, God, let me write books!'

  • Did you ever stop to think that a writer will spend three years, or many more, on a book that the average reader will skim through in a few hours?

  • The share of the sympathetic publisher in the author's success — the true success so different from the ephemeral — is apt to be overlooked in these blatant days, so it is just as well that some of us should keep it in mind.

  • ... a preface is a species of literary luxury, where an author, like a lover, is privileged to be egotistical ...

  • There is a terrible, mean American resentment toward a writer who tries to do many things.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "On Paul Goodman," in The New York Review of Books ()
  • One of the author's most ancient roles is to call the community to account for its hypocrisies and bad faith ...

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "Approaching Artaud," in The New Yorker ()
  • ... whatever doesn't kill you leaves scars.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Charles Ruas, Conversations With American Writers ()
  • ... volume depends precisely on the writer's having been able to sit in a room every day, year after year, alone ...

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

  • The unit of the poet is the word, the unit of the prose writer is the sentence.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1980, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • Like all former thinkers, I'm writing a book.

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

  • The writer's intention hasn't anything to do with what he achieves. The intent to earn money or the intent to be famous or the intent to be great doesn't matter in the end. Just what comes out.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in George Plimpton, ed., Writers at Work, 3rd Series ()
  • [On Tennessee Williams:] He writes by sanded fingertips.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in George Plimpton, ed., Writers at Work, 3rd Series ()
  • Writers talk too much.

    • Lillian Hellman,
    • in Jackson R. Bryer, ed., Conversations With Lillian Hellman ()
  • ... people in general are totally unable to detach the personality of a writer from the products of his thinking.

  • ... it is my conviction that the personality of the writer has nothing to do with the literate product of his mind. And publicity in this case embarrasses me because I am acutely conscious of how far short the book falls of the artistry I am struggling to achieve. It's like being caught half-dressed.

  • Hemingway, damn his soul, makes everything he writes terrifically exciting (and incidentally makes all us second-raters seem positively adolescent) by the seemingly simple expedient of the iceberg principle — three-fourths of the substance under the surface. He comes closer that way to retaining the magic of the original, unexpressed idea or emotion, which is always more stirring than any words. But just try and do it!

  • Personal publicity is apt to be dangerous to any writer's integrity; for the moment he begins to fancy himself as quite a person, a taint creeps into his work.

  • An author who enjoys writing may sometimes please other people by accident, but he can never pass on to any one else the zestful thrill he feels himself.

    • J.E. Buckrose,
    • "The Fun of Being an Author," What I Have Gathered ()
  • Results have nothing at all whatever to do with the private fun of being an author. There lies the answer to the problem which puzzles many wise people. Now it is plain why there are so many of us ... But the public fun of being an author is rather apt to wear thin ...

    • J.E. Buckrose,
    • "The Fun of Being an Author," What I Have Gathered ()
  • ... there are — as every one knows — two kinds of writing: one coming out of your vitals and the other from the top of your head. The first is the only sort from which any true private pleasure can be gained, for it is a way of getting something out of life which seemed to be there in childhood, when childhood is quite over.

    • J.E. Buckrose,
    • "The Fun of Being an Author," What I Have Gathered ()
  • ... she never published a line that was not worth reading.

  • In the arts, you simply cannot secure your bread and your freedom of action too. You cannot be a hostile critic of society and expect society to feed you regularly.

  • I think I've only spent about ten percent of my energies on writing. The other ninety percent went to keeping my head above water.

  • Human life itself may be almost pure chaos, but the work of the artist — the only thing he's good for — is to take these handfuls of confusion and disparate things, things that seem to be irreconcilable, and put them together in a frame to give them some kind of shape and meaning. Even if it's only his view of a meaning. That's what he's for — to give his view of life.

  • I started out with nothing in the world but a kind of passion, a driving desire. I don't know where it came from, and I don't know why — or why I have been so stubborn about it that nothing could deflect me. But this thing between me and my writing is the strongest bond I have ever had — stronger than any bond or any engagement with any human being or with any other work I've ever done.

  • Art is a vocation, as much as anything in this world. For the real artist, it is the most natural thing in the world, not as necessary as air and water, perhaps, but as food and water. ... to follow it you very often have to give up something.

  • ... I will never again attempt to tell any young person what to do — the really gifted don't need advice and the others can't take it.

  • Miss Stein ... simply exploded a verb as if it were a soap bubble, used chthonian grammar long before she heard it named (and she would have scorned to name it), was a born adept in occult hypnosis of language without even trying ... Wise or silly or nothing at all, down everything goes on the page with the air of everything being equal, unimportant in itself, important because it happened to her and she was writing about it.

    • Katherine Anne Porter,
    • "Gertrude Stein: A Self-Portrait," The Collected Essays and Occasional Writings ()
  • ... nobody respects the work of an artist; people resent very much his needing any time to do his work. There is not much money in it, at first any way, and the idea that it should be treated as a profession at least, with a place to work and hours during which one shouldn't be disturbed, is very upsetting to the kind of people who would never dream of disturbing a life insurance salesman while he was getting up his accounts ... Again, I think there is a great deal of resentment based on the fact that a man working in the arts, is supposed to be enjoying himself — he is one of the few persons in the world doing something he really likes and wants to do, so the notion that he should be paid for this use of his time is outrageous, to say the least. It is almost plain thievery for a man to take money for enjoying himself ...

  • ... advance money is really a delusion, that is to say, I get no more until it is paid out in sales, but still, living from hand to mouth and day to day as I do, a nickel in the hand is more useful than the same nickel next year. What do I know about next year? I've never been there. I don't know any one who has.

  • Novelists should never allow themselves to weary of the study of real life.

  • 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.

    • Charlotte Brontë,
    • biographical note (1850) to Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights ()
  • Bringing out our little books was hard work. The great puzzle lay in the difficulty of getting answers of any kind from the publishers to whom we applied.

    • Charlotte Brontë,
    • 1845, in Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, vol. 1 ()
  • ... I ought to be put in prison, and kept on bread and water in solitary confinement - without even a letter from Cornhill - till I had written a book. One of two things would certainly result from such a mode of treatment pursued for twelve months; either I should come out at the end of that time with a three-volume MS. in my hand, or else with a condition of intellect that would exempt me ever after from literary efforts and expectations.

    • Charlotte Brontë,
    • 1851, in Elizabeth Gaskell, The Life of Charlotte Brontë, vol. 2 ()
  • My relatives, Ellis and Acton Bell, and myself, heedless of the repeated warnings of various respectable publishers, have committed the rash act of printing a volume of poems. The consequences predicted have, of course, overtaken us: our book is found to be a drug; no man needs it or heeds it. In the space of a year our publisher has disposed but of two copies, and by what painful efforts he succeeded in getting rid of these two, himself only knows. Before transferring the edition to the trunkmakers, we have decided on distributing as presents a few copies of what we cannot sell; and we beg to offer you one in acknowledgement of the pleasure and profit we have often and long derived from your works. — I am, sir, yours very respectfully, Currer Bell.

    • Charlotte Brontë,
    • in Muriel Spark, ed., The Letters of The Brontës: A Selection ()
  • I'm just going to write because I cannot help it.

    • Charlotte Brontë,
    • 1836, in Margaret Smith, ed., The Letters of Charlotte Brontë, vol. 1 ()
  • Among the many problems which beset the novelist, not the least weighty is the choice of the moment at which to begin his novel.

  • Never, if you can possibly help it, write a novel. It is, in the first place, a thoroughly unsocial act. It makes one obnoxious to one's family and to one's friends. One sits about for many weeks, months, even years, in the worst cases, in a state of stupefaction.

  • I love people. I love my family, my children ... but inside myself is a place where I live all alone and that's where you renew your springs that never dry up.

