New Year is when we plan ahead in life and in writing, and what better than some inspirational and practical quotations to get you in the mood? We asked bestselling author Sarah Webb to share her favourites – here they are:
Every writer I know has trouble writing. Joseph Heller
If you wish to write, write. Epictetus
There’s nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and open a vein. Walter Wellesley ‘Red’ Smith
No tears in the writer, no tears in the reader. No surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader. Robert Frost
Writing is easy: All you do is sit staring at a blank sheet of paper until drops of blood form on your forehead. Gene Fowler
I try to leave out the parts that people skip. Elmore Leonard
I’m not a very good writer, but I’m an excellent rewriter. James Michener
The wastebasket is a writer’s best friend. Isaac Bashevis Singer
You must write for children the same way you write for adults, only better. Maxim Gorky
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart. William Wordsworth
Don’t tell me the moon is shining; show me the glint of light on broken glass. Anton Chekhov
Easy reading is damn hard writing. Nathaniel Hawthorne
The difference between the almost right word and the right word is really a large matter – it’s the difference between the lightning bug and the lightning. Mark Twain
Proofread carefully to see if you any words out. Author Unknown
If my doctor told me I had only six minutes to live, I wouldn’t brood. I’d type a little faster. Isaac Asimov
Books are never finished, they are merely abandoned. Oscar Wilde
The best time for planning a book is while you’re doing the dishes. Agatha Christie
Write your first draft with your heart. Re-write with your head. From the movie Finding Forrester
It is impossible to discourage the real writers – they don’t give a damn what you say, they’re going to write. Sinclair Lewis
I have made three rules of writing for myself that are absolutes: Never take advice. Never show or discuss a work in progress. Never answer a critic. Raymond Chandler
And some top ten points from two of Ireland’s top writers, both Booker Prize winners:
- The first 12 years are the worst.
- The way to write a book is to actually write a book. A pen is useful, typing is also good. Keep putting words on the page.
- Only bad writers think that their work is really good.
- Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand.
- Write whatever way you like. Fiction is made of words on a page; reality is made of something else. It doesn’t matter how “real” your story is, or how “made up”: what matters is its necessity.
- Try to be accurate about stuff.
- Imagine that you are dying. If you had a terminal disease would you ¬finish this book? Why not? The thing that annoys this 10-weeks-to-live self is the thing that is wrong with the book. So change it. Stop arguing with yourself. Change it. See? Easy. And no one had to die.
- You can also do all that with whiskey.
- Have fun.
- Remember, if you sit at your desk for 15 or 20 years, every day, not ¬counting weekends, it changes you. It just does. It may not improve your temper, but it fixes something else. It makes you more free.
(Originally appeared in The Guardian)
- Do not place a photograph of your favourite author on your desk, especially if the author is one of the famous ones who committed suicide.
- Do be kind to yourself. Fill pages as quickly as possible; double space, or write on every second line. Regard every new page as a small triumph.
- Until you get to Page 50. Then calm down, and start worrying about the quality. Do feel anxiety – it’s the job.
- Do give the work a name as quickly as possible. Own it, and see it. Dickens knew Bleak House was going to be called Bleak House before he started writing it. The rest must have been easy.
- Do restrict your browsing to a few websites a day. Don’t go near the online bookies – unless it’s research.
- Do keep a thesaurus, but in the shed at the back of the garden or behind the fridge, somewhere that demands travel or effort. Chances are the words that come into your head will do fine, eg “horse”, “ran”, “said”.
- Do, occasionally, give in to temptation. Wash the kitchen floor, hang out the washing. It’s research.
- Do change your mind. Good ideas are often murdered by better ones. I was working on a novel about a band called the Partitions. Then I decided to call them the Commitments.
- Do not search amazon.co.uk for the book you haven’t written yet.
- Do spend a few minutes a day working on the cover biog – “He divides his time between Kabul and Tierra del Fuego.” But then get back to work.
(Originally appeared in The Guardian)
(c) Sarah Webb
Sarah Webb has recently edited the Beyond The Stars collection of short stories, written and illustrated by some of Ireland’s leading authors and illustrators including Roddy Doyle. All proceeds from the book are being donated to Fighting Words, so do look for it in bookshops or pick up your copy online here.