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Writing2

  • I only get writer's block about once a day.

  • One of the things I've learned about this process is that you have to give everything away every single time. You can't hold back. ... there's always a sense of consuming yourself.

  • Writing is a process and you must trust the process! Fear and anxiety are part of that process along with the enthusaism and the good days and the joy and the passion and the great hopes you have for a book. But when you run into problems, when you get stuck or scared, you must trust that that is part of how a book comes to pass, and what you need to do is get very still and quiet because Self will tell you how to get out of a hole you've dug for yourself.

    • Sue Grafton,
    • in Barnaby Conrad, The Complete Guide to Writing Fiction ()
  • ... I lived in the midst of an affectionate charming family, and I am sure that there is no greater obstacle to a person who is just beginning to write.

  • Language is so stale, I have to keep pruning, cutting out deadness, letting it lie for a while, then pick it up again and see where it is dead, prune it and prune it, let it grow, then let it lie.

  • ... read widely, not in order to copy someone else's style, but to learn to appreciate and recognize good writing and to see how the best writers have achieved their result. Poor writing is, unfortunately, infectious and should be avoided.

  • So remember these two things: you are talented and you are original. Be sure of that. I say this because self-trust is one of the very most important things in writing ...

  • I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten, — happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.

  • ... it is only by expressing all that is inside that purer and purer streams come. ... Pour out the dull things on paper too—you can tear them up afterward—for only then do the bright ones come. If you hold back the dull things, you are certain to hold back what is clear and beautiful and true and lively.

  • Only amateurs say that they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving. But amusing? Never!

  • I think that in order to write really well and convincingly one must be somewhat poisoned by emotion. Dislike, displeasure, resentment, fault-finding, indignation, passionate remonstrance, a sense of injustice, are perhaps corrosive to the container but they make fine fuel.

  • If, while watching the sun set on a used-car lot in Los Angeles, you are struck by the parallels between this image and the inevitable fate of humanity, do not, under any circumstances, write it down.

  • To know whom to write for is to know how to write.

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • "The Patron and the Crocus," The Common Reader, 1st series ()
  • As for my next book, I am going to hold myself from writing till I have it impending in me: grown heavy in my mind like a ripe pear; pendant, gravid, asking to be cut or it will fall.

  • What a labour writing is ... making one sentence do the work of a page; that's what I call hard work.

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • 1935, in Nigel Nicolson and Joanne Trautmann, eds., The Letters of Virginia Woolf: Volume V: 1932-1935 ()
  • I believe that the main thing in beginning a novel is to feel, not that you can write it, but that it exists on the far side of a gulf, which words can't cross: that it's to be pulled through only in a breathless anguish.

    • Virginia Woolf,
    • 1928, in Louise DeSalvo and Mitchell A. Leaska, eds., The Letters of Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf ()
  • The artist deals with what cannot be said in words. The artist whose medium is fiction does this in words. The novelist says in words what cannot be said in words.

  • Lying is the misuse of language. We know that. We need to remember that it works the other way round too. Even with the best intentions, language misused, language used stupidly, carelessly, brutally, language used wrongly, breeds lies, half-truths, confusion. In that sense you can say that grammar is morality. And it is in that sense that I say a writer's first duty is to use language well.

  • What release to write so that one forgets oneself, forgets one's companion, forgets where one is or what one is going to do next — to be drenched in work as one is drenched in sleep or in the sea. Pencils and pads and curling blue sheets alive with letters heap up on the desk.

  • I must write it all out, at any cost. Writing is thinking. It is more than living, for it is being conscious of living.

  • In general, I feel, or I have come to feel, that the richest writing comes not from the people who dedicate themselves to writing alone. I know this is contradicted again and again but I continue to feel it. They don't, of course, write as much, or as fast, but I think it is riper and more satisfying when it does come. One of the difficulties of writing or doing any kind of creative work in America seems to me to be that we put such stress on production and material results. We put a time pressure and a mass pressure on creative work which are meaningless and infantile in that field.

  • It takes years to write a book — between two and ten years. ... Out of a human population on earth of four and a half billion, perhaps twenty people can write a book in a year. Some people lift cars, too. Some people enter week-long sled-dog races, go over Niagara Falls in barrels, fly planes through the Arc de Triomphe. Some people feel no pain in childbirth. Some people eat cars. There is no call to take human extremes as norms.

  • I do not so much write a book as sit up with it, as with a dying friend.

