A WRITER'S RESOURCE

Quotable Quotes on:

(culled from books, journals, letters, articles, conversations, and conference presentations)


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ART & CREATIVITY

"In the creative state a man is taken out of himself. He lets down as it were a bucket into his subconscious, and draws up something which is beyond his reach. He mixes this thing with his normal experiences, and out of the mixture he makes a work of art." E.M. Forster

"Art happens--" James McNeill Whistler

"Listen! There never was an artistic period. There never was an Art-loving nation." James McNeill Whistler

"Art is an indecent exposure of the consciousness." Sir Herbert Read

"Great art is the contempt of a great man for small art." F. Scott Fitzgerald

"When you get to the point where you cheat for the sake of beauty, you are an artist." Max Jacob

"All art is based on non-conformity." Ben Shahn

"A work of art is a confession." Albert Camus

"True artists scorn nothing." Albert Camus

"Art is long, life short; judgment difficult, opportunity fleeting." Goethe

"Art is the Tree of Life. Science is the Tree of Death." William Blake

"Art was made to disturb, science reassures." Georges Braque

"Art is either a revolutionist or a plagiarist." Paul Gauguin

"One of the best things Henry Miller ever said was that art goes all out. It's all out. It goes full length. . . . A big book is an all-out book in which you limit your life to things that pertain directly to the book." Nelson Algren

"The great happiness in life in creativity belongs to amateurs." Joyce Carol Oates

"Good, better, best, never let it rest until your good is better, until your better's best." John White (Pulitzer Prizewinning photojournalist)


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COMEDY

"Ninety-five percent of comedy is surprise." James Brooks

"Comedy today is like math. It's either right or wrong."  Jay Mohr


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CRITICS, CRITICISM & REVIEWS

"People realize that almost all fiction or poetry is bad or mediocre--it's the nature of things. Almost all criticism is bad or mediocre too, but it's harder for people to tell . . . ." Randall Jarrell (from "The Age of Criticism," Poetry and the Age, NY: Vintage, l955. 74)

"Your manuscript is both good and original, but the part that is good is not original and the part that is original is not good." Samuel Johnson

"Critics! Appalled I ventured on the name. Those cutthroat bandits in the paths of fame." Robert Burns

"It is advantageous to an author that his book should be attacked as well as praised. Fame is a shuttlecock. If it be struck at one end of the room, it will soon fall to the ground. To keep it up, it must be struck at both ends." Samuel Johnson

"The ones who want to be writers read the reviews; the ones who want to write don't have the time to read reviews." William Faulkner

"You don't have to eat the whole egg to tell if it's rotten." Joseph Parisi

One two-time Pulitzer Prizewinner for Fiction said he finds reviews humiliating. "All those little congruences and arabesques you prepared with such delicate anticipatory pleasure are gobbled up as if by pigs at a pastry cart." John Updike

"I do not believe writers should read reviews of their own books, and I do not. If one is not careful one is soon writing to please reviewers and not their audience or themselves." Louis L'Amour

"To literary critics a book is assumed to be guilty until it proves itself innocent." Nelson Algren

"A person who publishes a book appears in willfully in public with his pants down." Edna St. Vincent Millay

"Nature fits all her children with something to do, He who would write and can't write, can surely review." James Russell Lowell

"One battle doesn't make a campagin, but critics treat one book, good or bad, like a whole war." Ernest Hemingway

"When a man publishes a book, there are so many stupid things said that he declares he'll never do it again. The praise is almost always worse than the criticism." Sherwood Anderson

". . . reviewers do not read books with much care . . . their profession is more given to stupidity and malice and literary ignorance even than the profession of novelist." Anthony Burgess

"I gave up reading reviews a long time ago. It's become a medium that is more like gossip." filmmaker George Lucas

"Some reviews give pain. This is regrettable, but no author has the right to whine. He was not obliged to be an author. He invited publicity, and he must take the publicity that comes along." E.M. Forster

"If critics want to help me, let them come sit next to me while I'm writing." Rita Mae Brown

"Critics are like eunuchs: they know how, but they can't do it." French chef Paul Bocuse

"Time is the only critic without ambition." John Steinbeck

"Asking a writer what he thinks about critics is like asking a lamp-post how it feels about dogs." Christopher Hampton

"There are two kinds of books: those that no one reads and those that no one ought to read." H.L. Mencken

"The covers of this book are too far apart." Ambrose Bierce (upon reading a book he disliked)

"Contemporary criticism only represents the amount of ignorance genius has to contend with. . . . Time will reverse the judgement of the vulgar." Percy Byshe Shelley

"A person who publishes a book willfully appears before the populace with his pants down . . . . If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book, nothing can help him." Edna St. Vincent Millay

"I have long felt that any reviewer who expresses rage and loathing for a novel is presposterous. He or she is like a person who has just put on full armor and attacked a hot fudge sundae or banana split." Kurt Vonnegut, Jr.

