Writers on Writing

“The Writer” from Fragonard, The Fantasy Figures at Washington’s National Gallery of Art. I always blog in a tunic like that.

A round-up of some quotes on writing (no certainty that these are all accurate). I found them nosing around the web looking for a Peter De Vries quip–always one of my favorites.

“Writing is a way of talking without being interrupted.”
Jules Renard

“A writer who waits for ideal conditions under which to work will die without putting a word on paper.”
Kurt Vonnegut

“I love being a writer, what I can’t stand is the paperwork.”
Peter De Vries

“If the doctor told me I had six minutes to live, I’d type a little faster.”
Isaac Asimov

“Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about.”
W. H. Auden

“I always write a good first line, but I have trouble in writing the others.”

“The profession of book writing makes horse racing seem like a solid, stable business.”
John Steinbeck

“Hard writing makes easy reading. Easy writing makes hard reading.”
William Zinsser

“You can fire your secretary, divorce your spouse, abandon your children. But they remain your co-authors forever.”
Ellen Goodman

“It took me fifteen years to discover I had no talent for writing, but I couldn’t give it up because by that time I was too famous.”
Robert Benchley

“Writing is like driving at night in the fog. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”
E. L. Doctorow

“I’m writing a book. I’ve got the page numbers done.”
Steven Wright

“Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo.”
Don Marquis

“When you’re writing, you’re conjuring. It’s a ritual, and you need to be brave and respectful and sometimes get out of the way of whatever it is that you’re inviting into the room. ”
Tom Waits

“Novelists are no more moral or certain than anybody else; we are ideologically adrift, and if we are any good then our writing will live in several places at once. That is both our curse and our charm.”
Andrew O’Hagan

“If you know what you are going to write when you’re writing a poem, it’s going to be average.”
Derek Walcott

“Writing nonfiction is more like sculpture, a matter of shaping the research into the finished thing. Novels are like paintings, specifically watercolors. Every stroke you put down you have to go with. Of course you can rewrite, but the original strokes are still there in the texture of the thing.”
Joan Didion

“Revision is one of the exquisite pleasures of writing.”
Bernard Malamud

“Writing is a form of therapy; sometimes I wonder how all those who do not write, compose or paint can manage to escape the madness, melancholia, the panic and fear which is inherent in a human situation.”
Graham Greene

“I never attended a creative writing class in my life. I have a horror of them; most writers groups moonlight as support groups for the kind of people who think that writing is therapeutic. Writing is the exact opposite of therapy.”
Zadie Smith

“I’m never, I hope, stupid enough to believe that Twitter or blogging or any of this stuff is a substitute for actually doing the work of writing a book.”
Neil Gaiman

Marry somebody you love and who thinks you being a writer’s a good idea.
Richard Ford

Eloquent Words: FDR

A shot of the wonderful FDR Memorial in DC.

“I sometimes think that the saving grace of America lies in the fact that the overwhelming majority of Americans are possessed of two great qualities- a sense of humor and a sense of proportion.”

“It is common sense to take a method and try it. If it fails, admit it frankly and try another. But above all, try something.”

“The constant free flow of communication amount us-enabling the free interchange of ideas-forms the very bloodstream of our nation. It keeps the mind and body of our democracy eternally vital, eternally young. ”

“Be sincere; be brief; be seated.”

—Franklin D. Roosevelt

“Franklin’s illness…gave him strength and courage he had not had before. He had to think out the fundamentals of living and learn the greatest of all lessons – infinite patience and never ending persistence.”
—Eleanor Roosevelt

Quotable Words: Alice James on Memories and Wit

From Alice James’ (1848-1892) Diary, written in 1890, when she was an invalid in England. Recalling a childhood visit to Italy….

Alice JamesIt is very curious how, for the last year or two, I perpetually come across in my reading just what I have been thinking about, curious I mean, of course, because my reading is so haphazard. It reminds me of [William] in the old days when his eyes were bad and I used to begin and tell him something which I thought of interest from whatever book I might be reading, when he would invariably say, “I glanced into the book yesterday and read that.” I wonder what determines the selection of memory, why does one childish experience or impression stand out so luminous and solid against the, for the most part, vague and misty background? The things we remember have a firsttimeness about them which suggests that they may be the reason of their survival. I must ask Wm. Some day if there is any theory on the subject, or better, whether ’tis worth a theory.