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

  • I am learning to see loneliness as a seed that, when planted deep enough, can grow into writing that goes back out into the world.

  • Syncletica sums up, I believe, the difficulty writers have in America in surviving success: to keep bearing fruit one must keep returning, humbly, to the blank page, to the uncertainty of the writing process, and not pay much heed to the 'noted author' the world wants you to be.

  • I can't write five words but that I change seven.

    • Dorothy Parker,
    • in Malcolm Cowley, ed., Writers at Work, 1st series ()
  • Accuracy is the basis of style. Words dress our thoughts and should fit; and should fit not only in their utterances, but in their implications, their sequences, and their silences, just as in architecture the empty spaces are as important as those that are filled.

  • Writing bridges the inner and outer worlds and connects the paths of action and reflection.

  • Another unsettling element in modern art is that common symptom of immaturity, the dread of doing what has been done before ...

  • In any really good subject one has only to probe deep enough to come to tears ...

  • In all the arts abundance seems to be one of the surest signs of vocation.

  • What with the reviews of critics, the sarcasms of one's friends, the reproaches of one's own taste, there's precious little peace after publishing a book ...

  • Lunches are just not good. They take the heart out of the day and the spaciousness from the morning's work.

  • My own feeling is that the only possible reason for engaging in the hard labor of writing a novel, is that one is bothered by something one needs to understand, and can come to understand only through the characters in the imagined situation.

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

    • May Sarton,
    • in Earl G. Ingersoll, ed., Conversations With May Sarton ()
  • If one is the kind of creature I am and wants to do the kind of writing I want to do, an undisturbed bourgeois existence with no distractions seems in order. A single meeting outside the family upsets one's whole inner web, makes one start off on two-days' thinking and weighing, destroys a delicate balance etc. etc. ... I now have enough friends to last me a lifetime and that is enough. I am going to close the doors and hibernate at least for a couple of years. I am frightfully depressed about my work. It seems to me perfectly mediocre.

    • May Sarton,
    • 1938, in Susan Sherman, ed., May Sarton: Selected Letters 1916-1954 ()
  • The manuscript may go forth from the writer to return with a faithfulness passing the faithfulness of the boomerang or the homing pigeon.

    • Rose Macaulay,
    • "Problems of a Writer's Life," A Casual Commentary ()
  • Words, living and ghostly, the quick and the dead, crowd and jostle the otherwise too empty corridors of my mind ... To move among this bright, strange, often fabulous herd of beings, to summon them at my will, to fasten them on to paper like flies, that they may decorate it, this is the pleasure of writing.

  • The process of writing, any form of creativity, is a power intensifying life.

  • The aim of my writing is to utterly remove the distance between author and reader so that the book becomes a sort of semipermeable membrane through which feelings, ideas, nutrients pass ...

  • One writes not by will but by surrender.

    • Erica Jong,
    • "Face-off at the Millennium," What Do Women Want? ()
  • Plot is just a fancy way of saying 'and then.'

  • Many snippets of varied experience come together to form the fabric of a novel but I think that this fabric is stretched like the canvas of a tent over the supports of a few basic, deeply-felt beliefs.

  • You can only write about what you don't know, and find out about it in the writing.

    • Jessamyn West,
    • "Breach of Promise," Collected Stories of Jessamyn West ()
  • Art, it seems to me, should simplify. That, indeed, is very nearly the whole of the higher artistic process; finding what conventions of form and what detail one can do without and yet preserve the spirit of the whole — so that all that one has suppressed and cut away is there to the reader's consciousness as much as if it were in type on the page.

    • Willa Cather,
    • "On the Art of Fiction" (1920), On Writing ()
  • You may choose your word like a connoisseur, / And polish it up with art, / But the word that sways, and stirs, and stays, / Is the word that comes from the heart.

  • 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.

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

  • For my part, the good novel of character is the novel I can always pick up; but the good novel of incident is the novel I can never lay down.

  • Nobody writes or wishes to / Who is one with their desire.

  • To seize the flying thought before it escapes us is our only touch with reality.

  • The writer's first job is not to have opinions but to tell the truth ... and refuse to be an accomplice of lies and misinformation. Literature is the house of nuance and contrariness against the voices of simplification. The job of the writer is to make it harder to believe the mental despoilers.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • "The Conscience of Words," At the Same Time ()
  • The only story that seems worth writing is a cry, a shot, a scream. A story should break the reader's heart.