"Confronted by an absolutely infuriating review it is sometimes helpful for the victim to do a little personal research on the critic. Is there any truth to the rumor that he had no formal education beyond the age of eleven? In any event, is he able to construct a simple English sentence? Do his participles dangle? When moved to lyricism does he write 'I had a fun time'? Was he ever arrested for burglary? I don't know that you will prove anything this way, but it is perfectly harmless and quite soothing." Jean Kerr

"I don't think that any 'ism' is higher than literature or art. So I'm a formalist. I greatly honor and respect the form of a work." Joyce Carol Oates

"If all critics agreed, only one of us would have a job." Mary Kalin-Casey (movie critic)

"You really need to approach each book as if you have been a failure. . . . If you start to believe your flap-copy, you're finished as a writer."  Louise Erdrich


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EDITING A LITERARY MAGAZINE

"Manuscript: Something submitted in haste and returned at leisure." Oliver Herford

In l950, T.S. Eliot wrote Karl Shapiro, the editor of Poetry magazine, that the little magazine, by definition, has a single editor, a small circulation, and a short life span, rarely exceeding that of the founding editorship. Poetry, Eliot wrote, was no longer a little magazine, but an Institution. Joseph Parisi

"I am a pretty good writer, and a pretty good editor, and a pretty good businessman. But I find it difficult to be all three at once." Ford Madox Ford

"An editor should have a pimp for a brother, so he'd have someone to look up to." Gene Fowler

"Editors know best what they want when they open up a manuscript and find it right there in front of them." Stanley Ellin

"Proofreading is most effective after publication." Noel Coward

"A good editor is one who encourages a writer to write his best. Being an editor is a kind of selfless thing--again and again your own wisdom and insight are absorbed invisibly by the author, who then signs his name." John Updike (in speaking about his own editor at The New Yorker, William Maxwell)


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JOURNALISTS AND JOURNALISM

"Journalism is literature in a hurry." Matthew Arnold

"Journalism largely consists in saying "Lord Jones is dead" to people who never knew Lord Jones was alive." G.K. Chesterton

"A newswriter is a man without virtue, who lies at home for his own profit." Samuel Johnson

"Get your facts first, and then you can distort 'em as much as you please." Mark Twain

"Writing good editorials is chiefly telling the people what they think, not what you think." Arthur Brisbane

"I fear three newspapers more than a hundred thousand bayonets." Napoleon

"There are no dull subjects--there are only dull writers." H.L. Mencken

"As long as I am in this office, the press will never irritate me, never affect me." Richard Nixon (March 30, 1971)

"Our liberty depends on the freedom of the press, and that cannot be limited without being lost." Thomas Jefferson (1786)

"Were it left to me to decide whether we should have a government without newspapers, or newspapers without a government, I should not hesitate for a moment to prefer the latter." Thomas Jefferson (1787)

"To the press alone, checquered as it is with abuses, the world is indebted for all the triumphs which have been gained by reason and humanity over error and oppression." Thomas Jefferson (1799)

"Nothing can now be believed which is seen in a newspaper. Truth itself becomes suspicious by being put into that polluted vehicle. . . . The man who never looks into a newspaper is better informed than he who reads them: inasmuch as he who knows nothing is nearer to truth than he whose mind is filled with falsehood and errors." Thomas Jefferson (1807)

"The press has no better friend than I am, no one who is more ready to acknowledge . . . its tremendous power for both good and evil." Abraham Lincoln

"When I read what the lousy press of the days of Washington, Jefferson, Jackson, Lincoln, Grover Cleveland, and Woodrow Wilson had to say about those men, I'm comforted, for I've had it easy by comparison. . . . To hell with [the press]. When history is written they will be the sons-of-bitches, not I. Look at old Medill, Horace Greeley et al. in Lincoln's time, Biddle in Jackson's and old man Pulitzer in Cleveland's. It isn't Jackson, Lincoln, and Cleveland who were wrong!" Harry S. Truman

