"Certainly the Art of Writing is the most miraculous of all things man has devised."

Thomas Carlyle (1840)


"Your audience is one single reader."

John Steinbeck


"A work of art has no importance whatever to is only important to the individual and only the individual reader is important to me."

-Vladimir Nabokov


"The ear is the only true writer and the only true reader."

-Robert Frost


"If you can't write clearly, you probably don't think nearly as well as you think you do."

-Kurt Vonnegut


"Writers may be disreputable, incorrigible, early to decay or late to bloom but they dare to go it alone."

-John Updike


"People have no idea what a hard job it is for two writers to be friends. Sooner or later you have to talk about each other's work."

-Amatole Broyard


"All you have to do is to write one true sentence...write the truest sentence that you know."

-Ernest Hemingway


"Writing is like prostitution. First you do it for the love of it, then you do it for a few friends, and finally you do it for the money."



"Writing is more than saying but less than doing. This makes writing a strange activity, and it makes us writers even stranger. Adrift in the alphabet, we live in a state of fevered commitment to something that isn't quite real."

-David Lindsay

The Patent Files


   "With all that, it's an impossible line of work. Nobody but a pathological martyr, loner, alcoholic, drug addict, sexually conflicted, chronically depressed social misfit and/or religious fanatic could possibly stay with it long enough to write a single decent page. You have to be emotionally, spiritually and physically fit; have to order your whole life around your writing schedule; have to develop the emotional hide of a rhinoceros to not simply die, as one dies under a stoning, beneath the endless barrage of insult, humiliation, rejection, disappointment, failure. And at the same time the only reason you do it at all, or can do it, or want to do it, is because of this incredibly tender heart, this heart you're a little ashamed of, that makes you different enough in the first place that writing is really your only refuge, your only means of enduring the world."

-Heather King



"Writers aren't exactly people....they're a whole lot of people trying to be one person."

-F. Scott Fitzgerald (1923-1940)


"Get black on white."

-Guy de Maupassant


"Every author, however modest, keeps a most outrageous vanity chained like a madman in the padded cell of his breast."

-Logan Pearsall Smith (1865-1946)


"It is writing that you must set your mind….I do not see an office to be compared with (that of the scribe)…I shall make you love books more than your mother….and I shall place their excellence before you."

Dua-Khety (4000 years ago….Egypt)


"A good rule for writers; do not explain overmuch."

-W. Somerset Maugham


"What is a writer but a shmuck with an Underwood."

Jack Warner


"Yahoo called me eight weeks ago...They wanted to put a book of mine on Yahoo! You know what I told them? To hell with you. To hell with you and to hell with the internet. It's distracting....It's meaningless; it's not real, it's in the air somewhere."

-Ray Bradbury


"If you can't annoy somebody, there is little point in writing."

Kingsley Amis


"I know no person so perfectly disagreeable and even dangerous, as an author."

Prince Regent


"Whenever you are fed up with life, start writing:, ink is the great cure for all human ills, as I have found out long ago."

C.S. Lewis


"Words are all we have."

-Samuel Beckett


"Words are....awkward instruments and they will be laid eventually, probably sooner that we think"

William S. Burroughs


"Writing is a solitary occupation. Family, friends and society are the natural enemies of a writer. He must be alone, uninterrupted and slightly savage if he is to sustain and complete an undertaking."

Laurence Clark Powell


"Every creator painfully experiences the chasm between his inner vision and its ultimate expression. The chasm is never completely bridged. We all have the conviction, perhaps illusory, that we have much more to say than appears on the paper."

-Isaac Bashevis Singer


"...a writer must inevitably keep the best of himself for his own secret creative world."

-John Buchan


"A novelist must know what his last chapter is going to say and one way or another work toward that last chapter....To me it is utterly basic, yet it seems like it's a great secret."

-Leon Uris


"I discovered that writing was a mighty fine thing. You could make people stand on their hind legs and cast a shadow. I felt that I had all these people, and as soon as I discovered it I wanted to bring them all back."



"Forget your personal tragedy. We are all bitched from the start and you especially have to be hurt like hell before you can write seriously. But when you get the damned hurt use it-don't cheat with it."

