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Quotes about writing

I came across a wonderful little compilation of quotes on writing by writers from one of my used book forays: The Write Book edited by Bob Perlongo. I will present some of them on this thread as we go along, together with some extra research. They are simply charming. Here is the first by Annie Dillard. I really identify with it.

A well-known writer got collared by a university student who asked, ''Do you think I could be a writer?''

''Well,'' the writer said, ''I don't know. . . . Do you like sentences?''

The writer could see the student's amazement. Sentences? Do I like sentences? I am 20 years old and do I like sentences? If he had liked sentences, of course, he could begin, like a joyful painter I knew. I asked him how he came to be a painter. He said, ''I liked the smell of the paint.''

Here is the Wikipedia article on her: Annie Dillard

This appears to be from an 1989 essay by her. Here is the NYT online publication of it: Write Till You Drop.

Michael

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It is impossible to discourage the real writers - they don't give a damn what you say, they're going to write. ~Sinclair Lewis

That's about where I'm at.

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This one by Heinlein is too much like me for comfort:

There is no way that writers can be tamed and rendered civilized. Or even cured. In a household with more than one person, the only solution known to science is to provide the patient with an isolation room, where he can endure the acute stages in private and where food can be poked in to him with a stick. Because, if you disturb the patient at such times, he may break into tears, or become violent. Or he may not hear you at all . . . and, if you shake him at this stage, he bites.

From: The Cat Who Walks Through Walls

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I don't know about sentences, but as a writer, I've always been intrigued with words. Is there anything like flipping through a dictionary and testing out new words? To me, words have always had a flavor. I can almost literally taste them. They have color. Pairing the right words together to me is more fun than matchmaking. And that goes for words in any language. I don't mean deliberately using an unknown, esoteric word. I mean having just the right word at one's fingertips and letting it spill over one's tongue. Almost as good as sex.

I know. I Need a shrink. Don't want one. Would rather speak good words.

Ginny

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The greatest thing in the world is when you mull over some sentence that has been bothering you (perhaps it is perfect grammatically, but something just doesn't seem right about it) and, after changing a few words to more precisely relate your exact meaning and messing around with punctuation marks and word order, something about it just seems to click, and it suddenly pops.

And then you might have to exclude this baby of yours from the finished product in the name of structural integrity. <_<

A decent writer must be either thick-skinned or cold-blooded. Any girlie with a diary and a pen can mother any number of precious little babes, but a serious writer who wants to improve her prose and get published realizes that she has to murder her little darlings if they don't fit in with their peers. So you must either be able to tolerate the pain of doing this or not be affected by the process at all.

Edited by Michelle R
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Michelle, I do that all the time. When I read, I frequently rewrite for myself, changing an annoying adjective or adverb here and there. So help me, I've even changed a word or so of Rand's. Hey, they suited me better. What can I say?

Ginny

Edited by ginny
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Michelle, I do that all the time. When I read, I frequently rewrite for myself, changing an annoying adjective or adverb here and there. So help me, I've even changed a word or so of Rand's. Hey, they suited me better. What can I say?

Ginny

Ginny, I do that in my head. I actually did that earlier today in something I was reading. The word the author used was awkward, so I just mentally replaced it with a more suitable one and went merrily reading on.

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"The scariest moment is always just before you start."

Stephen King

Ginny - loved what you wrote as well. I totally get what you are saying there!

It is funny, because I feel a bizarre way about letters. I think, for example that the letter S just looks so happy and friendly. But the letter U eh, not so much.

Every now and then, when I write a serious email or letter and have my first name down, I look at it and think "My first name just doesn't match the tone of this letter!"

Strange, I know. But I wonder how much of that had to do with me giving my son a first name with an S as well, haha.

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I meant in my head. I would never insult a writer by scribbling up a book with a pen. B)

Oh good! :lol: Making notes in books is such a popular thing now, but I have never been able to bring myself to scribble up my books. I love my books. It feels sacrilegious to even think about marring them with sharp lines of ink or dusty pencil marks.

