I love being a writer. What I can't stand is the paperwork.
October 29, 2016 12:00 PM   Subscribe

Quotes about Writing.

"A blank piece of paper is God's way of telling us how hard it is to be God." -Sidney Sheldon
"A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public eye with his pants down." - Edna St. Vincent Millay
"Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way." - E. L. Doctorow
"Writing makes no noise, except groans, and it can be done everywhere, and it is done alone." - Ursula K. LeGuin
"I don't know where my ideas come from, but I know where they come to. They come to my desk, and if I'm not there, they go away again.: - Phillip Pullman
"No tale is so good... but can be spoilt in the telling." - Terence, 160 BC
"The difference between fiction and reality is that fiction has to make sense." - Tom Clancy
...and so on....
posted by storybored (20 comments total) 22 users marked this as a favorite
“I hate writing, I love having written.” - Dorothy Parker
posted by fairmettle at 12:05 PM on October 29, 2016 [13 favorites]

One quote from Scott Adams, but ZERO from Douglas Adams? Not even "I love deadlines. I love the whooshing noise they make as they go by." So this doesn't pass my personal standard for an Inspiration Source. (And the only Terry Pratchett quote is "There's no such thing as writer's block. That was invented by people in California who couldn't write," which I, as a Californian who can't write, find personally insulting)
posted by oneswellfoop at 12:23 PM on October 29, 2016 [5 favorites]

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

So he doesn't even follow his own rules?
posted by Splunge at 1:19 PM on October 29, 2016 [3 favorites]


What drives you to write?


Money, above all things. Fame goes, but money never does. It’s got its own beauty. It’s never gone to ashes in my mouth. I’ve always exquisitely enjoyed it. And maybe a little bit of revenge. On those somewhere who may be shouting I can’t write to save my ass.
posted by chavenet at 1:52 PM on October 29, 2016

Richard Price, when he was asked how it felt adapting his own novels for the screen, said it was like "doing root canal on yourself."
posted by jonmc at 2:31 PM on October 29, 2016

Fame goes, but money never does... I’ve always exquisitely enjoyed it.
He must never have had any major medical bills.
posted by oneswellfoop at 2:51 PM on October 29, 2016

"No man but a blockhead ever wrote except for money"

Samuel Johnson

"...there is no such thing as writer’s block. Can you imagine a nurse phoning into Cape Cod hospital and saying I can’t come to work today because I’ve got nurse’s block?"

Bernard Cornwell

I feel certain I've read Writer's block is God's way of telling you you're not a writer, but I can't find it. Google suggests variants on the theme, some not quite so harsh
posted by IndigoJones at 3:05 PM on October 29, 2016

fairmettle, I came to the comments intending to post that quote myself, only to find that you beat me to it. I've always identified with its sentiment. Not that I hate writing, but for me it is arduous, frustrating, emotional work. Yet I look back upon prior writings with a sense of calm accomplishment.

So perhaps my modified sentiment would go something like, "Writing is miserable, having written is delightful." Anyway, I'm going to stop procrastinating and go do some writing now.
posted by Hot Pastrami! at 4:54 PM on October 29, 2016

"Y͟ó̢u͞͞ ̕͟s͞h͘͜o̴u̴l̨d ͜͡s͠e̕e̕͠ ̛҉m̛̀ỳ͏ ҉h̨ą̡͘n͠dw̢ŗ̢į̧̧t̶͠i̴ń̷͢g̶"̛͝

posted by clavdivs at 6:45 PM on October 29, 2016 [1 favorite]

"Y͟ó̢u͞͞ ̕͟s͞h͘͜o̴u̴l̨d ͜͡s͠e̕e̕͠ ̛҉m̛̀ỳ͏ ҉h̨ą̡͘n͠dw̢ŗ̢į̧̧t̶͠i̴ń̷͢g̶"̛͝

Za̴l̛g͠o̧ ̨see͘s̢ ͠i̷t҉. ̀O̴n ̶m͝y̧ ̕w̛a͡y͜.҉ ͘D̴epen͢d̷i̷n͘g͏ up͠o͡n̶ ͟t̕ra͟f̨fi͠c̀. ̸You͘ shal҉l͝ ́w͞ai̕t!
posted by Splunge at 8:10 PM on October 29, 2016

I think that if there is any value in hearing writers talk, it will be in hearing what they can witness to and not what they can theorize about. My own approach to literary problems is very like the one Dr. Johnson's blind housekeeper used when she poured tea-- she put her finger inside the cup.

