Monday, July 20, 2009

Famous Last Words

Anyone can write a book. How hard can it be?

Here are some writers who answer that question.

“The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”
- John Steinbeck

“I’ve never written a book because there’s going to be a lot of money in it, because I know that’s the surest way to take five years off your life.”
- Norman Mailer

“You have to sink way down to a level of hopelessness and desperation to find the book that you can write.”
- Susan Sontag

“For God’s sake don’t do it unless you have to…It’s not easy. It shouldn’t be easy, but it shouldn’t be impossible, and it’s damn near impossible.”
- Frank Conroy

“Writing is easy. All you do is sit staring at a blank piece of paper until blood forms on your forehead.”
- Gene Fowler

“If a young writer can refrain from writing, he shouldn’t hesitate to do so.”
- Andre Gide

“There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at typewriter and open a vein.”
- Red Smith

“Unless you think you can do better than Tolstoy, we don’t need you.”
- James Michener

“Ever tried? Ever failed? No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.”
- Samuel Beckett

“Throw up on your typewriter every morning. Clean up every noon.”
- Ray Bradbury

“I like to do and can do many things better than I can write, but when I don’t write, I feel like s***. I’ve got the talent, and I feel that I’m wasting it.”
- Ernest Hemingway

“First of all, you must have an agent, and in order to get a good one, you must have sold a considerable amount of material. And in order to sell a considerable amount of material, you must have an agent. Well, you get the idea.”
- Steve McNeil

“Writing a book is a horrible, exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven on by some demon who one can neither resist nor understand. For all one knows, that demon is simply the same instinct that makes a baby squall for attention.”
- George Orwell

“Every book is the wreck of a perfect idea.”
- Iris Murdoch

“The first thing a writer has to do is find another source of income. Then, after you have begged, borrowed, stolen, or saved up the money to give you time to write and spend all of it staying alive while you write, and you write your heart out after that, maybe no one will publish it, and if they publish it, maybe no one will read it.”
- Ellen Gilchrist

“I’m in favour of keeping dangerous weapons out of the hands of fools. Let’s start with the typewriters.”
- Frank Lloyd Wright

“Literature will neither yield thee bread, nor a stomach to digest bread with; quit it in God’s name.”
- Thomas Carlyle

“Almost anyone can be an author; the business is to collect money and fame from this state of being.”
- A.A. Milne

Do any of these quotes resonant with you? Do you have a favourite quote about writing, or an inspirational quote you’d like to share?

Sources: Writers on Writers, by Jon Winokur (Running Press, 1990); For Writers Only, by Sophy Burnham (Ballantine Books, 1994); Advice to Wrtiers, by Jon Winokur (Pantheon Books, 1999).


Rie said...

I understand this well. If I could never pick up another pen, never write another word it would be all the easier, but then this totally awesome idea that just HAS to be written comes into my head. And the characters start talking to me, and the only way to shut them up is to write. So I write.

Quote of inspiration: It is perfectly okay to write garbage--as long as you edit brilliantly.
- C. J. Cherryh

If I didn't love editing, I'd never have the courage to write, but by editing to much I always run into the problem of getting one chapter perfect, that's why I'm not editing until I finish this book.

Captain Hook said...

Yep, writing is hard work. I can't remember the quote, but one writer compared it to pregnancy, childbirth and childrearing. I agree wholeheartedly.

Ban said...

uhm ... think I'll draw today instead

Jana Richards said...

Hi Rie,
Welcome to the Prairies! We're glad to have you join us.

I know exactly what you're talking about. My life would be a whole lot easier if I didn't write. But would it be better? I don't think so.

Love your quote. I used to think that I had to write everything perfectly the first time up, but eventually I gave myself permission to write a lousy first draft, just to get the story down. Now I try to embrace editing wholeheartedly. To paraphrase Nora Roberts, "I can fix a lousy chapter. I can't fix a blank page."

I hope you join us again soon.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Captain,
You are so right. Writing is like pregnancy, childbirth and child rearing. You nurture and protect that idea, that story, growing inside you. Then it bursts forth onto paper (or on your harddrive). The process is often very long and painful. And when we send our little offspring out into the world to visit critiquers, agents, editors, we are so proud of them, but terribly afraid they might be misunderstood or ridiculed. Some of our offspring soar to great heights, and some of them come home, live in the basement and watch TV all night. Such is a writer's, and a mother's, life.