Asked awhat he thought of the press at a spring, 1962 news conference, JFK said, "Well, I am reading it more and enjoying it less, and so on, but I have not complained nor do I plan to make any general complaints. I read and talk to myself about it, but I don't plan to issue any general statement on the press. I think that they are doing their task, as a critical branch, the fourth estate. And I am attempting to do mine. And we are going to live together for a period, and then go our separate ways." John F. Kennedy

"Always remember that [the press's] interests and ours ultimately conflict." John F. Kennedy (to his speech writer, Theodore Sorenson)

"The greatest con game in the world was done by Kennedy so that many people thought that he just loved the press. I knew Jack Kennedy very well, and I know he hated the press. It's very normal for a president to have that attitude." Harrison Salisbury, NY Times correspondent

"Journalism kills you, but it keeps you alive as long as you're doing it." Horace Greeley

"If ever the public was betrayed by its press, it's ours." William Dean Howells

"In America the press rules the countrty; it rules its politics, its religion, its social practices." E. W. Scripps

"The press of this countrty is now and always has been so thoroughly dominated by the wealthy few of the country that it cannot be depended upon to give the great mass of the people the correct information concerning political, economical, and social subjects which it is necessary that the mass of people shall have, in order that they shall vote and in all ways act in the best way to protect themselves from the brutal force and chicanery of the ruling and employing class." E. W. Scripps

"All media exist to invest our lives with artificial perceptions and arbitrary values." Marshall McLuhan

"Real news is bad news." Marshall McLuhan

"The daily press is the evil principle of the modern world. . . . The capacity of the newspaper for degeneration is sophistically without limit, since it can always sink lower and lower in its choice of readers." Soren Kierkegaard

"Journalism is not a profession, but a mission." Benito Mussolini

"Journalists should be people in whom there is at least a flicker of hope." Sen. Paul Simon

"Journalists are the midwives of history." James Plath

"It is a newspaper's duty to print the news, and raise hell." Wilbur F. Storey, editor, Chicago Times (1861)

"Blessed are they who never read a newspaper, for they shall see Nature, and through her, God." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"I have spent half my life trying to get away from journalism, but I am still mired in it--a low trade and a habit worse than heroin, a strange seedy world full of misfits and drunkards and failures." Dr. Hunter S. Thompson

"Journalism is the ability to meet the challenge of filling space." Rebecca West

"When you catch an adjective, kill it." Mark Twain

"Journalism has not only its social stimulations but its aesthetic virtues. An invitation into print, from however suspect a source, is an opportunity to make something beautiful, to discover within oneself a treasure that would otherwise have remained buried." John Updike

"The news is not if a dog bites a man. If a man bites a dog, that is news." John Bogart

"Every newspaper editor pays tribute to the devil." La Fontaine

"If a newspaper prints a sex crime, it's smut, but when The New York Times prints it, it's a sociological study." Adolph S. Ochs

"Newspaper editors are men who separate the wheat from the chaff, and then print the chaff." Adlai Stevenson

"News is the first rough draft of history." Ben Bradlee

"A newspaper is the lowest thing there is!" Mayor Richard J. Daley

"The press was to serve the governed, not the governors." Justice Hugo L. Black

"Myths are for churchgoers, not reporters." Sherman Duffy

"The American press is . . . kept by the big corporations the way a whore is kept by a rich man." Theodore Dreiser

". . . whatever the divine Providence permitted to occur, I was not too proud to report." the last New York Sun editorial

"A reporter is no better than his source of information." Justice William O. Douglas

"In the long, fierce struggle for freedom of opinion, the Press, like the church, counted its martyrs by the thousands." James A. Garfield

"The first casualty when war comes is truth." Sen. Hiram Johnson (1917)

"Early in life I had noticed that no event is ever correctly reported in a newspaper . . ." George Orwell

"All journalism is subjective . . . fairness, not some unattainable notion of 'objectivity,' is the reporter's obligation." Carl Bernstein

"I hate to see any human being--even the enemy--in the clutches of a PR man." Col. Sherman Potter ("M*A*S*H")

"Words are, of course, the most powerful drug used by mankind." Rudyard Kipling

"King over all the children of pride Is the Press--The Press--The Press!" Rudyard Kipling

"The gallery in which the reporters sit has become the Fourth Estate of the realm." Thomas Babington Macaulay

"The essence of the free press is the reliable, reasonable and moral nature of freedom." Karl Marx

"There is no such thing as an independent press in America." John Swinton, editor, New York Sun

