handful pine

On Writing

A book must be the axe for the frozen sea inside us.  –Franz Kafka

When I speak of writing, the image that comes first to my mind is not a novel, a poem, or a literary tradition; it is the person who shuts himself up in a room, sits down at a table, and alone, turns inward. Amid his shadows, he builds a new world with words.  –Orhan Pamuk

Good writing is supposed to evoke sensation in the reader. Not the fact that it is raining, but the feeling of being rained upon.  –E.L. Doctorow

Unless you are willing to face the unreasonable in yourself–unless you are willing to entertain some strange notions (and deal with them when they stick around)–unless you are willing to get lost, confused and even terrified–then what you’re doing won’t have any meaning.  –Kirk Saknussemm

Look at the scene and ask yourself, is it dramatic? Is it essential? Does it advance the plot?  –David Mamet

[Outlining is] the good writer’s last resort and the dullard’s first choice. The story which results from it is apt to feel artificial and labored.  –Stephen King

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.  –E.L. Doctorow

No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise in the writer, no surprise in the reader.  –Robert Frost

There are many reasons to write a novel. One–maybe the best–is to bear compassionate witness to what it is to be alive, in this place, this time. This kind of novel is necessary to us. We need to know about other lives: This kind of knowledge expands our understanding, it enlarges our souls. There are differences between us, but there are things we share. Fear and vulnerability, joy and passion, the capacity for love and pain and grief: Those are common to us all. Those are the things that great novelists explore.  –Roxana Robinson

There is no trick to writing a believable love story, a heartbreaking scene or real-sounding dialogue. All you need is to tell the truth. It’s always heartbreaking.  –Ethan Hawke

Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work.  –Gustave Flaubert

I always try to write on the principle of the iceberg. There is seven-eighths of it underwater for every part that shows.  –Ernest Hemingway

Don’t use words too big for the subject. Don’t say “infinitely” when you mean “very;” otherwise you’ll have no word left when you want to talk about something really infinite.  –C.S. Lewis

Write freely and as rapidly as possible and throw the whole thing on paper. Never correct or rewrite until the whole thing is down. Rewrite in process is usually found to be an excuse for not going on. It also interferes with flow and rhythm which can only come from a kind of unconscious association with the material.  –John Steinbeck

Make your skin as thick as you are able to, for your career. Keep it as thin as you can tolerate, for your art.  –Robin Black


There is a vitality, a life force, a quickening that is translated through you into action, and because there is only one of you in all time, this expression is unique. And if you block it, it will never exist through any other medium and be lost. The world will not have it. It is not your business to determine how good it is; nor how valuable it is; nor how it compares with other expressions. It is your business to keep it yours, clearly and directly, to keep the channel open. You do not even have to believe in yourself or your work. You have to keep open and aware directly to the urges that motivate you. Keep the channel open. No artist is pleased. There is no satisfaction whatever at any time. There is only a queer, divine dissatisfaction, a blessed unrest that makes us more alive than the others.  –Martha Graham

Talent is insignificant…Beyond talent lie all the usual words: discipline, love, luck, but, most of all, endurance.  –James Baldwin

What’s terrible is to pretend that second-rate is first-rate. To pretend that you don’t need love when you do; or you like your work when you know quite well you’re capable of better.  –Doris Lessing

Whatever you’re meant to do, do it now. The conditions are always impossible.  –Doris Lessing

God, I’ll take care of the quantity; you take care of the quality.  –Julia Cameron

Seek growth, not comfort.  –Jake Wobbrock in NYT 7/5/15

I can’t go on. I’ll go on.  –Samuel Beckett


Although sometimes I have felt that I held fire in my hands and spread a page with shining–I have never lost the weight of clumsiness, of ignorance, of aching inability.  –John Steinbeck

Don’t ask what the world needs. Ask what makes you come alive, and go do it. Because what the world needs is people who have come alive.  –Howard Thurman

Finish each day & be done with it. You have done what you could. Learn from it; tomorrow is a new day.  –Ralph Waldo Emerson

Ever tried. Ever failed. No matter. Try again. Fail again. Fail better.  –Samuel Beckett

Identify what you want, do what you can to create it, and then distract yourself. I guarantee that your ship will speed up.  –Martha Beck

As a writer, you must be determined to be the exception to any statistic that says you will fail.  –Janet Reid

Writer’s block is having too much time on your hands.  –Jodi Picoult

Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius, power and magic in it! –Johann Wolfgang von Goethe