Even worse, though, is when people highlight passages with a gaudy yellow highlighter. Why not just use a post-it to mark a passage or page you like in a book? And that way you don't ruin it for other people.

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This quote by William Faulkner is very cute. The part I empathize greatly with is having so much fun with writing that I lose all sense of other reality. The people around me complain about lack of awareness (of them and everything else) at times, but that seems to be the nature of the beast.

I was living in New Orleans, doing whatever kind of work was necessary to earn a little money now and then. I met Sherwood Anderson. We would walk about the city in the afternoon and talk to people. In the evenings we would meet again and sit over a bottle or two while he talked and I listened. In the forenoon I would never see him. He was secluded, working. The next day we would repeat. I decided that if that was the life of a writer, then becoming a writer was the thing for me. So I began to write my first book. At once I found that writing was fun. I even forgot that I hadn’t seen Mr. Anderson for three weeks until he walked in my door, the first time he ever came to see me, and said, “What’s wrong? Areyou mad at me?” I told him I was writing a book. He said, “My God,” and walked out. When I finished the book—it was Soldier’s Pay—I met Mrs. Anderson on the street. She asked how the book was going, and I said I’d finished it. She said, “Sherwood says that he will make a trade with you. If he doesn’t have to read your manuscript he will tell his publisher to accept it.” I said, "Done," and that's how I became a writer.

The quote is from The Paris Review Interviews, II, p. 49.

You can read the full interview (called "The Art of Fiction" from 1956, with Jean Stein interviewing him) on Google Books (scroll down and start on page 34).

Michael

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Michelle, I do that all the time. When I read, I frequently rewrite for myself, changing an annoying adjective or adverb here and there. So help me, I've even changed a word or so of Rand's. Hey, they suited me better. What can I say?

Ginny

Ginny, I do that in my head. I actually did that earlier today in something I was reading. The word the author used was awkward, so I just mentally replaced it with a more suitable one and went merrily reading on.

I do that too! A lot!

I do that with music sometimes, where I'll add a melody here in there, intertwined with the original.

~ Shane

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For me, writing is about painting a picture in the reader's head. Word choice is key to convey it.

My problem is that I try to write the final draft the first time out. Bad habit, I know. Call it the perfectionist in me. But if I'm trying to paint with words, painting over seems painful.

~ Shane

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I just came across some statements about writing that I had saved because they either amused, impressed, or moved me.

Rainer Marie Rilke: "Surely all art is the result of having gone through an experience all the way to the end, to where no one can go any further."

Aristotle: "Art complete what nature cannot bring to a finish."

Emerson: "To believe your own thought -- to believe that what is true for you in your private heart is true for all men -- that is genius. Speak your latent conviction, and it shall be the universal sense; for the inmost in due time becomes the outmost."

Oscar Wilde:: "I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."

Somerset Maugham: "There are only three rules for writing a novel. The trouble is, no one knows what they are."

Barbara

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Michelle, I do that all the time. When I read, I frequently rewrite for myself, changing an annoying adjective or adverb here and there. So help me, I've even changed a word or so of Rand's. Hey, they suited me better. What can I say?

Ginny

Ginny, I do that in my head. I actually did that earlier today in something I was reading. The word the author used was awkward, so I just mentally replaced it with a more suitable one and went merrily reading on.

I do that too! A lot!

I do that with music sometimes, where I'll add a melody here in there, intertwined with the original.

~ Shane

Heh. This is a bit off-topic, but do you know the parody songs of "Weird Al" Yankovic? I can't listen to the original songs anymore without inadvertently catching myself singing Yankovic's lyrics instead. This is particularly bad when I listen to "American Pie." The Saga Begins has forever spoiled that song for me, because it just feels weird not singing the parody lyrics.

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Oscar Wilde:: "I was working on the proof of one of my poems all the morning, and took out a comma. In the afternoon I put it back again."

Barbara,

LOLOLOL...

This sounds exactly like the method I use for my own poems and song lyrics.