    • Susan Sontag,
    • 1973, in David Rieff, ed., As Consciousness is Harnessed to Flesh ()
  • A room of one's own isn't nearly enough. A house, or, best, an island of one's own.

  • 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!

  • ... I prefer to get up very early in the morning and work. I don't want to speak to anybody or see anybody. Perfect silence. I work until the vein is out.

  • If I didn't know the ending of a story, I wouldn't begin. I always write my last lines, my last paragraph, my last page first, and then I go back and work towards it.

  • ... you have to be sure of your vocation. ... You've got to have a certainty beyond rationalization or question. Nobody can help you and nobody can promise you anything. You've got to take your life in your own hands, and you can't go showing manuscripts to other people and asking advice. You've got to work on your own without letting anyone else touch your work.

  • [On writing:] The most egotistic of occupations, and the most gratifying while it lasts.

  • I don't wait for moods — you'd never get anything done if you did.

  • ... sentences were used by man before words and still come with the readiness of instinct to his lips. They, and not words, are the foundations of all language. ... Your cat has no words, but it has considerable feeling for the architecture of the sentence in relation to the problem of expressing climax.

  • A work of art may be simple, though that is not necessary. There is no logical reason why the camel of great art should pass through the needle of mob intelligence ...

    • Rebecca West,
    • "Battlefield and Sky," The Strange Necessity ()
  • My scepticism long ago led me to the belief that writers write for themselves and not for their readers and that art has nothing to do with communication between person and person, only with communication between different parts of a person's mind.

  • Writing more and more to the sound of music, writing more and more like music. Sitting in my studio tonight, playing record after record, writing, music a stimulant of the highest order, far more potent than wine.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1935, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 2 ()
  • To write is to descend, to excavate, to go underground.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1948, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 5 ()
  • I learned very early in my life that music could transform, could transfigure, could transpose a human battle into beauty. When I was 16 and I became a painter's model ... I was learning about color from the painters. Later on, I learned the importance of the image, which I have always used in my writing as coming from the dream, a way of thinking which no modern life has ever been able to eradicate. As a writer I wanted simply to take all the various expressions of art into writing, and I thought each art must nourish the other, each one can add to the other. And I would take into writing what I learned from dancing, what I learned from music, what I learned from design, what I learned from architecture. From every form of art there is something that I wanted to include in writing, and I wanted writing, poetic writing, to include them all. Because I thought always of art not only as a balm, as a consolation, but I thought of art, as I said, as a supreme act of magic which is contained in certain words that I always tell students to write on a large piece of paper and to live with. These were all the words concerned with trans-: transcend, transmute, transform, transpose, transfigure. All the acts of creation were to me contained in these words, and I felt that no matter what we were living through, we had to find our strength, our harmony and a synthesis by which we could live, and make a center to resist outer events and whatever experience shattered us. I always used art to put something together again. That is why I favored the artist, because I learned from him this creating out of nothing.

    • Anaïs Nin,
    • 1973, The Diary of Anaïs Nin, vol. 7 ()
  • Indeed, since poetry is at base a word game and therefore capable of being examined by a horde of wordlovers, it is perhaps the most overscrutinized of accomplishments. Even the people who ought to understand it best — the poets — are not altogether to be trusted. Poets practice an irrational art. Theirs is an attempt to express the inexpressible (maybe as good a definition of poetry as any other) and they often bring it off. ... Trying to explain their procedures after the event they invent. They attribute conscious artifice to what was essentially a creative experience, a kind of drunkenness. I suppose I am alluding to that intangible which amateurs call Inspiration. There is such a thing as inspiration (lower case) but it is no miracle. It is the reward handed to a writer for hard work and good conduct. ... At the triumphant moment this gift may seem like magic but actually it is the result of effort, practice, and the slight temperature a sulky brain is apt to run when it is pushed beyond its usual exertions.

  • You have to stop living in order to write.

    • Martha Gellhorn,
    • in Caroline Moorehead, ed., Selected Letters of Martha Gellhorn ()
  • There is no feeling to be compared with the feeling of having written and finished a story.

  • Plot is the knowing of destination.

  • I am fully intelligent only when I write. I have a certain amount of small-change intelligence, which I carry round with me as, at any rate in a town, one has to carry small money, for the needs of the day, the non-writing day. But it seems to me I seldom purely think ... if I thought more I might write less.

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • "Why Do I Write?" in Hermione Lee, ed., The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen ()
  • Yes, writing a novel, my boy, is like driving pigs to market — you have one of them making a bolt down the wrong lane; another won't get over the right stile ...

