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Writers on Writing: Selected Quotations


My generation was maybe the last in which you could set up shop as a writer and hope to make a living of it. John Updike

For every writer who makes a good living, there are 50 or so who simply make a little spare change and 5,000 who go nowhere at all. And there’s simply nothing anyone can do about it. Isaac Asimov

There’s a difference between a vocation and a profession. A vocation is a calling -- something you are called to. A profession is something that you practice….In the states, I think about 10 percent of the novel writers actually make a living out of their novel writing. The others have the vocation, but they can only partly have the profession, because they have to spend the rest of their time making money in order to keep themselves in their habit. They are word junkies. They’ve got to pay for their fix. I chose university teaching because there was a long summer vacation, and also because you could fake it. Margaret Atwood

Writing is…play, and there’s no reason why you should get paid for playing. If you’re a real writer, you write no matter what. No writer need feel sorry for himself if he writes and enjoys the writing, even if he doesn’t get paid for it. Irwin Shaw

More likely, the writer will have to find a job. Almost all full-time jobs are hard on writing, even office work where one has practically nothing to do. John Gardner

….some writers find their first book, written on the sly during coffee breaks at their day job, easier than their second, with the success of the first has allowed them to become full-time professional writers, with all the attendant anxieties. Dr. Alice W. Flaherty

I’d advise a young writer to make a living any way he can, rather than depend entirely on his writing. That way, he can be absolutely free in his choice of subject matter, and he doesn’t have to worry if he writes a book that doesn’t sell. Bernard Malamud

The truth is, having a day job often facilitates not only doing work (writing), but also the quality of the work that gets done. Artists thrive on structure, and we need regularity to our days. Julie Cameron

I feel more confident and more satisfied when I reflect that I have two professions and not one. Medicine is my faithful wife, and literature is my mistress. Anton Chekhov

I think there is a danger in getting all the right credentials and staying in university settings. I think a lot of young writers, developing writers, don’t understand that a lot of energy can be drained out of their writing. Nancy Peacock

….I am sacrificing my energy, writing and versatile intellectual life for grubbing over 66 Hawthorne papers a week (at Smith) and trying to be articulate in front of a rough class of spoiled bitches. If I knew how to teach a short story, or a novel, or a poem I’d at least have that joy. But I’m making it up as I go along, through trial and error, mostly error…. I see too well the security and prestige of academic life, but it is Death to writing. Sylvia Plath

There’s long been argument among writers about whether they should let themselves be captured by the academic world, whether they don’t stultify there, and so on. I have always had the view that it really doesn’t matter what a writer foes….What matters is how a writer responds to the life around him. John Hersey

I resented having to teach and coach, not because I disliked teaching and coaching or wrestling but because I had no time to write. John Irving

A writer who can both write and teach should be able to do both. Many competent writers have proved it could be done. I could not do it, I know, and I admire those who have been able to. I would think though that the academic life could put a period to outside experience which might possibly limit growth of knowledge of the world. Ernest Hemingway

Teaching is entirely different from writing, you’re always up to it, or more or less up to it; there’s no question of its clogging, of its not coming. It’s much less subjective, and it’s a very pleasant pursuit in itself. In the kind of teaching I do, conversational classes, seminars, if the students are good, which they’ve been most of the time, it’s extremely entertaining. Robert Lowell

I think that journalism is a healthier occupation for a writer than teaching, especially if he teaches literature. By teaching literature, the writer gets accustomed to analyzing literature all the time. One man, a critic, said to me, “I could never write anything because the moment I write the first line I am already writing an essay about it. I am already criticizing my own writing.” Isaac Bashevis Singer

I’ve always worried that if I had to write for my (day) job, either as an ad copywriter or a journalist or pretty much anything other than a fiction writer, I would burn out that part of my brain I need for fiction. Christian Bauman

Occasionally, a beginning writer will run into grave danger. Lightening will strike—he will sell a story. Once he has seen himself in print, he is a “goner.” On the strength of the few hundred dollars he has earned, he will give up his job, move his wife and family into humble quarters, sit down at the typewriter and strike out as a free-lance. The chances are that he will not sell another story for months, or even years, if at all. His ability to sell a story every thirty months or so does not mean that he has “arrived.” Yet, having drawn blood, he will never abandon the illusion that he is a “pro.” Edward Vhlan

I believe…that the writer who loafs after he has made a financial success is confessing that the money was all he was after in the first place. John O’Hara

New fiction writers rarely cite money as their primary motive. Indeed, even most established novelists are in the game to get rich. Donald Maass

Financial security…is a great help as it keeps you from worrying. Worry destroys the ability to write. Ernest Hemingway

We writers are the most severely taxed group that I know of, with so few ways to take deductions. Gore Vidal

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