  • The Government should prohibit the import of literary pulp as well as wood pulp from Sweden. From that country comes the erotopriggery of Miss Ellen Key, which exhorts women to abandon all personality and creative effort and be but the damp towel to bind round the heated temples of intellectual man. And from that country comes August Strindberg, that unattractive person who was never at his ease except when he was suffering from persecution mania, and who regarded three wives and a few delusions as adequate material for hundreds of plays. And from that country Strindberg constantly comes, and continues to come.

  • Mr. Arnold Bennett feels he has ranked himself for ever as a dry wine by what he mixed with himself of Maupassant; nevertheless he has put on the market some grocer's Sauterne in the form of several novels that are highly sentimental so far as their fundamental balance of values is concerned.

  • [On Jane Austen:] To believe her limited in range because she was harmonious in method is as sensible as to imagine that when the Atlantic Ocean is as smooth as a mill-pond it shrinks to the size of a mill-pond.

    • Rebecca West,
    • "The Long Chain of Criticism," The Strange Necessity ()
  • When you think about it, what other playwrights are there besides O'Neill, Tennessee and me?

    • Mae West,
    • in George Eells and Stanley Musgrove, Mae West ()
  • Writers do not live one life, they live two. There is the living and then there is the writing. There is the second tasting, the delayed reaction.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1932, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 1 ()
  • One handles truths like dynamite. Literature is one vast hypocrisy, a giant deception, treachery. All writers have concealed more than they revealed.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1948, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 5 ()
  • We must protect the minority writers because they are the research workers of literature. They keep it alive. It has been fashionable of late to seek out and force such writers into more popular channels, to the detriment of both writer and an unprepared public.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1950, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 5 ()
  • ... I am a failure as a writer. The publishers won't publish me, the bookshops won't carry my books, the critics won't write about me. I am excluded from all anthologies, and completely ignored.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1953, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 5 ()
  • We write to taste life twice, in the moment, and in retrospection. ... We write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it. We write to teach ourselves to speak with others, to record the journey into the labyrinth.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1954, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 5 ()
  • When I don't write, I feel my world shrinking, I feel I am in a prison. I feel I lose my fire, my color.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1954, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 5 ()
  • The role of the writer is not to say what we can all say, but what we are unable to say.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1954, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 5 ()
  • Looking back, I imagine I was always writing. Twaddle it was, too. But better far write twaddle or anything, anything, than nothing at all.

  • Any writer overwhelmingly honest about pleasing himself is almost sure to please others.

  • A writer is unfair to himself when he is unable to be hard on himself.

    • Marianne Moore,
    • in George Plimpton, ed., Writers at Work, 2nd series ()
  • It is in general true that in order to create works of art one has to have leisure. On the other hand I think that one needs to experience resistance in a practical sense, and even that which is poignant to bring out what makes easy reading for others. Too much deprivation of course, means death.

    • Marianne Moore,
    • 1922, in Bonnie Costello, ed., The Selected Letters of Marianne Moore ()
  • Mr. [Aldous] Huxley has been the alarming young man for a long time, a sort of perpetual clever nephew who can be relied on to flutter the lunch party. Whatever will he say next? How does he think of those things? He has been deplored once or twice, but feeling is in his favor: he is steadily read. He is at once the truly clever person and the stupid person's idea of the clever person; he is expected to be relentless, to administer intellectual shocks.

  • My writing, I am prepared to think, may be a substitute for something I have been born without — a so-called normal relation to society. My books are my relation to society.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Why Do I Write?" in Hermione Lee, ed., The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen ()
  • As soon as you become a writer, you lose contact with ordinary experience or tend to. ... the worst fate of a writer is to become a writer.

    • Mary McCarthy,
    • 1966, in Carol Gelderman, Conversations With Mary McCarthy ()
  • Who are those ever multiplying authors that with unparalleled fecundity are overstocking the world with their quick succeeding progeny? They are novel-writers ...

    • Hannah More,
    • "On Female Study, and Initiation Into Knowledge," Strictures on the Modern System of Female Education ()
  • Writers matter in a society to the extent that we can help that society hear its unvoiced longing, encounter its erased and disregarded selves, break with complacency, numbness, despair.

  • I am writing for myself and strangers. This is the only way that I can do it. ... I write for myself and strangers.

  • One of the pleasantest things those of us who write or paint do is to have the daily miracle. It does come.

  • I always wanted to be historical, from almost a baby on, I felt that way about it ...

    • Gertrude Stein,
    • 1946, in Carl Van Vechten, ed., Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein ()
  • The artist is the voice of the people, but she is also The People.

    • Alice Walker,
    • "The Unglamorous But Worthwhile Duties of the Black Revolutionary Artist, or of the Black Writer Who Simply Works and Writes" (1971), In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens ()
  • Deliver me from writers who say the way they live doesn't matter. I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for?

    • Alice Walker,
    • "Alice Walker: Do You Know This Woman? She Knows You," in Gloria Steinem, Outrageous Acts and Everyday Rebellions ()
  • ... in the beginning William Shakespeare was a baby, and knew absolutely nothing. He couldn't even speak.

  • I wonder why people so commonly suppose that if two individuals are both writers they must therefore be hugely congenial.

  • There are so many ready to write (poor fools!) for the honor and glory of the thing, and there are so many ready to take advantage of this fact, and withhold from needy talent the moral right to a deserved remuneration.

  • When a literary person's exhaustive work is over, the last thing he wishes to do is to talk books.

  • It is the most astonishing thing that persons who have not sufficient education to spell correctly, to punctuate properly, to place capital letters in the right places, should, when other means of support fail, send mss. for publication.

  • In Africa, when you pick up a book worth reading, out of the deadly consignments which good ships are always being made to carry out all the way from Europe, you read it as an author would like his book to be read, praying to God that he may have it in him to go on as beautifully as he has begun. Your mind runs, transported, upon a fresh deep green track.

  • We are often like rivers: careless and forceful, timid and dangerous, lucid and muddied, eddying, gleaming, still. Lovers, farmers, and artists have one thing in common, at least — a fear of 'dry spells,' dormant periods in which we do no blooming, internal droughts only the waters of imagination and psychic release can civilize.

  • [On her husband's use of material from her diary and letters:] Mr. Fitzgerald — I believe that is how he spells his name — seems to believe that plagiarism begins at home.

    • Zelda Fitzgerald,
    • "Mrs. F. Scott Fitzgerald Reviews The Beautiful and Damned, Former Husband's Latest," New York Tribune ()
  • Thou large-brained woman and large-hearted man.

  • ... many a fervid man / Writes books as cold and flat as graveyard stones ...

  • Like to write? Of course, of course I do. I seem to live while I write — it is life, for me.

    • Elizabeth Barrett Browning,
    • 1845, in Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett, The Letters of Robert Browning and Elizabeth Barrett Barrett 1845-1846, vol. 1 ()
  • Publication is the auction / Of the Mind of Man.

    • Emily Dickinson,
    • in Mabel Loomis Todd, ed., The Letters of Emily Dickinson 1845-1886 ()
  • ... writers who go outside the lines when they draw pictures of the world are seldom rewarded for their efforts.

  • When I went to school, they told me literature was a rope I must use to climb out of the dark well of unknowing. Writers are the knots on the rope.

    • Jennifer Stone,
    • "Life Styles of the Wise and Feminist," in Before Columbus Review ()
  • We who write are survivors.

    • Tillie Olsen,
    • in Sara Ruddick and Pamela Daniels, Working It Out ()
  • Compared to men writers of like distinction and years of life, few women writers have had lives of unbroken productivity, or leave behind a 'body of work.' Early beginnings, then silence; or clogged late ones (foreground silences); long periods between books (hidden silences); characterize most of us.

