March 12th, 2009

Don't Hassle the Hoff

Quotations For Writers On Craft: An Inspiration

A writer is someone for whom writing is more difficult than it is for other people. - Thomas Mann

There ought to be a man with a hammer behind the door of every happy man. - Anton Chekhov

The day is coming when a single carrot, freshly observed, will set off a revolution. - Paul Cezanne

Push your sentences until they say something interesting. Here's a tiny example, from Denis Johnson's story "Work." A badly hung-over man is helping a friend salvage copper wiring from his ruined house: "I felt weak. I had to vomit in a corner -- just a thimbleful of gray bile." Picture the second sentence stopping at the word "corner;" picture it minus the word "thimbleful." Keep coming back to your work. Sneak up on it. You don't have to solve all the problems at once. The more sittings, the more likely you are to find unusual things to add. - David Long

Sometimes I can better describe a person by another person's reaction. In a story in my first book, I couldn't think of a way to sufficiently describe the charisma of a certain boy, so the narrator says, "I knew girls who saved his gum." - Amy Hempel

Show, don't tell. - Henry James

The beginning of human knowledge is through the senses, and the fiction writer begins where the human perception begins. He appeals through the senses, and you cannot appeal through the senses with abstractions. - Flannery O'Connor

Name names. Make your writing physical. Use lots of exact nouns. "Food" is an idea; "black-bean soup" is a thing. - David Long

I notice that you use plain, simple language, short words and brief sentences. That is the way to write English -- it is the modern way and the best way. Stick to it; don't let fluff and flowers and verbosity creep in. When you catch an adjective, kill it. No, I don't mean utterly, but kill most of them -- then the rest will be valuable. They weaken when they are close together. They give strength when they are wide apart. An adjective habit, or a wordy, diffuse, flowery habit, once fastened upon a person, is as hard to get rid of as any other vice. - Mark Twain

Cross out as many adjectives and adverbs as you can. ... It is comprehensible when I write: "The man sat on the grass," because it is clear and does not detain one's attention. On the other hand, it is difficult to figure out and hard on the brain if I write: "The tall, narrow-chested man of medium height and with a red beard sat down on the green grass that had already been trampled down by the pedestrians, sat down silently, looking around timidly and fearfully." The brain can't grasp all that at once, and art must be grasped at once, instantaneously. - Anton Chekhov

The test of a round character is whether it is capable of surprising in a convincing way. If it never surprises it is flat. Flat characters ... in their purest form ... are constructed round a single idea or quality; when there is more than one factor to them, we get the beginning of the curve toward the round. The really flat character can be expressed in one sentence such as, "I will never desert Mr. Micawber." There is Mrs. Micawber -- she says she won't desert Mr. Micawber; she doesn't, and there she is. - E.M. Forster

My attitude toward punctuation is that it ought to be as conventional as possible. The game of golf would lose a good deal if croquet mallets and billiard cues were allowed on the putting green. You ought to be able to show that you can do it a good deal better than anyone else with the regular tools before you have a license to bring in your own improvements. - Ernest Hemingway

Successful people bore me as fictional creations. - Stephen Dixon

Art has an obligation to offend. - Edward Albee

It's not always easy to tell the difference between thinking and looking out of the window. - Wallace Stevens
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