Thanks for the inspiration.

Jana Richards said...

Hi ban,
I like the quote from Ernest Hemingway in which he says he can do a lot of things better than writing, but when he doesn't write he feels terrible. I know exactly what he means.

In addition to being a writer, you are a gifted artist. Embrace both your gifts, and try to make time for both. Personally, I don't have a lot of other gifts, but I must say I do make a damn fine pie crust. Maybe I'll do some baking today!


Karyn Good said...

I love pie! but I don't make a great pie crust. Mine come in a box from the freezer section.

The quote about opening a vein is one of my personal favorites. Some days I think if I could just pitch this idea of writing my life would be a whole lot easier but like you said, it definitely would not be better or as interesting.

Having said that, I'd better get my errands and jobs done so I can actually write something for the first time in weeks

Love the quotes!!!

Ban said...

I'll throw a quote into the mix - I use it often enough but I don't know who coined it:
"Jack of all trades, master of none."
Oh, and I'll have a slice of fresh baked pie ;)

Janet C. said...

Great quotes, Jana. It really does make you wonder why you sit down and write! Loved the one about the writing/agent vicious circle :)

I'm on my second last day of work so don't have my favorite quote at hand - but it basically says "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" (I believe it's Robert Schuller - hope I'm right). That quote got me to sit and finish a first draft - almost gave me permission. I need to channel that same philosophy for Gillian and Mac's story.

Off to meet Helena for lunch - perhaps we'll have pie :)

Christopher Goodwine said...

You know, I think that a quality unique to writers and artists is a certain kind of masochism combined with resilient stubborness to do it anyway in the face of overwhelming discouragement.

Writing is one of the few hobbies or professions where your heroes and inspirations consistently encourage you by telling you to expect failure.

"You'll fail."

"You'll fail."

"You'll fail."

"Probably, but I must do it anyway."

Jana Richards said...

Hi Karyn,
It's so good to have you back! Hope you had a lovely holiday, if not great weather.

Yes, it does feel like opening a vein sometimes, especially when the words aren't coming, or you're filled with self-doubt. That makes it all the sweeter when the words do come.

I'll think of you next time I roll pie crust!


Jana Richards said...

Hey ban,
Don't sell yourself short! You're lucky to have all the talent you have.

Several years ago I saw an exhibition of Joni Mitchell's artwork at the Mendel gallery in Saskatoon. Now that lady has gifts. Not only is she a fabulous singer/songwriter, she is a really amazing artist. In fact, her first love was her art, and she started singing in coffee houses to make enough for art school. I guess you could call her a Jack of All Trades, but Joni managed to Master all of them. Why not you?

I'll think of you guys in a few days when my writing group here has a potluck lunch. I'm bring pie!


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I thought you'd appreciate the writer/agent viscious circle quote.

I love that quote: "What would you do if you knew you could not fail?" I think he's saying not to worry about failure. Like the Nike ad says, just do it.

I can't believe you're almost ready to go. Keep in touch when you can.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Christopher,
I think you really nailed it with your comment. Knowing what we know, why do we keep on writing? For me, and for most writers I suspect, it's because I have a story to tell that won't leave me alone. Even knowing that the chances of crashing and burning are pretty high, I keep writing. Definite masochistic tendencies there.

Thanks for commenting.

Suse said...

Thanks for your quotes, Jana. Don't get me started. As you could probably tell over the years, I love quotes.

I just happen to be at work today, so I went through some of my emails to find the writing related quotes I've sent around. Some of you have probably seen them already, but they're always nice to read again. In no particular order:

"Know what you want to do, hold the thought firmly, and do every day what should be done, and every sunset will see you that much nearer to your goal." - Elbert Hubbard

“If you can’t write your idea on the back of my business card, you don’t have a clear idea.” - David Belasco

"Like stones, words are laborious and unforgiving, and the fitting of them together, like the fitting of stones, demands great patience and strength of purpose and particular skill." ~ Edmund Morrison

"Once a spectator said, after Jack Nicklaus had chipped a shot in from a sandtrap, “That’s pretty lucky.” Nicklaus is supposed to have replied, “Right. But I notice the more I practice, the luckier I get.” If you write often, perhaps every day, you will stay in shape and will be better able to receive those good poems, which are finally a matter of luck, and get them down. Lucky accidents seldom happen to writers who don’t work." ~ Richard Hugo

“Art washes away from the soul the dust of everyday life.” – Pablo Picasso

“The cure for writer’s cramp is writer’s block.” - Inigo DeLeon

"The pages are still blank, but there is a miraculous feeling of
the words being there, written in invisible ink and clamoring to
become visible." - Vladimir Nabakov

I love words so I can't imagine life without them.