  • Writers in a profit making economy are an exploitable commodity whose works are products to be marketed, and are so judged and handled.

  • Literature is a place for generosity and affection and hunger for equals — not a prizefight ring. We are increased, confirmed in our medium, roused to do our best, by every good writer, every fine achievement. Would we want one good writer or fine book less? The sense of writers being pitted against each other is bred primarily by the workings of the commercial marketplace, and by critics lauding one writer at the expense of another while ignoring the existence of nearly all.

  • Not to have an audience is a kind of death.

  • The habits of a lifetime when everything else had to come before writing are not easily broken, even when circumstances now often make it possible for writing to be first; habits of years — responses to others, distractibility, responsibility for daily matters — stay with you, mark you, become you. The cost of discontinuity (that pattern still imposed on women) is such a weight of things unsaid, an accumulation of material so great, that everything starts up something else in me; what should take weeks take me sometimes months to write; what should take months, takes years.

  • Mrs. Morland very wittily defined an agent as someone whom you pay to make bad blood between yourself and your publisher.

  • This has been a most wonderful evening. Gertrude has said things tonight it will take her ten years to understand.

  • 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.

  • Once a book is published, it no longer belongs to me. My creative task is done. The work now belongs to the creative mind of my readers. I had my turn to make of it what I would, now it is their turn.

  • When people ask me what qualifies me to be a writer for children, I say I was once a child. But I was not only a child, I was, better still, a weird little kid, and though I would never choose to give my own children this particular preparation for life, there are few things, apparently, more helpful to a writer than having once been a weird little kid.

  • The work reveals the creator — and as our universe in its vastness, its orderliness, its exquisite detail, tells us something of the One who made it, so a work of fiction, for better or worse, will reveal the writer.

  • We are 'writers,' we are not supposed to be interested in filthy lucre, we are supposed to be starry eyed artistes. ... In Reality Land, we all want to maybe put dinner on the table once in a while, but in Fantasy Land, we are not supposed to be even interested in money because we are so caught up in the emotion of it all. That's an illusion, but people like it and it makes us feel holy or something so we all play along.

  • It's not the college degree that makes a writer. The great thing is to have a story to tell.

  • The writer has a grudge against society, which he documents with accounts of unsatisfying sex, unrealized ambition, unmitigated loneliness, and a sense of local and global distress.

  • I asked how long it [his book] was. 'Eight hundred and ninety-seven pages,' he said. Then he added, earnestly, 'You don't suppose they'll think I wrote it in a fit of pique.'

  • If I haven't anything to write, I am just as anxious to 'take my pen in hand' as though I had a message to deliver, a cause to plead, or a problem to unfold. Nothing but writing rests me; only then do I seem completely myself!

  • All is fish that comes to the literary net. Goethe puts his joys and sorrows into poems; I turn my adventures into bread and butter.

    • Louisa May Alcott,
    • 1872, in Ednah D. Cheney, ed., Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals ()
  • After toiling so many years along the uphill road — always a hard one to women writers — it is peculiarly grateful to me to find the way growing easier at last, with pleasant little surprises blossoming on either side, and the rough places made smooth by the courtesy and kindness of those who have proved themselves friends as well as publishers.

    • Louisa May Alcott,
    • 1869, in Ednah D. Cheney, ed., Louisa May Alcott: Life, Letters, and Journals ()
  • ... books have been my greatest comfort, castle-building a never-failing delight, and scribbling a very profitable amusement.

    • Louisa May Alcott,
    • in Eve LaPlante, Marmee and Louisa: The Untold Story of Louisa May Alcott and Her Mother ()
  • But authors before they write should read.

    • Fanny Burney,
    • 1779, in Charlotte Barrett, ed., Diary and Letters of Madame D'Arblay, vol. 1 ()
  • There is and always has been for me a peculiar need to write. This is very different from wanting to be a writer. To be a writer always seemed something so far removed from my talents and abilities and imaginings that it didn't afflict me at all as a notion when I was young. But I was always conscious that I wanted to write.

  • A good many established writers seem to have the feeling that some day they are going to be found out, revealed as frauds.

  • It is easier for the reader to judge, by a thousand times, than for the writer to invent. The writer must summon his Idea out of nowhere, and his characters out of nothing, and catch words as they fly, and nail them to the page. The reader has something to go by and somewhere to start from, given to him freely and with great generosity by the writer. And still the reader feels free to find fault.

  • Writers were never meant to be professionals. Writing is not a profession, it is an activity, an essentially amateur occupation. It is what you do when you are not living.

  • I never claimed to be a low-maintenance gal, but when I'm writing, it's particularly challenging. I lose things constantly: my watch, my glasses, my papers, my mind.

  • Writers and travelers are mesmerized alike by knowing of their destinations.

  • Children, like animals, use all their senses to discover the world. Then artists come along and discover it the same way ... Or now and then we'll hear from an artist who's never lost it.

  • I was seven years old when I said to my mother, 'May I close the door to my room?' She said I could do that, but she wanted to know why. ... I told her I wanted to be alone to think. When I was eleven, I asked her if I could lock the door, and she asked why. I said, 'Because now I want to write.'

  • One of the obligations of the writer, and perhaps especially of the poet, is to say or sing all that he or she can, to deal with as much of the world as becomes possible to him or her in language.

    • Denise Levertov,
    • "Statement for a Television Program," The Poet in the World ()
  • ... you've got to go into the open market and take punishment — the way, since the beginning of art, every great artist has.

  • I think that very often younger writers don't appreciate how much hard work is involved in writing. The part of writing that's magic is the thinnest rind on the world of creation. Most of a writer's life is just work. It happens to be a kind of work that the writer finds fulfilling in the same way that a watchmaker can happily spend countless hours fiddling over the tiny cogs and bits of wire. ... I think the people who end up being writers are people who don't get bored doing that kind of tight focus in small areas.

  • A writer's heart, a poet's heart, an artist's heart, a musician's heart is always breaking. It is through that broken window that we see the world; more mysterious, beloved, insane, and precious for the sparkling and jagged edges of the smaller enclosure we have escaped.

  • I write in the first person because I have always wanted to make my life more interesting than it was.

  • Fiction never exceeds the reach of the writer's courage.

  • wires instead of veins. that's what writers are made of. we get these electric demands & if we dont co-operate, we dont get to go to sleep. wired. coffee nerves without the coffee.

  • People begin to write in order to create what they have not found and, a little bit, to give something back.

    • Dorothy Allison,
    • American Booksellers Association convention speech (1995), in The Hungry Mind Review ()
  • A dishonest writer is one of the most dangerous things that you can have in the world.

  • I think writers worry that you might not exist in some strange way if you're not writing.

  • Like bees who by instinct go from flower to flower gathering honey, writers, merely by being alive, are constantly gathering ideas and impressions — their honey — which eventually will lodge somewhere in some books ...

    • Eleanor Estes,
    • "Gathering Honey," in The Horn Book Magazine ()
  • The novelists of the nineteeth century had all the luck. They had a huge and easily pleased public and the world they surveyed had every appearance of permanence.

  • At her writing-table she came together. She often visualized herself as clinging to it by main force and writing down her thoughts while a perfect gale tried to detach her from it and scatter her to the four winds.

  • We romantic writers are here to make people feel and not think.

  • But for any writer worthy of the name ... there are moments during the writing process when the rest of the planet might as well have gone to Venus. And those moments are not for sale.

  • Unlearning is the choice, conscious or unconscious, of any real artist. And it is the true sign of maturity.

    • Madeleine L'Engle,
    • lecture (1976), in Carole F. Chase, ed., Madeleine L'Engle Herself: Reflections on a Writing Life ()
  • We do not know and cannot tell when the spirit is with us. Great talent or small, it makes no difference. We are caught within our own skins, our own sensibilities; we never know if our technique has been adequate to the vision.

