10 Brilliant Ideas on Writing and Work

January 2, 2020 0 Comments

I was lucky enough to find a writing coach and editor in the early part of my career who invested in me, let me borrow his books, and nurtured my curiosity about all things writing, editing, and publishing. Over the years, I’ve developed a wide network of writer/editor friends with whom I’ve received and exchanged ideas on the work of writing and editing. To kick off 2020, here are 10 of my favorite quotes on craft that have grounded me in the work time and time again.

“Writing is thinking. To write well is to think clearly. That’s why it’s so hard.”

-David McCullough

“In my experience of writing, you generally start out with some overall idea that you can see fairly clearly, as if you were standing on a dock and looking at a ship on the ocean. At first you can see the entire ship, but then as you begin work you’re in the boiler room and you can’t see the ship anymore. All you can see are the pipes and the grease and the fittings of the boiler room and, you have to assume, the ship’s exterior. What you really want in an editor is someone who’s still on the dock, who can say, “Hi, I’m looking at your ship, and it’s missing a bow, the front mast is crooked, and it looks to me as if your propellers are going to have to be fixed.'”

-Michael Crichton

“I write pieces and move them around. And the fun of it is watching the truthful parts slide together. What is false won’t fit.”

-Elisabeth Strout

“Why am I compelled to write? Because the writing saves me from this complacency I fear. Because I have no choice. Because I must keep the spirit of my revolt and myself alive. Because the world I create in the writing compensates for what the real world does not give me. By writing I put order in the world, give it a handle so I can grasp it. I write because life does not appease my appetites and hunger. I write to record what others erase when I speak, to rewrite the stories others have miswritten about me, about you.” 

-Gloria Anzaldúa

“The unconscious parts of the mind, like rivers, seek their own paths, and the more conscious thoughts attempt to engineer dikes and levees to guide them. Settling into a regular process of working can help gradually to regulate your responses to yourself.”

-Janna Malamud Smith

“When you were with her, the fabled editor came out, and she saw your true measure as a person, and what you could do, or what she felt you could do, because she came up in publishing when editing was synonymous with care.” 

-Hilton Als about Toni Morrison

“It’s your business to know the names of things. To recover them if necessary and use them. This isn’t merely a matter of expanding your vocabulary. It’s a matter of understanding that everything you see and know about your presence in this moment of perception is overlaid by a parallel habit of language, names that lay tacit until you summon them.”

-Verlyn Klinkenborg

“Responsibility to yourself means refusing to let others do your thinking, talking, and naming for you; it means learning to respect and use your own brains and instincts; hence, grappling with hard work.”

-Adrienne Rich

“[Writing] has shown me more and more what I am–what to discard in myself and what to respect and love.”

-Brenda Ueland

“You want to write a sentence as clean as a bone. That is the goal.”

-James Baldwin


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