What do great writers have to say about writing?
September 1, 2017
Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.
Writers all face the conundrum when they set down to have a mental dual with their thoughts. It’s a gunfight, and words are the deadliest bullets. But as Stephen King says, “The scariest moment is always just before you start.” And Neil Gaiman points out that being a writer is a very peculiar sort of job: it’s always you versus a blank sheet of paper (or a blank screen) and quite often the blank piece of paper wins.
Writers expose themselves, their fears, their beliefs, their hopes, and their loves to the world. They clean out the darkest corners of their minds and tell secrets that, so often, shouldn’t be told. And it’s all there on paper, and Hemingway tells us that the first draft of anything is little more than a pile of cow dung. It said it a little more succinctly than that.
But should we writers worry?
“Why?” asks Cornelia Funke. We have to face one fact that soars above all others. “All writers,” she says, “are lunatics.”
And so we are.
We learn so much from the experiences of those who travel the same road that we do, and here are thoughts from some of the country’s most noted writers.
Stephen King: The most important things are the hardest to say. They are the things you get ashamed of, because words diminish them – words shrink things that seemed limitless when they were in your head to no more than living size when they’re brought out. But it’s more than that, isn’t it? The most important things lie too close to wherever your secret heart is buried, like landmarks to a treasure your enemies would love to steal away. And you may make revelations that cost you dearly only to have people look at you in a funny way, not understanding what you’ve said at all, or why you thought it was so important that you almost cried while you were saying it. That’s the worst, I think. When a secret stays locked within not for want of a teller but for want of an understanding ear.
Sylvia Plath: And by the way, everything in life is writable around if you have the outgoing guts to do it, and the imagination to improvise. The worse enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
Lloyd Alexander: Fantasy is hardly an escape from reality. It’s a way of understanding it.
Anais Nin: We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospect.
Virginia Woolf: Lock up your libraries if you like, but there is no gate, no lock, no bolt that you can set upon the freedom of my mind.
Henry David Thoreau: How vain it is to sit down to write when you have not stood up to live.
William Faulkner: Read, read, read. Read everything – trash, classics, good and bad, and see how they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the master. Read! You’ll absorb it. Then write. If it’s good, you’ll find out. If it’s not, throw it out the window.
Neil Gaiman: Tomorrow may be hell, but today was a good writing day, and on the good writing days nothing else matters.
Toni Morrison: Make up a story … For our sake and yours forget your name in the street; tell us what the world has been to you in the dark places and in the light. Don’t tell us what to believe, what to fear. Show us belief’s wide skirt and the stich that unravels fear’s caul.
Meg Cabot: Write the kind of story you would like to read. People will give you all sorts of advice about writing, but if you are not writing something you like, no one else will like it either.
Sylvia Plath: Let me live, love, and say it well in good sentences.
Joss Whedon: I write to give myself strength. I write to be the characters that I am not. I write to explore all the things I’m afraid of. People love a happy ending. So every episode, I will explain once again that I don’t like people. And then Mal will shoot someone. Someone we like. And their puppy.
Stephen King: A short story is a different thing altogether. A short story is like a kiss in the dark from a stranger.