Famous Advice on Writing
The collected wisdom of great writers, including Vonnegut, Hemingway, Didion, Sontag, Fitzgerald, Orwell, Kerouac, Atwood, Steinbeck, and more:
I was fascinated by the idea of an English novelist writing such serious, metaphysical, almost European prose as this. … “Apparently,” said my friend knowledgeably, as we watched McEwan swing his new wife around the dance floor, “he only writes fifteen words a day.” This was an unfortunate piece of information to give an aspiring writer. I was terribly susceptible to the power of example. If I heard Borges ran three miles every morning and did a headstand in a bucket of water before sitting down to write, I felt I must try this myself. The specter of the fifteen-word limit stayed with me a long time. Three years later I remember writing White Teeth and thinking that all my problems stemmed from the excess of words I felt compelled to write each day. Fifteen words a day! Why can’t you write just fifteen words a day?
Life Doesn’t Frighten Me – Maya Angelou’s courageous children’s verses, illustrated by Basquiat, a priceless primer on poetry and contemporary art for little ones, and a timeless reminder of the power of courage in all of us.
An extensive knowledge is needful to thinking people — it takes away the heat and fever; and helps, by widening speculation, to ease the Burden of the Mystery…
Half the job of a working writer is to seek and maintain his own affinities. You’ve got to know where to lay your empathy and why. And you’ve got to know how to recognise the kind of material that releases your imagination. You don’t always find those things in other novelists: often, indeed, it will be the artist in the next field, the craftsman, the expert, the sportsman, the hero in another line, who will pump fresh air into the recesses of your talent.
On the clock striking twelve he appeared slightly agitated, but he soon recovered, walked twice or thrice along the coach-house, stopped to bark, staggered, exclaimed “Halloa old girl!” (his favorite expression) and died. He behaved throughout with decent fortitude, equanimity and self-possession.
An amusing letter Charles Dickens wrote on the death of his beloved pet raven, Grip – one of history’s notable literary pets extolled in famous authors’ letters and journals.
I’m a feminist, and God knows I’m loyal to my sex, and you must remember that from my very early days, when this city was scarcely safe from buffaloes, I was in the struggle for equal rights for women. But when we paraded through the catcalls of men and when we chained ourselves to lampposts to try to get our equality — dear child, we didn’t foresee those female writers.
In 1908, Kafka landed a position at the Workers’ Accident Insurance Institute in Prague, where he was fortunate to be on the coveted “single shift” system, which meant office hours from 8 or 9 in the morning until 2 or 3 in the afternoon. This was a distinct improvement over his previous job, which required long hours and frequent overtime. So how did Kafka use these newfound hours of freedom? First, lunch; then a four-hour-long nap; then 10 minutes of exercise; then a walk; then dinner with his family; and then, finally, at 10:30 or 11:30 at night, a few hours of writing—although much of this time was spent writing letters or diary entries.
10. Grandparenthood is a beautiful revelation. You have kids, you know you will never experience that feeling of unconditional love for anyone else, ever, and then it happens all over again. A heart-stoppingly beautiful miracle.
Among the Ian Martin
’s otherwise characteristically curmudgeonly compendium of 60 thoughts about turning 60
are a few heart-warmers such as this.