"The first duty of an editor is to gauge the sentiment of his reader, and then to tell them what they like to believe . . ." Thorstein Veblen

"As a journalist, I am a fact-finder, a gate-keeper, a story-teller. Most of all, I am a truth seeker. As a journalist, I am most decidedly not a cynic. Far from it. Instead, I am a romantic, for I believe--viscerally as well as cerebrally--that all I have to do is tell my stories, deliver the facts, and if I do that well and often, then the citizens of a democracy will do the right thing. Teaching, it seems to me, is about the only other institution in our society that shows as much faith in the people." Paul McMasters (Freedom Forum First Amendment Center, 1996)

"On the Internet there is no distinction between fact and opinion. In that atmosphere, there is no such thing as journalism."  Donald Kaul


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KNOWLEDGE, TRUTH, AND THE MEANING OF LIFE

"As for me, all I know is that I know nothing." Socrates

"To be conscious that you are ignorant is a great step to knowledge." Disraeli

"Our knowledge is the amassed thought and experience of innumerable minds." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"A child educated only at school is an uneducated child." George Santayana

"The best way to give advice to your children is to find out what they want, and then advise them to do it." Harry Truman

"If you don't have kids and animals, you don't truly know what life is about." Sandra Bullock

"A fact is not a truth until you love it." John Keats

"For knowledge, too, is itself a power." Francis Bacon

"Failure is the test of greatness." Herman Melville

"Sometimes the best way to see daylight is to moonlight" [Barbados, W.I.] Sunday Sun

"The way to get started is to quit talking and begin doing." Walt Disney

"To be able to fill leisure intelligently is the last product of civilization." Bertrand Russell

"If you're lonely while you're alone, you're in bad company." Jean-Paul Sartre

"Laughter is therapy--an instant vacation." Bob Hope

"Ideas result from the collision of metaphors inside the head." Ray Bradbury

"I'd rather sink with my own vision than float with somebody else's." Rosie O'Donnell

"He that increaseth knowledge increaseth sorrow." Ecclesiastes 1: 18

"Men are four: He who knows not and knows not he knows not, he is a fool--shun him. He who knows not and knows he knows not, he is simple--teach him. He who knows and knows not he knows, he is asleep--wake him. He who knows and knows he knows, he is wise--follow him." Arabic apothegm

"Man is a Religious Animal. He is the only Religious Animal. He is the only animal that has the True Religion--several of them. He is the only animal that loves his neighbor as himself and cuts his throat if his theology isn't straight." Mark Twain

"We live very close together. So, our prime purpose in life is to help others. And if you can't help them at least don't hurt them." The Dalai Lama

"Service to others is the rent we pay here for our time on earth." Muhammad Ali

"It is the belief and not the god that counts." Wallace Stevens

Gertrude Stein, on her deathbed, said to the friends who gathered around her, "What is the answer?" After no response, she smiled and said, "In that case, what is the question?" Gertrude Stein (from intro to The Selected Writings of Gertrude Stein, ed. Carl Van Vechten, NY: Modern Library, l962.)

"What does it all mean? Just one thing. And that one thing is different for everyone." City Slickers

"Focus, Daniel-san." Karate Kid

"You ask: what is life? It is the same as asking what is a carrot. A carrot is a carrot and that is all that's known." Anton Chekhov

"There's an old saying, 'Life begins at forty.' That's silly. Life begins every morning you wake up." George Burns

"A life spent making mistakes is more useful than a life spent doing nothing." George Bernard Shaw

"Keep in mind that the true measure of an individual is how he treats a person who can do him absolutely no good." Ann Landers

"When it's third-and-10, you can take the milk drinkers and I'll take the whiskey drinkers every time." Green Bay Packer Max McGee (who caught the first Super Bowl touchdown pass)

"An individual has not started living until he can rise above the narrow confines of his individualistic concerns to the broader concerns of all humanity." Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

"He who knows how to be poor knows everything." French historian Jules Michelet

"Poverty is not an act of God. It is the result of flawed policy, and that is a moral challenge." Sen. Paul Simon

"If you are lucky enough to have money or influence, you are responsible to use it in a correct way, to do useful things. Without sharing, there is no happiness in life." actress Penelope Cruz

"There are two kinds of people--givers and takers--complicated by the fact that most of the takers like to think that they're givers." James Plath

"All great truths begin as blasphemies." George Bernard Shaw

"Man's mind stretched to a new idea never returns to its original dimensions." Oliver Wendell Holmes

"The important thing is not to stop questioning." Albert Einstein

"In matters of priniciple, stand like a rock; in matters of taste, swim with the current." Thomas Jefferson

"Be sure you are right, then go ahead." Davy Crockett

"Trying is the first step toward failure." Homer Simpson

"If we don't succeed, we run the risk of failure." Dan Quayle

"Change is usually preceded by some kind of drift." Uma Thurman

"Be the change you wish to see in the world." Mahatma Gandhi

"Conscience is the mother-in-law whose visit never ends." H.L. Mencken

"Politics asks the question: Is it expedient? Vanity asks: Is it popular? But conscience asks: Is it right?" Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.

