Writers on Writing

Janet Grant

Blogger: Janet Kobobel Grant

What could be more satisfying than reading an articulate writer’s view of the writing process? Take a gander at some quotes I gleaned from the most recent edition of The Authors Guild Bulletin. And pick the one that resonates the most with you.

Willa Cather

There are only two or three human stories, and they go on repeating themselves as fiercely as if they had never happened before.

Roxana Robinson

Writing about the two worlds a writer lives in: “The other world you’re living in, the world of the book, is just as vivid [as the real world]. You’re living with people you’ve never seen, though you know them as well as you know everyone else in your life. But it’s not always easy to connect with them.

Sometimes it seems as though a translucent scrim separates you, and whenever you’re not writing, you’re worried that you won’t be able to get past the scrim.”

Harry Mark Petrakis, a 92-year-old author, describing what his writing day ID-10075506was like when he was younger:

After pulling down the blinds to block the view of the “real world,” he put in 10- to 12-hour days writing. “When I finally went to bed, curled beside my wife, sleep eluded me. My mind swirled with the faces and voices of my characters, with the skeletal structuring of still unwritten scenes. After I had fallen asleep, the characters in my book invaded my slumber, playing out scenes already written or still unwritten.

For those months that I wrote, the world of my book consumed my life. The hours I spent away from the work were fretful and restless, fragmented between fantasy and reality. I had become a man with a fever, fully functioning only when I was writing.”

Tom Wolfe

“There are two kinds of writer’s block. One is when you freeze up because you think you can’t do it. The other is when you think it’s not worth doing.”

Matt Bell

“Novels have two primary sources: writers’ life experiences or their art experiences…While it’s popular in publicity to focus on the life experience that informs a book, a writer’s art experiences are just as responsible for how a story emerges from the imagination and eventually appears on the page.

As Cormac McCarthy once said: ‘The ugly fact is books are made out of books. The novel depends for its life on the novels that have been written.'”

Patricia Cornwell, whose childhood was filled with destructive adults (abandonment, molestation, parent’s mental illness, abuse in foster care), on why she writes about psychopaths in her Kay Scarpetta crime novels:

“I’m supposed to be writing my memoirs, and I keep going, ‘I kind of already am. I do it in every book.’ That’s what artists do. We take things and filter it through us, and it comes out in a different form.”

Donald Barthelme

I will never write about the weather in any story.”

Marilynne Robinson

“I don’t write drafts. The first sentence in my novels is the first sentence in my notebook, and I write from beginning to end. I don’t revise. The scene is written in the order in which it comes to the page. In a way, it’s as if there are different voices in my mind. The illusion of hearing the language is always very strong with me.”

Dwight Garner

Good lines alone don’t make a book, especially a novel. But string enough of them together, and you’re well on your way.”

Laura Amy Schlitz

“I love making up characters. I could make up characters till the cows come home. Plot’s what’s hard. Very hard.”

Elizabeth Strout, best known for Olive Kitteridge. Olive is a character with the winsome personality of a snapping turtle:

I like to think I come to the page without judgments. I always have hope for my characters. I have to come with a purity of heart.”

Lorin Stein on young writers who have stepped away from tweets and posts to dig deep:

“By writing offline, literally and metaphorically, this new generation of writers gives us the intimacy, the assurance of their solitude. They let us read the word ‘I’ and feel that it’s not attached to a product. They let us read an essay or a stanza, and feel the silence around it–the actual, physical stillness of a body when it’s deep in thought. It can’t be faked, in life or on the page. We see the opposite all around us every day, but to me, that kind of writing matters now more than ever before–precisely because it’s becomes so hard to do.”

Tell us which quotes spoke the loudest to you. And tell us what inspiring quotes you have around your office to spur you on to your best work–whether they’re on Post-Its or plaques.


Writers reflect on the writing process–and inspire us. Click to tweet.

Feeling alone as you try to write something really good? Then read this. Click to tweet.