Jana Richards said...

This is totally off topic here but I just wanted to put in a plug for a book I finished reading last night. It's called "Gargoyle" by Andrew Davidson, published by Random House Canada. It's not a love story in the sense that we usually use it here, but it is as romantic a story as I've ever read. A man horribly burned in a car crash is visited in the hospital by a woman claiming to be 700 years old and loving him in his past life. The narrater must learn to love in this life, and the next. As a writer I was impressed with the story telling and also the sheer amount of research, on a number of topics, that must have gone into this book.

Just had to tell you.

Karyn Good said...

Oh, can I add to the idea of just wanted to tell you about books. This is also a romance of sorts. Just finished reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society by Mary Ann Shaffer and Annie Barrows. Oh my gosh, what an awesome book. Charming and witty and funny and well worth reading. It also fits in with the pie reference but I don't think I'll be digging up a recipe for it anytime soon. Such a great book and great summer reading!!!!!!!

Vince said...


I love quotes and these have been fun to read.

There’s a quote I saw years ago that I really like but I have never been able to find again. This is how I remember it:

“My first six revisions -- anyone could have written. But the seventh revision,now that’s Anatole France.”

This expresses one of my goals. “Write in such a way that no one else could have written it.”



Janet C. said...

Yep - I'm taking note of those book titles, ladies - going to slot them in my "Book of Books: TBR page".

I just received two books for my cross Canada journey. Alice Sebold's newest (author of The Lovely Bones - fabulous book), and Donna Alward's newest (thanks to Helena). Of course, I also have Jana's newest manuscript to read and a book one of our future guest bloggers (Ingela Hyatt) sent to me in PDF. Then there's Hayley's revisions that I can't wait to dive into - and, Karyn, am I getting something from you?

I will write. I will write. I will write.

Karyn Good said...

Hey Janet! You sound like you've got plenty on the go already!

Helena said...

Well, I'm back from Festival of Words, and trying real hard to get all the posts read from the last four days. Had lunch with Janet today. Wonderful to share some talk about authors, books, and writing with one of my BWFF (best writer friends forever)!

I love the idea of the quotes, Jana. The vicious circle one seems so apropos. And, Suse, you always seem to find some pithy ones, too. I have a total blank right now -- no quotes to add, and no time to go searching. Everyone else is doing such a good job.

Jana Richards said...

Hi Suse,
Thanks for all the awesome quotes. It's kind of nice to know that writers who came before me faced the same problems and overcame them.

I hope you have a great summer.


Jana Richards said...

Hey Karyn,
Thanks for the book recommendation. Sounds like great summer reading.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Vince,
Welcome to the Prairies! Glad to have you here.

I love your quote. Every writer wants their writing to be unique. Every writer wants their voice to shine through. Thanks for bringing the quote to us.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Janet,
I'm going to miss you! Have a lovely safe trip across the country. It hope you get lots of reading and writing done.


Jana Richards said...

Hi Helena,
I hope you had fun in Moose Jaw! I was away for a few days too, at a family reunion, and I'm way behind on everything as well. Good luck catching up.


Anita Mae Draper said...

Hey everyone, I waited all day to remember a really good quote but in the end I had to go looking for one. I found these:

"Keep away from people who try to belittle your ambitions. Small people always do that, but the really great make you feel that you, too, can become great."
Mark Twain

"Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader—not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon." E.L. Doctorow

"Read a lot, finding out what kind of writing turns you on, in order to develop a criterion for your own writing. And then trust it—and yourself." Rosemary Daniell

"Never save anything for your next book, because that possible creation may not be properly shaped to hold the thoughts you're working with today. In fiction especially, anything that could happen, should happen." Tam Mossman

I especially like the last one as I have a tendency of doing that.