30 Quotes for 30 Days

During NaNoWriMo I like to have a supply of inspiring, encouraging, and entertaining quotes about writing on hand. A little fuel for the creative fire, a little pick-me-up on slow days, a little whisper of reason now and then. I collect them over the course of the year, select a few in advance, and savor one a day throughout November. Here’s my set for 2015.

NaNoWriMo Week One (November 1–8, 2015)

  • There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows what they are. — W. Somerset Maugham
  • [Writing] is like wrestling; you are wrestling with ideas and with the story. There is a lot of energy required. At the same time, it is exciting. So it is both difficult and easy. What you must accept is that your life is not going to be the same while you are writing. I have said in the kind of exaggerated manner of writers and prophets that writing, for me, is like receiving a term of imprisonment — you know that’s what you’re in for, for whatever time it takes. — Chinua Achebe, “The Art of Fiction, No. 139,” The Paris Review
  • Find your best time of the day for writing and write. Don’t let anything else interfere. Afterwards it won’t matter to you that the kitchen is a mess. — Esther Freud
  • I make sure that my characters frequently take the time to express who they are, what they want, why what they want is important to them, and what terrible things might happen if they don’t get it. The needs and wants and stakes of a character are the hooks that pull the reader on the character’s journey. — Bettina Gilois
  • Description is hard. Remember that all description is an opinion about the world. Find a place to stand. — Anne Enright
  • Work on a computer that is disconnected from the ­internet. — Zadie Smith
  • 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. — Roddy Doyle
  • Begin each day from the last sentence you wrote the preceding day. This prevents those cringing feelings, and means that you have a substantial body of work before you get down to the real work which is all in editing. — Will Self

NaNoWriMo Week Two (November 9–15, 2015)

This is the hardest week. All the adrenaline is gone and the word count seems abysmally low, and I’m always convinced that math has somehow changed the rules. How else can you explain that all the words I have written add up to so few?! Week Two is about not giving up.

  • Write. No amount of self-inflicted misery, altered states, black pullovers or being publicly obnoxious will ever add up to your being a writer. Writers write. On you go. — Al Kennedy
  • Don’t just plan to write — write. It is only by writing, not dreaming about it, that we develop our own style. — PD James
  • This is how you do it: you sit down at the keyboard and you put one word after another until its done. It’s that easy, and that hard. — Neil Gaiman
  • Writing is essentially a matter of saying things in the right order. It certainly has little to do with the creative urge per se. — Clive James
  • Creativity is not a talent. It is not a talent, it is a way of operating…What I mean is this: creativity is not an ability that you either have or do not have. —John Cleese
  • You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club. — Jack London
  • Start writing, no matter what. The water does not flow until the faucet is turned on. — Louis L’Amour

NaNoWriMo Week Three (November 16–22, 2015)

More than halfway there. The adrenaline is gone, and I’ve managed to put writing into my daily routine. Somehow, this seems to make room for doubts to creep in. Everything I’ve written feels like drivel, and I find myself wondering why I’ve even bothered writing. But my fingers keep typing, and the word count keeps rising.

  • It’s not about passion. Passion is something that we tend to overemphasize, that we certainly place too much importance on. Passion ebbs and flows. To me, it’s about desire. If you have constant, unwavering desire to be a cook, then you’ll be a great cook. If it’s only about passion, sometimes you’ll be good and sometimes you won’t. You’ve got to come in every day with a strong desire. With passion, if you see the first asparagus of the springtime and you become passionate about it, so much the better, but three weeks later, when you’ve seen that asparagus every day now, passions have subsided. What’s going to make you treat the asparagus the same? It’s the desire. — Thomas Keller, Interview with Mark Wilson, as quoted by Wilson on his blog
  • Respect the way characters may change once they’ve got 50 pages of life in them. Revisit your plan at this stage and see whether certain things have to be altered to take account of these changes. — Rose Tremain
  • We have to continually be jumping off cliffs and developing our wings on the way down. — Kurt Vonnegut
  • As long as you can start, you are all right. The juice will come. — Ernest Hemingway
  • Never ride a bike with the brakes on. If something is proving too difficult, give up and do something else. Try to live without resort to per­severance. But writing is all about ­perseverance. You’ve got to stick at it. In my 30s I used to go to the gym even though I hated it. The purpose of ­going to the gym was to postpone the day when I would stop going. That’s what writing is to me: a way of ­postponing the day when I won’t do it any more, the day when I will sink into a depression so profound it will be indistinguishable from perfect bliss. —Geoff Dyer
  • Remember you love writing. It wouldn’t be worth it if you didn’t. If the love fades, do what you need to and get it back. Remember writing doesn’t love you. It doesn’t care. Nevertheless, it can behave with remarkable generosity. Speak well of it, encourage others, pass it on. — Al Kennedy
  • If you get stuck, get away from your desk. Take a walk, take a bath, go to sleep, make a pie, draw, listen to ­music, meditate, exercise; whatever you do, don’t just stick there scowling at the problem. But don’t make telephone calls or go to a party; if you do, other people’s words will pour in where your lost words should be. Open a gap for them, create a space. Be patient. — Hilary Mantel

NaNoWriMo Week Four (November 23–30, 2015)

The homestretch. It’s hard to predict how I’ll feel this week. Of course, I hope I’ll be on roll, adrenalinized again, close to winning? But there’s a chance I’ll be woefully behind and scrambling to catch up? And Thanksgiving is this week. (This is also the week to use that shipwreck, if needs be.)

  • Beware of clichés. Not just the ­clichés that Martin Amis is at war with. There are clichés of response as well as expression. There are clichés of observation and of thought — even of conception. Many novels, even quite a few adequately written ones, are ­clichés of form which conform to clichés of expectation. — Geoff Dyer
  • A problem with a piece of writing often clarifies itself if you go for a long walk. — Helen Dunmore
  • The reader is a friend, not an adversary, not a spectator. — Jonathan Franzen
  • Finish what you’re writing. Whatever you have to do to finish it, finish it. —Neil Gaiman
  • We are all apprentices in a craft where no one ever becomes a master. —Ernest Hemingway
  • You know that sickening feeling of inadequacy and over-exposure you feel when you look upon your own empurpled prose? Relax into the awareness that this ghastly sensation will never, ever leave you, no matter how successful and publicly lauded you become. It is intrinsic to the real business of writing and should be cherished. — Will Self
  • The nearest I have to a rule is a Post-it on the wall in front of my desk saying “Faire et se taire” (Flaubert), which I translate for myself as “Shut up and get on with it.” — Helen Simpson
  • You must write every single day of your life…You must lurk in libraries and climb the stacks like ladders to sniff books like perfumes and wear books like hats upon your crazy heads…May you be in love every day for the next 20,000 days. And out of that love, remake a world. — Ray Bradbury