Insights on Writing

I started this page because I always hated passing on copies of writing books or magazines without extracting a couple lines that really resonated with me. Now I have a place to keep those insights and I can pass their sources on to another writer.

From Writers Digest, September 2011, interview with Donald Miller:

WD: You say most writers don’t live good stories because they’re too busy writing, and most people living good stories don’t have time to write …

DM: We have to realize that the part of the writing life where we’re sitting down at the computer is harvesting the crops, but you have to have planted them and watered them and created fertile soil–and that’s life.

From the same issue, an interview with ZZ Packer:

“So in a way, a novel is more like a marriage, and a short story like a youthful affair; it may be over quickly, but you are bound to remember it, and you are bound to have learned something about yourself you didn’t know going in.”

From an unknown issue of FundsForWriters:

“If you know what you are going to write when you’re writing a poem, it’s going to be average.” –Derek Walcott

More quotes from Writers Digest’s fantastic Ken Follett and David Morell interview (and I read neither author!):

“When I write a book, I write a letter to myself. I say, ‘It’s going to take you this amount of time, probably, to write the book–why is this project worth a year of your life?” – DM

“I look at how many chapters I’ve got, how many scenes, how long I want the book to be, and so how many pages will I write per week, and then I make a timetable that says I should have finished this draft on the 13th of December.” – KF

“Whatever happens in the last few chapters must be something either feared or longed for by the characters in the early chapters.” – KF

“The truth is, I’m not so crazy about the world I live in. My son died from cancer, my granddaughter died from cancer, I have a lot of reasons to think that reality is not a friendly neighborhood. The stories that I tell distract me, and if I do the job right they distract people from things that are happening to them that they wish had never happened.” – DM

Unfortunately, didn’t hold onto the full attribution for this fascinating Jerry Spinelli quote:

“I guess the most common obstacle is the essential problem of our craft: transcribing the magic in our heads onto a blank page. Or more precisely: transferring the story in our heads moment by moment, detail by detail, into our readers’ heads. Since we can’t hook them up to a needle and do a story transfusion, we’re left to do it with words. We labor at this thing called writing to make our readers see and feel everything we see and feel. When I read my words aloud to myself, I’m trying to sense how close I’ve come to that ideal.” – Jerry Spinelli

From the October 2012 of Writers Digest:

“If you don’t passionately love your work so much that it defines who you are–stop. Revamp your career goals and make writing an occasional hobby.” – Lauren Ruth, literary agent with Bookends, LLC

From the same issue, an interview with Patricia Cornwell:

On not becoming desensitized as a writer: “I wrote in third-person point of view for a while, and when you do that, you have to take on the perspective of the killer–and I found it was really uncomfortable, so I don’t do that anymore.”

“Treat your writing like it’s a relationship, not a job. Because if it’s a relationship, and you only have one hour in a day, you might just sit down and open up your last chapter because it’s like visiting your friend. What do you do when you miss somebody? You pick up the phone. You keep that connection established. If you do that with your writing, then you tend to stay in that moment, and you don’t forget what you’re doing. Usually the last thing I do before I go to bed is sit at my computer and just take a look at the last thing I was writing. It’s almost like I tuck my characters in at night. I’m reminding myself: This is the world I’m living in right now, and I’ll go to sleep and I’ll see you in the morning.”

“Writing is hard work. It isn’t just sitting around fantasizing, or having a drink with somebody and talking about how cool it would be if you wrote a story. It’s work. And if you don’t make it work, and you don’t devote yourself to it, you’re not going to write anything very good. I think writers who consistently produce, they’re going to tell you they don’t always feel like doing it. It’s the hardest thing, to sit down at the blank screen.”

“You don’t become a writer–you are one. And if you really are a writer, it’s like telling a songbird to shut up–you can’t.”

From a March/April 2010 interview in Writers Digest with Elizabeth Berg:

“[T]here is something inside of a person that makes them be a writer in the first place. That’s a strong and true thing. And you can have your head turned very easily by the business of writing. It’s so important to keep it church and state–keep it separate. The process of writing and creating and answering that very unique call inside yourself has nothing to do with agents and sales and all that.”

From Chicken Soup for the Writer’s Soul by Jack Canfield, Mark Victor Hansen, and Bud Gardner

“I just want to pay attention to the details of everyday life. I want to be a better person. I want to feel good more often. I want to know when I don’t, why I don’t. Writing gives me this.” – Terry McMillan

And since being a writer often means living within a tight budget:

“Security depends not so much upon how much you have as upon how much you can do without.” – Joseph Wood Krutch

“I came to understand that art and creation is not simply another profession, but a reason for being alive on this earth.” – Howard Fast

“Talent is a secret you share with God, and those who have the eyes to see and the ears to hear.” – Dottie Walters

“A book should serve as the axe for the frozen sea within us.” – Franz Kafka

“The words spilled from him: ‘So, you’re a writer, eh? I remember way back when I was at Yale–dreadful place–and I said to Professor Tinker–y’know, the great Tink–that I wanted to be a writer and nothing but a writer and he said, “But you’ll starve,” and I said, “Don’t care if I do,” and he said, “Then you’ll succeed!”‘ – Barnaby Conrad

From “Clearing Out the Clutter” by David Corbett, in the May/June 2013 issue of Writers Digest.

“The key is to provide enough so the reader feels engaged, but not so much she can feel you trying to control how she responds to the text.”


2 Responses to Insights on Writing

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