:)

I call the process to myself "worrying a word to death like a dog with a bone."

Michael

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The following quote is by Brian Aldiss. As the days pass and my own writing matures, I feel more and more like this.

Why had I become a writer in the first place? Because I wasn't fit for society; I didn't fit into the system.

According to Wikiquote, this is an unsourced variant of an original quote from Aldiss's autobiography, The Twinkling of an Eye: My Life as an Englishman (1998). But this is the version that is all over the Internet.

The original according to Wikiquote reads as follows: "I was hardly fit for human society. Thus destiny shaped me to be a science fiction writer."

Michael

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Michelle, I do that all the time. When I read, I frequently rewrite for myself, changing an annoying adjective or adverb here and there. So help me, I've even changed a word or so of Rand's. Hey, they suited me better. What can I say?

Ginny

Ginny, I do that in my head. I actually did that earlier today in something I was reading. The word the author used was awkward, so I just mentally replaced it with a more suitable one and went merrily reading on.

I do that too! A lot!

I do that with music sometimes, where I'll add a melody here in there, intertwined with the original.

~ Shane

Heh. This is a bit off-topic, but do you know the parody songs of "Weird Al" Yankovic? I can't listen to the original songs anymore without inadvertently catching myself singing Yankovic's lyrics instead. This is particularly bad when I listen to "American Pie." The Saga Begins has forever spoiled that song for me, because it just feels weird not singing the parody lyrics.

The only one I catch myself doing that to is Eat It...ha!

~ Shane

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Here is a quote from Walter Wellesley “Red” Smith that reads like me:

There's nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein.

Wikipedia article: Red Smith. The article gives the source of the quote as p. 7, No More Rejections: 50 Secrets to Writing A Manuscript That Sells, by Alice Orr, Writer's Digest, Cincinnati, 2004. You can see that here on Google books, but that passage merely says Red Smith once said it. I have looked for over an hour and I can't find where he said it.

This bugs me. I'm a bit of a plodder that way. Now I won't sleep tonight...

Michael

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A word is not the same with one writer as with another. One tears it from his guts. The other pulls it out of his overcoat pocket. ~Charles Peguy

I'm rather fond of this one.

Edited by Michelle R
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  • 2 weeks later...

Here is a style issue I strongly identify with by F. L. Lucas:

Really dead metaphors, like really dead nettles, cannot sting; but often the metaphors are only half dead; and these need careful handling.

This touches on an issue I learned in song-writing. One of the best ways to put over a new idea, i.e., get immediate attention and make the point fast, is to put a new spin on an old cliché or metaphor. Rand, in fact, was a master of this. Atlantis reworked as Galt's Gulch is an easy one that comes to mind. "Judge, and be prepared to be judged" is another. Part of her powerful immediacy to new readers comes from this. It's a great technique.

When it backfires, though, it gets ridiculous. Boom Goes the Dynamite comes to mind.

The Lucas quote is from his book, Style. I found that the quote is from Style in a book review of it by Anthony Campbell.

The Wikipedia article said Lucas was a harsh critic of T. S. Elliot and an excellent scholar. I didn't know this author before coming across this quote. I bopped around the Internet looking at stuff on him and he looks very interesting. I just might look him up in more depth.

Michael

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Michael:

In my top ten Randianisms are:

"I am, therefore ...I think."

Also, "Show me what a man finds sexually attractive in bed and I will tell you his philosophy of life."

"Judge, and be prepared to be judged" << in my top ten.

Adam

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  • 1 month later...

The Greek scholar and poet,Hesiod (ca.700B.C.)wrote:

"Seek not for words,seek only for fact and thought,and crowding in

will come the words,unsought."

He was also a grumpy old man:

"I see no hope for the future of our people if they are dependent

on the frivolous youth of today, for certainly all youth are

reckless beyond words.When I was young,we were taught to be discreet

and respectful of elders,but the present youth are exceedingly

direspectful and impatient of restraint."

So what's new?

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