"Between the marketplace and government there exists all of that which makes life worth living--family life, spiritual life, the art and culture that make our spirits soar ..." Hillary Rodham Clinton

"Success is all about being able to extend love to people. The people I consider successful are so because of how they handle their responsibilities to other people, how they approach the future, people who have a full sense of the value of their life and what they want to do with it." Ralph Fiennes

"If the only tool you have is a hammer, you are bound to see every problem as a nail." Barbadian teacher Jeff Broomes

"On birthdays I avoid taking hasty or impulsive measures." Fidel Castro

"The time to relax is when you don't have time for it." Sydney J. Harris

"Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do, and Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do." Mark Twain

"The road to success is always under construction." Arnold Palmer

"I appreciate honesty . . . especially in other people." Lorian Hemingway

"When I was born, I was so surprised I couldn't talk for a year and a half." Gracie Allen

"Anyone who survives a southern childhood has enough material to last a lifetime." Flannery O'Connor

"Being a divorcee in a small town is a little like playing Monopoly; eventually you land on all the properties." John Updike (from The Witches of Eastwick)

"Work is an almost pure expression of the self." Chase Twichell

"Pressure is something you put on yourself." Bill Cowher (football coach, Pittsburgh Steelers)

"If I had to live my life over again, I'd make the same mistakes, only sooner." Tallulah Bankhead

"Coincidences are spiritual puns." G.K. Chesterton

"If you tell the truth you don't have to remember anything." Mark Twain

"Always do sober what you said you'd do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut." Ernest Hemingway

"Winter is nature's way of saying, 'Up Yours.'" Robert Byrne

"Ninety percent of everything is crap." Theodore Sturgeon

"If I were two-faced, would I be wearing this one?" Abraham Lincoln

"The art of living is more like wrestling than dancing." Marcus Aurelius

"If two people talk long enough, there's going to be an argument." Sam Racine

"[Marriage] is threads, hundreds of tiny threads, which sew people together through the years. That's what makes marriage last, more than passion or sex." Simone Signoret

"We must believe in luck. For how else can we explain the success of those we don't like?" Jean Cocteau

"Genius is one percent inspiration, ninety-nine percent perspiration." Thomas Edison

"The first half of our lives is ruined by our parents, and the second half by our children." Clarence Darrow

"This world is a comedy to those that think, a tragedy to those that feel." Horace Walpole

"A cynic is a kind of romantic who has aged." John Updike

"Show me somebody who is always smiling, always cheerful, always optimistic, and I will show you somebody who hasn't the faintest idea what the heck is really going on." Mike Royko


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LANGUAGE & LITERATURE

"Literature is news that stays news." Ezra Pound

"The only sensible ends of literature are, first, the pleasurable toil of writing; second, the gratification of one's family and friends; and, lastly, the solid cash." Nathaniel Hawthorne

"The land of literature is a fairy land to those who view it at a distance, but like all other landscapes, the charm fades on a nearer approach, and the thorns and briars become visible." Washington Irving

"A classic is something that everybody wants to have read and nobody wants to read." Mark Twain

"Classic--a novel that is read spontaneously by pleasure-seekers and under duress by students." Matthew J. Bruccoli

"Don't read contemporary fiction. Stay away from anything written in the last ten years. It's all lousy. It's all slice of life. Storytelling is not slices of life. It's telling a story." Ray Bradbury (March, 1995)

"This is how we understand ourselves: We tell ourselves stories. The consolation of art is making it happen on paper or in music the way we wish it had happened." Ellen Hunnicutt

"The art of storytelling seems to imitate, not always very expertly, the art of dreaming." Howard Nemerov

"Puns are like children; you love your own, and can't stand anyone else's." Steve Stone (baseball announcer)


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POLITICS

"Politics is the art of making possible what appears to be impossible." Hillary Rodham Clinton

"George W. Bush was a guy born on third base who thought he'd hit a triple." James Hightower

