Call them mantras, call them vignettes of inspiration, these are the writing quotes that I tend to repeat to myself when I’m having a tough time with my novel. Some are practical, some are mentally grounding, some simply inspire me to slap myself around and say, “Oh for fuck’s sake, just write will you”.
1. “Don’t get it right, just get it written.”—James Thurber
This quip is on constant rotation in my funny little writing brain. When I think my writing is sh*t, and that I should just scrap the whole bloody lot and start from scratch, I remember this quote and just keep plugging away at it.
Part of my problem is that I rarely finish anything substantial (such as a novel) because I’m a perfectionist. I make the mistake of believing my writing should be perfect in the first instance—nothing less than a perfect sentence will ever do. This is utter bollocks of course. Getting the story out on paper, in all its wonderful imperfections is the biggest step. Once you’ve done that, the rest is gravy (until the agent rejections start coming in, but that’s another story).
2. “We are all apprentices in a craft where no-one ever becomes a master”—Ernest Hemingway
It kills you, doesn’t it, to read something you’ve written, thought, “Hey, that’s pretty damn brilliant”, then you go and spoil it by reading something magnificent by one of the greats. You go back to your own dismal rubbish and suddenly that sheer brilliance has transformed into shocking bilge. It’s a head-f*ck, truly. Don’t listen to that voice. No-one is perfect. Not even Margaret Atwood.
3. “A word after a word after a word is power.”—Margaret Atwood
After watching Margaret Atwood being interviewed in the early 90s, I thought she was a hellish force to be reckoned with. Her speaking style was (and probably still is) acerbic, ironic, and she’s not someone I’d necessarily want to confront in a dark alley. Then I stumbled across her, quite by accident, in a cafe in Stratford, Ontario in the mid ’90s. I was dining solo, scribbling furiously in a huge leather-bound diary, when I saw her and her partner dining with the owner of the cafe. She was so tiny, and as she passed me, she smiled warmly. Not quite the terrifying paragon of astringent wit I’d expected.
This is my favourite quote of hers—in fact, my favourite quote from any writer, because it’s 100% true. Remembering that we have incredible storytelling power at our fingertips and it’s our obligation to get it out on paper (or screen) is inspiration for me.
4. “Write while the heat is in you. The writer who postpones the recording of his thoughts uses an iron which has cooled to burn a hole with.”—Henry David Thoreau
Sometimes when I think about my own writing process, and how far I have to go before my manuscript is ready for an agent to read, I think, “Jeez, I wish I’d written this 10 years ago.” But then I realise, “In 10 years time, I’ll be wishing I’d done this 10 years ago.” You just have to dig down when you are hit with inspiration and motivation and get it done. Passion and heat shines through in a work, tepidity not so much.
5. “Writing a novel is like driving a car at night. You can only see as far as your headlights, but you can make the whole trip that way.”—E.L.Doctorow
I am not a gifted plot structuralist, so this quote helps me when I have no flipping idea what is going to happen next. I have found myself in a tizz at times, worrying whether I’m going to flounder and the plot is about to unravel in an uncontrollable and unretrievable shambles. Sometimes it does and I reassess, but mostly it’s an adventure, a mystery. There have been times where I have resisted the plot going in a particular direction, but it goes there itself, it leads me to places and character twists I hadn’t expected. And there’s something wonderful in that.
Do you have a favourite quote that helps you with your writing?