Words on Writing, Part One
For about twenty-five years I’ve collected words on writing. From books, articles, overheard remarks at readings. These words aren’t about trying to write a bestseller, and they’re not about how to get famous. They’re mostly about the craft of writing, the writing life, how to be in something for the long haul.
I haven’t counted, but it looks like I’ve got around two hundred quotes here, and I’d like to share some of them. What I think I’ll do is, with certain quotes I might add a comment; with others, I’ll just copy them and leave them there on the page to stand and breathe, in some cases to snarl.
From time to time I turn to these words for comfort, for spicy reminders, for a kick in the pants, and so from time to time on this blog I’ll post a handful and let these words travel to new places, to hearts that may or may not be hungry in this age when the power of words so often gets taken for granted.
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Writing matters (because) it clarifies and intensifies; it reduces our sense of isolation and connects us to each other. The artist keeps vision alive, cleared of the muck and refuse and junk and little dishonesties that always collect and begin to cloud our view of the world around us.
— Julia Alvarez
What then shall I do this morning? How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.
— Annie Dillard
A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.
— E.B. White
There’s no such thing beneath the heavens as conditions favorable to art. Art must crash through or perish.
— Sylvia Ashton-Warner
(I have White’s quote on my desk, I seem to glance at it every few days. I bring both his quote and Ashton-Warner’s into high school classrooms and put them on the overhead screen. For some kids, these words are healing, galvanizing.)
To be nobody-but-yourself — in a world which is doing its best, night and day, to make you everybody else — means to fight the hardest battle which any human being can fight; and never stop fighting.
There are those destroyed by unfairness and those who are not.
— Michael Ondaatje in The English Patient
(I’m rereading this great novel, only a few pages at a time, each morning. Ondaatje weaves a daring, mesmerizing dream, and many of his sentences, like this one, simply pierce.)
Writing, as a job, is about as glamorous as a pig tit necklace.
— Warren Ellis
The book was in her lap; she had read no further. The power to change one’s life comes from a paragraph, a lone remark. The lines that penetrate us are slender, like the flukes that live in river water and enter the bodies of swimmers … She was excited, filled with strength. The polished sentences had arrived, it seemed, like so many other things, at just the right time. How can we imagine what our lives should be without the illumination of the lives of others?
— James Salter in Light Years