-Ernest Hemingway, in a letter to F. Scott Fitzgerald


"A man writes to throw off the poison which he has accumulated because of his false way of life. He is trying to recapture his innocence, yet all he succeeds in doing (by writing) is to inoculate the world with a virus of his disillusionment. No man would set a word down on paper if he had the courage to live out what he believed in."

Henry Miller


"The man of letters is the enemy of the world."

-Charles Baudelaire


"Few books of merit and importance have been composed either in a garret or a palace."

Edward Gibbon,Memoirs


"When you read and find something you like, try to figure out why you like it, what they did, and that's how you develop your draft. Not imitation, not emulation, but just this wide range of reading. And then have the combination of respect for the language and contempt, so you can break with it."

-Bessie Jones, "An Interview with Toni Morrison"


"People without hope not only don't write novels, but what is more to the point, they don't read them. They don't take long looks at anything, because they lack the courage. The way to despair is to refuse to have any kind of experience, and the novel, of course, is a way to have experience."

-Flannery O'Connor



"Any writer worth his salt knows that only a small proportion of literature does more than partly compensate people for the damage they have suffered by learning to read."

Rebecca West


"The idea is to get the pencil moving quickly....To write a scene, work up feeling: ride in on it."

-Bernard Malamud


"Writing is pretty crummy on the nerves."

-Paul Theroux


"I'm not sure a bad person can write a good book. If art doesn't make us better, then what on earth is it for?

-Alice Walker


"Literature is strewn with the wreckage of men who have minded beyond reason the opinion of others."

-Virginia Woolf


"It is not a writer's business to hold opinions."

-William Butler Yeats


"Nothing is new except arrangement."

-Will Durant


"I pinch."

-Lawrence Durrell


"Good swiping is an art in itself."

-Jules Feiffer


"When a thing has been said and said well, have no scruple. Take it and copy it."

-Anatole France



"Immature artists imitate. Mature artists steal."

-Lionel Trilling


"...the writer who possesses the creative gift owns something of which he is not always master-something that, at times strangely wills and works for itself....Be the work grim or glorious, dread or divine, you have little choice left but quiescent adoption. As for you-the nominal artist-your share in it has been to work passively under dictates you neither delivered nor could question..."

Charlotte Bronte


"Writing is more than saying but less than doing. This makes writing a strange activity, and it makes us writers even stranger. Adrift in the alphabet, we live in a state of fevered commitment to something that isn't quite real. If you ask me how I'm doing, for example, I'm likely to gesticulate and mutter half-truths, because I don't really know how I'm doing. I have a fair idea that I'm bigger than a breadbox. After that, I'm lost."

David Lindsay

The Patent Files



"The disease we all have and that we have to fight against all our lives is, of course, the disease of self. I am pretty sure that writing may be a way of life in itself. It can be that, because it continually forces us away from self toward others. Let any man, or woman, look too much upon his own life, and everything becomes a mess. I think the whole glory of writing lies in the fact that it forces us out of ourselves and into the lives of others. In the end the real writer, becomes a lover."

Sherwood Anderson

Letters of Sherwood Anderson


"Be still when you have nothing to say; when genuine passion moves you, say what you've got to say; and say it hot."

-D.H. Lawrence


"I put the words down and push them a bit."

-Evelyn Waugh


"Writing is as much discovery as explication. The writer, hot and disturbed, sets to work, trying to put names and rhythms to whatever is burning inside him. Often, as he writes, the fire leaps up without warning or it flares out suddenly or it sets other fires that cause new pain, offer new light, and cast new shadows. The words come out, events form themselves, the novel takes on shape, all to the surprise of the writer, who is the site of the fiery confusion but by no means the author of it. And when he finishes the book-or, more likely, abandons it when the coals are cold-the novel remains as the oracular testament of his private inferno."

Robert McNallay

So remorseless a Havoc


"Most writers fail from lack of character rather from lack of intelligence."

Ezra Pound

ABC of reading


"Read, read, read. Read everything-trash, classics, good and bad, and see h ow they do it. Just like a carpenter who works as an apprentice and studies the mast. Read! You'll absorb it. Then write. If it is good, you'll find out. If it's not, throw it out the window."

