Tag: Writing

Quotes on the Universal Struggle to Write

A few quotes on, as Robert D. Richardson put it, “the daily struggle for adequate expression”.

“Writing is finally about one thing: going into a room alone and doing it. Putting words on paper that have never been there in quite that way before. And although you are physically by yourself, the haunting Demon never leaves you, that Demon being the knowledge of your own terrible limitations, your hopeless inadequacy, the impossibility of ever getting it right. No matter how diamond-bright your ideas are dancing in your brain, on paper they are earthbound.”

William Goldman

“Writing is hard work. A clear sentence is no accident. Very few sentences come out right the first time, or even the third time. Remember this in moments of despair. If you find that writing is hard, it’s because it is hard. It’s one of the hardest things that people do.”

William Zinsser

“The way to write is to throw your body at the mark when all your arrows are spent.”

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Resonance

“The bigger the issue, the smaller you write. Remember that. You don’t write about the horrors of war. No. You write about a kid’s burnt socks lying on the road. You pick the smallest manageable part of the big thing, and you work off the resonance.”

Richard Price

Cutting Stone

“When I started both of my books, at first I fell into the same mindset trap of thinking too far ahead — “OMG, 100,000 words to go, why did I get myself into this?!?” Now I keep the phrase “cutting stone” on a little white board on my desk, a reminder just to take each single, barely perceptible axe-chop at the stone at a time, and eventually it will be ground to dust.”

Dave Epstein, ‘Start Where You Are

“People say to me, ‘Oh, you’re so prolific’…God, it doesn’t feel like it—nothing like it. But, you know, you put an ounce in a bucket each day, you get a quart.”

John McPhee quoted in Cal Newport’s ‘Slow Productivity‘ post.

Redefining Writing Success

“What I wish I could have told myself when I was hopeless about my writing prospects is that I should have defined artistic success in ways that weren’t shaped by forces beyond my control. Sometimes, success is getting a handful of words you don’t totally hate on the page. Sometimes success is working a full-time job to support your family and raising your kids and finding a way, over several years, to write and finish a novel. Sometimes it’s selling a book to a small press for 25 copies of your book and a vague promise of royalties you may never see. And sometimes, if you are very lucky, artistic success is marked by the glittery things so many of us yearn for — the big money deals, the critical accolades, the multicity book tours, the movie options.

Writing and publishing are two very different things. Other writers are not your measure. Try not to worry about what other people your age or younger have already accomplished because it will only make you sick with envy or grief. The only thing you can control is how you write and how hard you work. […] All the other writers in the world are not having more fun than you, no matter what it might seem like on social media, where everyone is showing you only what they want you to see.

Write as well as you can, with as much heart as you can, whenever you can.”

Roxane Gay, ‘Ask Roxane: Is It Too Late to Follow My Dreams?

A Long, Quiet Battle

“… in media-rich human-built environments, my capacity to direct my attention in keeping with my purposes is often at odds with features of the environment that want to command my attention in keeping with purposes that are not my own. It is the difference between feeling challenged to rise to an occasion that ultimately yields an experience of competence and satisfaction, and feeling assaulted by an environment explicitly designed to thwart and exploit me.

Attention and attending are etymologically related to the Latin word attendere, which suggested among other things the idea of “stretching toward” something. I like this way of thinking about attention, not as a possession in limited supply, theoretically quantifiable, and ready to be exploited, but rather as a capacity to actively engage the world—to stretch ourselves toward it, to reach for it, to care for it, indeed, to tend it.

Right now, I’m inclined to put it this way: our dominant technologies excel at exploiting our attention while simultaneously eroding our capacity to attend to the world.”

L.M. Sacasas, The Convivial Society, ‘Attending to the World’

The Most Subversive Thing a Writer Can Do

“The most subversive thing you can do is to write clearly and directly, asserting the facts as you understand them, your perceptions as you’ve gathered them.

Part of the trouble may be this: you’re afraid your ideas aren’t good enough, your sentences not clever or original enough.

But what if your ideas are coherent and thoughtful? What if allowing us to see what is accurate and true is among the best work writing can do?

One purpose of writing -its central purpose- is to offer your testimony about the character of existence at this moment.”

Several Short Sentences About Writing (p.132-133), Verlyn Klinkenborg

Do The Work To Find Out

“One question a teacher of writing is often asked, in one form or another is: “Do I have it?” Or, you know, “Do I have it?” That is: “If I keep working at this, will it, in the end, be worth it? Am I a real writer? Will I be able to publish? Can you guarantee, based on what you’ve seen of my writing (of me, my life, my disposition), that this will all work out?””

Speaking from the heart: I have never been able to tell, at all.  Honestly.  Even among our very gifted students at Syracuse, I would never hazard a guess.  There are too many variables and too many unknowns.

… for her, the writer, the game is not: “First, satisfy myself that, if I do the work and put in the time, all will be well, and then, well-pleased, go ahead and do the work” but, rather: “Do the work in order to find out.””

George Saunders, Story Club, Issue ‘Joy, not Fear’

If you haven’t already I’d recommend subscribing to George Saunders’ Story Club newsletter. He’s a superb writing teacher.

Not to Dare is to Lose Oneself

Last night I watched Thomas Vinterberg’s Another Round, a story of four friends languishing in middle age who decide to test a theory that humans are born with an alcohol deficiency of 0.05% by drinking everyday. The story closes with a quote from Denmark’s own, Soren Kierkegaard that I think articulates the need for us all, no matter our age, to take a risk:

“To dare is to lose one’s footing momentarily. Not to dare is to lose oneself.”

I think sometimes we feel the itch to dare but for fear of the unknown we play it safe and it’s then we start to, as Kierkegaard put it, lose ourselves.

Quit your job. Ask someone out. Move to another country.

Style, Emotional Power and A Writer’s Real Work

“A writer’s real work is the endless winnowing of sentences,

The relentless exploration of possibilities,

The effort, over and over again, to see in what you started out to say

The possibility of saying something you didn’t know you could.”

_

“The emotional power the reader feels

Depends on how clearly you know what your words

are doing.

That clarity isn’t natural.

It’s artificial, the result of hard work.”

_

“Style is an expression of the interest you take in the

making of every sentence.

It emerges, almost without intent, from your engagement

with each sentence.

It’s the discoveries you make in the making of the prose

itself.”

Verlyn Klinkenborg, Several Short Sentences About Writing, pages 14, 82, 84

‘Flow’ Is Not For The Writer

“Flow is something the reader experiences, not the writer.”

A writer may write painstakingly, assembling the work slowly, like a mosaic, fitting and refitting sentences and paragraphs over the years. And yet to the reader the writing may seem to flow.

The reader’s experience of your prose has nothing to do with how hard or easy it was for you to make. You’re not writing for a reader in the mirror whose psychological state reflects your own. You have only your own working world to consider. The reader reads in another world entirely.

Several Short Sentences About Writing, p.67

My copy of Verlyn Klinkenborg’s book came in the post today. It’s full of craft wisdom like the above. Wow.