QUOTE OF THE DAY
My first advice to an aspiring writer is to talk yourself out of it if you can possibly do it, because you'll probably fail and make yourself miserable doing it. I feel about myself that I'm anomalous—a rare combination of fear, an affection for language, a reverence for literature, doggedness, and good luck. Plus, I married the right girl.
A writer who has never explored words, who has never searched, seeded, sieved, sifted through his knowledge and memory…dictionaries, thesaurus, poems, favorite paragraphs, to find the right word, is like someone owning a gold mine who has never mined it.
E.L. Doctorow once said that “writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can see only as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.” You don't have to see where you're going, you don't have to see your destination or everything you will pass along the way. You just have to see two or three feet ahead of you. This is right up there with the best advice about writing, or life, I have ever heard.
Perhaps it would be better not to be a writer, but if you must, then write. You feel dull, you have a headache, nobody loves you, write. If all feels hopeless, if that famous “inspiration” will not come, write. If you are a genius, you’ll make your own rules, but if not – and the odds are clearly against it – go to your desk, no matter what your mood, face the very challenge of the paper – write.
J. B. PRIESTLEY
The best advice on writing I’ve ever received was, “Rewrite it!” A lot of editors said that. They were all right. Writing is really rewriting—making the story better, clearer, truer.
Creative-writing workshops have absolutely nothing to do with our nation's literature, though writers sometimes, more or less by chance, turn up in them, looking for an agent or romance or someone to start a new magazine with them. Creative-writing workshops mostly have to do with creating other creative-writing workshops. And this is all right, I suppose, because writing is good for people, or at least not seriously harmful. It teaches them to read, for one thing. We don't need more writers, but we do need more readers. We need creative-reading workshops. Students would still have to write in them, but for nobler ends.
Anton Chekhov gave some advice about revising a story: first, he said, throw out the first three pages. As a young writer I figured that if anybody knew about short stories, it was Chekhov, so I tried taking his advice. I really hoped he was wrong, but of course he was right. It depends on the length of the story, naturally; if it’s very short, you can only throw out the first three paragraphs. But there are few first drafts to which Chekhov’s Razor doesn’t apply. Starting a story, we all tend to circle around, explain a lot of stuff, set things up that don’t need to be set up. Then we find our way and get going, and the story begins...very often just about on page three.
Writing is not a job description. A great deal of it is luck. Don't do it if you are not a gambler because a lot of people devote many years of their lives to it (for little reward). I think people become writers because they are compulsive wordsmiths.
To the young writers, I would merely say, "Try to develop actual work habits, and even though you have a busy life, try to reserve an hour say—or more—a day to write." Some very good things have been written on an hour a day. . . . So, take it seriously, you know, just set a quota. Try to think of communicating with some ideal reader somewhere. Try to think of getting into print. Don't be content just to call yourself a writer and then bitch about the crass publishing world that won't run your stuff. We're still a capitalist country, and writing to some degree is a capitalist enterprise, when it's not a total sin to try to make a living and court an audience. "Read what excites you," would be advice, and even if you don't imitate it you will learn from it. . . . I would like to think that in a country this large—and a language even larger—that there ought to be a living in it for somebody who cares, and wants to entertain and instruct a reader.
All good books are alike in that they are truer than if they had really happened and after you are finished reading one you will feel that all that happened to you and afterwards it all belongs to you; the good and the bad, the ecstasy, the remorse and sorrow, the people and the places and how the weather was. If you can get so that you can give that to people, then you are a writer.
The dream, surely, that we all have, is to write this beautiful paragraph that actually is describing something but at the same time in another voice is writing a commentary on its own creation, without having to be a story about a writer.
Be ruthless about protecting writing days, i.e., do not cave in to endless requests to have "essential" and "long overdue" meetings on those days. The funny thing is that, although writing has been my actual job for several years now, I still seem to have to fight for time in which to do it. Some people do not seem to grasp that I still have to sit down in peace and write the books, apparently believing that they pop up like mushrooms without my connivance. I must therefore guard the time allotted to writing as a Hungarian Horntail guards its firstborn egg.
Exile and political upheaval have intervened with the lives of great writers and confronted them with the reality that they might have to express themselves in a language other than their mother tongue. The poetic voice is difficult to translate or even impossible, so your poems will be better in the language you developed poetically. Prose you could probably write at the same level in both languages. I am a writer with a Caribbean Spanish linguistic soul that uses the English language, appropriates the English and submits it to my flavors and my longings.
VICTOR HERNÁNDEZ CRUZ
Don’t have a soft heart. Get a strong stomach. Make a friend of heartbreak. Learn how to spend a few months on a script or a year on a script with it not being bought.
When writing loses touch with the beautiful surface of the world, it loses its way. You always want to be in touch with how things look and what people say and what they call their dogs.
Do it every day. Make a habit of putting your observations into words and gradually this will become instinct. This is the most important rule of all and, naturally, I don't follow it.
The secret of popular writing is never to put more on a given page than the common reader can lap off it with no strain whatsoever on his habitually slack attention.
A mass of Latin words falls upon the facts like soft snow, blurring the outline and covering up all the details. The great enemy of clear language is insincerity. When there is a gap between one's real and one's declared aims, one turns as it were instinctively to long words and exhausted idioms, like a cuttlefish spurting out ink. In our age there is no such thing as "keeping out of politics". All issues are political issues, and politics itself is a mass of lies, evasions, folly, hatred, and schizophrenia. When the general atmosphere is bad, language must suffer.