  • Writers write. Everybody else makes excuses.

  • I know some very great writers, writers you love who write beautifully and have made a great deal of money, and not one of them sits down routinely feeling wildly enthusiastic and confident. Not one of them writes elegant first drafts. All right, one of them does, but we do not like her very much. We do not think that she has a rich inner life or that God likes her or can even stand her.

  • My writer friends, and they are legion, do not go around beaming with quiet feelings of contentment. Most of them go around with haunted, abused, surprised looks on their faces, like lab dogs on whom very personal deodorant sprays have been tested.

  • Becoming a writer is about becoming conscious.

  • A writer paradoxically seeks the truth and tells lies every step of the way.

  • Unless I write things down I never know / what I think, no less feel, about the world. / ... / In short I don't know I'm alive unless / I'm writing as I'll only be convinced / — when I am scribbled on some stony epitaph — / that I am gone ... and the rest is silence.

  • In the end, the difference between a published writer and an unpublished one comes down to one thing: The unpublished writer gave up, and the published writer didn't.

  • We are often miserable at our desk or typewriters, but not happy away from them.

  • Every writer knows the terror of an unexpected success. How to carry on? How to repeat it?

  • [When working on a book] I have an almost complete detachment from the world I live in, a sort of armor against distraction. I talk to people, move about, appear on the surface much as usual. But later on I have only a confused memory of what has happened during that period.

  • The author lives with one foot in an everyday world and the other feeling about anxiously for a foothold in another more precarious one.

  • ... it is axiomatic with most writing people that there are no such things as perfect conditions for work.

  • Fish gotta swim, birds gotta fly, writers will go to stupefying lengths to get the infernal roar of words out of their skulls and onto paper.

  • ... there are people who read my work and accuse me of being political! As far as I'm concerned that's like accusing a dog of having a bark!

  • The artist deals with what cannot be said in words ... The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.

  • Nobody knows what I am trying to do but I do and I know when I succeed.

  • A writer's occupational hazard: I think of eavesdropping as minding my business.

  • The writer of originality, unless dead, is always shocking, scandalous; novelty disturbs and repels.

  • In order to be an artist, one must be deeply rooted in the society.

  • Every time I start on a new book, I am a beginner again. I doubt myself, I grow discouraged, all the work accomplished in the past is as though it never was, my first drafts are so shapeless that it seems impossible to go on with the attempt at all, right up until the moment — always imperceptible, there, too, there is a break — when it is has become impossible not to finish it.

  • ... except when when I am traveling or when extraordinary events are occurring, a day when I do not write tastes of ashes.

  • A writer is hoisted up onto a pedestal only to scrutinize him more closely and conclude that it was a mistake to put him up there in the first place.

  • Writing is a border town between experience, imagination, and understanding. Borders are wild and unstable places so it's a good idea to be as centered as possible when visiting them. The reasons writers often surround their writing time with rituals such as jumping rope, making coffee, or rearranging piles of paper is that these are ways to prepare for the trip.

  • ... for a dyed-in-the-wool author nothing is as dead as a book once it is written. ... she is rather like a cat whose kittens have grown up. While they were a-growing she was passionately interested in them but now they seem hardly to belong to her — and probably she is involved with another batch of kittens as I am involved with other writing.

  • There is no security, no assurance that because we wrote something good two months ago, we will do it again. Actually, every time we begin, we wonder how we ever did it before.

  • Writers live twice.

  • It was considered very bad form to wish authors on their birthdays 'many happy returns.'

  • Novelists have to love humanity to write anything worthwhile. Poets have to love themselves.

  • Often I am asked, who taught me how to write? Everything, I want to say. Everything taught me, everything became my teacher, though at the time I was not aware of all the tender shoots that helped me along, that came up in Mr. Clemente's class, in Mr. Cates's, with all the teachers I can't remember anymore, with all the blank times, the daydreaming, the boredom, the American legacy of loneliness and alienation, my Jewish background, the sky, the desk, a pen, the pavement, small towns I've driven through. The list could go on and on until I named every moment I was alive ... And we can't avoid an inch of our own experience; if we do it causes a blur, a bleep, a puffy unreality. Our job is to wake up to everything, because if we slow down enough, we see we are everything.

  • ... to live life as a writer is a very lucky thing.

  • Any writer knows he has to pay for his compliments. As soon as he has said, Why, thank you, that's very generous of you, the other person clears his throat and dives into his own writing experiences.

  • A novelist has two lives — a reading and writing life, and a lived life. he or she cannot be understood at all apart from this.

  • Novelists never have to footnote.

  • A novelist is on the cusp between someone who knows everything and someone who knows nothing.

  • All my life, I knew, all my life I would be haunted by words from Shakespeare.

  • ... the people who say Shakespeare didn't write Shakespeare are the same kind of people who wrap their heads in tin foil so the aliens can't read their thoughts.

  • ... the moment when I am writing fiction is that moment when I am most intensely alive.

  • If you're a writer there will come at least one morning in your life when you wake up and want to kill your agent.

  • Writers do not write what they want, they write what they can. When I was 21 I wanted to write like Kafka. But, unfortunately for me, I wrote like a script editor for The Simpsons who'd briefly joined a religious cult and then discovered Foucault.

    • Zadie Smith,
    • "This Is How It Feels to Me," in The Guardian ()
  • One writes in order to feel ...

  • The trouble is when people read about authors, they don't feel compelled to read the authors' work.

    • Donna Tartt,
    • interview with Mary Ann Grossmann, in St. Paul Pioneer Press ()
  • Inspiration is just one requirement for being a writer. Another is keeping regular working hours.

  • I wouldn't re-read one of my own books if you paid me!

  • The only way to become a writer is to write.

    • Joyce Porter,
    • "To a Would-Be Detective Story Writer," in A.S. Burack, ed., Writing Suspense and Mystery Fiction ()
  • A writer's business is minding other people's business ... all the vices of the village gossip are the virtues of the writer.

    • Dawn Powell,
    • in Richard Lingeman, "She Took a Village," The Nation ()
  • Over the years, I've found that I either live life or write about it. I can't seem to do both simultaneously — I have to do it sequentially. When I write incessantly, I lose touch with the issues and passions that fuel the work. But when I get too involved in organizations or movement endeavors, I almost forget that I'm a writer. It's a constant struggle to find a balance between these two worlds — the solitary writing life and the life of a social justice activist.

  • All writers are exiles wherever they live and their work is a lifelong journey towards the lost land ...

  • I believe that everything is political, and as such it should concern all of us. Authors who claim they don't deal with politics in their work are being naive, because even that is a political stance.

    • Elena Poniatowska,
    • in Marie-Lise Gazarian-Gautiez, Interviews with Latin American Writers ()
  • Writers in Latin America live in a reality that is extraordinarily demanding. Surprisingly, our answer to these demands protects and develops our individuality. I feel I am not alone in trying to give their voice to those who don't have it.

  • I live to the rhythm of my country and I cannot remain on the sidelines. I want to be here. I want to be part of it. I want to be a witness. I want to walk arm in arm with it. I want to hear it more and more, to cradle it, to carry it like a medal on my chest. Activism is a constant element in my life, even though afterwards I anguish over not having written 'my own things.' Testimonial literature provides evidence of events that people would like to hide, denounces and therefore is political and part of a country in which everything remains to be done and documented.

  • I write in order to belong.

  • Successful writers are not the ones who write the best sentences. They are the ones who keep writing.

  • Curiosity is the prime requisite of the novelist.

  • People who want to write — write. You can not keep them from it.

  • Writing is a good example of self-abandonment. I never completely forget myself except when I am writing and I am never more completely myself than when I am writing.

