Writers on Writing

My favorite presenter speech of the 2014 Oscars was delivered by Robert De Niro, who, by way of introducing the nominees for Best Original Screenplay, remarked, “The mind of a writer can be a truly terrifying thing: isolated, neurotic, caffeine-addled; crippled by procrastination; and consumed by feelings of panic, self-loathing, and soul-crushing inadequacy.”  

I laughed and laughed. Whatever delicate soul crafted that teleprompter preamble is someone I should definitely have coffee with (see “caffeine-addled” and “procrastination,” above)—because it’s all so true.

A lot of the time, it’s easier to get discouraged by writing—both the process and the product—than to feel optimistic about it. That’s not to say that my low moments as an author aren’t balanced out by highs—whether it’s simply relief at having completed a new chapter, the deep satisfaction that comes from writing a sentence I feel proud of, or the sheer excitement of knowing that I’m actually fulfilling my lifelong dream of writing a book—but sometimes inspiration just doesn’t come from within.

Maybe that’s why I’ve been noticing so many quotations online recently that motivate others—to live and let live, to do what they love, to be more positive, to dig deep for inner strength, to appreciate their families and friends, to never let anyone treat them badly . . . and the list goes on. Last week, I even received an invitation to join an “inspiration exchange,” in which a sender emails the single-most influential quote of his or her life to a whole group of strangers.

Well, I didn’t jump on that bandwagon, but it did get me thinking about the kinds of quotes that resonate with me, and what I realized is that most of them have to do with the craft of writing. Below, a selection of my favorites, and why they encourage me to push myself as a novelist:

Quote: “I think we are well advised to keep on nodding terms with the people we used to be, whether we find them attractive company or not. Otherwise they turn up unannounced and surprise us, come hammering on the mind’s door at 4 a.m. of a bad night, and demand to know who deserted them, who betrayed them, who is going to make amends.” —Joan Didion

Why I love it: Because this is classic “write what you know” stuff.

Quote: “There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” —Ernest Hemingway

Why I love it: Because anyone who’s read Hemingway knows that he’s a master of making a big impact with a little sentence—also known as economy of words.

Quote: “A lot of people hate heroes. I was criticized for portraying people who are brave, honest, loving, intelligent. That was called weak and sentimental. People who dismiss all real emotion as sentimentality are cowards. They’re afraid to commit themselves, and so they remain ‘cool’ for the rest of their lives, until they’re dead—then they’re really cool.” —Mark Helprin

Why I love it: Because I like to think my novel celebrates the hero and the antihero who coexist in many of my characters.

Quote: “No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.” —Robert Frost

Why I love it: Because it’s a reminder not to get jaded (in writing or in life) and to use all those emotions I wear on my sleeve to my literary advantage.

Quote: “Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass.” —Anton Chekhov

Why I love it: Because I’m always reminding the authors I work with to “show, don’t tell,” and Chekhov sums up the concept perfectly and succinctly here.

Quote: “Some editors are failed writers, but so are most writers.”

Why I love it: Because I’m proud to be an editor, and I think all good editors deserve more respect than they sometimes get.

Quote: “Definition of rock journalism: people who can’t write, doing interviews with people who can’t think, in order to prepare articles for people who can’t read.” —Frank Zappa

Why I love it: Because—duh—it’s hilarious!



10 thoughts on “Writers on Writing

  1. Agreed, great quotes and even greater explanation of why they are meaningful for you. Loved reading this!

  2. ‘Nothing is real until it’s written’ – Virginia Woolf, one of my favourites (no, not a spelling mistake, it’s how we spell it here in South Africa).

    Thank you for this post, much enjoyed, and thanks to Sherrey for re-blogging it.

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