The only parallel I can think of to this is having the zoo come to you, one animal at a time; and I suspect that what you hear one week from the giraffe is contradicted the next week by the baboon.

In the first place, there is no such thing as THE WRITER, and I think that if you don't know that now, you should by the time such a course as this is over. But there is a widespread curiosity about writers and how they work, and when a writer talks on this subject, there are always misconceptions and mental rubble for him to clear away before he can even begin to see what he wants to talk about. I am not, of course, as innocent as I look. I know well enough that very few people who are supposedly interested in writing are interested in writing well. They are interested in publishing something, and if possible in making a "killing." The are interested in seeing their names at the top of something printed, it matters not what. And they seem to feel that this can be accomplished by learning certain things about working habits and about markets and about what subjects are currently acceptable.

We have to begin thinking about stories at a much more fundamental level, so I want to talk about a quality of fiction which I think is its least common denominator--the fact that it is concrete--and about a few qualities that follow from this. The beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, and the fiction writer begins where human perception begins. He appeals through the senses, and you cannot appeal to the senses with abstractions. It is a good deal easier for most people to state an abstract idea than to describe and thus re-create some object that they can actually see. But the world of the fiction writer is full of matter, and this is what the beginning fiction writers are very loath to create. They are concerned primarily with unfleshed ideas and emotions. They are apt to be reformers and to want to write because they are possessed not by a story but by the bare bones of some abstract notion. They are conscious of problems, not of people, of questions and issues, not of the texture of existence, of case histories and of everything that has a sociological smack, instead of with all those concrete details of life that make actual the mystery of our position on earth.

The type of mind that can understand good fiction is not necessarily the educated mind, but it is at all times the kind of mind that is willing to have its sense of mystery deepened by the contact with reality, and its sense of reality deepened by contact with mystery.

Conrad said: My task which I am trying to achieve is, by the power of the written word, to make you hear, to make you feel--it is, before all, to make you see--that and no more, and it is everything. That his aim, as a fiction writer, was to render the highest possible justice to the visible universe. That sounds very grand, but it is really very humble. He was interested in rendering justice to the visible universe because it suggested an invisible one.

Of course, the more you write, the more you will realize that a story is organic, that it is something that grows out of the material, that the form of each story is unique. A story that is any good can't be reduced, it can only be expanded. A story is good when you continue to see more and more in it, and when it continues to escape you. In fiction two and two is always more than four.

A story is a way to say something that can't be said any other way, and it takes every word in the story to say what the meaning is. You tell a story because a statement would be inadequate.

A story is a complete dramatic action--and in good stories, the characters are shown through the action and the action is controlled through the characters, and the result of this is a meaning that derives from the whole presented experience.

It's always wrong of course to say that you can't do this or you can't do that in fiction. You can do anything you can get away with, but nobody has ever gotten away with much.

There are two qualities that make fiction. One is the sense of mystery and the other is the sense of manners. It is the business of fiction to embody mystery through manners, and mystery is a great embarrassment to the modern mind.

Excerpts from Mystery and Manners, Flannery O'Connor, 1957
posted by lazycomputerkids at 12:01 AM on October 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

"...there is no such thing as writer’s block. Can you imagine a nurse phoning into Cape Cod hospital and saying I can’t come to work today because I’ve got nurse’s block?"


I feel certain I've read Writer's block is God's way of telling you you're not a writer,

Writer's block is real. I don't know a serious writer who hasn't suffered it.
posted by philip-random at 12:16 AM on October 30, 2016

Writer's block, for me, is a sign that I've foolishly allowed someone to tell me what they want or expect me to write, and my brain rightly says "nope" until such time as I'm in a position to tell the stories that I'm compelled to tell. This probably marks me as an unserious writer, but if being a serious writer means submitting to the kind of cubicle farmer mindset that turns the surging electric madness of belting out stories like a gospel singer with a head wound into the pained, polite competence of people sorting life into columns in a spreadsheet, I will remain a happy and mostly unknown amateur.

I expect this means that any success I have in the field will come at the point I find someone patient and interested enough to read through my ten-thousand-page slush pile and identify markets retroactively. If I don't succeed, I leave behind a hefty box of work for the more studious of my descendants to cash in, and I will have punctuated my life as a construction worker, handyman, carpenter, and bricoleur with a lot of good time spent regaling the people on my curling league with these stories after our games.

I'm not a fan of the "I hate having written" quote, either.

