Why We Write edited by Meredith Maran c. 2013 (228 pages—Penguin Books)

  • Joan Didion: “I write entirely to find out what I’m thinking, what I’m looking at, what I see and what it means” (NY Times Book Review)
  • William Goldman qtd. by David Baldacci: “Write everything as if it’s the first thing you ever wrote. The day you think you know how to do it is the day you’re done as a writer” (22).
  • Sue Grafton: “Writing is my anchor and my purpose. My life is informed by writing . . .” (52).
  • Kathryn Harrison: “Before there were thumb drives, I always carried the hard copy of what I was working on with me. I couldn’t leave the house without it. If the house burned down, I thought, I still have this. This is really where I live” (73).
  • Sebastian Junger: “I’ve tried to figure out what good writing is. I know it when I read it . . . The closet I’ve come is that there’s a rhythm to the writing, in the sentence and the paragraph. / When the rhythm’s off, it’s hard to read the thing. It’s a lot like music in that sense; there’s and internal rhythm that does the work of reading for you. That’s one of the things that’s hard to teach to people” (103).
  • Mary Karr: “Most great writers suffer and have no idea how good they are. Most bad writers are very confident. Be willing to be a child and be the Lilliputian in the world of Gulliver, the bat girl in Yankee Stadium. That’s a more fruitful way to be” (114).
  • Michael Lewis: “They paid ninety bucks per piece. It cost money to write for the Economist. I didn’t know how I was ever going to make a living at writing, but I felt encouraged. Luckily, I was delusional. I didn’t know that I didn’t have much of an audience, so I kept doing it” (119).
  • Armistead Maupin: “I write to explain myself. It’s a way of processing my disasters, sorting out the messiness of life to lend symmetry and meaning to it” (130).
  • Terry McMillan: “Writing is about the only way (besides praying) that allows me to be compassionate toward folks who, in real life, I’m probably not that sympathetic toward” (139).
  • Rick Moody: “My reason [for writing] is mainly neurotic, I suspect: I am never really comfortable speaking, and writing allows me the time and serenity to make better what I cannot do in speech. It’s a peaceful and cloistered space, the page, where I don’t feel pressured the way I do in the world” (155).
  • Walter Mosley: “Don’t expect to write a first draft like a book you read and loved. What you don’t see when you read a published book is the twenty or thirty drafts that happened before it got published” (170).
  • Susan Orlean: Writing “is private. The energy of it is so intense and internal, it sometimes makes you feel like you’re going to crumple. A lot happens invisibly” (175).
  • Jodi Picoult: “Write even when you don’t feel like writing. There is no muse. It’s hard work. You can always edit a bad page, but you can’t edit a blank page” (202).
  • Meg Wolitzer: “Lyricism can break sentences into shining, separate, discrete objects, and that can either contribute to your work’s power or merely make the prose feel pretty, writerly, and admirable, but lacking in force. My trip to Vienna [as research for a novel involving Freud’s patient Dora] ended up as a single paragraph in my next novel after I dropped Dora and her world. Everything makes a good soup, eventually, even if in a totally unrecognizable form” (225).

About Kelsey Maki

writer and English professor
This entry was posted in book, sentences, short story, writing. Bookmark the permalink.

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