  • I never understand how writers can succumb to vanity — what you work the hardest on is usually the worst.

  • I certainly am glad you like the stories because now I feel it's not bad that I like them so much. The truth is I like them better than anybody and I read them over and over and laugh and laugh, then get embarrassed when I remember I was the one wrote them.

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

    • Flannery O'Connor,
    • "The Nature and Aim of Fiction," in Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, ed., Mystery and Manners ()
  • We hear a great deal of lamentation these days about writers having all taken themselves to the colleges and universities where they live decorously instead of going out and getting firsthand information about life. The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. If you can't make something out of a little experience, you probably won't be able to make it out of a lot. The writer's business is to contemplate experience, not to be merged in it.

    • Flannery O'Connor,
    • "The Nature and Aim of Fiction," in Sally and Robert Fitzgerald, ed., Mystery and Manners ()
  • The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that does not require his attention.

  • ... the writer is initially set going by literature more than by life.

  • The idea of being a writer attracts a good many shiftless people, those who are merely burdened with poetic feelings or afflicted with sensibility.

  • ... I don't want to weep in public, so I write.

  • I write so I won't scream.

  • 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 nine and twelve, I am there ready for it.

  • I am not afraid the book will be controversial, I'm afraid it will not be controversial.

  • The only people who think writing is easy are people who don't write. Writing's a difficult, courageous act. Bravery is required, as well as a great deal of slogging along. A lot of our work is work.

  • Writers are spies. Outsiders. Believers in the turning pages.

  • Writers are given the responsibility of sight. I think that the whole burden, responsibility and beauty of the gift forces us to construct our lives differently so that we are able to become vehicles to transcend, to encompass and articulate not only our own experience but the experiences of others.

  • 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.

  • Sit down and put everything that comes into your head and then you're a writer. But an author is one who can judge his own stuff's worth, without pity, and destroy most of it.

  • Artisans, bureaucrats, that's what we writers are! The joys of creation! Novels dashed off in ecstasy in three weeks! Nonsense! Three thousand pages botched and wasted in order to produce two hundred and fifty polished ones.

    • Colette,
    • in Robert Phelps, ed., Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook ()
  • It's terrible to think, as I do every time I begin a book, that I no longer have, and never have had, any talent.

    • Colette,
    • in Robert Phelps, ed., Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook ()
  • Writing novels preserves you in a state of innocence — a lot passes you by — simply because your attention is otherwise diverted.

  • If I could I would always work in silence and obscurity, and let my efforts be known by their results.

    • Emily Brontë,
    • 1850, in Bertha W. Smith and Virginia C. Lincoln, eds., The Writing Art ()
  • First publication is a pure, carnal leap in that dark which one dreams is light.

  • We waste a lot of time and a lot of talent trying to write for the common reader, whom we will never meet. Instead we should be writing for our ideal reader.

  • ... I write as the birds sing, because I must, and usually from the same source of inspiration.

    • Gene Stratton-Porter,
    • in Jeannette Porter Meehan, The Lady of the Limberlost: Life and Letters of Gene Stratton-Porter ()
  • [On being asked to name the best living author writing in English:] No one working in the English language now comes close to my exuberance, my passion, my fidelity to words.

  • I have never as yet gone a step to see a literary lion; but I would go a considerable way to see Emerson, this pioneer in the moral forests of the New World, who applies his axe to the roots of the old trees to hew them down and to open the paths for new planting.

    • Fredrika Bremer,
    • 1849, America of the Fifties: Letters of Fredrika Bremer ()
  • The idea that it is necessary to go to a university in order to become a successful writer, or even a man or woman of letters (which is by no means the same thing), is one of those phantasies that surround authorship.

  • The best prose is written by authors who see their universe with a poet's eyes.

  • An author who waits for the right 'mood' will soon find that 'moods' get fewer and fewer until they cease altogether.

  • [On book promotion:] The reward for writing well appears to be not to be able to do it for a long time.

  • As the following history is the product of a female pen, I tremble for the terrible hazard it must run in venturing into the world, as it may very possibly suffer, in many opinions, without perusing it; I therefore humbly move for its having the common chance of a criminal, at least to be properly examined, before it is condemned ...

  • Every book extant has an author, but the writer, to justify the name, must write. The moment a work is completed, he is again a would-be writer, a hopeful, naive, star-struck aspirant.

    • Diana Chang,
    • "Woolgathering, Ventriloquism and the Double Life," in Dexter Fisher, ed., The Third Woman ()
  • I always tell people that I became a writer not because I went to school but because my mother took me to the library. I wanted to become a writer so I could have my name in the card catalog.

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

  • Blank pages inspire me with terror.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Joyce Carol Oates, ed., First Person Singular: Writers on Their Craft ()
  • You need a certain amount of nerve to be a writer, an almost physical nerve, the kind you need to walk a log across a river.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 2 ()
  • Wanting to meet an author because you like his work is like wanting to meet a duck because you like paté.

  • My favorite author's question of all time — because it's so simple to answer ... 'Is your hair really like that, or do you get it done?'

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • speech, American Booksellers Association convention ()
  • A ratio of failures is built into the process of writing. The wastebasket has evolved for a reason.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 2 ()
  • The utmost the American novelist can hope for, if he hopes at all to see his work included in the literature of his time, is that it may eventually be found to be along in the direction of the growing tip of collective consciousness. Preeminently the novelist's gift is that of access to the collective mind.

    • Mary Austin,
    • "The American Form of the Novel," in New Republic Magazine ()
  • My mother would like me to start all interviews by stating that she and my father are perfectly normal. They are proud of me, and as perplexed as anyone by my novels.

  • The complexion of a novelist is seldom rosy (Paul Bailey once announced to a heavy-hearted audience of novelists at PEN that we have always been an ugly tribe). We are engaged in indoor activity, haemorrhoidal, prone to chillblains, poor of circulation.

    • Jane Gardam,
    • in Clare Boylan, ed., The Agony and the Ego ()
  • Writing, I think, is not apart from living. Writing is a kind of double living. The writer experiences everything twice. Once in reality and once in that mirror which waits always before or behind.

  • ... securing an agent is a nightmare. And once secured, the agent may be a nightmare.

  • Part of the business of being an artist is abetting talent. The best do that.

  • For my money, there are no more fascinating, hard-working, vulnerable creatures on earth than writers. Every day, they lay their souls out there for public approval or rejection.

  • If you want to be a writer, you should go into the largest library you can find and stand there contemplating the books that have been written. Then you should ask yourself, 'Do I really have anything to add?' If you have the arrogance or the humility to say yes, you will know you have the vocation.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "An End to Audience?" Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • It's a critical fallacy of our times ... that a writer should 'grow,' 'change,' or 'develop.' This fallacy causes us to expect from children or radishes: 'grow,' or there's something wrong with you. But writers are not radishes. If you look at what most writers actually do, it resembles a theme with variations more than it does the popular notion of growth.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Valgardsonland: Red Dust," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • I'm a novelist, and idle speculation is what novelists do. How odd to spend one's life trying to pretend that non-existent people are real: though no odder, I suppose, than what government bureaucrats do, which is trying to pretend that real people are non-existent.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • "Canadian-American Relations: Surviving the Eighties," Second Words: Selected Critical Prose ()
  • Writers trap furtive truths. They pull them from the dim corners where they would prefer to hide. They bring them into the light, catch them in midflight.

  • What marks a writer is this: until she — or he, of course — writes down whatever happened, turns it into a story, it hasn't really happened, it hasn't shape, form, reality.

  • I am profoundly uncertain about how to write. I know what I love or what I like, because it's a direct, passionate response. But when I write I'm very uncertain whether it's good enough. That is, of course, the writer's agony.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • in Charles Ruas, Conversations With American Writers ()
  • There isn't a thought or feeling that doesn't alter or deepen when written. We are a writing animal. That is why all of us feel we have a book inside us. It isn't an illusion. We have got a book inside us.