"Politics and crime, they're the same thing." Mario Puzo (from The Godfather, Part III)

"Politics is war without bloodshed, while war is politics with bloodshed." Mao Tse-Tung

"The greatest challenge that the world faces is the growing chasm between rich people and poor people."  Former U.S. President & Nobel Peace Prize recipient Jimmy Carter

"I don't believe that government is the source of all our problems or the solutions to them." Hillary Rodham Clinton

"Being in politics is like being a football coach. You have to be smart enough to understand the game and dumb enough to think that it's important."  Former Sen. Eugene McCarthy


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POETS & POETRY

"When power corrupts, poetry cleanses." John F. Kennedy

"A . . . poet is a discoverer rather than an inventor." Jorge Luis Borges

"Poetry cannot block a bullet or still a sjambok, but it can bear witness to brutality--thereby cultivating a flower in a graveyard." Nelson Mandela

"The man is either crazy or he is a poet." Horace

"Poetry is the Devil's wine." St. Augustine

"Every man is a poet when he is in love." Plato

"It seems that God took away the minds of poets that they might better express His." Socrates

"The poet marries the language, and out of this marriage the poem is born." W.H. Auden

"Like a piece of ice on a hot stove the poem must ride on its own melting . . . . A poem begins in delight and ends in wisdom." Robert Frost

"It is easier to write a mediocre poem than to understand a good one." Montaigne

"We need more plumbers and electricians that we need poets--but we need poets, too. From what I read in newspapers and magazines, there are more bad poets than bad electricians and plumbers. Maybe poets ought to be licensed." Andy Rooney

"All bad poetry springs from genuine feeling." Oscar Wilde

"I can understand your wanting to write poems, but I don't know quite what you mean by 'being a poet'" T.S. Eliot

"Writing a book of poetry is like dropping a rose petal down the Grand Canyon and waiting for the echo." Don Marquis (1878-1937)

"Poetry is mostly hunches." John Ashbery

"Simonides calls painting silent poetry, and poetry speaking painting." Plutarch

"Poetry is news that stays news." Ezra Pound

"Poetry is a deliberate attempt to make language suggestive and imprecise." Kenneth Koch

"Poetry is the language of extremity. Poetry is a transfer of potency. You feel something potent and then you transfer it onto the page." Li-Young Lee

"In a poem the words should be as pleasing to the ear as the meaning is to the mind." Marrianne Moore

"The lyric self is the self; the narrative self is not." Li-Young Lee

"Something should always change in a poem. The persona should learn something." James Tate

"All poetry comes from repetition." Kenneth Koch

"All poetry is experimental poetry." Wallace Stevens

"You don't organize metaphors . . . you explode them." Ray Bradbury

"The knowledge that it takes to write a poem gets burnt up in the writing of the poem." Li-Young Lee

"A poem is never finished, only abandoned." Paul Valery

"Poetry is the art of understanding what it is to be alive." Archibald MacLeish

"Every poem, formal or free, has an ideal shape, and the job of the poet is to find it." Peter Meinke

"I think a young poet, or an old poet, for that matter, should try to produce something that pleases himself personally, not only when he's written it but a couple of weeks later. Then he should see if it pleases anyone else, by sending it to the kind of magazine he likes reading." Philip Larkin

"I'd as soon write free verse as play tennis with the net down." Robert Frost

"Poetry is a way of taking life by the throat." Robert Frost "The good poet sticks to his real loves, those within the realm of possibility. He never tries to hold hands with God or the human race." Karl Shapiro

"Immature poets imitate; mature poets steal." T.S. Eliot

"You can't be too influenced by a great poet. You simply have to live through it." Kenneth Koch

"Poetry is the only art people haven't yet learnt to consume like soup." W.H. Auden

Of a poetry reading: "The audience swelled to six in the end and we all huddled in a corner." P.J. Kavanagh


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TRAGEDY

"Show me a hero and I will write you a tragedy." F. Scott Fitzgerald

"Their being finely aware--as Hamlet and Lear, say, are finely aware--makes absolutely the intensity of their adventure, gives the maximum of sense to what befalls them. We care, our curiosity and our sympathy care, comparatively little for what happens to the stupid, the coarse and the blind . . . ." Henry James

"For life is a Tragedy, wherein we sit as Spectators awhile, and act out our own Part in it." Jonathan Swift