    • Elizabeth Bowen,
    • 1945, in Hermione Lee, ed., The Mulberry Tree: Writings of Elizabeth Bowen ()
  • In any work that is truly creative, I believe, the writer cannot be omniscient in advance about the effects that he proposes to produce. The suspense of a novel is not only in the reader, but in the novelist himself, who is intensely curious too about what will happen to the hero.

    • Mary McCarthy,
    • "Settling the Colonel's Hash" (1954), On the Contrary ()
  • Writing saved me from the sin and inconvenience of violence — as it saves most writers who live in 'interesting' oppressive times and are not afflicted by personal immunity.

    • Alice Walker,
    • "One Child of One's Own," In Search of Our Mothers' Gardens ()
  • You'll never write anything that really satisfies you though it may satisfy other people.

  • The truest art I would strive for in any work would be to give the page the same qualities as earth: weather would land on it harshly; light would elucidate the most difficult truths; wind would sweep away obtuse padding.

  • If it's more work to read it / than it was to write it / burn it.

  • A friend of mine who writes history books said to me that he thought that the two creatures most to be pitied were the spider and the novelist — their lives hanging by a thread spun out of their own guts. But in some ways I think writers of fiction are the creatures most to be envied, because who else besides the spider is allowed to take that fragile thread and weave it into a pattern? What a gift of grace to be able to take the chaos from within and from it to create some semblance of order.

  • Style, if it can be summed up in a sentence, is the ability to say in writing, with clarity and economy and grace, precisely what you want to say.

  • You write for the same reason you talk: because you have something to say.

  • Writing about writing is a bit like talking about a conversation you are having; it tends to obscure desperation about where the next word is coming from.

  • Writing tends to cheer me; it always soothes my spirit and blesses me with the gift of an innocent, tender, childlike day. It is the sensation of having spent a few hours in my homeland, with my customs, free whims, my total freedom.

    • Gabrielle Mistral,
    • in Deborah G. Felder, The 100 Most Influential Women of All Time ()
  • Writing is the hammer & chisel that breaks down the established way of thinking. A concrete event, then an abstraction. An image, then a thought. Finally, writing builds another establishment with the fragments.

  • Good stories are not written. They are rewritten.

  • Began the second part of 'Little Women.' ... Girls write to ask who the little women marry, as if that was the only end and aim of a woman's life. I won't marry Jo to Laurie to please any one.

  • I asked for bread, and got a stone, — in the shape of a pedestal.

    • Louisa May Alcott,
    • 1875, in Ednah D. Cheney, ed., Louisa May Alcott: Her Life, Letters and Journals ()
  • My works are all expressly my own — pleasingly peculiar, not a borrowed stroke in one of them. I write as I feel and as I don't feel.

  • ... I certainly do not adore the writer's discipline. I have lost lovers, endangered friendships, and blundered into eccentricity, impelled by a concentration which usually is to be found only in the minds of people about to be executed in the next half hour.

    • Maya Angelou,
    • in Mari Evans, ed., Black Women Writers (1950-1980) ()
  • A writer didn't need 'an' idea for a book; she needed at least forty. And 'get' was the wrong word, implying that you received an idea as you would a gift. You didn't get ideas. You smelled them out, tracked them down, wrestled them into submission; you pursued them with forks and hope, and if you were lucky enough to catch one you impaled it, with the forks, before the sneaky little devil could get away.

  • A mere chronicle of observed events will produce only journalism; combined with a sensitive memory, it can produce art.

  • Writing is an act of generosity toward other people.

    • Fay Weldon,
    • in Nina Winter, Interview With the Muse ()
  • Writing is more than just the making of a series of comprehensible statements: it is the gathering in of connotations; the harvesting of them, like blackberries in a good season, ripe and heavy, snatched from among the thorns of logic.

  • Making reality real is art's responsibility.

  • Once you're into a story everything seems to apply — what you overhear on a city bus is exactly what your character would say on the page you're writing. Wherever you go, you meet part of your story. I guess you're tuned in for it, and the right things are sort of magnetized ...

    • Eudora Welty,
    • in Peggy Whitman Prenshaw, Conversations With Eudora Welty ()
  • Whatever our theme in writing, it is old and tried. Whatever our place, it has been visited by the stranger, it will never be new again. It is only the vision that can be new, but that is enough.

