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Writers on Writing: Selected Quotations


Writers have differing views on such subjects as what readers want and expect from a writer; whether or not it is wise to write for a specific audience; the quantity and quality of readership in America; the writer’s duty to, and relationship with, his or her readers; and the type of person who reads their books.

As you are writing you get no clues as to how readers will react. You have to write the whole thing out, keep going till the end, even though you have no idea whether the reader is lost or thinks you are crazy at the end of the first paragraph. Not only that, you don’t even know who will read it. Once your words are on paper, they can be easily transported before the eyes of anyone—no matter how you feel about him, no matter how little he knows or understands you. Peter Elbow

….readers will be put off by a manuscript that’s written with pretension rather than warmth and sincerity. Judith Appelbaum

…a writer owes a debt of authenticity to his readers….Readers wish to believe the printed word…and I believe when we deal with history or anything factual, it should be with care. We may be the only source they have for such information. Louis L’Amour

The only catty letters I get are from men. They come from different men, but they all sound like the same man. James Thurber

The country is swarming with…lunatics. I receive letters from them constantly, and now and then one pops up in Baltimore, and I have a dreadful time getting rid of him—or her, for they are often women….Such maniacs constitute one of the chief afflictions of an author’s life. H. L. Mencken

Half the work of a book is done by the reader—the more he can bring the better the book will be to him, the better it will be in its own terms. Gore Vidal

All sorts of pleasant and intelligent people read (my) books and write thoughtful letters about them. I don’t know who they are, but they are marvelous and seem to live quite independently of the prejudices of advertising, journalism, and the cranky academic world. John Cheever

People are deeply affected by certain books if they read them at the right time, at the right stage in their development. Michael Faber

It’s important for a writer to say all that he can to anyone who is interested in his work. John Hawkes

I will be perfectly willing to autograph and oblige my readers in any way possible. I don’t know what other writers are like, but I am always aware that it is from my readers that my income ultimately derives. Isaac Asimov

Most of us who write are neither wildly popular nor particularly controversial. We are surprised at first to get any letters at all, a little bit disbelieving that anyone is actually reading what took such a long and mysterious route from our desks to the bookseller’s counter. Far from being indifferent to individual readers, we are eager to make contact with them, to find out just who they are. Thomas Mallon

I think I know most of my readers by name. Stanley Elkin

If authors were half as professional as I am they would know that it is far more important to tap the non-literary public…. Ian Fleming

If you can’t annoy somebody, there’s little point in writing. Kingsley Amis

When I write, I aim in my mind not toward New York but toward a vague spot a little to the east of Kansas. I think of the books on library shelves without their jackets, years old, and a countryish teenaged boy finding them, and having them speak to him. John Updike

The ideal reader of my novels is a lapsed Catholic and failed musician, short-sighted, color-blind, auditorially biased, who has read the books that I have read. He should also be about my age. Anthony Burgess

I know that I am not writing to everybody. I assume an intelligent reader. I assume that my reader is going to be up to any little tricks I pull. I assume that my reader has a sense of humor, which is not always the case. I assume all kinds of things about the reader that won’t necessarily be true. Otherwise I would be writing down to people, and I have no interest in that. Margaret Atwood

Once in a while, when I first started to write pieces, I would try to write to a reader other than myself. I always failed. I would freeze up. Joan Didion

As far as writing something is concerned, the reader really doesn’t exist. The writer’s business is somehow to create in the work something which will stand on its own and make its own demands…. William Gass

A good novel needs all the attention the reader can give it….The reader, you should premise, will always dislike you and your book. He thinks it an insult that you should dare to claim his attention, and if lunch is announced or there is a ring at the bell he will welcome the digression. Ford Madox Ford

People need books with an epic background. They are bored with books that tell only one story on one level. They need something fantastic, something that gives them a sense of living in history. As it is, most novels aren’t giving readers a chance to use their sense of fantasy. Gunter Grass

Most science-fiction fans like to think of themselves as special people. They especially like to picture themselves as being on top of the latest issues, but most of them are reactionary escapists. The average fan probably started as a high school misfit who discovered pulp magazines as a way of avoiding reality. Harlan Ellison

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