Spending My Words: Sixteen Quotes on the Craft of Writing

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So many stacks, so little time. (And this is a small one to select from, in the “library”!)

For no particular reason other than word-love, here are some quotes on writing, perseverance, and the writing life. Some are also beautiful examples of writing. I hope at least a few are ones you’ve never read and they encourage you to seek out more from that author, if s/he is unfamiliar to you.

  • The incurable itch of writing possesses many. (Tenet insanabile multos scribendi cacoëthes.)–Juvenal, Satire, VII
  • True ease in writing comes from art, not chance,/As those move easiest who have learn’d to dance.–Alexander Pope, Essay on Criticism, II
  • I have words to spend and sometimes spend them foolishly, of course, squandering verbs and nouns, sending metaphors askew, and using similes like fireworks whose sparks often fail to flame.–Robert Cormier, I Have Words to Spend: Reflections of a Small-Town Editor
  • Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.–Jorge Luis Borges, Dr. Brodie’s Report, preface
  • Wrinkles should merely indicate where smiles have been.–Mark Twain, Pudd’nhead Wilson’s New Calendar
  •   . . . it seems to me that subject matter doesn’t determine genre. Genres only start existing when there’s enough of them to form a sort of critical mass in a bookshop, and even that can go away.–Neil Gaiman, ” ‘Let’s talk about genre’: Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation,” The New Statesman
  • If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.–Toni Morrison, attributed by New York Times
  • A good novel tells us the truth about its hero, but a bad novel tells us the truth about its author.–G.K. Chesterton, Heretics
  • If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the “Ode on a Grecian Urn” is worth any number of old ladies.–William Faulkner, quoted in The Paris Review Interviews, 1959
  • You own everything that happened to you. Tell your stories. If people wanted you to write warmly about them, they should have behaved better.–Anne Lamott, Bird by Bird
  • This [being put in the “naughty box” by a teacher] was just the first of the many humiliations of my youth that I’ve tried to revenge through my writing. I have never fully exorcised shames that struck me to the heart as a child except through written violence, shadowy caricature, and dark jokes.–Louise Erdrich, The Paris Review, Art of Fiction No. 208
  • [As a mother who writes] Either you end up writing about terrible things happening to children—as if you could ward them off simply by writing about them—or you tie things up in easily opened packages, or you pull your punches as a writer. All deadfalls to watch for.–Erdrich, ibid
  • Get out of your own way and become willing to learn from people who are clearly qualified to offer you sound advice.–Christina Katz, Writer Mama: How to Raise a Writing Career Alongside Your Kids
  •  . . . 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 Unabridged Journals of Sylvia Plath
  • . . . The sun was gone, but he had left his footprints in the sky. It was the time for sitting on porches beside the road. It was the time to hear things and talk. These sitters had been tongueless, earless, eyeless conveniences all day long. Mules and other brutes had occupied their skins. But now, the sun and the bossman were gone. so the skins felt powerful and human. They became lords of sounds and lesser things. . . . –Zora Neale Hurston, Their Eyes Were Watching God
  • Write your heart out. Never be ashamed of your subject, and of your passion for your subject. Your “forbidden” passions are likely to be the fuel for your writing. . . . Without these ill-understood drives you might be a superficially happier person, and a more involved citizen of your community, but it isn’t likely that you will create anything of substance.–Joyce Carol Oates, “To a Young Writer,” in The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art
  • Words. Words that allow us to communicate, to reach out, to touch each other if only verbally. And the other side of words where we find silence. And how silence, too, is precious. Knowing when not to use the words and holding them back, which isn’t always easy.–Robert Cormier, ibid

QUOTES from (in no particular order)

I Have Words to Spend: Reflections of a Small-Town Editor, Robert Cormier, ed. by Constance Senay Cormier, Delacorte Press, 1991.

” ‘Let’s talk about genre’: Neil Gaiman and Kazuo Ishiguro in conversation,” The New Statesman

Their Eyes Were Watching God: A Novel, Zora Neale Hurston, Harper & Row, Publishers, 1990.

Bird by Bird: Some Instructions on Writing and Life, Anne Lamott, Pantheon Books, 1994.

The Faith of a Writer: Life, Craft, Art, Joyce Carol Oates, HarperCollins Publishers Inc, 2003.

The Pocket Book of Quotations, ed. by Henry Davidoff, Pocket Books Inc, 1942.

The New International Dictionary of Quotations, selected by Hugh Rawson and Margaret Miner, Signet, 1988.

GoodReads

The Paris Review, Interviews: Louise Erdrich, The Art of Fiction No. 208

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9 thoughts on “Spending My Words: Sixteen Quotes on the Craft of Writing

  1. “If there’s a book you really want to read but it hasn’t been written yet, then you must write it.” –Toni Morrison, attributed by New York Times

    That’s one of my favorite quotes. It’s like that same quote where someone once said, “Write the books you really want to read.” I can’t place who wrote that. At the same time, I’m much too lazy to look it up.

    So much truth in so little words. Thanks for sharing, Leigh!

  2. Thanks for sharing wonderful quotes with us Leigh. Although I enjoyed all but this one in particular can be true for all the writers I guess: Writing is nothing more than a guided dream.–Jorge Luis Borges, Dr. Brodie’s Report.

  3. Wonderful quotes. Joyce Carol Oates managed to touch a nerve, in that I suffer a constant push-me pull-you feeling as a result of my husband expecting me to be an involved citizen of my community, when I’d much rather be a reclusive writer.

  4. These were all unfamiliar to me and a few of them really resonated with me. Encouraging? Absolutely. I’m hoping life cooperates and that 2016 will be when I get back on track with writing (I’m done with this year, hahaha!)

    • I’m very glad to hear of your planned “comeback” in 2016, Janna. Also, you are so right about having to step back from the canvas, from time to time, to see the larger picture forming (rather than all the seeming blots). Best wishes to you, as ever!

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