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UNPUBLISHED WORK

"He does not write at all whose poem no man reads." Martial

"Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing." Sylvia Plath

"If you do not write for publication, there is little point in writing at all." George Bernard Shaw

"A copy of verses kept in the cabinet, and only shown to a few friends, is like a virgin much sought after and admired; but when printed and published, is like a common whore, whom anybody may purchase for half-a-crown." Jonathan Swift

"Only ambitious nonentities and hearty mediocrities exhibit their rough drafts. It is like passing around samples of one's sputum." Vladimir Nabokov

"Let your literary compositions be kept from the public eye for nine years at least." Horace


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WRITERS AND WRITING

"If you wish to be a writer, write." Epictetus

"Fundamental accuracy of statement is the ONE sole morality of writing." Ezra Pound

"Like Hemingway and Faulkner, but in an entirely different mode, Fitzgerald had that singular quality without which a writer is not really a writer at all, and that is a voice, a distinct and identifiable voice. This is really not the same thing as a style; a style can be emulated, a voice cannot, and the witty, rueful, elegaic voice gives his work its bright authenticity." William Styron

"When you get an idea, go and write. Don't waste it in conversation." Kenneth Koch

"Write 1000 words a day. That's only about four pages, but force yourself to do it. Put your finger down your throat and throw up. That's what writing's all about." Ray Bradbury

"Take the time to write. You can do your life's work in half an hour a day." Robert Hass

"When you go home tonight, make a list of the people who are impediments, who don't believe in you, and call them up and tell them, 'Get the hell out of my life.' You don't need them. Writing is tough enough without having people around you who contribute to a writer's insecurity." Ray Bradbury

"Do three things each night before you go to bed: read a poem, read a short story, read an essay." Ray Bradbury

"Writing is like sex. The more you think about it, the harder it is to do. It's better not to think about it so much and just let it happen." Stephen King

"You cultivate the subconscious by meditation, by sitting in silence and by not trying to control your thoughts. Then go someplace where you haven't been before, or go for a walk, a run, and look for signs of grace--an epiphany, something that comes to you." Joyce Carol Oates

"My starting point [in writing] is always a feeling of partisanship, a sense of injustice. . . . I write because there is some lie that I want to expose, some fact to which I wish to draw attention, and my initial concern is to get a hearing." George Orwell

"Get off the track consciously as often as you can" [to generate new ideas]. Chase Twichell

"Writers are like crows; they carry off what is bright and shiny, without respect for its original use or intent." Marge Piercy "A creative writer must study carefully the works of his rivals, including the Almighty." Vladimir Nabokov

"Listen carefully to first criticisms of your work. Note just what it is about your work the critics don't like--then cultivate it. That's the part of your work that's individual and worth keeping." Jean Cocteau

"Most writers begin with accounts of their first home, their family, and the town, often from quite a hostile point of view--love/hate, let's say. In a way, this stepping outside, in an attempt to judge enough to create a duplicate of it, makes you an outsider. . . . I think it's healthy for a writer to feel like an outsider. If you feel like an insider you get committed to a partisan view, you begin to defend interests, so you wind up not really empathizing with all mankind." John Updike

"All experience is memory, and so everything you write about is from memory--unless you're writing about typing." Joe Haldeman

"In a story, nothing is real until it is acted upon." William Kittredge

On first drafts: "Lock them in a dark drawer until they reveal your heart to you." Elaine Fowler Palencia

"I write one page of masterpiece to ninety one pages of shit. I try to put the shit in the wastebasket." Ernest Hemingway

"Writing is a funny business. You sit in your room and listen to voices and write everything down. What kind of a profession is that?" William Kittredge

"We are all apprentices in a craft in which no one ever becomes a master." Ernest Hemingway

"Good prose is like a window pane." George Orwell

"The sentences in a book must quiver like the leaves in a forest, all dissimilar in their similarity." Gustave Flaubert

"To the storyteller, all life is extraordinary." Harry Mark Petrakis

"Every novel should have a beginning, a muddle, and an end." Peter De Vries

"Story is the distance between problem and solution." James Plath

"Don't worry about meaning. If a story's any good, it can't help but have meaning. Let the PhDs tell you what your story means. You want to create a work that radiates meaning, like a bare light bulb--not one where you put a bag with pinholes over it to direct the light." William Kittredge

"I find that most people know what a story is until they sit down to write one. Then they find themselves writing a sketch with an essay woven through it, or an essay with a sketch woven through it, or an editorial with a character in it, or a case history with a moral, or some other mongrel thing." Flannery O'Connor

