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Writers comment on other writers
& on the writing profession.


A clipboard with us trying to be funny. This page is about what writers have to say about other writers, editors and the writing profession.



A writer is a world trapped in a person.
–Victor Hugo.

Writing has laws of perspective, of light and shade, just as painting does, or music. If you are born knowing them, fine. If not, learn them. Then rearrange the rules to suit yourself.
–Truman Capote.

Writers spend three years rearranging 26 letters of the alphabet. It’s enough to make you lose your mind day by day.
–Richard Price.

I have to write with a pen or pencil on a legal pad. I can’t have anything mechanical between my body and the page. Later, I’ll type it on a computer in order to revise. I can compose nonfiction directly on the computer, but not fiction. Perhaps it’s because fiction is so messy, like life.
–Lee Smith.

Scripts are what matter. If you get the foundations right and then you get the right ingredients on top, you stand a shot. But if you get those foundations wrong, then you absolutely don’t stand a shot. It’s very rare — almost never — that a good film gets made from a bad screenplay.
–Tim Bevan.

Ever heard of a carpenter not going to work because he has “carpenter’s block”? If a writer can’t write, it’s because he doesn’t really want to, he isn’t ready to get it on paper or he’s just plain lazy.
–Chet Cunningham.

If one cannot enjoy reading a book over and over again, there is no use in reading it at all.
–Oscar Wilde.

We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master.
–Ernest Hemingway.

It always comes down to characters, and individual stories about courage.
–Steven Bochco.

How do we get out of this? What will the reader feel? What will a person in the cinema feel as they walk out, as the reader puts down the book? It doesn’t have to be a happy end, but it has to be a logically convincing end. And that is the satisfaction which I believe I owe the reader.
–John le Carré (via 60 Minutes Overtime).

The fact is, I don’t know where my ideas come from. Nor does any writer. The only real answer is to drink way too much coffee and buy yourself a desk that doesn’t collapse when you beat your head against it.
–Douglas Adams.

With the new book being released, I am being kept fairly busy with interviews and stupid requests from Penguin but I am still managing to find time to write. Having already tried my hand at fiction, I have decided to write a non-fiction novel. Look for the cover featuring a cyborg cat riding a dolphin in bookstores later this year. I started writing it this week so I should have something to send to my publisher by Tuesday. These things pretty much write themselves, which is handy as I intend to spend the next few days in bed watching television.
–David Thorne.

Prepositions are not words to end sentences with. Don’t be redundant; don’t use more words than necessary; it’s highly superfluous. Exaggeration is a billion times worse than understatement.
–Frank L. Visco.

A writer without interest or sympathy for the foibles of his fellow man is not conceivable as a writer.
–Joseph Conrad.

One sure window into a person’s soul is his reading list.
–Mary B. W. Tabor.

Easy reading is damn hard writing.
–Nathaniel Hawthorne.

If it sounds like writing, I rewrite it. Or, if proper usage gets in the way, it may have to go. I can’t allow what we learned in English composition to disrupt the sound and rhythm of the narrative.
–Elmore Leonard.

Critics are people who sit on the mountaintop and look down on the battlefield. When the fighting is finished, they take it upon themselves to come down from the mountain and shoot the survivors.
–Robert Altman (film director).

A mind needs books as a sword needs a whetstone, if it is to keep its edge.
–George R. R. Martin.

You must stay drunk on writing so reality cannot destroy you.
–Ray Bradbury.

Have something to say, and say it as clearly as you can. That is the only secret.
–Matthew Arnold.

If the book is true, it will find an audience that is meant to read it.
–Wally Lamb.

Just don’t be boring!
–Robert Liebmann.

Draw your chair up close to the edge of the precipice and I’ll tell you a story.
–F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Writing is an act of faith, not a trick of grammar.
–E. B. White.

Most of the basic material a writer works with is acquired before the age of fifteen.
–Willa Cather.

Plot is, I think, the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice.
Stephen King.