-William Faulkner


"The Great thing is to last....and write when there is something that you know; and not before; and not too damned much after."

-Ernest Hemingway


"Writers are always selling somebody out."

-Joan Didion


"All you need is a room without any particular interruptions."

-John Dos Passos


"He who does not expect a million readers should not write a line."

-Johann Wolfgang Von Goethe


"The only end of writing is to enable the readers better to enjoy life ."

Dr. Johnson


   "I serve notice, therefore, that we here approach a question of blasphemous nature, a question whose mere asking disturbs the deepest complacency of the age. And that is: Has the art of writing proved an unmixed blessing? The though challenges so many assumptions that to consider it requires almost a fresh orientation in philosophy; but we must recall that it occurred to Plato, who answered the question in the negative. With him it concerned the issue of whether philosophy should be written down, and his conclusion was that philosophy exists best in discourse between persons, the truth leaping up between them "like a flame."

   In explanation of this important point he makes Socrates relate a myth about the Egyptian god Theuth, a mighty inventor, who carried his inventions before King Thamus, desiring that they be made available to the people. Some of the inventions the King praised ; but he stood firmly against that of writing, declaring that it could be only a means of propagating false knowledge and an encouragement to forgetfulness. Socrates adds the view than anyone who leaves writing behind on the supposition that it will be "intelligible or certain" or who believes that writing is better than knowledge present to the mind is badly mistaken."

Richard M. Weaver

Ideas Have Consequences


"Every compulsion is put upon writers to become safe, polite, obedient, and sterile."

Sinclair Lewis (Letter declining the Pulitzer Prize 1926)


"For Christ's sake meditate on something I once told you: Nothing written for pay is worth anything; only what has been written against the market. There is nothing so inebriating as earning money. Big check and you think you have done something and two years later there is nothing bloody well to show for it."

Ezra Pound ( in a letter to a young friend)


"My primary occupation is the achievement of some kind of over-all understanding of the world….that accounts for the facts."

Aldous Huxley



"You have to assume that the act of writing is the most important of all. If you start worrying about people's feelings then you get nowhere at all."

-Norman Mailer


"Get an agent. Make no excuses for the failure to do so. Get an agent. Otherwise you're a babe among wolves."

-Brendan Francis


"Some writers confuse authenticity, which they ought always to aim at, with originality, which they should never bother about."

W.H. Auden


"The deepest secret in our heart of hearts is that we are writing because we love the world."

Natalie Goldberg


"Finally, one just has to shut up, sit down, and write."

Natalie Goldberg


"If you spend eight hours a day thinking about something obsessively, you’re bound to be ahead of anyone else. Then once you’re ahead, in terms of what you know about the subject, you add a dash of melodrama, and there you are."

Richard Condon


"The writer has a grudge against society, which he documents with accounts of unsatisfying sex, unrealized ambition, unmitigated loneliness, and a sense of local and global distress. The square, overpopulation, the bourgeois, the bomb and the cocktail party are variously identified as sources of the grudge. There follows a little obscenity here, a dash of philosophy there, considerable whining overall, and a modern satirical novel is born."

Renata Adlar

Toward a Radical Middle


"The hero of my work, in all of his naked unadorned glory, is truth."



"The one great rule of composition is to speak the truth."



"A writer is like a gypsy. He owes no allegiance to any government. If he is a good writer he will never like any government he lives under. His hand should be against it and its hand will always be against him."

Ernest Hemingway

(from a letter to Ivan Kashkin, his Russian translator, 1935)


"But the writer’s duty, I am arguing, goes beyond the utterance and support of commonly agreed-upon truths. Any hack can spout truisms, clichés, tautologies and redundancies by the bookful. The task of the honest writer-the writer as potential hero-is to seek out, write down and publish forth those truths which are not self-evident, not universally agreed upon, not allowed to determine public feeling and official policy…."

Edward Abbey

Serpents of Paradise


".....I would have given almost anything-I shudder to think what I would have given if I had been allowed-to be a successful writer.....I am writing as I do simply & solely because I think the only thing for you to do is absolutely to kill the part of you that wants success."

