Tuesday, February 18, 2014

Quotations: Writers on Writing, Part I

For a while I wrote down everything useful or interesting that writers I liked wrote about writing and storytelling. These are a few of the quotations.

Sunday 14 May: I did a certain amount of writing yesterday, but was hindered by two things: the need to clear up the study (which had got into the chaos that always indicates the literary or philological preoccupation) and attend to business; and trouble with the moon.  By which I mean that I found my moons in the crucial days between Frodo’s flight and present situation…were doing impossible things, rising in one part of the country and setting simultaneously in another.  Rewriting bits of back chapters took all afternoon.
--J.R.R. Tolkien, From Humphrey Carpenter’s J.R.R. Tolkien: A Biography, 202

The only thing worth writing about is people.  I’ll say that again.  The only thing worth writing about it people.  People.  Human beings.  Men and women whose individuality must be created, line by line, insight by insight.  If you do not do it, the story is a failure.  It may be the most innovative scientific idea ever promulgated, but it will be a failure.  I cannot stress this enough.  There is no nobler chore in the universe than holding up the mirror of reality and turning it slightly, so we have a new and different perception of the commonplace, the everyday, the ‘normal,’ the obvious.  People are reflected in the glass.  The fantasy situation into which you thrust them is the mirror itself.  And what we are shown should illuminate and alter our perception of the world around us.  Failing that, you have failed totally. 
--Harlan Ellison, “Telltale Tics and Tremors”

There is no technique that can be discovered and applied to make it possible for one to write. If you go to a school where there are classes in writing, these classes should not be to teach you how to write, but to teach you the limits and possibilities of words and the respect due them. One thing that is always with the writer—no matter how long he has written or how good he is—is the continuing process of learning how to write. As soon as the writer ‘learns to write,’ as soon as he knows what he is going to find, and discovers a way to say what he knew all along, or worse still, a way to say nothing, he is finished. If a writer is any good, what he makes will have its source in a realm much larger than that which his conscious mind can encompass and will always be a greater surprise to him than it can ever be to his reader…The writer should never be ashamed of staring. There is nothing that doesn’t require his attention.  We hear a great deal of lamentation these days about writers having all taken themselves to the colleges and universities where they live decorously instead of going out and getting firsthand information about life. The fact is that anybody who has survived his childhood has enough information about life to last him the rest of his days. If you can’t make something out of a little experience, you probably won’t be able to make it out of a lot. The writer’s business is to contemplate the experience, not to be merged in it. Everywhere I go I’m asked if I think the universities stifle writers. My opinion is that they don’t stifle enough of them.
--Flannery O’Connor, “The Nature and Art of Fiction”


Stories are, in one way or another, mirrors. We use them to explain to ourselves how the world works and how it doesn’t work. Like mirrors, stories prepare us for the day to come. They distract us from things in the darkness.
--Neil Gaiman, Smoke and  Mirrors, 12

In other words, if your boy is a poet, horse manure can only mean flowers to him; which is, of course, what horse manure has always been about.
--Ray Bradbury, Dandelion Wine, X

If any artist tells you “I am a camera’ or ‘I am a mirror,’ distrust him instantly, he’s fooling you, pulling a fast one. Artists are people who are not at all interested in the facts—only in truth. You get the facts from outside. The truth you get from inside.
--Ursula K. LeGuin, “Talking About Writing”


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