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Writers on Writing: Selected Quotations


Criticism and rejection are not personal insults, but your artistic component will not know that. It will quiver and wince and run to cover, and you will have trouble in luring it out again to observe and weave tales and find words for all the thousand shades of feeling that go to make up a story. Dorothea Brande

Is it not clear that a reviewer’s psyche, like an iceberg, is seven-eighths beneath the surface? Delmore Schwartz

I am never much interested in the effects of what I write….I seldom read with any attention the reviews of my…books. Two times out of three I know something about the reviewer, and in very few cases have I any respect for his judgments. Thus his praise, if he praises me, leaves me unmoved. I can’t recall any review that has even influenced me in the slightest. I live in sort of a vacuum, and I suspect that most other writers do, too. It is hard to imagine one of the great ones paying any serious attention to contemporary opinion. H. L. Mencken

I can get very depressed by a review that is unfair, unreasonable, and totally destructive…. John O’Hara

I am not alone in bearing grudges against reviewers who have doomed a book’s chances because they’ve missed the point, the tone, everything…. Ann Beattie

Very often adverse criticism goes to craft, and that sounds an alarm to which attention should be paid. Dorothy Salisbury Davis

It’s discouraging to be criticized because you can’t contend with it. It’s like someone saying, “Sorry Jim, but you just don’t measure up. We’re looking for someone a bit more handsome than you.” James Lee Burke

It isn’t infrequent that reviewers get the plot wrong. Am I naïve to have expected more consideration, am I naïve to be disappointed? Even “positive” criticism so often seems uniformed, ignorant. Joyce Carol Oates

The critics don’t interest me because they’re concerned with what’s past and done, while I’m concerned with what comes next. Aldous Huxley

You’re always looking—and it’s very foolish, it really would be better not to read the reviews—but you’re always looking for some reviewer who will tell you something about your book that you didn’t know yourself and at the same time that you think is true. And that very, very rarely happens. Mary McCarthy

Rotten reviews are the lot of the writer, and selling well is the best revenge. Isaac Asimov

Never demean yourself by talking back to a critic, never. Write those letters to the editor in your head, but don’t put them on paper. Truman Capote

My favorite Kirkus review labeled my writing as “…awkward and repetitious.” I framed that one. Charles Knief

From the writer’s point of view, critics should be ignored, although it’s hard not to do what they suggest. I think it’s unfortunate to have critics for friends. Suppose you write something that stinks, what are they going to say in a review? William Styron

I’ve known writers who are absolutely destroyed by adverse opinion, and I think this is a lot of shit. You shouldn’t allow that to happen to yourself, and if you do, then its your fault. James Dickey

I have a friend who says that reviewers are the tickbirds of the literary rhinoceros—but he is being kind. Tickbirds perform a valuable service to the rhino and the rhino hardly notices the birds. John Irving

Books are savaged and careers destroyed by surly snots who write anonymous reviews and publishers can’t be bothered to protest this institutionalized corruption. Warren Murphy

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