  • So before I start work on a book, I'm like a pregnant mole — I obsessively tidy and order my closets and everything in my study. Because there's such a cascade of images and ideas that I'm grapping with mentally, I couldn't also be in a chaotic setting.

  • You write a book and it's like putting a message in a bottle and throwing it in the ocean. You don't know if it will ever reach any shores. And there, you see, sometimes it falls in the hands of the right person.

  • But the sensibility of the writer, whether fiction or poetry, comes from paying attention. I tell my students that writing doesn't begin when you sit down to write. It's a way of being in the world, and the essence of it is paying attention.

    • Julia Alvarez,
    • in Passion and Craft: Conversations With Notable Writers ()
  • ... a Cherokee rose-hedge is not more thickly set with thorns than a literary career with grievous, vexatious, tormenting disappointments.

  • People don't roll around naked in my books. I do allow them to go to bed if they're married, but it's all very wonderful and the moon beams.

  • A life lived in chaos is an impossibility for the artist. No matter how unstructured may seem the painter's garret in Paris or the poet's pad in Greenwich Village, the artist must have some kind of order or he will proudce a very small body of work. To create a work of art, great or small, is work, hard work, and work requires discipline and order.

  • The best fiction is not merely a narrative of words and ideas, it is an experience so alive that readers forget they are reading. They join the life of the story and are moved and persuaded and changed as though it is their own life.

  • My muse is a sad cow slowly chewing her cud. And her occasional profound sigh reminds me that hurrying my process comes only to a facile, nearsighted, unrealized writing. The best creative equation I know is: good writing = unimpeded time. Time to wonder about something that becomes a story; time to inhabit that story; time to realize the vision in that story, and to render it with clarity and beauty.

  • ... good writing is about telling the truth. We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason they write so very little. But we do.

  • Write straight into the emotional center of things. Write toward vulnerability. Don't worry about appearing sentimental. Worry about being unavailable; worry about being absent or fraduluent. Risk being unliked. Tell the truth as you understand it. If you're a writer, you have a moral obligation to do this. And it is a revolutionary act — truth is always subversive.

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

    • Anne Lamott,
    • in Alexander Gordon Smith, Writing Bestselling Children's Books ()
  • ... many writers believe in arrival without leaving home. They believe in talent but not skill.

  • ... the novel is inherently a political instrument, regardless of its subject. It invites you — more than invites you, induces you — to live inside another person's skin. It creates empathy. And that's the antidote to bigotry. The novel doesn't just tell you about another life, which is what a newspaper would do. It makes you live another life, inhabit another perspective. And that's very important.

  • What happened to me was this. When the success began and it was a success I got lost completely lost. ... for the first time since I had begun to write I could not write and what was worse I could not worry about not writing and what was also worse I began to think about how my writing would sound to others, how could I make them understand, I who had always lived within myself and my writing. And then all of a sudden I said there that it is that is what was the matter with all of them all the young men whose syrup did not pour, and here I am being just the same. They were young and I am not but when it happens it is just the same, the syrup does not pour.

  • I work continuously within the shadow of failure. For every novel that makes it to my publisher's desk, there are at least five or six that died on the way. And even with the ones I do finish, I think of all the ways they might have been better.

    • Gail Godwin,
    • in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 1 ()
  • ... all creative writers need a certain amount of time when they're creating something where nobody should criticize them at all — at all. Even if the criticism is valid or good, they should just shut up, and let that person create. Because at a certain point you have to make it your own — not the world's, but your own.

  • When in doubt, always start a new paragraph.

  • Solitude causes us to write because it causes us to think.

    • Eugénie de Guérin,
    • in J. De Finod, ed., A Thousand Flashes of French Wit, Wisdom, and Wickedness ()
  • I try to write each piece in the language of the piece, so that I'm not using the same language from piece to piece. I may be using ten or twenty languages. That multiplicity of language and the use of words is African in tradition. And black writers have definitely taken that up and taken it in. It's like speaking in tongues. It may sound like gibberish to somebody, but you know it's a tongue of some kind. Black people have this. We have the ability as a race to speak in tongues, to dream in tongues, to love in tongues.

  • One always writes for someone. Rarely for several people. Never for everyone.

    • Colette,
    • in Robert Phelps, ed., Belles Saisons: A Colette Scrapbook ()
  • It has always seemed to me that if you could talk about your work in fully-formed phrases, you wouldn't write it. The writing is the statement, you see, and it seems to me that the poem or the story or the novel you write is the kind of metaphor you cast on life.

  • Pivotal to a happy writing life is a practice of daily personal writing.