    • Carol Bly,
    • Never Like You Plan: An Anthology of Writing by Elder Minnesotans From the COMPAS Literary Post Program ()
  • Anyone who works at home, particularly a woman, is expected to also run the household and be a parent. The family tends to think, 'Oh, she's not really working, so it doesn't matter if she does it today or doesn't do it today — if I need her to go shopping for shoes, she will do it. So what if she doesn't work today.' That, unfortunately, has remained true through all these years. And, even now, as a successful writer, I think the family still tends to feel that way — 'So what if she doesn't work today.'

  • My new plan is to skip ahead to the talk shows and the movie, and write the novel later.

  • ... while there are 'women writers' there are not, and have never been, 'men writers.' This is an empty category, a class without specimens; for the noun 'writer' — the very verb 'writing' — always implies masculinity.

    • Joyce Carol Oates,
    • "(Woman) Writer: Theory and Practice," (Woman) Writer: Occasions and Opportunities ()
  • If you are a writer, you locate yourself behind a wall of silence and no matter what you are doing, driving a car or walking or doing housework ... you can still be writing because you have that space.

    • Joyce Carol Oates,
    • in Lucinda Franks, "The Emergence of Joyce Carol Oates," New York Times Magazine ()
  • Early publication can be a dubious blessing: we all know writers who would give anything not to have published their first book, and go about trying to buy up all existing copies.

  • ... time stood still. I fell into that beloved space that writers fall into, the reason most write, as it's better than drugs or alcohol ... a high without hangover, an affair without pain.

  • For me to write I have to be, a, alone, and b, know that nobody is going to question me. I write the way a thief steals; it's a little covert.

  • ... writers are always anxious, always on the run — from the telephone, from people, from responsibilities, from the distractions of this world.

    • Edna O'Brien,
    • in Shusha Guppy, "Edna O’Brien, The Art of Fiction No. 82," The Paris Review ()
  • The author portrays himself in every line he writes and portrayal is always betrayal.

  • What really annoys me are the ones who write to say, I am doing your book for my final examinations and could you please tell me what the meaning of it is. I find it just so staggering — that you're supposed to explain the meaning of your book to some total stranger! If I knew what the meanings of my books were, I wouldn't have bothered to write them.

  • ... no artist is so close to his raw material as the novelist.

  • I have more questions than answers in this world as do most poets and writers. The field of memory we exist in is absolutely encompassing and is both a question and answer. It is memory that provides the heart with impetus, fuels the brain, and propels the corn plant from seed to fruit.

  • In families, the youngest child is made much of. In the world of literature, it is quite other: the most recent book is found inferior to the first, and is whipped with the lauriers of its brother.

  • That is one last thing to remember: writers are always selling somebody out.

    • Joan Didion,
    • introduction, Slouching Towards Bethlehem ()
  • Quite often you want to tell somebody your dream, your nightmare. Well, nobody wants to hear about someone else's dream, good or bad; nobody wants to walk around with it. The writer is always tricking the reader into listening to the dream.

  • Had I been blessed with even limited access to my own mind there would have been no reason to write. I write entirely to find out what I'm thinking, what I'm looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.

    • Joan Didion,
    • "Why I Write," in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 1 ()
  • Invitations to speak upon public occasions are among my most grievous embarrassments. Why is it inferred that one is or can be a public speaker because she has written a book? Writing is a very private business. I do not know any other occupation which requires so much privacy unless it is a life of prayer or a life of crime.

  • There's nothing quite so irritating to an author as a family member's easy confidence that, of course, the book will come.

  • If I stop writing my life will have been an abject failure. It is that already to other people. But it could be an abject failure to myself. I will not have earned death.

  • ... all of a writer that matters is in the book or books. It is idiotic to be curious about the person.

  • I hope I may Live to Spend my time better And have Beter Imployment for my Pen ... Sometimes after our people is gone to Bed I get my Pen for I Dont know how to Content myself without writing Something.

  • ... the right to remove passages without consulting the Author seems to me to be quite new, and not yet common practice. This is the opinion shared by the half dozen Authors that I know personally. However, the Good Lord having not marked me with the sin of obstinancy, I shall give in to your demand ... and I await the next set [of proofs] in the humble attitude of a deflated balloon.

    • Madame de Ségur,
    • in Sophie Heywood, Catholicism and Children's Literature in France ()
  • At the age of thirty-five, I have just begun to become the kind of person who could understand the kind of book I would want to write.

  • Many persons erroneously suppose that an author has always on hand an unlimited number of her own books; or that the publisher will kindly give her as many as she can want for herself and friends. This is by no means the case.

  • Recollect that to a woman who gets her living by her pen, 'time is money,' as it is to an artist. Therefore, encroaching on her time is lessening her income. And yet how often is this done (either heedlessly or selfishly) by persons professing to be her friends, and who are habitually in the practice of interrupting her in her writing hours ...

  • Ignorant people always suppose that popular writers are wonderfully well-paid — and must be making rapid fortunes — because they neither starve in garrets, nor wear rags — at least in America.

  • And it does no harm to repeat, as often as you can, 'Without me the literary industry would not exist: the publishers, the agents, the sub-agents, the sub-sub-agents, the accountants, the libel lawyers, the departments of literature, the professors, the theses, the books of criticism, the reviewers, the book pages — all this vast and proliferating edifice is because of this small, patronized, put-down and underpaid person.'

  • What successful authors have in common, besides talent, is tenacity. Both qualities are good to have, but if you must pick only one, choose the latter. A writer without talent who persists is far more likely to succeed than a talented writer who gives up.

  • If I had to write a book, I could not find anything in the world worth saying — as is indeed the case with many voluminous authors.

  • Every life is a tragedy, but far more the writer's life, because the more he has to see, the more deeply he understands and feels about life, the less time he has to put it down.

    • Gabrielle Roy,
    • in Donald Cameron, Conversations With Canadian Novelists ()
  • I am dissatisfied with everything I have ever written and regard it all only as a preparation for that one work which probably I don't have it in me to write but which I hope I can go on trying for.

  • I am not a born writer, but I was born a writer.

  • If the very thought of taking off all your clothes in the middle of the Washington Mall during a school holiday makes you blush, you haven't even begun to dream what it feels like to publish a book.

  • The only real trouble that writing has ever brought me is an occasional sense of being invaded by the outside world. Why do people imagine that writers, having chosen the most private of professions, should be any good at performing in public, or should have the slightest desire to tell their secrets to interviewers from ladies' magazines? I feel I am only holding myself together by being extremely firm and decisive about what I will do and what I will not do. I will write my books and raise the children. Anything else just fritters me away. I know this makes me seem narrow, but in fact, I am narrow. I like routine and rituals and I hate leaving home; I have a sense of digging my heels in. I refuse to drive on freeways. I dread our annual vacation. Yet I'm continually prepared for travel: it is physically impossible for me to buy any necessity without buying a travel-sized version as well. I have a little toilet kit, with soap and a nightgown, forever packed and ready to go. How do you explain that?

    • Anne Tyler,
    • in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 1 ()
  • My family can always tell when I'm well into a novel because the meals get very crummy.

  • I write because I want more than one life; I insist on a wider selection. It's greed plain and simple. When my characters join the circus, I'm joining the circus. Although I'm happily married, I spend a great deal of my time mentally living with incompatible husbands.

    • Anne Tyler,
    • "Because I Want More Than One Life," in The Washington Post ()
  • A young musician plays scales in his room and only bores his family. A beginning writer, on the other hand, sometimes has the misfortune of getting into print.