C. S. Lewis


"Nothing so fretful, so despicable as a Scribbler, see what I am & what a parcel of Scoundrels I have brought about my ears, & what language I have been obliged to treat them with to deal with them in their own way;-all this comes of Authorship."

Lord Byron (letter 2 Sept 1811)


"I sit down religiously every morning. I sit down for eight hours every day-and the sitting down is all. In the course of that working day of eight hours I write three sentences which I erase before leaving the table in despair.....Sometimes it takes all my resolution and power of self-control to refrain from butting my head against the wall. I want to howl and foam at the mouth but I daren't do it for fear of waking the baby and alarming my wife. It's no joking matter. After such crises of despair I doze for hours, half conscious that there is a story that I am unable to write. Then I wake up, try again-and at last go to bed completely done-up. So the days pass and nothing is done. At night I sleep. In the morning I get up with the horror of that powerlessness that I must face through a day of vain efforts."

Joseph Conrad (29 Mar 1898..a letter to Edward Garnett)


"Writers aren’t people exactly. Or, if they’re any good, they’re a whole lot of people trying so hard to be one person. It’s like actors, who try so pathetically not to look in mirrors. Who lead backward trying-only to see their faces in the reflecting chandeliers."

F. Scott Fitzgerald

The Last Tycoon


"They’re fancy talkers about themselves, writers. If I had to give young writers advice. I would say don’t listen to writers talking about writing or themselves."

Lillian Hellman (N.Y. Times 21 Feb 1960



"A man writes to throw off the poison which he has accumulated because of his false way of life. He is trying to recapture his innocence, yet all he succeeds in doing (by writing) is to inoculate the world with a virus of his disillusionment. No man would set a word down on paper if he had the courage to live out what he believed in."

Henry Miller


"He is a man of thirty-five, but looks fifty. He is bald, has varicose veins and wears spectacles, or would wear them if his only pair were not chronically lost. If things are normal with him, he will be suffering from malnutrition, but if he has recently had a lucky streak, he will be suffering from a hangover. At present it is half past eleven in the morning, and according to his schedule he should have started work two hours ago; but even if he had made any serious effort to start he would have been frustrated by the most continuous ringing of the telephone bell, the yells of the baby, the rattle of an electric drill out in the street, and the heavy boots of his creditors clumping up the stairs. The most recent interruption was the arrival of the second post, which brought him two circulars and an income tax demand printed in red. Needless to say this person is a writer."

George Orwell

The Collected Essays, Journalism and Letters of George Orwell


"We….write to heighten our own awareness of life….We write to taste life twice, in the moment and in retrospection…..we write to be able to transcend our life, to reach beyond it….To teach ourselves to speak to others, to record the journey into the Labyrinth….To expand our world, when we feel strangled, constricted, lonely ….When I don’t write I feel my world shrinking. I feel I lose my fire, my color."

Anais Nin

The Diary of Anais Nin


"Every word a writing man writes is put down with the ultimate intention of impressing some woman, that probably don’t care anything at all for literature."

William Faulkner


"All writers are vain, selfish and lazy, and at the very bottom of their motives lies a mystery. Writing a book is a long exhausting struggle, like a long bout of some painful illness. One would never undertake such a thing if one were not driven by some demon whom one can neither resist nor understand."

George Orwell


   "Why then, do rational men and women engage in so barbarous and exhausting a vocation-for there are relatively intelligent and enlightened authors, remember, just as there are relatively honest politicians, and even bishops. What keeps them from deserting it for trades that are less onerous, and, in the eyes of their fellow creatures, more respectable? One reason, I believe, is that an author, like any other so-called artist, is a man in whom the normal vanity of all men is so vastly exaggerated that he finds it a sheer impossibility to hold it in. His overpowering impulse is to gyrate before his fellow men , flapping his wings and emitting defiant yells. This being forbidden by the police of all civilized countries, he takes it out by putting his yells on paper. Such is the thing called self-expression.

