One of the Hardest Things Is to Start

One of the hardest things of all is to start. Just sitting down and getting over your own intimidations. Every professional songwriter I know — people who do it 100% for their living — is terrified every time they sit down to write. You’re always convinced that your next song is going to be your last, or that it’s going to be your worst, or that you’ll never be able to write anything as good as your hit. It’s a constant terror. I think all artists live in a constant state of terror. And part of our job is to know our own chaos well enough to be able to make sense of it when you can.”

JANIS IAN

Hanging Out Does Not Make One an Artist

Hanging out does not make one an artist. A secondhand wardrobe does not make one an artist. Neither do a hair-trigger temper, melancholic nature, propensity for tears, hating your parents, nor even HIV — I hate to say it — none of these make one an artist. … The only thing that makes one an artist is making art. And that requires the precise opposite of hanging out; a deeply lonely and unglamorous task of tolerating oneself long enough to push something out.

DAVID RAKOFF

Writers Make Everybody Nervous

Writers make everybody nervous but we terrify Silly Service workers. Our apartments always look like a front for something, and no matter how carefully we tidy up for guests we always seem to miss the note card that says, “Margaret has to die soon.” We own the kind of books that spies use to construct codes, like The Letters of Mme. de Sevigne, and we are the only people in the world who write oxymoron in the margin of the Bible. Manuscripts in the fridge in case of fire, Strunk’s Elements in the bathroom, the Laramie City Directory explained away with “It might come in handy,” all strike fear in the GS-7 heart. Nobody really wants to sleep with a writer, but Silly Service workers won’t even talk to us.

FLORENCE KING

Think of What You Skip Reading a Novel

Think of what you skip reading a novel: thick paragraphs of prose you can see have too many words in them. What the writer is doing, he's writing, perpetrating hooptedoodle, perhaps taking another shot at the weather, or has gone into the character's head, and the reader either knows what the guy's thinking or doesn't care. I'll bet you don't skip dialogue.

ELMORE LEONARD

Something Has to Change

I think there are very few rules that can’t be broken. I think there is only one that is very difficult to break. I have seen it broken, but not very often. It’s that something has to change. From the beginning of the story to the end, something needs to be different. The only time I’ve ever seen it successfully broken was a Grace Paley story called “A Conversation With My Father.” But as a general rule, something has to change. There has to be some source of tension. 

MARY GAITSKILL

All Art Comes From Love

No one asks what Mozart means. Or an Indian raga or the little tripping dance of Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers to “Cheek to Cheek” in Top Hat. Forget about making things that are understood. I don’t know what Abba means, but I love it. Imagination is your creed; sentimentality and lack of feeling your foe. All art comes from love — love of doing something.

JERRY SALTZ