Writing Wisdom of the Ages

Some of you may have caught my reference to this on Twitter this weekend, but I'm so excited about the whole thing I wanted to mention it again. 

I was happy to learn that just recently The Paris Review opened up their legendary series of author interviews online for free. It's a huge list stretching back to the 50's and the reviews themselves are absolutely exhaustive. I can't seem to stop reading them.

The archive is here I've posted a few of my favorite quotes just to give you all a little taste of what's waiting. I'd love to hear some of your favorite writing quotes in the comments!

Jonathan Lethem

"You’re not fighting the other writers—that Mailer boxing stuff seems silly to me. It’s more like golf. You’re not playing against the other people on the course. You’re playing against yourself. The question is, What’s in you that you can free up? How to say everything you know? Then there’s nothing to envy. The reason Tiger Woods has that eerie calm, the reason he drives everyone insane, is his implacable sense that his game has nothing to do with the others on the course. The others all talk about what Tiger is up to. Tiger only says, I had a pretty good day, I did what I wanted to do. Or, I could have a better day tomorrow. He never misunderstands. The game is against yourself. That same thousand-yard Tiger Woods stare is what makes someone like Murakami or Roth or DeLillo or Thomas Berger so eerie and inspiring. They’ve grasped that there’s nothing to one side of you. Just you and the course."

Ray Bradbury

"I often use the metaphor of Perseus and the head of Medusa when I speak of science fiction. Instead of looking into the face of truth, you look over your shoulder into the bronze surface of a reflecting shield. Then you reach back with your sword and cut off the head of Medusa. Science fiction pretends to look into the future but it’s really looking at a reflection of what is already in front of us. So you have a ricochet vision, a ricochet that enables you to have fun with it, instead of being self-conscious and superintellectual. "

Gabriel Garcia Marquez

"Ultimately, literature is nothing but carpentry....Both are very hard work. Writing something is almost as hard as making a table. With both you are working with reality, a material just as hard as wood. Both are full of tricks and techniques. Basically very little magic and a lot of hard work are involved. And as Proust, I think, said, it takes ten percent inspiration and ninety percent perspiration. I never have done any carpentry but it’s the job I admire most, especially because you can never find anyone to do it for you."

Joyce Carol Oates

"One must be pitiless about this matter of “mood.” In a sense, the writing will create the mood. If art is, as I believe it to be, a genuinely transcendental function—a means by which we rise out of limited, parochial states of mind—then it should not matter very much what states of mind or emotion we are in. Generally I've found this to be true: I have forced myself to begin writing when I've been utterly exhausted, when I've felt my soul as thin as a playing card, when nothing has seemed worth enduring for another five minutes . . . and somehow the activity of writing changes everything. Or appears to do so. "

Michel Houellebecq

"There is a need for intensity. From time to time, you have to forsake harmony. You even have to forsake truth. You have to, when you need to, energetically embrace excessive things. Now I sound like Saint Paul...'Now abideth faith, hope, charity, these three; but the greatest of these is charity.' For me the sentence would be 'Now abideth beauty, truth, and intensity; but the greatest of these is intensity.' " 

David Mamet

"The main question in drama, the way I was taught, is always what does the protagonist want. That’s what drama is. It comes down to that. It’s not about theme, it’s not about ideas, it’s not about setting, but what the protagonist wants. What gives rise to the drama, what is the precipitating event, and how, at the end of the play, do we see that event culminated? Do we see the protagonist’s wishes fulfilled or absolutely frustrated? That’s the structure of drama. You break it down into three acts.  

People only speak to get something...That’s the only reason anyone ever opens their mouth, onstage or offstage. They may use a language that seems revealing, but if so, it’s just coincidence, because what they’re trying to do is accomplish an objective. "


Jeff Hirsch
The Long Walk Home
Coming from Scholastic, Fall 2011

Find me at jeff-hirsch.com and @jeff_hirsch


Yvonne Osborne said...

Thanks for this, Jeff. I will check it out and maybe get back with a favorite quote. Off the top of my head, one of my favorites is from Emily Dickinson.
"Fame is a bee
It has a song-
It has a sting-
Ah, too, it has a wing."

lotusgirl said...

Great quotes. I'm in the 90% perspiration part now so that quote resonates with me.

Sage Ravenwood said...

I've bookmarked this site. Thanks for the heads up.

I love what Norman Mailer had to say:

"As you grow older, there’s no reason why you can’t be wiser as a novelist than you ever were before. You should know more about human nature every year of your life.”

I would like to think all writers find their fount, the muse propelling our prose - from life. (Hugs)Indigo

Eric W. Trant said...

I say the same thing about carpentry, and I have a full woodshop and do carpentry all the time.

You need to pre-plan it, cut it with precision and intent, start over when you need to but don't scrap the whole thing, and the part that takes the longest is the FINISHING, the sanding and the painting or staining.

I say this about woodworking and it's true about writing:

90% of good woodworking is learning to cover up your mistakes.

- Eric

Amie Kaufman said...

I sense a lot of lost time in my future thanks to this site--not sorry though, thanks for the link! I particularly love the Joyce Carol Oates quote, which in part boils down to 'don't make excuses'. It reminds me of a quote from Orson Scott Card. I don't remember the precise wording, but essentially, he said that he doesn't sit around waiting for his muse, as he finds she's most likely to show up when he's already hammering away at the keyboard.

Jeff Hirsch said...

Hi guys! Glad you enjoyed the quotes and hope you like that Paris Review site. There really is some inspiring stuff there.

My personal favorite writing quote? It's from Steve Martin.

"Writer's block is a fancy term made up by whiners as an excuse to drink more alcohol."

It's kind of my motto.

Julia said...

Thanks for the link, Jeff! The quotes you've posted are awesome. I think I need to take Oates' to heart today!

CL said...

Wonderful insights! Thanks for posting these.

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