Over the years, tons of writers have written about writing. What else would we write about? It's what we know, so it comes easiest of all topics to write about. Thankfully for young writers like myself, this means there are copious amounts of quotes and suggestions from some of my favorite authors available at my fingertips. Here's a list of a few such quotes I like, including possibly my favorite writing quote of all time at the end, accompanied by the reasons I like these quotes.
"If there is a magic in story writing, and I am convinced there is, no one has ever been able to reduce it to a recipe that can be passed from one person to another. The formula seems to lie solely in the aching urge of the writer to convey something he feels important to the reader." – John Steinbeck
First of all, Steinbeck compares writing to magic. Who doesn't want to be a magician of some sort? I know I've always wished I had some sort of power. Secondly, Steinbeck keys in on one of the hardest parts of writing to explain: there's a drive to make things happen, to convey meaning and explain something on their mind. This drive doesn't seem to be able to be taught – either you want to write or you don't. However, it does seem to be contagious in some way. If you've ever seen two writers sitting together talking about writing, you'll notice that after their conversation, both will most likely have an intense desire to pull out their computers and start writing right then and there.
"Don’t think about making art, just get it done. Let everyone else decide if it’s good or bad, whether they love it or hate it. While they are deciding, make even more art." – Andy Warhol
Warhol points out one of the most important aspects of writing, or any form of artwork. We sell our own creations. This means that we can't afford to not be continually creating new things or honing old things to perfection. I believe the hardest thing about art is choosing when to let it be done. I get caught up in the not-quite-rightness of things, and that makes it hard to decide that you're ready to put it out for the world to see. But at the same time, you have to keep going and keep working on things. Otherwise you'll never be fully content with what it is you've created.
"You don’t start out writing good stuff. You start out writing crap and thinking it’s good stuff, and then gradually you get better at it. That’s why I say one of the most valuable traits is persistence." – Octavia E. Butler
At the same time, if you stop after the first draft, your work will never reach its full potential. Over the last few months I've been putting together a book proposal with a few friends. Never before did I really understand why rewriting was so important. However, after looking at this book four times (and still not being completely finished editing, before I try to send it to a publisher for more editing) I continue to find things that don't make sense or should be worded in a different way. Many of my sentences use twice as many words as are necessary. At the time I wrote this book, of course, I thought it was a stroke of genius. It's hard to believe as you write the first draft that it's anything less than pristine. But after some time looking at other things, it gets very easy to realize the flaw in your logic, as you find places where the wrong word was used or a character didn't quite behave as planned. To make it through all of the levels of editing and rewriting the book will have to go through, persistence is more than necessary.
"You don’t understand an antagonist until you understand why he’s a protagonist in his own version of the world." – John Rogers
Antagonists are very fun to write. Having a character who is malicious or cruel, who does things you would never allow yourself to do in the real world, can be very freeing. The difficulty with this type of antagonist is learning exactly how far they'll go before it's even too far for them. Just like the protagonist, the antagonist has reasons for their actions. And whatever their reasons are must be convincing enough to them to (often) commit multiple felonies. Figuring out what it is about an antagonist's life that caused them to become what they are is a very fun process, and usually involves breaking the antagonist as much as any time you break the protagonist. Often the most fun writing happens when you take normal life circumstances and throw them haphazardly into the ring with the characters and then sit back and watch, because almost effortlessly, those characters will respond in very different ways.
Lastly, my personal favorite:
"Be regular and orderly in your life, so that you may be violent and original in your work." – Gustave Flaubert
Flaubert touches on an interesting dichotomy that occurs between writer and character: they are not the same person. Sure, the character may have come from the writer, but often the calmest, most gentle people can create the darkest and most terrifying characters. Tom Hiddleston's Loki comes to mind. Hiddleston has proven time and again that he is a gentleman, working with UNICEF to do what he can to make the world a better place. This doesn't stop Loki, the character he portrays, from gouging out a man's eye in Marvel's Avengers. The balance portrayed in Flaubert's quote sums up what I hope to have in my life.
Anyway, I hope you've enjoyed these quotes and my thoughts on them! I'm planning on doing a series of blogs in response to various different questions from readers ranging from topics regarding my writing process to any random questions you find interesting. Send me a note here, on Facebook, or on Tumblr, and I'll get right on that!