   In the confidences of the literati, of course, it is always depicted as something much more mellow and virtuous. Either they argue that they are moved by a yearning to spread the enlightenment and save the world, or they allege that what steams them and makes them leap is a passion for beauty. Both theories are quickly disposed of by an appeal to the facts. The stuff written by nine authors out of ten, it must be plain at a glance, has as little to do with spreading the enlightenment as the state papers of the late Chester A. Arthur. And there is no more beauty in it, and no more sign of a feeling of beauty, than you will find in the decor of a night-club. The impulse to create beauty, indeed, is rather rare in literary men, and almost completely absent from the younger ones. If it shows itself at all, it comes as a sort of afterthought. Far ahead of it comes the yearning to make money. And after the yearning to make money comes the yearning to make a noise. The impulse to create beauty lingers far behind. Authors, as a class, are extraordinarily insensitive to it, and the fact reveals itself in their customary (and often incredibly extensive) ignorance of the other arts. I'd have a hard job naming six American novelists who could be depended upon to recognize a fugue without prompting, or six poets who could give a rational account of the difference between a Gothic cathedral and a Standard Oil filling-station."

H.L. Mencken

The Author At Work (from Prejudices: Sixth Series, 1926)


"I write to entertain my friends and exasperate our enemies. I write to record the truth of our time, as best as I can see it. To investigate the comedy and tragedy of human relationships. To resist and sabotage the contemporary drift toward a technocratic militaristic totalitarianism, whatever its ideological coloration. To oppose injustice, defy the powerful, and speak for the voiceless.

I write to make a difference….To give pleasure and promote aesthetic bliss. To honor life and praise the divine beauty of the world. For the joy and exultation of writing itself. To tell my story."

Edward Abbey

One Life at a Time, Please


"Writing is a profession in which you have to keep proving your talent to people who have none."

Jules Renard (1864-1910)


"Literature makes me sick, it’s a disgusting occupation, stripping yourself and your acquaintances naked."

August Strindberg (1885)


"To write is not to invent, to make up something that has never existed. The man who narrates what he has experienced is an author, and he helps his fellow men by telling them about the thing that may happen in life. But to narrate is not just to arrange events in a sequence. You must mean something by what you write, illumine one side of life. The art of the author consists in arranging many impressions memories, and experiences, in leaving out subsidiary matter, and emphasizing the main points. If you see you subject is too rich, take one episode by itself, and you will find your material easier to handle."

August Strindberg (1885)


"You don’t write books to help people, you write books to get rid of them. To help yourself. I cannot resist human suffering. I fill my books with it and the books bring me a great deal of release, esteem and material comfort-and do nothing for the world, nothing in terms of solution, changes, help."

Romaine Gary


"Everybody is different-even writers. You have to learn how to use your energy and not squander it. In the writing process, the more a story cooks, the better. The brain works for you even when you are at rest. I find dreams particularly useful…..You can only learn to be a better writer by actually writing. I don’t know much about creative writing programs. But they’re not telling the truth if they don’t teach one, that writing is hard work, and , two, that you have to give up a great deal of life, your personal life, to be a writer."

Doris Lessing


"Write regularly, day in and day out, at whatever times of day you find that you write best. Don’t wait till you feel that you are in the mood."

Arnold J. Toynbee


"The artist ought not to judge his characters or what they say, but be only an unbiased witness….My business is to be talented, that is, to be able to distinguish important testimony from trivia, to illuminate the figures and speak their language….When I write, I rely fully on the reader, on the assumption that he himself will add the subjective elements that are lacking in the story."

Anton Chekhov


"The written word was a bastard child of accountants before it was adopted by poets."

James Dale Davidson & Lord William Rees-Mogg


"Who wants to become a writer? And why? Because it’s the answer to everything. To "Why am I here?" To uselessness. It’s the streaming reason for living. To note, to pin down. To build up, to create, to be astonished at nothing, to cherish the oddities, to let nothing go down the drain, to make something, to make a great flower out of life, even if it’s a cactus."

Enid Bagnold


"Writing is a dreadful Labour, yet not so dreadful as Idleness."

Thomas Carlyle


"A pathological business, writing, don’t you think? Just look what a writer actually does: all that unnatural tense squatting and hunching all those rituals: pathological!"

Hans Magnus Enzensberger

Guardian (London, 30 Aug 1990)


"Only amateurs say they write for their own amusement. Writing is not an amusing occupation. It is a combination of ditch-digging, mountain-climbing, treadmill and childbirth. Writing may be interesting, absorbing, exhilarating, racking, relieving, But amusing? Never!"