  • Leaving behind books is even more beautiful — there are far too many children.

  • I think every creative impulse that a working writer, or artist of any sort has, comes out of that dark old country where dreams come from.

  • Among the hundreds of requests that have come to me are: ... 'Will you write my autobiography?'

  • ... the hospitable and gay world where Monica was passing cherished a certain tolerance for writers as for other incurables. Knowing them to be by no means always amusing, it charitably assumed that they were deep.

  • [Notice on the door of the room where she wrote:] This room is used for work / Do not enter without knocking / After you knock, wait for an answer / If you get no answer, go away and don't come back / This means everybody / This means you / This means night or day. Court-martialling will take place in the barn, and your trial will not be a fair one.

  • To be any sort of competent writer one must keep one's psychological distance from the supreme artists.

  • In the compact between novelist and reader, the novelist promises to lie, and the reader promises to allow it.

  • Invention despoils observations, insinuation invalidates memory. A stewpot of bad habits, all of it — so that imaginative writers wind up, by and large, a shifty crew, sunk in distortion, misrepresentation, illusion, imposture, fakery.

  • ... I've felt that if I just used initials nobody would know whether I was a man or a woman, a dog or a tiger. I could hide from view, like a bat on the underside of a branch.

  • To an American writer, I should think it must be a flattering distinction to escape the admiration of the newspapers.

  • Writers are what they write, also what they fail to write.

  • ... writers don't like to write letters. Too much like work.

    • Mari Sandoz,
    • 1938, in Helen Winter Stauffer, ed., Letters of Mari Sandoz ()
  • Busyness, I feel increasingly, is the writer's curse and downfall. You read too much and write too readily, you become cut off from your inner life, from the flow of your own thoughts, and turned far too much towards the outside world.

    • Hilary Mantel,
    • in Clare Boylan, ed., The Agony and the Ego ()
  • Proust has been dead since 1922, yet the annual appearance of his posthumous works has left him, to the reader, alive. Now there is nothing left to publish. Five years after his interment, Proust seems dead for the first time.

  • I'm a storyteller; I write what I want to read.

  • I try not to bore my readers.

  • Essayists must not only be succinct but have original ideas and, even harder to come by, or to fake, likable voices. Consciously or not, they endeavor to win us over by charm. If an essayist can not only charm but write the unforgettable sentence, one that reveals the heart in a few words, I'm her slave.

  • Another cause for the multiplication of flimsy books, is the universality of authorship; and this fashion for writing is, at least, as good a fashion as that of driving coaches and beating the watch. When all sorts and conditions of persons publish, all sorts and conditions of persons must read; and the annual quality of publications is less an exponent of the talent in the market, than of the minimum of wit, sense, and utility, beyond which the public will not buy.

  • I love writing for myself. I read them [my stories], I cry over them sometimes.

    • Grace Ogot,
    • in Charles R. Larson, ed., Under African Skies ()
  • People who write for a living recognize only two states of being: writing and making excuses.

  • Unemployed writers have muses. Employed writers just sweat.

  • I'm not happy when I'm writing, but I'm more unhappy when I'm not.

  • ... writing is the loneliest job in the world. There's always that frustrating chasm to bridge between the concept and the writing of it. We're a harassed tribe, we writers.

  • I read about writers' lives with the fascination of one slowing down to get a good look at an automobile accident.

  • Writers ... I think ... live on that fine line between insanity and genius ...

  • In twenty years I've never had a day when I didn't have to think about someone else's needs. And this means the writing has to be fitted around it.

    • Alice Munro,
    • in Catherine Sheldrick Ross, Alice Munro: A Double Life ()
  • I cannot remember back to a year in which I did not consider myself to be a writer, and the younger I was the bigger that capital 'W.'

    • Maud Hart Lovelace,
    • in Barbara Stuhler and Gretchen Kreuter, eds., Women of Minnesota: Selected Biographical Essays ()
  • [On Gertrude Stein:] Curie / of the laboratory / of vocabulary / she crushed / the tonnage / of consciousness / congealed to phrases / to extract / a radium of the word.

    • Mina Loy,
    • "Gertrude Stein" (1924), in Roger L. Conover, ed., The Lost Lunar Baedeker ()
  • A writer is a foreign country.

  • ... writers just kept on staring at nothing until they wrote something. Might be two minutes or two weeks.

  • Writers are entirely egocentric. To them, few things in their lives have meaning or importance unless they give promise of serving some creative purpose.

  • The 'creator' and the 'editor' — two halves of the writer whole — should sleep in separate rooms.

  • I didn't set out to become an unpublished writer, it just happened.

    • Nora Bartlett,
    • "An Excerpt From My Unpublished Writing," in Michelene Wandor, ed., On Gender and Writing ()
  • All writers are thieves; theft is a necessary tool of the trade.

  • Could anyone fail to be depressed by a book he or she has published? Don't we always outgrow them the moment the last page has been written?

  • In brief, we who write are all in the same boat, as if we are survivors of torpedoes, and we hope to reach the shores of thought with strength for more activity.

  • I think [James] Joyce sometimes enjoyed misleading his readers. He said to me that history was like that parlor game where someone whispers something to the person next to him, who repeats it not very distinctly to the next person, and so on until, by the time the last person hears it, it comes out completely transformed. Of course, as he explained to me, the meaning in Finnegans Wake is obscure because it is a 'nightpiece.' I think, too, that, like the author's sight, the work is often blurred.

  • I think Hemingway's [book] titles should be awarded first prize in any contest. Each of them is a poem, and their mysterious power over readers contributes to Hemingway's success. His titles have a life of their own, and they have enriched the American vocabulary.

  • And never forget that what you told me is something only you know about — no one else knows just what you know about anything.

    • Ursula Nordstrom,
    • in Leonard S. Marcus, ed., Dear Genius: The Letters of Ursula Nordstrom ()
  • ... in my skimmings over fiction I cannot recall any writer so continuously implicated in his own work as George Moore.

  • Well, great authors are great people — but I believe that they are best seen at a distance.

    • Mary Russell Mitford,
    • letter to Mrs. Hofland (1819), in the Reverend A.G. L'Estrange, ed., The Life of Mary Russell Mitford, vol. 2 ()
  • ... after my return from a second sojourn in West Africa ... I published a word-swamp of a book about the size of Norie's Navigation. ... It has led to my being referred to as 'an intrepid explorer,' a thing there is not the making of in me, who am ever the prey of frights, worries, and alarms; and its main effect, as far as I am personally concerned, has been to plunge me further still in debt for kindness from my fellow creatures, who, though capable of doing all I have done and more capable of writing about it in really good English, have tolerated that book and frequently me also, with half-a-dozen colds in my head and a dingy temper.

  • Any essayist setting out on a frail apparatus of notings and jottings is a brave person.

  • The novelist, afraid his ideas may be foolish, slyly puts them in the mouth of some other fool, and reserves the right to disavow them.

  • Probably writers should forget what it was like to write the last novel, and the one before that, and the one before that, or we should all be plumbers. It must be good to be a plumber. Everyone is happy to see you, and no one reviews your work.

  • Listen, non-writers, I am not boasting when I tell you that writing is not a sublimation of living, but living is a pretty feeble substitute for art. Listen, non-writers, this is passion. I am trembling, I am weak, I am strong, pardon me a moment while I go and make love to the world. ... I am every one of the keys of my typewriter, I am the clean white pages and the word-sprawled used ones, I am the sunlight on my own walls — rip off your dress, life, tear off your clothes, world, let me come closer; for listen: I am a sated, tired, happy writer, and I have to make love to the world.

