"What do you plan to do with your one, wild, precious life?" -Mary Oliver

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Writers on Writing


This is a writer's chair. What? you say, where are the writing tools? Where is the electrical outlet? Don't jump ahead. One must first sit and watch, and much has passed by the front of this chair. Generations of writers have sat in this chair.

This is our old milkhouse which I hope to turn into a produce washing and storing station. The cement block exterior keeps the interior cool. I see a face looking out, eyes wide so as not to miss a thing. If you look at a thing long enough, it becomes something else, just as words can change their meanings right in front of your tired eyes.

Because I'm a sucker for tidbits of brevity and wit, I like quotations. I have compiled a list of my favorite quotes by writers and arranged them in an order that makes sense to me.

It is not wise to violate the rules until you know how to observe them.
T.S. Eliot

A book ought to be an icepick to break up the frozen sea within us.
Franz Kafka

You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.
Saul Bellow

There is only one place to write and that is alone at a typewriter. The writer who has to go into the streets is a writer who does not know the streets….when you leave your typewriter you leave your machine gun and the rats come pouring through.
Charles Bukowski

Loneliness is your companion for life. If you don’t want to be lonely, you get into TV.
William Styron

When you’re writing, that’s when you’re lonely. I suppose that gets into the characters you’re writing about. There are hours and hours of silence.
Dick Francis

Suffering is the main condition of the artistic experience.
Samuel Beckett

When I have one martini, I feel bigger, wiser, taller. When I have a second, I feel superlative. When I have more, there’s no holding me.
William Faulkner

Read all the Faulkner you can get your hands on, and then read all of Hemingway to clean the Faulkner out of your system.
John Gardner

Surprise the reader with the unexpected verb or adjective. Writing that has no surprises is as bland as oatmeal. Use one startling adjective per page.
Anne Bernays

As to the adjective: when in doubt, strike it out.
Mark Twain

The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and the lightning bug.
Mark Twain

A writer lives in awe of words for they can be cruel or kind, and they can change their meanings right in front of you. They pick up flavors and odors like butter in a refrigerator.
John Steinbeck

You must avoid giving hostages to fortune, like getting an expensive house, and a style of living that never lets you afford the time to take the chance to write what you wish.
Irwin Shaw

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

You can never know enough about your characters.
W. Somerset Maugham

We like that a sentence should read as if its author, had he held a plough instead of a pen, could have drawn a furrow deep and straight to the end.
Henry David Thoreau


In looking over these, I realize that four of my favorites have to do with angst, which is the writer’s lot in life. But I believe there is nothing more worthwhile than writing. And when you get the words right—find the perfect word or an original metaphor—it’s like a mental orgasm. The highs, however infrequent, far outweigh the ever-pounding lows. If you are a writer, you will write, regardless of the clanging gong of the critic and the shattering rejection of the agent.

So, are you a writer? This is my list of ten attributes I believe you must have to be a writer.

1. Perseverance
2. Empathy
3. Affection for alcohol
4. Self-esteem
5. Imagination
6. Drivenness
7. Indifference
8. Willingness to sacrifice the ordinary TV-watching pleasures of society
9. An accurate eye
10. Fondness for daydreaming and eavesdropping.

Numbers 6 and 7 go hand in hand. Drivenness is what allows you to be indifferent to whether or not your novel sells which allows you to plod ahead. It helps you shrug off the well-meaning questions about what you’re doing with yourself and are you still working on that book and why don’t you answer your phone or organize your life and do something worthwhile (meaning something that will make you money). Questions asked with a puzzled look, because if you aren’t a writer you can never understand the trancelike state that writing requires and the sought-after solitude that is our aphrodisiac.

4 comments:

Tricia J. O'Brien said...

Twain's difference between lightning and a lightning bug is perfection. Thanks for a good read. I love all my writer-blogger friends because they are among the few who understand.

Yvonne said...

Thanks Tricia!

I don't have access to a good writer's group in my "lonely" crook of the Thumb so my writer-blogger friends help fill that void.

Suzyhayze said...

Amazing. I do think we could add Valium or opiates to that list too... can't we?

Yvonne said...

Suze,
Whatever gives us the courage to get started is my motto.