Edna Ferber

A Peculiar Treasure


"The writer has a grudge against society, which he documents with accounts of unsatisfying sex, unrealized ambition, unmitigated loneliness, and a sense of local and global distress. The square, over-population, the bourgeois, the bomb and the cocktail party are variously identified as sources of the grudge. There follows a little obscenity here, a dash of philosophy there, considerable whining overall, and a modern satirical novel is born."

Renata Adler

Towards a Radical Middle



"The trade of authorship is a violent, and indestructible obsession."

George Sand


"whoever seeks to live by brain and pen alone is, at the beginning of such a career, treated as a social pariah. Nobody wants him,-everybody despises him. His efforts are derided, his manuscripts are flung back to him unread, and he is less cared for than the condemned murderer in gaol. The murderer is at least fed and clothed, -a worthy clergyman visits him, and his gaoler will occasionally condescend to play cards with him. But a man with original thoughts and the power of expressing them, appears to be regarded by everyone in authority as much worse than the worst criminal, and all the ‘jacks-in-office; unite to kick him to death if they can."

Marie Corelli (1899)

"To write, to be able to write, what does it mean? It means spending long hours dreaming before a white page, scribbling unconsciously, letting your pen play around a blot of ink and nibble at a half-formed word….to write is to sit and stare, hypnotized, at the reflection of the window in the silver inkstand, to feel the divine fever mounting to one’s cheeks and forehead while the hand that writes grows blissfully numb upon the paper….and to find next day in place of the golden bough that bloomed so miraculously in that dazzling hour, a withered bramble and a stunted flower. Oh to write!"



"To write well is to think well, to feel well, and to render well; it is to possess at once intellect, soul and taste-



"How many times , in the quietness of an ice-age darkness, have you told me that winter is the light in the kitchen, the icicle that cut me? Birds were visible across the months of sunlight, holding their neutral temperature as if they were the solutions of sado-masochistic algorithms that had flourished long ago on the moon. Her face is a woodlot, containing empty floating islands sculpted by the city she had left forever. She sang with her back to the open door, the door that had blown open four times in the synthetic darkness. Later on, in the kitchen, she erased their personal memories.

(This was written by a computer doing random shuffling)

Christopher Dewdney

Last Flesh



"It is unfortunate, but the unimaginative citizen finds something exquisitely funny about the idea that one aspires to make a name and a living by any such process as "stringing words together." He finds it presumptuous when an acquaintance announces that he has elected to give the world his opinion in writing, and punishes the presumption by merciless teasing. I you feel called upon to correct this unimaginative attitude you will have opportunities enough to keep you busy for a lifetime, but you will not-unless you have an extraordinary amount of energy-have much strength left for writing. The same plain man reacts as impulsively and naively to the successful writer. He is awestruck in his presence, but he is also very uncomfortable. Nothing but witchcraft, he seems to believe, could have made another human being so wise in the ways of his kind."

Dorthea Brande

Becoming a Writer


"Dollars damn me…though I wrote the Gospels in this century, I should die in the gutter."



"He wants to reveal the reader to himself."

Umberto Eco


"Writing means constructing, through the text, one’s own model reader."

Umberto Eco


"For a writer, progress toward detachment and deliverance is an unprecedented disaster. He, more than anyone else, needs his defects: if he triumphs over them, he is lost. He must be careful, then, not to improve, for if he succeeds, he will regret it bitterly."

E.M. Cioran


"the writer’s only responsibility is to his art. He will be completely ruthless if he is a good one. He has a dream. It anguishes him so much he must get rid of it. He has no peace until then. Everything goes by the board; honor, pride, decency, security, happiness, all, to get the book written. If a writer has to rob his mother, he will not hesitate; the Ode on a Grecian Urn is worth any number of old ladies."

William Faulkner


"An author in his book must be like God in the Universe, present everywhere and visible nowhere."

Gustave Flaubert


"Exactly. Like Huckleberry Finn, the American writer must make the choice, sooner or later, between serving the powerful few or the disorganized many, the institutions of domination or the spontaneous, instinctive, natural drive for human liberation."

