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Writers on Writing: Selected Quotations


The professional writer who spends his time becoming other people and places, real or imaginary, finds he has written his life away and has become almost nothing. V. S. Pritchett

For a person to discover that she or he does not have a calling to write can be good news….Consider committing your life in an impossibly difficult, underpaid profession that is not right for you. Stephen Koch

I don’t know much about creating writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach, one, that writing is hard work, and two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, to be a writer. Doris Lessing

Most writers enjoy only two brief periods of happiness. First, when what seems like a glorious idea comes flashing into mind, and secondly, when a last page has been written and you have not yet had time to consider how much better it all ought to have been. J. B. Priestley

Writing is not a profession but a vocation of unhappiness. I don’t think an artist can ever be happy. Georges Simenon

To write is to invite angry censure from those who don’t write, or who don’t write in quite the way you do, for whom you may seem as threat. Joyce Carol Oates

I think writing tends to deny you a full life. Writing is incompatible with everything. It’s incompatible with having children, with having a job. You can’t do anything. Paul Theroux

Genius did not need to be rootless, disenfranchised, or alienated. A writer could have a family, a job, and even live in a suburb. John Cheever

I don’t like writers. I don’t like seeing writers. I’m not good at it. It upsets me. It’s been too hard a struggle. I’m very competitive, and, that side comes out. I’m uncomfortable with writers. I love painters and sculptors. May Sarton

I don’t think writers are comfortable in each other’s presence….There’s always an acute status consciousness relating to how high or low a writer exists in the opinion of the person he’s talking to. Joseph Heller

The frightening fact remains that aside from one’s writer friends, nobody cares if you write or not. And that is the truth. Nobody but you cares whether you will ever make your mark. Nobody else gets to make their mark—what makes you think your’re so goddamn special? Janet Fitch

Writing is a painful trade with a high casualty rate. Most writers end in partial or total failure. They might fight despair in youth, fear in maturity, and the cumulative evidence of declining powers in age. Paul Johnson

The seat of my office chair, in use for 25 years, is wearing out, my office rug is wearing out, and I am wearing out. As the Chinese say, “It’s later than you think.” H. L. Mencken

There are several compensations for growing older as a writer, as you get to know yourself better, in your writing inclinations and so on. One gets more cunning, improves one’s technique slightly as one gets older. Kingsley Amis

Writers are most fortunate of all in not having to retire when they grow older. Like actors, they may have a big public, but the public does not care how writers look. The thoughts of sixty or seventy are not absurd or pitiable as faces of the same age may be when revealed to a great public. If you embrace the writing profession it is a close and long embrace. It lasts for life and may be as vital at the end of life as it was in the first young approach. Margaret Culkin Banning

A writer’s life is hard. Everybody says so, and everybody is right. Stephen Koch

…it’s a hard life. At least as hard as being a good parent and likely to last longer than parenting, harder than all the jobs which permit themselves to be switched off at the end of eight hours. Reynolds Price

I happen to be in a very tough business where there are no alibis. Ernest Hemingway

Most business and many professions thrive on good company but the writer asks people to be quiet, asks to be left alone, asks not to be called to the telephone so that he may spin out an interminable tale that will translate the pain and ecstasy of life into understandable terms. John Cheever

….writing novels is something you have to believe in to keep going. It’s a fairly thankless job when no one is paying you to do it. And you don’t really know if it’s ever going to get into the bookshops…. J. K. Rowling

My idea of being a good teacher (at Smith), writing a book on the side, and being an entertaining homemaker, cook and wife is rapidly evaporating. I want to write first, and being kept apart from writing, from giving myself a chance to really devote myself to developing this “spectacular promise” that the literary editors write me about when they reject my stories, is really very hard. Sylvia Plath

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