The reason 99% of all stories written are not bought by editors is very simple. Editors never buy manuscripts that are left on the closet shelf at home.
–John Campbell.

Writing is not necessarily something to be ashamed of, but do it in private and wash your hands afterwards.
–Robert A. Heinlein.

I do not over-intellectualize the production process. I try to keep it simple: Tell the damned story.
–Tom Clancy.

You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence.
–Octavia Butler.

The only way to learn to write is to write.
–Peggy Teeters.

I don’t care if a reader hates one of my stories, just as long as he finishes the book.
–Roald Dahl.

Literature is a luxury; fiction is a necessity.
–G.K. Chesterton.

Resist the temptation to try to use dazzling style to conceal weakness of substance.
–Stanley Schmidt.

Half my life is an act of revision.
–John Irving.

Everybody walks past a thousand story ideas every day. The good writers are the ones who see five or six of them. Most people don’t see any.
–Orson Scott Card.

My own experience is that once a story has been written, one has to cross out the beginning and the end. It is there that we authors do most of our lying.
–Anton Chekhov.

Writing is my love. If you love something, you find a lot of time. I write for two hours a day, usually starting at midnight; at times, I start at 11.
–A. P. J. Abdul Kalam.

If you haven’t got an idea, start a story anyway. You can always throw it away, and maybe by the time you get to the fourth page you will have an idea, and you’ll only have to throw away the first three pages.
–William C. Gault.

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
–Douglas Adams.

The character that lasts is an ordinary guy with some extraordinary qualities.
–Raymond Chandler.

Ensure that your script is watertight. If it’s not on the page, it will never magically appear on the screen.
–Richard E. Grant.

It begins with a character, usually, and once he stands up on his feet and begins to move, all I can do is trot along behind him with a paper and pencil, trying to keep up long enough to put down what he says and does.
–William Faulkner.

Keep a small can of WD-40 on your desk — away from any open flames — to remind yourself that if you don’t write daily, you will get rusty.
—George Singleton.

All readers come to fiction as willing accomplices to your lies. Such is the basic goodwill contract made the moment we pick up a work of fiction.
–Steve Almond.

Thank your readers and the critics who praise you, and then ignore them. Write for the most intelligent, wittiest, wisest audience in the universe: Write to please yourself.
–Harlan Ellison.

To me, movies and music go hand in hand. When I’m writing a script, one of the first things I do is find the music I’m going to play for the opening sequence.
–Quentin Tarantino (film director).

I try to create sympathy for my characters, then turn the monsters loose.
–Stephen King.

Writing is the only thing that, when I do it, I don’t feel I should be doing something else.
–Gloria Steinem.

Telling a story in a futuristic world gives you this freedom to explore things that bother you in contemporary times.
–Suzanne Collin.

Writing is mostly trying to chip through a wall with your hand, pebble by pebble. But you leap over that wall, soaring over it, from time to time. And that’s great.
–Frank Darabont (writer & film director).

I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is preposterous. He or she is like a person who has just put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or banana split.
–Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

A blank piece of paper is God’s way of telling us how hard it to be God.
–Sidney Sheldon.

A good writer is always a people watcher.
–Judy Blume.

In science there is a dictum: Don’t add an experiment to an experiment. Don’t make things unnecessarily complicated. In writing fiction, the more fantastic the tale, the plainer the prose should be. Don’t ask your readers to admire your words when you want them to believe your story.
–Ben Bova.

I almost always urge people to write in the first person. Writing is an act of ego and you might as well admit it.
–William Zinsser.

For me, writing is a physical joy. It is almost sexual — not the moment of fulfillment, but the moment when you open the door to the room where your lover is waiting, and everything else falls away.
–Lee Smith.

Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person.
–F. Scott Fitzgerald.

Being a good television screenwriter requires an understanding of the way film accelerates the communication of words.
–Steven Bochco.