  • A writer's job is to make things unstable, fast.

  • ... reading is not a passive act. It's a creative act. It's a relationship between the writer and a person the writer will probably never meet. I think it's very wrong to write in a way that leaves no room for the reader to maneuver. I don't want to get in the way. What I'd really like to do is to perform the Indian Rope Trick — go higher and higher and eventually disappear.

  • If the would-be writer studies people in their everyday lives and discovers how to make his characters in their quieter moods interesting to his readers, he will have learned far more than he can ever learn from the constant presentation of crises.

  • Nevertheless, hateful as saying 'No' always is to an imaginative person, and certain as the offence may be that it will cause to individuals whose own work does not require isolated effort, the writer who is engaged on a book must learn to say it. He must say it consistently to all interrupters; to the numerous callers and correspondents who want him to speak, open bazaars, see them for 'only' ten minutes, attend literary parties, put people up, or read, correct and find publishers for semi-literate manuscripts by his personal friends.

  • So many people seem to imagine that because the actual tools of writing are easily accessible, it is less difficult than the other arts. This is entirely an illusion.

  • But the way to wealth through the quill seems long ...

  • The short answer to 'Why do you write' is — I suppose I write for some of the same reasons I read: to live a double life; to go places I haven't been; to examine life on earth; to come to know people in ways, and at depths, that are otherwise impossible; to be surprised.

    • Margaret Atwood,
    • speech, American Booksellers Association convention ()
  • For your born writer, nothing is so healing as the realization that he has come upon the right word.

  • 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 ()
  • And remember that you don't write because you want to: You write because you have to.

    • Judy Blume,
    • in Leonard S. Marcus, ed., Author Talk ()
  • When I'm really involved or getting towards the end of a novel, I can write for up to ten hours a day. At those times, it's as though I'm writing a letter to someone I'm desperately in love with.

  • My writing is full of lives I might have led.

    • Joyce Carol Oates,
    • in Jay Parini, "My Writing Is Full of Lives I Might Have Led," The Boston Globe Magazine ()
  • One must be pitiless about this matter of 'mood.' In a sense the writing will create the mood. ... I have forced myself to begin writing when I've been utterly exhausted, when I've felt my soul as thin as a playing-card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes ... and somehow the activity of writing changes everything. Or appears to do so.

    • Joyce Carol Oates,
    • in Robert Phillips, "Joyce Carol Oates: The Art of Fiction LXXII," The Paris Review ()
  • Writing is the most solitary of arts.

  • ... almost all American writers tend to overwrite, to tell too much. I get the disillusioned feeling that novels, today, are sold by the pound, like groceries. It actually takes a great deal more discipline to be able to leave out rather than to throw in everything. This means that you have to say in one sentence precisely what you mean, instead of saying sort of what you kind of mean in hundreds of sentences and hoping the sum total will add up.

  • ... books are exactly what their authors make them. We have the illusion that stories are in themselves delightful or dull, but it is not so. There are no dull stories, only dull people who write books ...

  • One needs both leisure and money to make a successful book.

  • Writing and the hope of writing pulls me back from the edges of despair. I believe insanity and despair are at times one and the same.

    • Bell Hooks,
    • "Writing From the Darkness" (1989), in Wendy Martin, ed., The Beacon Book of Essays by Contemporary American Women ()
  • 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.

  • I write because I have authority from life to do so.

    • Bessie Head,
    • in Charles R. Larson, ed., Under African Skies ()
  • There are no laws for the novel. There never have been, nor can there be.

  • The highest thing one can do in literature is to succeed in saying that thing which one meant to say. There is nothing better than that — to make the world see your thoughts as you see them.

  • With a pencil and paper, I could revise the world.

    • Alison Lurie,
    • "No One Asked Me to Write a Novel," in New York Times Books Review ()
  • ... if you don't keep and guard and mature your force, and above all, have time and quiet to perfect your work, you will be writing things not much better than you did five years ago. ... you must write to the human heart, the great consciousness that all humanity goes to make up. Otherwise what might be strength in a writer is only crudeness, and what might be insight is only observation; sentimemnt falls to sentimentality — you can write about life, but never write life itself.

    • Sarah Orne Jewett,
    • letter to Willa Cather, in Annie Fields, ed., Letters of Sarah Orne Jewett ()
  • She wrote until she felt empty of words, light and free enough to go properly into the day.

  • For me, writing something down was the only road out.

