Quotenik
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writing

“Though I was always waked for eclipses, and indeed carried to the window as an infant in arms and shown Halley’s Comet in my sleep, and though I’d been taught at our diningroom table about the solar system and knew the earth revolved around the sun, and our moon around us, I never found out the moon didn’t come up in the west until I was a writer and Herschel Brickell, the literary critic, told me after I misplaced it in a story. He said valuable words to me about my new profession: ‘Always be sure you get your moon in the right part of the sky.’”

Eudora Welty

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source: One Writer’s Beginnings (Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1984), 10–11.

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medium: Memoir

“Starting out, I imagined a straightforward book in three parts, moving along a taut narrative path with a sturdy foundation of clay undergirding all. Books have their own fates, however, and research—at least the kind of research that I practice—yields to serendipity. If the destination is known beforehand, what’s the point of the journey? A provisional map of the whole allows the woolgathering pilgrim to get a little lost along the way without losing his bearings completely. Meanwhile, coincidences and chance meetings confirm a certain rightness, a fit, in the meandering quest.”

Christopher Benfey

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source: Red Brick, Black Mountain, White Clay: Reflections on Art, Family, and Survival (New York: The Penguin press, 2012), 15.

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medium: Memoir

“It is my considered opinion that one reason you are not writing is that you are allowing yourself to read in the time set aside to write. You ought to set aside three hours every morning in which you write or do nothing else; no reading, no talking, no cooking, no nothing, but you sit there. If you write all right and if you don’t all right, but you do not read; whether you start something different every day and finish nothing makes no difference; you sit there. It’s the only way, I’m telling you. If inspiration comes you are there to receive it, you are not reading. And don’t write letters during that time. If you don’t write, don’t do anything else. And get in a room by yourself. If there are two rooms in that house, get in the one where nobody else is…”

Flannery O'Connor

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source: letter to Cecil Dawkins, November 12, 1960, in The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor, ed. by Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979), 417–18.

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medium: Letter

“I have always been a very innocent speller. I never sense that I am spelling something incorrectly and so don’t look up the words. The simpler the word, the more liable I am to come up with a rare spelling.”

Flannery O'Connor

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source: letter to Ben Griffith, March 3, 1954, in The Habit of Being: The Letters of Flannery O’Connor, ed. by Sally Fitzgerald (New York: Farrar, Straus and Giroux, 1979), 69.

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medium: Letter

“Form is everything. Without it you’ve got nothing but a stubbed-toe cry—sincere, maybe, for what that’s worth, but with no depth or carry. No echo. You may have a grievance but you do not have grief…”

Tobias Wolff

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source: Old School (New York: Random House, 2004), 53.

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medium: Fiction

“Have more than one idea on the go at any one time. If it’s a choice between writing a book and doing nothing I will always choose the latter. It’s only if I have an idea for two books that I choose one rather than the other. I always have to feel that I’m bunking off from something.”

Geoff Dyer

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source: “Geoff Dyer’s ten rules for writing fiction,” Paris Review Tumblr, August 17, 2013.

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medium: Tumblr

via: Austin Kleon

“Novels take me a long time; short fiction provides a kind of immediate gratification—the relationship of sketches to battle paintings.”

Donald Barthelme

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source: Interview with Larry McCaffery (1980), in Not-Knowing: The Essays and Interviews (New York: Random House, 1997), 261.

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medium: Interview

“It is toward the end of the second draft, if I’m lucky, when the feeling comes over me that I have something I want to show to other people, something that seems to be working and is not going to go away. The feeling is more than welcome, yes, but it is hardly euphoria. It’s just a new lease on life, a sense that I’m going to survive until the middle of next month. After reading the second draft aloud, and going through the piece for the third time (removing the tin horns and radio static that I heard while reading), I enclose things in boxes for Draft No. 4. If I enjoy anything in this process it is Draft No. 4. I go searching for replacements for the words in the boxes. The final adjustments may be small-scale, but they are large to me, and I love addressing them.”

John McPhee

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source: “Draft No. 4: Replacing the Words in Boxes,” New Yorker, April 29, 2013.

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medium: Essay

“Copy editors attend the flow of the prose and watch for the leaks.”

John McPhee

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source: “Draft No. 4: Replacing the Words in Boxes,” New Yorker, April 29, 2013.

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medium: Essay

“The best research gets your fingers dusty and your shoes dirty, especially because a novel is made of details. I had to translate places through my senses into the senses of my readers. I had to know what a place smelled like, what it sounded like when it rained in Mexico City. There’s no substitute for that. I’ve been steeped in evidence-based truth.”

Barbara Kingsolver

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source: “Kahlo, Trotsky and Kingsolver,” Q&A by Cynthia Crossen, Wall Street Journal, October 30, 2009.

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medium: Interview

via: Beverly Bader

“Doubt is my boon companion, the faithful St. Bernard ever at my side. Whether writing essays or just going about daily life, I am constantly second-guessing myself. My mind is filled with ‘yes, buts,’ ‘so whats?’ and other skeptical rejoinders. I am forever monitoring myself for traces of folly, insensitivity, arrogance, false humility, cruelty, stupidity, immaturity and, guess what, I keep finding examples.”

Phillip Lopate

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source: “The Essay, an Exercise in Doubt,” New York Times, February 16, 2013.

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medium: Op-Ed

“When you catch an adjective, kill it.”

Mark Twain

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source: letter to David Watt Bowser, 20 March 1880; Twain letters searchable here via the Mark Twain Project

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medium: Letter

via: Austin Kleon

“I’ve seen time and time again the way that the process of trying to say something dignifies and improves a person.”

George Saunders

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source: “George Saunders Has Written the Best Book You’ll Read This Year,” by Joel Lovell, New York Times Magazine, January 3, 2013.

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medium: Magazine profile

“I would rather see words out on their own, away
from their families and the warehouse of Roget,
wandering the world where they sometimes fall
in love with a completely different word.
Surely, you have seen pairs of them standing forever
next to each other on the same line inside a poem,
a small chapel where weddings like these,
between perfect strangers, can take place.”

—Billy Collins, excerpt from his poem “Thesaurus”

Billy Collins

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medium: Poetry

“In college, I used to underline sentences that struck me, that made me look up from the page. They were not necessarily the same sentences the professors pointed out, which would turn up for further explication on an exam. I noted them for their clarity, their rhythm, their beauty and their enchantment. For surely it is a magical thing for a handful of words, artfully arranged, to stop time. To conjure a place, a person, a situation, in all its specificity and dimensions. To affect us and alter us, as profoundly as real people and things do.”

Jhumpa Lahiri

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source: “My Life’s Sentences,” Opinionator Blog, New York Times, March 17, 2012.

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medium: Blog

via: Crashingly Beautiful
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