Writing in English is the most ingenious torture ever devised for sins committed in previous lives. The English reading public explains the reason why.
–James Joyce.

It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.
–Robert Benchley.

A scrupulous writer, in every sentence that he writes, will ask himself at least four questions, thus: 1) What am I trying to say? 2) What words will express it? 3) What image or idiom will make it clearer? 4) Is this image fresh enough to have an effect?
–George Orwell.

Reading and weeping opens the door to one’s heart, but writing and weeping opens the window to one’s soul.
–M. K. Simmons.

Finishing a book is just like you took a child out in the back yard and shot it.
–Truman Capote.

My aim is to put down what I see and what I feel in the best and simplest way I can tell it.
–Ernest Hemingway.

All good writing is swimming under water and holding your breath.
–F. Scott Fitzgerald.

All the words I use in my stories can be found in the dictionary—it’s just a matter of arranging them into the right sentences.
–Somerset Maugham.

One hasn’t become a writer until one has distilled writing into a habit, and that habit has been forced into an obsession. Writing has to be an obsession. It has to be something as organic, physiological and psychological as speaking or sleeping or eating.
–Niyi Osundare.

I believe more in the scissors than I do in the pencil.
–Truman Capote.

If you start with a bang, you won’t end with a whimper.
–T.S. Eliot.

Anecdotes don’t make good stories. Generally, I dig down underneath them so far that the story that finally comes out is not what people thought their anecdotes were about.
–Alice Munro.

You may be able to take a break from writing, but you won’t be able to take a break from being a writer.
–Stephen Leigh.

The more closely the author thinks of why he wrote, the more he comes to regard his imagination as a kind of self-generating cement which glued his facts together, and his emotions as a kind of dark and obscure designer of those facts. Reluctantly, he comes to the conclusion that to account for his book is to account for his life.
–Richard Wright.

Substitute “damn” every time you’re inclined to write “very”; your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be.
–Mark Twain.

It is perfectly okay to write garbage — as long as you edit brilliantly.
–C. J. Cherryh.

Never throw up on an editor.
–Ellen Datlow.

Editor: A person employed by a newspaper, whose business it is to separate the wheat from the chaff, and to see that the chaff is printed.
–Elbert Hubbard.

Whether a character in your novel is full of choler, bile, phlegm, blood or plain old buffalo chips, the fire of life is in there, too, as long as that character lives.
–James Alexander Thom.

I went for years not finishing anything. Because, of course, when you finish something, you can be judged.
–Erica Jong.

If you do not breathe through writing, if you do not cry out in writing, or sing in writing, then don’t write, because our culture has no use for it.
–Anais Nin.

The reader has certain rights. He bought your story. Think of this as an implicit contract. He’s entitled to be entertained, instructed, amused; maybe all three. If he quits in the middle, or puts the book down feeling his time has been wasted, you’re in violation.
–Larry Niven.

When you send off a short story, it sits on the editor’s desk in the same pile with stories by the most famous and honored names in present-day writing — and it’s not going to be accepted unless it’s as good as theirs. (And it’ll probably have to be better.)
–Daniel Quinn.

I write the last line, and then I write the line before that. I find myself writing backwards for a while, until I have a solid sense of how that ending sounds and feels. You have to know what your voice sounds like at the end of the story, because it tells you how to sound when you begin.
–John Irving.

As for the adjective, when in doubt leave it out.
–Mark Twain.

Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.
–Flannery O’Connor.

Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.
–E. L. Doctorow.

If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.
–Somerset Maugham.

Close the door. Write with no one looking over your shoulder. Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
–Barbara Kingsolver.

If you have other things in your life — family, friends, good productive day work — these can interact with your writing and the sum will be all the richer.
–David Brin.

Short stories can be rather stark and bare unless you put in the right details. Details make stories human, and the more human a story can be, the better.
–V. S. Pritchett.

Writing, to me, is simply thinking through my fingers.
–Isaac Asimov.

