Hy Bender's Favorite Writing Quotes
When a day passes, it is no longer there.
What remains of it? Nothing more than a story.
If stories weren't told or books weren't written,
man would live like the beasts, only for the day.
—Isaac Bashevis Singer
The stories people tell have
a way of taking care of them.
If stories come to you, care for them.
And learn to give them away where they are needed.
Sometimes a person needs a story more than food
to stay alive.
Don't tell me the moon is shining.
Show me the glint of light on broken glass.
Belief and reader absorption come in the details.
An overturned tricycle in the gutter of an
abandoned neighborhood can stand for everything.
All stories have to at least try to explain
some small portion of the meaning of life.
I still remember a piece that the great Barry Bearak
did in The Miami Herald some 30 years ago. It was
a nothing story, really: Some high school kid was
leading a campaign to ban books he found offensive
from the school library. Bearak didn’t even have
an interview with the kid, who was ducking him.
The article was short, mostly about the issue.
But Bearak had a fact that he withheld until
the end that put the whole story, subtly,
in complete perspective. The kicker noted the
true, wonderful fact that the kid was not in school
that day because “his ulcer was acting up.”
Meaning of life, 15 inches.
What I like in a good author
is not what he says,
but what he whispers.
—Logan Pearsall Smith
Writing is thinking on paper.
I write to find out what I'm thinking,
what I'm looking at, what I see,
and what it means.
Why do writers write? Because it isn't there.
Writing is putting one's obsessions in order.
If there's a book you really want to read,
but it hasn't been written yet,
then you must write it.
We write to taste life twice:
in the moment, and in retrospection.
Great writers leave us not just their works,
but a way of looking at things.
All good books are alike in that they are
truer than if they had really happened;
and after you are finished reading one
you will feel that all that happened to you,
and afterwards it all belongs to you,
the good and the bad, the ecstasy,
the remorse and sorrow, the people
and the places and how the weather was.
If you can get so that you can give
that to people, then you are a writer.
The good writer seems
to be writing about himself,
but has his eye always
on that thread of the Universe
which runs through himself
and all things.
—Ralph Waldo Emerson
A classic is classic not because
it conforms to certain structural rules,
or fits certain definitions (of which
its author had quite probably never heard).
It is classic because of a certain eternal
and irrepressible freshness.
If you would not be forgotten
as soon as you are dead,
either write things worth reading
or do things worth writing.
History will be kind to me,
for I intend to write it.
I think the same situation is involved
as painting and sculpture. If you use
the best materials you can afford,
somehow you have more respect
for what you do with them.
The tools I need for my work are
paper, tobacco, food, and a little whisky.
I love being a writer.
What I can't stand is the paperwork.
—Peter De Vries
For forty-odd years in this noble profession
I've harbored a guilt and my conscience is smitten.
So here is my slightly embarrassed confession
I don't like to write, but I love to have written.
The machine has several virtues...
One may lean back in his chair and work it.
It piles an awful stack of words on one page.
It don't muss things or scatter ink blots around.
—Mark Twain, writing his first letter on a typewriter
Twiddle-twiddle away at my softly clicky keyboard
for a while, making twiddly adjustments all along—
and then print what I have twiddled.
Glare at the printout and snarl and curse and
scribble almost illegibly all over it with a ballpoint pen.
Go back to the machine and enter the scribbles.
Repeat this procedure until I hate the
very meaning of every word I know.
—Roy Blount, Jr.
Writing is the hardest work in the world
not involving heavy lifting.
One of the great pains to human nature
is the pain of a new idea.
The ideas I stand for are not mine.
I borrowed them from Socrates.
I swiped them from Chesterfield.
I stole them from Jesus.
And I put them in a book.
If you don't like their rules,
whose would you use?
Everything has been thought of before,
but the difficulty is to think of it again.
Nothing in this world is so powerful
as an idea whose time has come.
I have everything I need to begin my writing career—
pens, paper, and the illusion that I have talent.
I calculated that if I wrote five pages a day,
which seemed very doable,
I would have an 1,800-page first draft
when the deadline rolled around.
Though completely unwritten,
I was very impressed with
how long my first draft would be.
Those who can, write.
Those who can't, write.
Writing became such a process of discovery
that I couldn't wait to get to work in the morning;
I wanted to know what I was going to say.
I revel in the prospect of being able
to torture a phrase once more.
I can't write five words but that I change seven.
There are days when the result is so bad
that no fewer than five revisions are required.
In contrast, when I'm greatly inspired,
only four revisions are needed.
—John Kenneth Galbraith
I was working on the proof of one of my poems
all this morning, and took out a comma.
In the afternoon I put it back.
Interviewer: How many drafts of a story do you do?
S. J. Perelman: Thirty-seven. I once tried doing 33,
but something was lacking, a certain—how shall I say?
—je ne sais quoi. On another occasion, I tried 42 versions,
but the final effect was too lapidary—you know what I mean, Jack?
What the hell are you trying to extort—my trade secrets?
If you're going to write, don't pretend to write down.
It's going to be the best that you can do.
And it's the fact that it's the best that kills you!
Nothing you write,
if you hope to be good,
will ever come out as you first hoped.
If you were a member of Jesse James' gang
and people asked you what you were,
you wouldn't say, "Well, I'm a desperado."
You'd say something like "I work in banks"
or "I've done some railroad work."
It took me a long time just to say "I'm a writer."
—Roy Blount, Jr.
Keep away from people who
try to belittle your ambitions.
Small people always do that,
but the really great make you feel
that you, too, can become great.
Everything in life is writable about
if you have the outgoing guts to do it
and the imagination to improvise.
The worst enemy to creativity is self-doubt.
I never had any doubts
about my abilities.
I knew I could write.
I just had to figure out
how to eat while doing this.
It took me fifteen years to discover
that I had no talent for writing,
but I couldn't give it up because
by that time I was too famous.
I would hurl words into this darkness
and wait for an echo,
and if an echo sounded,
no matter how faintly,
I would send other words
to tell, to march, to fight,
to create a sense of hunger
for life that gnaws in us all.
I try to leave out the parts that people skip.
We are all apprentices in a craft
where no one ever becomes a master.
All good writing is swimming
under water and holding your breath.
—F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Old Man of the Earth
stooped over the floor of the cave,
raised a huge stone from it,
and left it leaning. It disclosed
a great hole that went plumb-down.
"That is the way," he said.
"But there are no stairs."
"You must throw yourself in.
There is no other way."
—George MacDonald, The Golden Key
(from Dealings With the Fairies, 1867)
We are cups, constantly and quietly being filled.
The trick is knowing how to tip ourselves over
and let the beautiful stuff out.
A book should serve as the axe
for the frozen sea within us.
Fill your paper with the breathings of your heart.
Remember: When people tell you something's wrong
or doesn't work for them, they are almost always right.
When they tell you exactly what they think is wrong
and how to fix it, they are almost always wrong.
Note from Hy: The latter is usually true; but
in all honesty, if you hire me, I'm usually right...
There are so many different kinds of writing
and so many ways to write that the only rule is this:
Do what works. Almost everything has been tried
and found to succeed for somebody.
The methods, even the ideas of successful writers,
contradict each other in a most heartening way.
The only element I find common to all successful writers
is persistence—an overwhelming determination to succeed.
The two most beautiful words
in the English language are
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