Quotations: On Writing

“If you don’t feel like writing, you can always read about it.”

—Doug Geivett (title of my post here)

“All the valuable writing I’ve done in the last ten years has been done in the first twenty minutes after the first time I’ve wanted to leave the room.”

—Ron Carlson, Ron Carlson Writes a Story

“The process of writing is an adventure; you never know how things are going to configure themselves. When I begin a book, I know it’s going to transform my life.”

—Charles Johnson, in his interview with Diane Osen for The Book That Changed My Life

“Writers write for two reasons. One is that they have something they want to say. The other, equally compelling motive is that they have something they want to find out. Writing is a mode of exploration.”

—Margaret Lucke, Writing Great Short Stories

“I’m a stenographer of my mind.”

—Allen Ginsberg, poet (1926-1997)

“My most important rule is one that sums up the 10: if it sounds like writing, I re-write it.”

—Elmore Leonard, Elmore Leonard’s Ten Rules of Writing

“Always consider carefully your reader’s life expectancy.”

—Doug Geivett

“Having to express an idea in a variety of ways can help us to understand how and why good writing is much more than just correct writing. . . . In short, we should be willing to ‘push language around . . . to see what will happen.’ After all, if we can find many ways of saying basically the same thing, one or two of those ways might just turn out to be brilliant.”

—Richard Nordquist, “Copia: Raymond Queneau’s Exercises in Style”

“I always presumed that I would be a writer, without actually doing any writing. I think I thought I was going to get a phone call from somebody one day saying they had a vacancy for a novelist. When I realised that this wasn’t going to happen I thought it was about time to do something.”

—Nick Hornby, in an interview with Robert McCrum

“Beware of and eschew pompous prolixity.”

—Charles A. Beardsley, past president of the American Bar Association, quoted in Howard Kahane, Logic and Contemporary Rhetoric

“Not being able to write is a learned disability.”

—Pat Schneider, Writing Alone and With Others

“Writing is a craft consisting of pen, paper, and whiskey.”

—William Faulkner

“If Attila the Hun were alive today, he’d be a drama critic.”

—Edward Albee, dramatist

“Despite popular conviction, a writer needn’t wear black, be unshaven, sickly and parade around New York’s East Village spewing aphorisms and scaring children.”

—Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile

“Your creativity should be expressed through your writing, not your font.”

—Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile

“. . . beautiful prose can veil paucity of content.”

—Noah Lukeman, The First Five Pages: A Writer’s Guide to Staying Out of the Rejection Pile

“We are in love with words except when we have to face them. We are caught in a guilty paradox in which we grumble over our lack of time, and when we have the time, we sharpen pencils, check e-mail, or clip the hedges.”

—Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, 5th ed.

“I do not sit down at my desk to put into verse something that is already clear in my mind. If it were clear in my mind, I should have no incentive or need to think about it. . . . We do not write in order to be understood; we write in order to understand.”

—C. Day Lewis

“If you haven’t surprised yourself, you haven’t written.”

—Eudora Welty

“Forget inspiration. Habit is more dependable. Habit will sustain you whether you’re inspired or not. Habit will help you finish and polish your stories. Inspiration won’t. Habit is persistence in practice.”

—Octavia Butler

“I always write from my own experiences, whether I’ve had them or not.”

—Ron Carlson

“Spelling, grammar, paragraphing, and punctuation are a kind of magic; their purpose it to be invisible.”

—Janet Burroway, Writing Fiction: A Guide to Narrative Craft, 5th ed.

montaigne“Tis my humour as much to regard the form as the substance, and the advocates, as much as the cause; as Alcibiades order’d we should: and . . . in reading authors . . . their method is what I look after, not their subject; how, not what they write.”

—Michel de Montaigne, “Of the Art of Conferring,” III, 8: 736 (translation by Charles Cotton, 1685)

“The way of speaking that I love, is natural and plain, as well in writing as speaking, and a sinewy and significant way of expressing a man’s self, short and pithy, and not so elegant and artificial as prompt and vehement… Rather hard than harsh, free from affectation; irregular, incontiguous, and bold, where every piece makes up an entire body: not like a pedant, preacher, or a pleader, but rather a souldier-like style.”

—Michel de Montaigne, “Of the Education of Children,” I, 25: 141-2 (translation by Charles Cotton, 1685)

“I have no more made my book than my book has made me.”

—Michel de Montaigne, “Of Giving the Lie,” II, 18: 561 (translation by Charles Cotton, 1685)

“There can be no pleasure to me without communication: there is not so much as a spritely thought comes into my mind, that it does not grieve me to have produc’d alone, and that I have no one to communicate it unto.”

—Michel de Montaigne, “Of Vanity,” III, 9: 785 (translation by Charles Cotton, 1685)

“It is a hard thing to close up a discourse, and to cut it short, when you are once in, and have a great deal more to say.”

—Michel de Montaigne, “Of Lyars,” I, 9: 40 (translation by Charles Cotton, 1685)

“One of the things I had to learn as a writer was to trust the act of writing. To put myself in the position of writing to find out what I was writing. . . . The inventions of the book come as discoveries. At a certain point, of course, you figure out what your premises are and what you’re doing. But certainly, with the beginnings of the work, you really don’t know what’s going to happen. . . . It’s like driving a car at night. You never see further than your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”

—E. L. Doctorow, in Writers at Work: The Paris Review Interviews, vol. 8, ed. G. Plimpton (1988): 304-5

inigo_montoya“You keep using that word. I do not think it means what you think it means.” —Inigo Montoya, in The Princess Bride

About Doug Geivett
University Professor; PhD in philosophy; author; conference speaker. Hobbies include motorcycling, travel, kayaking, sailing.

One Response to Quotations: On Writing

  1. Thank you for an awe inspiring read. I much enjoyed this writing. I look forward to reading more of your works. If this had a rating I would have to say 10 coins


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