I remember so distinctly the first time I was conscious of a purely intellectual process. ’Twas the summer of [18]56 which we spent in Boulogne and the parents of Mlle. Marie Boningue our governess had a campagne on the outskirts and invited us to spend the day, Perhaps Marie’s fête-day. A large and shabby calèche came for us into which we were backed, save Wm.; all I can remember of the drive was a never-ending ribbon of dust stretching in front and the anguish greater even than usual of Wilky’s and Bob’s heels grinding into my shins. Marie told us that her farther had a scar upon his face caused by a bad scald in his youth and we must be sure and not look at him as he was very sensitive. How I remember the painful conflict between sympathy and the desire to look and the fear that my baseness should be discovered by the good man as he sat at the head of the table in charge of a big frosted-cake sprinkled o’er with those pink and white worms in which lurk the caraway seed. How easy ’t would be to picture one’s youth as a perpetual escape from that abhorred object!—I wonder if it is a blight upon children still?—But to arrive at the first flowering of me Intellect! We were turned into the garden to play, a sandy or rather dusty expanse with nothing in it, as I remember, but two or three scrubby apple-trees, from one of which hung a swing. As time went on Wilky and Bob disappeared, not to my grief, and the Boningues. Harry was sitting in the swing and I came up and stood near by as the sun began to slant over the desolate expanse, as the dreary h[ou]rs, with that endlessness which they have for infancy, passed, when Harry suddenly exclaimed: “This might certainly be called pleasure under difficulties!” The stir of my whole being in response to the substance and exquisite, original form of this remark almost makes my heart beat now with the sisterly pride which was then awakened and it came to me in a flash, the higher nature of this appeal to the mind, as compared to the rudimentary solicitations which usually produced my childish explosion of laughter; and I can also feel distinctly the sense of self-satisfaction in that I could not only perceive, but appreciate this subtlety, as if I had acquired a new sense, a sense whereby to measure intellectual things, wit as distinguished from giggling, for example.

Her philosopher brother William was born in 1842. “Harry,”her brother, novelist Henry James, in 1843. He was devoted and attentive to her, if a somewhat scandalized admirer of her diary.

Quotable Words: Galbraith and Gottleib on the Shutdown

“Politics is the art of choosing the unpalatable over the catastrophic.”  –J.K. Galbraith, apt words for these times.

I guess these have often been the options.  At Washington Monthly, economist Paul Gottlieb makes an analogy to Charles I at the time of Oliver Cromwell. Although there were some differences, of course… .

From the article:

One key difference between England in the 1640s and America today is that we have a written constitution. That fact should protect us from the more extreme and unilateral forms of constitutional re-jiggering that were practiced by both sides in the English disputes of the 17th century. But, as many observers of this month’s events have pointed out, changing the precedents that are allowed within the letter of the constitution can tip the delicate balance of our three-headed government in dangerous ways. The House of Representatives is using its budget authority to give itself, not a line-item veto over new legislation, which is sometimes defensible, but line-item repeal power over laws that both houses of Congress have already passed and the President has signed. That this new practice has made American governance chaotic is clear. That it is fundamentally anti-democractic is a point that has been made by many (“one-half of one-third of the government….”).

Charles I Insulted by Cromwell's Soliders by Delaroche
The shutdown meetings haven’t gotten to this at least.

Charles I Insulted by Cromwell’s Soldiers by Hippolyte Delaroche

Quotable Words: WAS I, WAS II, and WAS III

Nice piece on answering the “who said that?” question, by Corey Robin in The Chronicle.

The Wrongly Attributed Statement makes you realize what a battleground a quotation can be. On the one hand, men and women invoke the authority of the great and the good to lend a little heft to their favored sayings. On the other hand, pedants like me rely on the authority of a different great and good in order to take that heft away. They have their Web sites, I have mine (Quote Investigator, which is run by Garson O’Toole, the nom de plume of a Yale Ph.D., is the best; Fred Shapiro’s Yale Book of Quotations is the most comprehensive and reliable source in print, and it makes the most use of online resources.) The quotation is a struggle over expertise, pitting the seemingly tutored against the seemingly untutored but revealing how dependent we all are on the authority of people whom we think—or hope—know better.

Wordl quote box
As Mark Twain (I think) said, “It ain’t what you don’t know that gets you into trouble. It’s what you know for sure that just ain’t so.”

I did quote duty a lot in my life, as a legislative & news researcher, and a library nerd in general. But I didn’t have a patch on my mother, who for many years answered press inquiries for the Library of Congress’ Information Office. There is something strangely compelling about getting to the bottom of a hard to pin down quote. You could start a site up for these slippery characters. Corey has a couple, and I would add “From each according to his ability to each according to his need,” attributed to lots of people, among them Marx, but seemingly going back to maybe The Bible.

Tipped by the reliable Library Link of the Day.

Quotable Words: John Dewey on Getting Over Things

Philosopher John Dewey (he of “education is not preparation for life; education is life itself”) on the questions we find ourselves vexed over.

Screen Shot 2013-06-20 at 10.17.29 AM“Old ideas give way slowly; for they are more than abstract logical forms and categories. They are habits, predispositions, deeply ingrained attitudes of aversion and preference. Moreover, the conviction persists — though history shows it to be a hallucination — that all the questions that the human mind has asked are questions that can be answered in terms of the alternatives that the questions themselves present. But in fact intellectual progress usually occurs through sheer abandonment of questions together with both alternatives they assume — an abandonment that results from their decreasing vitality and a change of urgent interest. We do not solve them: we get over them.”

–John Dewey: The Influence of Darwinism on Philosophy

Which for some reason (obscure to me at just this moment) seems to echo this line of Ernest Hemingway’s:

There is nothing noble in being superior to your fellow man; true nobility is being superior to your former self.

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