Writers on Writing

I don’t know if I like writing. I suppose I do, in the same way that I like exhaling. It is less than I enjoy writing than I fear the inevitable result if I should stop. I take solace in knowing I am not the only one.

When it is easy, it is never me, but God who holds the pen. In those other moments, I sit, tearing at my flesh in hopes He will take pity on me, and write the damned book. And at the end, someone reads it, and I hold my breath, fearing it was imperfect me, after all, who held the pen.

There is only one way to write well. Unfortunately, it changes, without warning, each time we attempt to write. Here’s stuff to try, for when you run out of veins to cut, or flesh to rend. Or beer.

Beer works too.

1. You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you. – Ray Bradbury
2. And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt. – Sylvia Plath
3. I would hurl words into this darkness and wait for an echo, and if an echo sounded, no matter how faintly, I would send other words to tell, to march, to fight, to create a sense of hunger for life that gnaws in us all. – Richard Wright, American Hunger, 1977
4. I try to leave out the parts that people skip. – Elmore Leonard
5. If there’s a book you really want to read, but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it. – Toni Morrison
6. What I like in a good author is not what he says, but what he whispers. – Logan Pearsall Smith, “All Trivia,” Afterthoughts, 1931
7. Writing became such a process of discovery that I couldn’t wait to get to work in the morning: I wanted to know what I was going to say. – Sharon O’Brien
8. Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very;” your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. – Mark Twain
9. I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter. – James Michener
10. Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. – Anton Chekhov
11. Rules:
a. Do not put statements in the negative form.
b. And don’t start sentences with a conjunction.
c. If you reread your work, you will find on rereading that a great deal of repetition can be avoided by rereading and editing.
d. Never use a long word when a diminutive one will do.
e. Unqualified superlatives are the worst of all.
f. De-accession euphemisms.
g. If any word is improper at the end of a sentence, a linking verb is.
h. Avoid trendy locutions that sound flaky.
i. Last, but not least, avoid clichés like the plague.
- William Safire, “Great Rules of Writing”
12. Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. – Gene Fowler
13. It seems to me that those songs that have been any good, I have nothing much to do with the writing of them. The words have just crawled down my sleeve and come out on the page. – Joan Baez
14. Every writer I know has trouble writing. – Joseph Heller
15. Most editors are failed writers – but so are most writers. – T.S. Eliot
16. The road to hell is paved with adverbs. – Stephen King
17. No author dislikes to be edited as much as he dislikes not to be published. – Russell Lynes
18. A writer is somebody for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. – Thomas Mann, Essays of Three Decades, 1947
19. Sit down, and put down 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. – Colette, Casual Chance, 1964
20. i never think at all when i write / nobody can do two things at the same time / and do them both well – Don Marquis, Archy’s Life of Mehitabel, 1933
21. It is perfectly okay to write garbage–as long as you edit brilliantly. – C J Cherryh
22. It’s a kind of zen question: if you write a book and no one reads it, is it really a book? – Lee Child
23. You can approach the act of writing with nervousness, excitement, hopefulness, or even despair – the sense that you can never completely put on the page what’s in your mind and heart. You can come to the act with your fists clenched and your eyes narrowed, ready to kick ass and take down names. You can come to it because you want a girl to marry you or because you want to change the world. Come to it any way but lightly. Let me say it again: you must not come lightly to the blank page. – Stephen King
24. To me the greatest pleasure of writing is not what it’s about, but the music the words make. – Truman Capote
25. Wanting to know an author because you like his work is like wanting to know a duck because you like paté. – Margaret Atwood
26. Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better. – Samuel Beckett
27. A writer’s ambition should be to trade a hundred contemporary readers for ten readers in ten years’ time and for one reader in a hundred years’ time. – Arthur Koestler
28. Every great and original writer, in proportion as he is great and original, must himself create the taste by which he is to be relished. – William Wordsworth