Of course, your mileage may vary.
posted by sonascope at 6:08 AM on October 30, 2016 [2 favorites]

I'm not a fan of the "I hate having written" quote, either.

I'm a playwright -- so my mileage varies compared to prose writers, but my version of this is "I love rewriting. I hate writing first drafts."

I love rehearsal and workshops and the parts of the process where you take the messy first draft and craft it into something better. I assume that it would be the same for prose writers -- but the difference is that playwrights work with a bunch of people to make the script better. Actors and directors ask questions and suddenly my whole perspective changes... and then the script changes in a massive overnight rewrite. I love that part.

The getting the first draft down so that I can go play with others... that part is generally pretty excruciating. Mostly due to my own perfectionism.

But I agree that the marketing part is not fun.
posted by JustKeepSwimming at 6:27 AM on October 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

"A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people." — Thomas Mann
posted by bz at 8:36 AM on October 30, 2016 [3 favorites]

Thomas Mann (talking about Dostoyevsky, and quoting Degas): "...an artist must approach his work in the spirit of the criminal about to commit a crime."

Which I always thought explains a whole lot about writer's block.
posted by kleinsteradikaleminderheit at 2:03 PM on October 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

Very loose paraphrase from M. Atwood: "Writer" is a noun for a person who goes on TV talk shows and says silly things. "Writing" is a verb which is something different.
posted by ovvl at 7:19 PM on October 30, 2016 [1 favorite]

That “writers write” is meant to be self-evident. People like to say it. I find it is hardly ever true. Writers drink. Writers rant. Writers phone. Writers sleep. I have met very few writers who write at all.

Renata Adler, Speedboat
posted by betweenthebars at 7:27 PM on October 30, 2016

Fame goes, but money never does... I’ve always exquisitely enjoyed it.
He must never have had any major medical bills.

I think the point is that you can't pay for major medical bills or much of anything else with fleeting fame.
posted by Celsius1414 at 11:27 PM on October 30, 2016

People who are young at writing – and this does not necessarily mean they’re young in years – ask me, now and again, if I can tell them something useful about the task. Task is my word, not theirs, and it may seem a harsh and formal word, but before writing is anything else it’s a task. Only gradually do you learn enough for it to become a craft. (As for whether it becomes your art – that isn’t really up to you. The art can be there in the beginning, before you know a thing, or it may never be there no matter what you learn.)

“The only thing you really need,” I tell these people, “is the talent of the room. Unless you have that, your other talents are worthless.”

Writing is something you do alone in a room. Copy that sentence and put it on your wall because there’s no way to exaggerate or overemphasize this fact. It’s the most important thing to remember if you want to be a writer. Writing is something you do alone in a room.

Before any issues of style, content, or form can be addressed, the fundamental questions are: How long can you stay in that room? How many hours a day? How do you behave in that room? How often can you go back to it? How much fear (and, for that matter, how much elation) can you endure by yourself? How many years – how many years – can you remain alone in a room?

I know people who, when young, had wonderful talents: prose of grace and resonance that came without effort, sentences that moved intelligently with that crucial element of surprise, never concluding quite where one expected, so that you were always eager to read the next and the next. Promising work, as they say. But to write anything that would keep the promise, to be beyond the letters, verse, and stories of their youth, written with such enthusiasm, friends and teachers praising them, little magazines publishing them – to take the next step meant that they would have to sit alone in a room for years.

Some sat just for weeks. Some lasted months. Some kept saying that next summer, or next winter, or after they graduated, or when they moved to Europe (which they never did), or when they got a grant, or when they weren’t so busy, or when they could afford a place that gave them the space (because they needed an actual room; it couldn’t be just the bedroom or the kitchen)… sometime in the foreseeable but not the immediate future, then they’d write that novel or complete that sequence of poems.

A few of these talented people would even arrange the room. A good desk, a clean, well-oiled typewriter (a computer now), the paper, the pencils, the stereo, maybe a hot plate. But after the room is ready you have to sit in it. For a very long time. (Sometimes it takes weeks or months even to begin writing.) And that’s the talent they didn’t have.

There’s no harm or blame in not having a talent. But it is very painful to have some of the talents, almost all of the talents, except the one you really need.

Michael Ventura
The Talent Of The Room
posted by dancestoblue at 1:07 AM on October 31, 2016 [6 favorites]

« Older I hope that the net stops fighting over stupid...   |   if nobody sees you, did it happen? Newer »

This thread has been archived and is closed to new comments