Any writer will tell you: it’s not all Pérignon and Pulitzers. It’s lonely, arduous, and damn challenging. It doesn’t matter what you write — a blog, a column, novels or screenplays — the fact remains that every day you’re confronted with the big empty, demanding to be filled up with your thoughts.
For years, I’ve been compiling quotes from writers about writing, and I’ve shared some of my favourites below. Maybe they will make you feel less crazy, perhaps they will give you hope and remind you that you’re not alone. Write your favourite on a Post-It, and stare at it in vacuous moments!
“It took me years to learn to sit at my desk for more than two minutes at a time, to put up with the solitude and the terror of failure, and the godawful silence and the white paper.” (Erica Jong)
“There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.” (Ernest Hemingway)
“If you don’t have time to read, you don’t have the time (or the tools) to write. Simple as that.” (Stephen King)
“You never have to change anything you got up in the middle of the night to write.” (Saul Bellow)
“All writing problems are psychological problems. Blocks usually stem from the fear of being judged. If you imagine the world listening, you’ll never write a line. That’s why privacy is so important. You should write first drafts as if they will never be shown to anyone.” (Erica Jong)
“When you’re writing a book, it’s rather like going on a very long walk, across valleys and mountains and things, and you get the first view of what you see and you write it down. Then you walk a bit further, maybe up onto the top of a hill, and you see something else. Then you write that and you go on like that, day after day, getting different views of the same landscape really. The highest mountain on the walk is obviously the end of the book, because it’s got to be the best view of all, when everything comes together and you can look back and see that everything you’ve done all ties up. But it’s a very, very long, slow process.” (Roald Dahl)
“And by the way, everything in life is writable about if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.” (Sylvia Plath)
“The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them — words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When the secret stays locked within not for want of a tellar but for want of an understanding ear.” (Stephen King)
“The first draft of anything is shit.” (Ernest Hemingway)
“Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.” (Meg Cabot)
“A book burrows into your life in a very profound way because the experience of reading is not passive.” (Erica Jong)
“Don’t bend; don’t water it down; don’t try to make it logical; don’t edit your own soul according to the fashion. Rather, follow your most intense obsessions mercilessly.” (Franz Kafka)
“The scariest moment is always just before you start.” (Stephen King)
“Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.” (Willa Cather)
“Nothing quite has reality for me till I write it all down–revising and embellishing as I go. I’m always waiting for things to be over so I can get home and commit them to paper.” (Erica Jong)
“Perfectionism is the voice of the oppressor, the enemy of the people. It will keep you cramped and insane your whole life, and it is the main obstacle between you and a shitty first draft. I think perfectionism is based on the obsessive belief that if you run carefully enough, hitting each stepping-stone just right, you won’t have to die. The truth is that you will die anyway and that a lot of people who aren’t even looking at their feet are going to do a whole lot better than you, and have a lot more fun while they’re doing it.” (Anne Lamott)
“Write with the door closed, rewrite with the door open.” (Stephen King)
“Writing isn’t about making money, getting famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well. It’s about getting up, getting well, and getting over. Getting happy, okay? Getting happy.” (Stephen King)
“All you have to do is write one true sentence. Write the truest sentence that you know.” (Ernest Hemingway)
“some moments are nice, some are
nicer, some are even worth
about.” (Charles Bukowski)
“A person is a fool to become a writer. His only compensation is absolute freedom. He has no master except his own soul, and that, I am sure, is why he does it.” (Roald Dahl)
“Beware of books. They are more than innocent assemblages of paper and ink and string and glue. If they are any good, they have the spirit of the author within. Authors are rogues and ruffians and easy lays. They are gluttons for sweets and savories. They devour life and always want more. They have sap, spirit, sex. Books are panderers. The Jews are not wrong to worship books. A real book has pheromones and sprouts grass through its cover.” (Erica Jong)
“One of the vital things for a writer who’s writing a book, which is a lengthy project and is going to take about a year, is how to keep the momentum going. It is the same with a young person writing an essay. They have got to write four or five or six pages. But when you are writing it for a year, you go away and you have to come back. I never come back to a blank page; I always finish about halfway through. To be confronted with a blank page is not very nice. But Hemingway, a great American writer, taught me the finest trick when you are doing a long book, which is, he simply said in his own words, “When you are going good, stop writing.” And that means that if everything’s going well and you know exactly where the end of the chapter’s going to go and you know just what the people are going to do, you don’t go on writing and writing until you come to the end of it, because when you do, then you say, well, where am I going to go next? And you get up and you walk away and you don’t want to come back because you don’t know where you want to go. But if you stop when you are going good, as Hemingway said…then you know what you are going to say next. You make yourself stop, put your pencil down and everything, and you walk away. And you can’t wait to get back because you know what you want to say next and that’s lovely and you have to try and do that. Every time, every day all the way through the year. If you stop when you are stuck, then you are in trouble!” (Roald Dahl)
“Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.” (Neil Gaiman)
I hope these quotes helped you. In the words of Notorious B.I.G., “
Pimpin’ Writin’ ain’t easy, but it sure is fun.”
Love and ink,
P.S. If you’re feeling stumped for ideas, try these 50 prompts!
Photo by Ailera Stone.