"In every first novel the hero is the author as Christ or Faust." Oscar Wilde

"No 'story' is possible without its fools--as most of the fine painters of life, Shakespeare, Cervantes and Balzac, Fielding, Scott, Thackeray, Dickens, George Meredith, George Eliot, Jane Austen, have abundantly felt." Henry James

"The short story is the literature of the nomad."  John Cheever

". . . everyone is necessarily the hero of his own life story. Hamlet could be told from Polonius's point of view and called The Tragedy of Polonius, Lord Chamberlain of Denmark. He didn't think he was a minor character in anything, I daresay. Or suppose you're an usher in a wedding. From the groom's viewpoint he's the major character; the others play supporting parts, even the bride. From your viewpoint, the wedding is a minor episode in the very interesting history of your life, and the bride and groom both are minor figures." John Barth

"We continually use stories to hold up as mirrors to ourselves." William Kittredge

"In displaying the psychology of your characters, minute particulars are essential. God save us from vague generalizations! Be sure not to discuss your hero's state of mind. Make it clear from his actions. Nor is it necessary to portray many main characters. Let two people be the center of gravity in your story: he and she." Anton Chekhov

"What has made [a character] this way? Figure that out, and it's a much better story than anything you can make up." Elaine Fowler Palencia

"Try to get your characters into interesting trouble. Allow your characters to misbehave. Let them stay out after 11." Charles Baxter

"Never write about a place until you're away from it, because it gives you perspective. Immediately after you've seen something you can give a photographic description of it and make it accurate. That's good practice, but it isn't creative writing." Ernest Hemingway

"Rewriting is when writing really gets to be fun. . . . In baseball you only get three swings and you're out. In rewriting, you get almost as many swings as you want and you know, sooner or later, you'll hit the ball." Neil Simon

"Sometimes you've got to throw away a real pearl. I think the law is, 'Are we telling the story?' If we're not telling the story, if it's a kind of indulgence, a character indulgence or a personality or a star indulgence, then we cut and move on."  Mel Brooks

"I can't write five words but that I change seven." Dorothy Parker

"I gotta tell you a secret. When Tom [Meehan] and I write the jokes, if we don't hold our bellies and laugh, it doesn't go into the script."  Mel Brooks

"When the writing is really working, I think there is something like dreaming going on. I don't know how to draw the line between the conscious management of what you're doing and this state. . . . I would say that it's related to daydreaming. When I feel really engaged with a passage, I become so lost in it that I'm unaware of my real surroundings, totally involved in the pictures and sounds that that passage evokes." John Hersey

"No one put a gun to your head and ordered you to become a writer. One writes out of his own choice and must be prepared to take the rough spots along the road with a certain equanimity, though allowed some grinding of teeth." Stanley Ellin

John Updike called the novelist's isolation "heroic, a martyrdom. "That is, the world does not need this urgently. There has been no S.O.S. sent out saying: 'Send us a novel.' So you're doing it more or less out of kind of a sense of duty--duty to your own talent."

"You can't want to be a writer. You have to be one." Paul Theroux

"Anyone living in Los Angeles who has opposable thumbs is required to write a screenplay." James Scott Bell

"Writers aren't exactly people . . . they're a whole lot of people trying to be one person." F. Scott Fitzgerald

Robin Williams on irresistable scripts: "I keep working because projects are interesting or very bizzare, which I like. I'm exploring, finding humanity. I'm trying to play characters that allow us to look at who and what we are as a species."

"Voice comes to you through a spell, a trance [if you have a story to tell]. The best voices are not you . . . they're a little away from you." Barry Hannah

"If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing." Kingsley Amis

"A writer without a sense of justice and of injustice would be better off editing the year book of a school for exceptional children than writing novels." Ernest Hemingway

"Everywhere I go I'm asked if I think the university stifles writers. My opinion is that they don't stifle enough of them. There's many a bestseller that could have been prevented by a good teacher." Flannery O'Connor

"Good writing is a kind of skating which carries off the performer where he would not go." Ralph Waldo Emerson

"Writing is like the relationship with your bowels. First you can, then you can't. Finally, you must. Only then should you reach for the paper." Howard Nemerov

"If I had to give young writers advice, I'd say don't listen to writers talking about writing or themselves." Lillian Hellman

Asked if he ever gets writer's block, Irish poet Tony Curtis replied, "No. I just lower my expectations."

Compiled by James Plath (with a few of his own classroom ad libs gratuitously added) and updated 8-11-00


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