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Writers on Writing: Selected Quotations


I know very little about the way in which other writers work. I would like to take a college course in creative writing and learn from a professor of literature how novelists achieve their effects. Alec Waugh

I have just spent a good week, alone like a hermit, and as calm as a god. I abandoned myself to a frenzy of literature; I got up at midday, I went to bed at four in the morning…I smoked fifteen pipes in a day; I have written eight pages. Gustave Flaubert

One of the biggest myths around writing is that in order to do it we must have great swatches of uninterrupted time. Julia Cameron

I work almost constantly. For a novelist without hobbies, weekends don’t make much difference. Most people don’t enjoy weekends anyway; they don’t know what to do with Sundays. Joseph Heller

I’m always quite nervous at the beginning of my workday. It takes me a great deal of time to get started. Once I get started, it gradually calms down a bit, but I’ll do anything to keep postponing….Anyway, one way or another, I manage to write about four hours a day. Truman Capote

After I have started a novel I write a chapter each day, without ever missing a day. Georges Simenon

I work very slowly. I’m a bleeder. It’s a good day when I get a page done. I think easy writing makes hard reading. S. J. Perelman

If one wants to write, one simply has to organize one’s life in a mass of little habits. Graham Greene

Most writers work alone….without the routines of an office, lone workers develop quirky work habits. Deprived of a boss or coworkers to apply the lash, they learn how to apply their own. As creative people, writers come up with imaginative ways to goose themselves, summon the muse, and avoid stepping out for a newspaper. Ralph Keyes

I write on vacations, I write on weekends, and, occasionally, I write early in the mornings. It’s going to be a long time between books. Linda Fairstein

Once I start work on a project, I don’t stop and I don’t slow down unless I absolutely have to. If I don’t write every day, the characters begin to stale off in my mind—they begin to seem like characters instead of real people. Stephen King

My only ritual is to sit close enough to the typewriter so that my fingers touch the keys. Isaac Asimov

The day’s quota for me is twenty-seven lines on a legal pad. Twenty-seven lines because twenty-seven lines add up to one typed page….I’m not allowed to go to bed that night until I have finished my twenty-seven line quota for the day. Reynolds Price

I am a completely horizontal author….I can’t think unless I’m lying down, either in bed or stretched on a couch with a cigarette and coffee handy. I’ve got to be puffing and sipping. Truman Capote

I prefer to work on novels in cold weather….When I can look out my window and see snow on the ground, I am impelled to go right to the typewriter; and a miserable, gloomy, raw rainy day has the same effect. John O’Hara

I write when I can and I don’t write when I can’t; always in the morning or the early part of the day. You get very gaudy ideas at night but they don’t stand up. Raymond Chandler

….I like to start early before I can be distracted by people and events….I rise at first light…and I start by rereading and editing everything I have written to the point I left off. That way I go through a book I’m writing several hundred times. Then I go right on…because I always stop at a point where I know precisely what’s going to happen next. So I don’t have to crank up every day. Ernest Hemingway

I work on a manual typewriter because I like the feeling of making something happen with my hands. I like paper. I like to see the key come up and hit that paper. David McCullough

As for the work, once I get to my office, it’s done in a ritualistic, habitual way. First of all, I admit that I have a special attachment to the old pulpy yellow paper that was once used by newspaper reporters….I’m frugal with this old yellow paper: I type on both sides. I believe I have enough to last me the rest of my writing career. I use it only for first drafts of the scenes in novels. And then I use a manual typewriter, a Royal…. Kent Haruf

I work on one project at a time, until it’s completed, whether that takes a month like some of my stories, or seven years like some of my novels. I’ve never been able to think about the next thing I’m going to write while I’m writing. John Barth

I myself cannot write with people around me—I need solitude both for concentration and for the freedom to go through without embarrassment the kind of gesturing, wincing, and mumbling I often need to get a scene right. John Gardner

When it’s time to get the first draft of a new book on paper—I check into a hotel and stay from Monday through Friday until it’s done. I write all day. My husband joins me each evening for dinner and we catch up on the day’s news. Then he goes back home and I go back to work. Once the first draft is finished, I return home and work at my computer, making revisions, adding scenes, enhancing plot. Janette Oke

I like to discuss my work in progress with people. I’ve never worried that my inspiration would evaporate from exposure; it’s more likely to dry up under my withering self-scrutiny. Gail Godwin

….Teach yourself to work in busy places, under the barrage of noises the world makes—work in rooms where children are playing, with music on, even with the television on. Richard Bausch

A writer who tells of the approach he makes to his own work or the methods which he uses is invading his own privacy. No one works more secretly or by instinct and impulse than a writer. I suspect that half the time he really does not know what his methods asre, any more than he knows beforehand what will be a good working day or whether, in spite of all his hopes and intentions, he may be starved of a day’s accomplishment. Margaret Culkin Banning

What the writer needs is an empty day ahead. A big round quiet space of empty hours to, as it were, tumble about in. Catherine Drinker Bowen

I write a lot—every day, seven days a week—and I throw a lot away. Sometimes I think I write to throw away. It’s a process of distillation. Donald Barthelme

Almost all of us have all the time we need to write. Lawrence Block

People are always interested in how a writer works, as if that made a difference. Some imagine a writer must have complete quiet, or some special atmosphere. The fact is, a professional writer can write anywhere, although some environments are undoubtedly more favorable than others….I prefer my study or my bedroom at the ranch….However, I begin my writing in ship’s fo’csles, bunkhouses, hotel rooms—wherever I could sit down with a pen and something to write on. Louis L’Amour

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