    • Anne Tyler,
    • in Janet Sternburg, ed., The Writer on Her Work, vol. 1 ()
  • 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 ()
  • There are stages in bread-making quite similar to the stages of writing. You begin with something shapeless, which sticks to your fingers, a kind of paste. Gradually that paste becomes more and more firm. Then there comes a point when it turns rubbery. Finally, you sense that the yeast has begun to do its work: the dough is alive. Then all you have to do is let it rest. But in the case of a book the work may take ten years.

  • It takes a long time to write a book. I'm not going to spend that much time trying to deliver a message. The reason I do it is because I want to understand something myself. It's not a delivery device, it's an inquiry device. Didactic fiction to my mind never works. It backfires.

  • Writing a book is a way of thinking to me, the only way of thinking that I have found successful.

  • ... real apprenticeship is ultimately always to the self; a writer's lessons are ineluctably internal.

    • Cynthia Ozick,
    • "Old Hand As Novice," Fame and Folly: Essays ()
  • A story is an end in itself. It is not written to teach, sell, explain or destroy anything. It is not written even to entertain. It is written as a man is born — an organic whole, dictated only by its own laws and its own necessity — an end in itself, not a means to an end.

    • Ayn Rand,
    • 1944, in Michael S. Berliner, ed., Letters of Ayn Rand ()
  • When all is said and done, monotony may after all be the best condition for creation.

    • Margaret Sackville,
    • introduction, in Susan Ferrier, The Works of Susan Ferrier, vol. 1 ()
  • Writing is both the excursion into and the excursion out of one's life. That is the queasy paradox of the artistic life. It is the thing that, like love, removes one both painfully and deliciously from the ordinary shape of existence. It joins another queasy paradox: that life is both an amazing, hilarious, blessed gift and that it is also intolerable.

    • Lorrie Moore,
    • in Clare Boylan, ed., The Agony and the Ego ()
  • Writing is like the world's oldest profession. First you do it for your own enjoyment. Then you do it for a few friends. Eventually, you figure, 'What the hell, I might as well get paid for it.'

  • Nouns and verbs are almost pure metal; adjectives are cheaper ore.

  • There is a difference between writing for a living and writing for life. If you write for a living you make enormous compromises, and you might not ever be able to uncompromise yourself. If you write for life you'll work hard; you'll do it in a disciplined fashion; you'll do what's honest, not what pays.

    • Toni Morrison,
    • in Connie J. Naden and Rose Blue, Toni Morrison ()
  • [On her writing agenda:] Make the familiar exotic; the exotic familiar.

  • Writing is an antisocial act.

  • Novel writing is a kind of private pleasure, even if nothing comes of it in worldly terms.

    • Barbara Pym,
    • 1976, in Hazel Holt, A Lot to Ask: A Life of Barbara Pym ()
  • ... if I'd thought that nobody would like it as I was writing it, I would have written it even more. But I never think of the audience. I never think of people reading. I never think of people, period.

  • I'm writing out of desperation. I felt compelled to write to make sense of it to myself — so I don't end up saying peculiar things like 'I'm black and I'm proud.' I write so I don't end up as a set of slogans and clichés.

    • Jamaica Kincaid,
    • in Felicia R. Lee, "At Home With Jamaica Kincaid: Dark Words, Light Being," The New York Times ()
  • When I'm writing, I think about [my] garden, and when I'm in the garden I think about writing. I do a lot of writing by putting something in the ground.

  • I write out of defiance.

  • One of the things that I try to be conscious about in crafting a song is the concept of bringing it home. I like to bring it somewhere familiar, someplace that people feel it's resolved, it's settled.

  • It takes one-third of your overall writing energy just to keep the world far enough away so that you are able to concentrate while writing and still close enough so that you can go out and live when your day's work is done.

  • The dead hand of research lies heavy on too many novels.

    • Nancy Hale,
    • in Richard Thruelsen and John Kobler, eds., Adventures of the Mind, 2nd series ()
  • Ted and I realize the fatality is to stop writing. We would go on, daily, writing a few pages of drivel until the juice came back, rather than stop, because the inertia built up is terrible to conquer. So, for our 'health' we write at least two hours a day.

    • Sylvia Plath,
    • 1956, in Aurelia Schober Plath, ed., Letters Home ()
  • The thing about writing is not to talk, but to do it; no matter how bad or even mediocre it is, the process and production is the thing, not the sitting and theorizing about how one should write ideally, or how well one could write if one really wanted to or had the time.

