Rattling Around in My Brain: My Favorite Quotes on Writing

A few weekends ago I had the most delicious opportunity to teach a small writing class to some friends in my old ward. It was perhaps the loveliest afternoon I've spent in some time. I miss teaching and talking about writing. To prepare for the class, I gathered a few of the quotations about writing that I really love.

The nice part about quotations about writing is that they apply to pretty much anything you care to do. Take the first one, for example, from Isak Dinesen. Whatever enormous task you're attempting, it seems a wise policy to adopt: do it every day, and try to avoid illusions of grandeur, an overly ambitious goal for that single day, or despair at your meager progress. Just participate, and participate again tomorrow, and the next, and though you can't anticipate the outcome, there will surely be one. Something comes of working hard on something for the sake of doing so. 

So whether you're writing, or trying to teach yourself to bake a killer blueberry pie, or run a marathon, or whatever is your daily task, I hope you find these useful. I do. 

Quotomaniac’s Love Song to Writing

I write a little every day, without hope and without despair.
                                                                                    --Isak Dinesen

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at the typewriter and bleed.
--attributed to Ernest Hemingway, though no one’s sure who said it first

The big secret is the ability to stay in the room. The writer is the person who stays in the room. ...People have accused me...”You’re talking Zen here.” And I just say, “Zen this: The secret is to stay in the room.”                                                  
                                                                                   --Ron Carlson

The secret of getting started is breaking your complex overwhelming tasks into small manageable tasks, and then starting on the first one.
                                                                                    --Mark Twain

You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.
                                                                                    --Jack London

[To deal with writer’s block] I just keep at it. I think it’s a lot like using a pen that isn’t working. You can make the scribbling motion and nothing happens, until suddenly it does. Who knows why. But it does. Thank the Lord.
                                                                                    --Tayari Jones

Think of yourself as a typist.
                                                                                    --Frederick Barthelme

If I waited for perfection, I would never write a word.
                                                                                    --Margaret Atwood

Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way….
                                                                                    --E. L. Doctorow

I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means. What I want and what I fear.
                                                                                    --Joan Didion

I love cutting. It hurts for a second but it immediately feels great afterward. You feel lighter, relieved of bad dreams and heavy burdens. I can watch two or three hundred pages go down the tubes with the equanimity of a lab assistant gassing a rat.
                                                                                    --Michael Chabon

I have rewritten—often several times—every word I have ever written. My pencils outlast their erasers.
                                                                                    --Vladimir Nabokov

Easy reading is damned hard writing.
                                                                                    --Nathaniel Hawthorne

Early morning has gold in its mouth.
                                                                                    --German Proverb

It is a delicious thing to write, to be no longer yourself but to move in an entire universe of your own creating. Today, for instance, as man and woman, both lover and mistress, I rode in a forest on an autumn afternoon under the yellow leaves, and I was also the horses, and the leaves, the wind, the words my people uttered, even the red sun that made them almost close their love-drowned eyes.
                                                                                    --Gustave Flaubert

Writing, at its very best, is a bridge across human loneliness.
                                                                                    --David Foster Wallace

There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are.
                                                                                    --W. Somerset Maugham

We are a species that needs and wants to understand who we are. Sheep lice do not seem to share this longing, which is one reason why they write so little.

--Anne Lamott

When we read, we start at the beginning and continue until we reach the end. When we write, we start in the middle and fight our way out.
--Vickie Karp

[Poetry] makes us less lonely by one.
                                                                                    --Kay Ryan

I learned that you should feel when writing, not like Lord Byron on a mountain top, but like a child stringing beads in kindergarten - happy, absorbed and quietly putting one bead on after another.
--Brenda Ueland


Elise said…
Wow I love those. Especially el Doctorow.
Amara said…
I liked the Flaubert. The second paragraph: was that you, or Isak Dinesen? I really liked that one too. You interpreting Isak Dinesen?
belann said…
So what does Deja say/feel about writing?
Deja said…
Amara, the second paragraph before the quotations start is all me. Is that what you meant?

Ma, that's probably what I say/feel about writing. For the moment ...
Anonymous said…
I love all of these. I never heard Rick say that; how I wish I had, because I read it and thought, "Duh!" I've been so ridiculously anxious about writing these last several years that my brain is absolutely on the wrong setting, and I'm spending my life wanting to be a writer and not being one.
Anonymous said…
The first one, too, is perfect. And Anne Lamott's made me laugh out loud.

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