    • Tess Slesinger,
    • "A Life in the Day of a Writer," Story Magazine ()
  • The war between authors and publishers has been a conflict of ages. On the one side, the publisher has been looked upon as a species of Wantley dragon, whose daily food was the brain and blood of hapless writers. ... On the other side, the author has been considered, like Shelley, 'an eternal child,' in all that relates to practical matters, and a terrible child at that, — incapable of comprehending details, and unreasonably dissatisfied with results.

  • Every writer's difficult journey is a movement from silence to speech. We must be intensely private and interior in order to find a voice and a vision — and we must bring our work to an outside world where the market, or public outrage, or even government censorship can destroy our voice.

  • I am a writer perhaps because I am not a talker. It has always been hard for me to say exactly what I mean in speech But if I have written a clumsiness, I may erase it.

    • Gwendolyn Brooks,
    • "Interviews: Summer, 1967," Report From Part One: An Autobiography ()
  • In silencing the voice of relentless self-hatred, the writer gains in fulfilled humanity as well as art.

  • Real writers revise and retype until either their fingers get stuck between the keys or they get it right.

  • I am not a first-rate writer. I write with blood in place of ink. But why should only first-rate writers have a place in the world? The railroad has a second class too! Isn't that so?

  • I grieve for my own lack of talent and intelligence. Every. Single. Time. Were I smarter, more gifted, I could pin down a closer facsimile of the wonders I see. I believe, more than anything, that this grief of constantly having to face down our own inadequacies is what keeps people from being writers.

    • Ann Patchett,
    • "The Getaway Car," This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage ()
  • The tricky thing about being a writer, or about being any kind of artist, is that in addition to making art you also have to make a living.

    • Ann Patchett,
    • "Nonfiction, an Introduction," This Is the Story of a Happy Marriage ()
  • I write for the still, small possibility of justice.

  • I have a basic indolence about me which is essential to writing. ... It's thinking time, it's hanging-out time, it's daydreaming time. You know, it's lie-around-the-bed time, it's sitting-like-a-dope-in-your-chair time. And that seems to me essential to any work.

    • Grace Paley,
    • 1981, in Gerhard Bach and Blaine H. Hall, eds., Conversations With Grace Paley ()
  • Few authors are so interesting as their work — they generally reserve their wit or trenchant sarcasm for their books.

  • ... the child is never far to seek in the author.

  • Why, if writing was drink I should be a drunkard: I simply could not refrain from it.

  • I think most of the people involved in any art always secretly wonder whether they are really there because they're good or there because they're lucky.

  • 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.

  • One ought not to write for money, but I consider it a first duty after one has written to exact the highest possible price. It is not a matter which concerns only the writer, but all writers.

    • Gail Hamilton,
    • 1890, in Susan Coultrap-McQuin, ed., Gail Hamilton: Selected Writings ()
  • Writing was the soul of everything else ... Wanting to be a writer was wanting to be a person.

  • I never overcame my conviction that writing for commercial television was a kind of prostitution.

  • Everybody won't like everything you write. Some people won't like anything you write. Get over it.

  • Anyone who's waiting for her or his in-basket to be empty before starting to write will never start to write.

  • Celebrate the success of others. High tide floats all ships.

  • I feel terribly vulnerable and 'not-myself' when I'm not writing ...

    • Sylvia Plath,
    • 1957, in Aurelia Schober Plath, ed., Letters Home ()
  • Every day one has to earn the name of 'writer' over again, with much wrestling.

    • Sylvia Plath,
    • 1956, in Aurelia Schober Plath, ed., Letters Home ()
  • I believe — I know (there are not many things I should care to dogmatize about, on the subject of writing) that writers need solitude, and seek alienation of a kind every day of their working lives. (And remember, they are not even aware when and when not they are working.) ... The tension between standing apart and being fully involved; that is what makes a writer.

  • In a certain sense a writer is 'selected' by his subject — his subject being the consciousness of his own era.

  • ... when it comes to their essential faculty as writers, all writers are androgynous beings.

  • Writers themselves don't analyze what they do; to analyze would be to look down while crossing a canyon on a tightrope.

  • ... a writer doesn't only need the time when he's actually writing — he or she has got to have time to think and time just to let things work out. Nothing is worse for this than society. Nothing is worse for this than the abrasive, if enjoyable, effect of other people.

    • Nadine Gordimer,
    • in Jannika Hurwitt, "Nadine Gordimer, The Art of Fiction No. 77," Paris Review ()
  • [On Muriel Spark:] ... whose two most recent books seem to indicate that she has chosen for good, the confines of some girls' institution as her private vision of the world; there are stockings dangling to dry above every page.

    • Nadine Gordimer,
    • "Notes of an Expropriator" (1964), Telling Times: Writing and Living 1950-2008 ()
  • I never talk about what I'm writing about currently, never. It's private work on your own, no need or obligation to talk about it. Writers are made into performers these days, including myself, but there are some instances in which I will not perform.

    • Nadine Gordimer,
    • in Karin Winegar, "A Voice Against Racism," Minneapolis Star Tribune ()
  • There are other great writers who are not read properly in their own day for the reason, perhaps, that their readers are not yet born. What they have to say to their own generation is said so at cross-purposes and with such apparent irrelevance that it is not understood. They are, as it were, giants who tower above their own age to cast their shadows across the next.

  • ... a scientist or a writer is one who ruminates continuously on the nature of physical or imaginative life, experiences repeated relief and excitement when the insight comes, and is endlessly attracted to working out the idea.

  • If you can't fail then how can you possible develop as a communicator or as a creator of anything? We are locked into a deeply unhealthy notion that somehow you've got to succeed all the time. An appalling notion. Any painter or writer will tell you that that is no way to proceed. One of the things that will kill off a decent actor, especially a young actor early on and they will never recover from it, is too much success. It's disastrous. You stop being criticized, therefore you stop challenging yourself. You then can't afford to fail because there's too far to fall.

  • [On husband James:] I've always told him he should give up writing and take up singing.

    • Nora Joyce,
    • in Brenda Maddox, Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom ()
  • [To her husband James:] Why don't you write sensible books that people can understand?

    • Nora Joyce,
    • in Brenda Maddox, Nora: The Real Life of Molly Bloom ()
  • That is what I work to do: to produce stories that save our lives.

  • All writers, musicians, artists, choreographers/dancers, etc., work with the stuff of their experiences. It's the translation of it, the conversion of it, the shaping of it that makes for the drama.

  • The only time I'm pleased with myself is when I'm exhausted and shaking from having written too much.

    • Mabel Seeley,
    • in Carmen Nelson Richards and Genevieve Rose Breen, eds., Minnesota Writes ()
  • Think of this — that the writer wrote alone, and the reader read alone, and they were alone with each other.

  • Being writers isn't what we do; it's who we are.

  • To write, you must first belong to yourself.

  • ... an idea in my head is like a rock in my shoe; I just can't wait to get it out.

  • Even when I cannot write, I know I am still a writer, just the way I know I am still sexual even if I have not had a lover for many months.

  • No, no, no, I can't, I cannot see new people: even the thought of it makes me so nervous that I can't work. ... The only thing I can do to preserve the little energy I still have is to keep writing, which pleases and excites and keeps me going.

    • Margaret Anderson,
    • letter to Janet Flanner (c. 1960s), in Shari Benstock, Women of the Left Bank: Paris, 1900-1940 ()
  • You know, I don't think a lot about why one book connects with its readers and another doesn't. Probably because I don't want to start thinking, 'Am I popular?' I spent way too much time thinking about that in high school.

    • Ursula K. Le Guin,
    • in Laura Miller, "Amazon Has Too Much Control Over What Books Get Published," Salon ()
  • The person who writes books must always be enveloped by a separation from others.

  • If I hadn't begun writing, I would have become an incurable alcoholic.

  • The writer's job is to turn the unspeakable into words — not just into any words, but if we can, into rhythm and blues.