    • Sylvia Plath,
    • 1954, in Aurelia Schober Plath, ed., Letters Home ()
  • A first book often has enough material in it for half a dozen.

  • The function of a writer is to make sense of life. It is such a mystery, it changes all the time, like the light.

  • As a rule, one must write a great many words before one learns to write well.

  • 'Ouch' simply is not a story.

    • Alice B. Sheldon,
    • 1974, in Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon ()
  • The only way I can possibly heat my so-called mind up to working temperature is to imagine I'm talking to someone I admire.

    • Alice B. Sheldon,
    • 1973, in Julie Phillips, James Tiptree, Jr.: The Double Life of Alice B. Sheldon ()
  • There are times ... when any visitor — in person, by phone, by mail — is an intruder, a burglar, a space hogger, an oxygen taker, a chaos maker, a conflict inducer, a mood chaser, and a total drag.

  • [Advice to young writers:] Read a lot and hit the streets. A writer who doesn't keep up with what's out there ain't gonna be out there.

  • ... writing is the most personal form of prayer.

  • There's less skill and more plain hard work to writing than anyone except a writer thinks.

    • Mabel Seeley,
    • in Carmen Nelson Richards and Genevieve Rose Breen, eds., Minnesota Writes ()
  • Writing is a consciousness formally at work in the territory of the imaginary.

  • I am sure that the business of writing is one of the four or five most private things in the world.

    • Ethel Wilson,
    • in Mary McAlpine, The Other Side of Silence: A Life of Ethel Wilson ()
  • All one needs to write a story is one feeling and four walls.

    • Doris Betts,
    • in Marion Dane Bauer, A Writer's Story ()
  • Whenever I get lost in a novel I just throw a poem in. What it does is flare up, and it's so illuminated that I'm able to see where to go. I write between these illuminations.

    • Kate Braverman,
    • in Mickey Pearlman and Katherine Usher Henderson, A Voice of One's Own: Conversations With America's Writing Women ()
  • When you are in the middle of a story it isn't a story at all, but only a confusion; a dark roaring, a blindness, a wreckage of shattered glass and splintered wood; like a house in a whirlwind, or else a boat crushed by the icebergs or swept over the rapids, and all aboard powerless to stop it.

  • Writing is a cop-out. An excuse to live perpetually in fantasy land, where you can create, direct, and watch the products of your own head.

  • Not writing is as important as writing — go out into the world and remember how interesting it, and the people in it, are.

  • It's absolutely fatal to your writing to think about how your work will be received. It's a betrayal of whatever talent you have.

  • ... what a writer does is to try to make sense of life. I think that's what writing is, I think that's what painting is. It's seeking that thread of order and logic in the disorder, and the incredible waste and marvelous profligate character of life. What all artists are trying to do is to make sense of life.

    • Nadine Gordimer,
    • in Jannika Hurwitt, "Nadine Gordimer, The Art of Fiction No. 77," Paris Review ()
  • If I wish to be well in my mind, then I must write, and there is no cure for my ambition, and thank the Lord for that.

  • To write it down was to put the finishing touch on any event, see what it was, what it meant, what it stood for. To put anything into words was like pouring melted wax on top of cold glasses of jelly, to harden there and preserve and keep what was underneath like new.

  • Writing also means not speaking. Keeping silent. Screaming without sound. A writer is often quite restful; she listens a lot. She doesn't speak much because it's impossible to speak to someone about a book one has written, and especially about a book one is writing.

  • Above all things — read. Read the great stylists who cannot be copied rather than the successful writers who must not be copied.

  • The idea is to write it so that people hear it and it slides through the brain and goes straight to the heart.

    • Maya Angelou,
    • in Ann Kannings, Maya Angelou: Her Words ()
  • Why can't I write something that would awaken the dead? That pursuit is what burns most deeply.

  • What I love about writing is that it's permanent; performing is smoke, no matter how great a show you do, once it's over, pfft, it's gone. Anyway, you don't have to put on eyelashes to write, and you can be judged without being there.

    • Joan Rivers,
    • in Morag Veljkovic, "Joan Rivers," After Dark ()
  • ... at its best, writing is a deeply spiritual act that can have a profound effect upon the practitioner.

  • Instead of poetry, I wrote letters home . ... Through the letters, I began to discover my voice and core literary themes: death, lies, and room service.

    • Gina Hyams,
    • in Christina Henry de Tessan, ed., Expat: Women's True Tales of Life Abroad ()