I am irritated by my own writing. I am like a violinist whose ear is true, but whose fingers refuse to reproduce precisely the sound he hears within.
–Gustave Flaubert.

Asking a working writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamppost how it feels about dogs.
–Christopher Hampton.

Film’s thought of as a director’s medium because the director creates the end product that appears on the screen. It’s that stupid auteur theory again, that the director is the author of the film. But what does the director shoot — the telephone book? Writers became much more important when sound came in, but they’ve had to put up a valiant fight to get the credit they deserve.
–Billy Wilder.

No one can write decently who is distrustful of the reader’s intelligence or whose attitude is patronizing.
–E. B. White.

When writing a novel, that’s pretty much entirely what life turns into: “House burned down. Car stolen. Cat exploded. Did 1,500 easy words, so all in all it was a pretty good day.”
–Neil Gaiman.

People on the outside think there’s something magical about writing, that you go up in the attic at midnight and cast the bones and come down in the morning with a story, but it isn’t like that. You sit in back of the typewriter and you work, and that’s all there is to it.
–Harlan Ellison.

The historian records, but the novelist creates.
–E. M. Forster.

The most valuable of all talents is that of never using two words when one will do.
–Thomas Jefferson.

Any man who keeps working is not a failure. He may not be a great writer, but if he applies the old-fashioned virtues of hard, constant labor, he’ll eventually make some kind of career for himself as writer.
–Ray Bradbury.

I get up in the morning, torture a typewriter until it screams, then stop.
–Clarence Budington Kelland.

And just who are the critics? People of small accomplishment, mostly, whose dignity in life depends on the perpetuating of a set of artificial values conceived by other critics, who were also people of small accomplishment.
–Raymond Chandler.

In Hollywood, the woods are full of people that learned to write but evidently can’t read. If they could read their stuff, they’d stop writing.
–Will Rogers.

To produce a mighty book, you must choose a mighty theme.
–Herman Melville.

If the sex scene doesn’t make you want to do it — whatever it is they’re doing — it hasn’t been written right.
–Sloan Wilson.

If you can tell stories, create characters, devise incidents, and have sincerity and passion, it doesn’t matter a damn how you write.
–Somerset Maugham.

Make (the reader) think the evil, make him think it for himself, and you are released from weak specifications.
–Henry James.

There’s nothing to writing, Gellhorn. You just sit down at your typewriter and bleed.
–Ernest Hemingway to Martha Gellhorn, “Hemingway & Gellhorn,” HBO Films.

Don’t try to figure out what other people want to hear from you; figure out what you have to say. It’s the one and only thing you have to offer.
–Barbara Kingsolver.

The task of a writer consists in being able to make something out of an idea.
–Thomas Mann.

There’s no such thing as writer’s block. That was invented by people in California who couldn’t write.
–Terry Pratchett.

The first chapter sells the book; the last chapter sells the next book.
–Mickey Spillane.

Writing is an occupation in which you have to keep proving your talent to those who have none.
–Jules Renard.

Books are the treasured wealth of the world and the fit inheritance of generations and nations.
–Henry David Thoreau.

The road to ignorance is paved with good editors.
–George Bernard Shaw.

I like nonsense, it wakes up the brain cells. Fantasy is a necessary ingredient in living; it’s a way of looking at life through the wrong end of a telescope. Which is what I do, and that enables you to laugh at life’s realities.
–Dr. Seuss.

…I discovered that if I trusted my subconscious, or imagination, whatever you want to call it, and if I made the characters as real and honest as I could, then no matter how complex the pattern being woven, my subconscious would find ways to tie it together — often doing things far more complicated and sophisticated than I could with brute conscious effort. I would have ideas for “nodes,” as I think of them — story or character details that have lots of potential connections to other such nodes — and even though I didn’t quite understand, I would plunk them in. Two hundred pages later, everything would back-fit, and I’d say, “Ah, that’s why I wrote that.”
–Tad Williams.

I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.
–Stephen Wright (comedian).





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