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Writers on Writing: Selected Quotations


A good many writers are odd, high-strung, emotional wrecks. Many slip into despair; some go mad; a good many get hooked on booze or drugs; and a few end their desperate lives by suicide. It’s all quite sad, but interesting as hell.

Every writer goes through this period of despair. Without doubt many promising writers, and most of those who were never meant to write, turn back at this point and find a lifework less exacting. Others are able to find the other bank of their slough of despond, sometimes by inspiration, sometimes by sheer doggedness. Still others turn to books or counselors. Dorothea Brande

Like most new writers, I was startled to discover how quickly I slipped into a black trough of despair after mailing my first book manuscript. Ralph Keyes

To be a writer is to be a shuttlecock in a badminton game, one racquet of which is naïve optimism and the other a cynical despair. John Jerome

Sometimes I feel so stupid and dull and uncreative that I am amazed when people tell me differently. Sylvia Plath

At the age of thirty-four I am weary, tired, dispirited, and worn out. I was a decent-looking boy six years ago—now I am a bald, gross, heavy, weary-looking man. I wanted fame—and I have had for the most part shame and agony. Thomas Wolfe

I’ve been working, working, working, and you know, sometimes you look back at your work and you see that it just isn’t any good. Truman Capote

If you are exasperated, burned out, getting nowhere, and cynical about this novel writing “crap,” then quit. Life is tough enough. Donald Maass

It was a vicious circle. The more miserable and inadequate I felt about what I saw as my failure as a writer, the more I’d try to escape into a bottle, which would only exacerbate the domestic stress and make me even more depressed….I’d lie awake at night seeing myself at fifty, my hair graying, my jowls thickening, a network of whiskey-ruptured capillaries spiderwebbing across my nose—“drinker tattoos,” we call them in Maine—with a dusty trunkful of unpublished novels rotting in the basement, teaching high school English for the rest of my life and getting off what few literary rocks I had left for advising the student newspaper or maybe teaching a creative-writing course. Stephen King

My latest tendency is to collapse about 11:00 and with the tears flowing from my eyes or the gin rising to their level and leaking over, and tell interested friends or acquaintances that I haven’t a friend in the world and likewise care for nobody…. F. Scott Fitzgerald

I’ve gone on the wagon, but my body doesn’t believe it. It’s waiting for that whiskey to get in there…to get me going. I never drink while I’m working, but after a few glasses, I get ideas that would never come to me dead sober. Irwin Shaw

Now working is terribly painful and I’m still having a fight with the booze. I’ve enlisted the help of a doctor but it’s touch and go. A day for me; a day for the hootch. John Cheever

You usually can tell when a writer is going down hill by the size of his liquor bill. James M. Cain

The town (Baltimore) is full of tales about his (Faulkner’s) incessant boozing. He had a roaring time while he was here, and will go back to prohibition Mississippi with enough alcohol in his veins to last him a year. H. L. Mencken

I haven’t reached a point yet where I’ve had to be confined, but I can see that coming unless I watch myself very carefully. I reached a point where I don’t even like alcohol. I don’t drink for enjoyment….I don’t like the taste any more. Fred Exley

Many people ask why a writer commits suicide. But I think that people who ask don’t know the vanity and the nothingness of writing. I think it is very usual and natural for a writer to commit suicide, because in order to keep on writing he must be a very strong person. Abe Kobo

At the moment I’m so exhausted that I feel like cutting my throat, so the next news masy well be that I am across the river and under the trees: what is the meaning and purpose of life? Death. Delmore Schwartz

Because in fact I only lived to write, see no sense in life, have only forced “interests,” wish every night, not urgently but quite definitely I could just not wake up tomorrow. James Gould Cozzens

And there was Aaron Klopstein. Who ever heard of him? He committed suicide at the age of 33 in Greenwich Village by shooting himself with an Amazonian blow gun, having published two novels…two volumes of poetry, one book of short stories and a book of critical essays…. Raymond Chandler

We’ve always had a tradition in America of hounding our artists to death. Look at the list of our great artists, you see a continual history of defeat, frustration, poverty, alcoholism, drug addiction. The best poets of my generation are all suicides. James Dickey

….I spend a hell of a lot of time killing animals and fish so I wouldn’t kill myself. When a man is in rebellion against death, as I am in rebellion against death, he gets pleasure out of taking to himself one of the godlike attributes; that of giving it. Ernest Hemingway

This page was last updated on: Tuesday, January 22, 2008

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A. James Fisher
Dept. of Political Science & Criminal Justice, 146 Hendricks Hall
Edinboro University of Pennsylvania, Edinboro, PA 16444
e-mail: jfisher@edinboro.edu blog: http://jimfishertruecrime.blogspot.com