Edward Abbey

The Serpents of Paradise


"In an age like ours, which is not given to letter-writing, we forget what an important part it used to play in people’s lives."

Anatole Broyard


"The act of writing itself is productive of phantasms and is dangerous for the legitimate production of thought. Nobody ought to write who does not write with pleasure. But a number of professional writers are more conscious of an effort that of an enjoyment. Yet, self-expression is a joy to everybody and is often found to be a unique relief. The reasons why it is not always so may be an imperfect command of the language used, or lack of real interest in the subject treated, or some one of the causes enumerated in the foregoing pages. But it is chiefly a phantasm acquired in school days, the habit of thinking of the blank sheets lying under the one we are writing upon, hating their breadth and length, and wondering how they can ever be all scribbled over."

Ernest Dimnet

The Art of Thinking


"Talent alone cannot make a writer. There must be a man behind the book....If he cannot rightly express himself today, the same things subsist, and will open themselves tomorrow. There lies the burden on his mind,-the burden of truth to be declared,-more or less understood, and it constitutes his business and calling in the world, to see these facts through, and to make them known."

Ralph Waldo Emerson  (Goethe, or the Writer CW 4:162)



"I met, not long ago, a young man who aspired to become a novelist. Knowing that I was in the profession, he asked me to tell him how he should set to work to realize his ambition. I did my best to explain. ‘The first thing,’ I said, ‘is to buy quite a lot of paper, a bottle of ink, and a pen. After that you merely have to write. ‘But this was not enough for my young friend. He seemed to have a notion that there was some sort of esoteric cookery book, full of literary recipes, which you had only to follow attentively to become a Dickens, a Henry James a Flaubert-‘according to taste,’ as the authors of recipes say, when they come to the question of seasoning and sweetening. Wouldn’t I let him have a glimpse of the cookery book? I said that I was sorry, but that (unhappily-for what an endless amount of time and trouble it would save!) I had never even such a work. He seemed sadly disappointed; so, to console the poor lad, I advised him to apply to the professors of dramaturgy and short-story writing at some reputable university; if any one possessed a trustworthy cookery book of literature, it should surely be they. But even this was not enough to satisfy the young man. Disappointed in his hope that I would give him the fictional equivalent of ‘One Hundred Ways of Cooking Eggs’ or the ‘Carnet de la Menagere,’ he began to cross-examine me about my methods of ‘collecting material’ . Did I keep a notebook or a daily journal? Did I jot down thoughts and phrases in a card-index? Did I systematically frequent the drawing-rooms of the rich and fashionable? Or did I, on the contrary, inhabit the Sussex downs? Or spend my evenings looking for ‘copy’ in East End gin-palaces? Did I think it was wise to frequent the company of intellectuals? Was it a good thing for a writer of novels to try to be well educated, or should he confine his reading exclusively to other novels? And so on. I did my best to reply to these questions-as non-commit tally, of course, as I could. And as the young man still looked rather disappointed, I volunteered a final piece of advice, gratuitously. ‘My young friend, I said, ‘if you want to be a psychological novelist and write about human beings, the best thing you can do is to keep a pair of cats.’ And with that I left him.

I hope, for his own sake, that he took my advice. For it was good advice-the fruit of much experience and many meditations. But I am afraid that, being a rather foolish young man, he merely laughed at what he must have supposed was only a silly joke: laughed as I myself foolishly laughed when, years ago, that charming and talented and extraordinary man, Ronald Firbank, once told me that he wanted to write a novel about life in Mayfair and so was just off to the West Indies to look for copy among the Negroes. I laughed at the time; but I see now that he was quite right. Primitive people, like children and animals, are simply civilized people with the lid off, so to speak-the heavy elaborate lid of manners, conventions, traditions of thought and feeling beneath which each one of us passes his or her existence. This lid can be very conveniently studied in Mayfair, shall we say, or Passy, Park Avenue. But what goes on underneath the lid in these polished and elegant districts? Direct observation (unless we happen to be endowed with a very penetrating intuition) tells us but little; and, if we cannot infer what is going on under other lids from what we see, introspectively, by peeping under our own then the best thing we can do is to take the next boat for the West Indies, or else, less expensively, pass a few mornings in the nursery, or alternatively, as I suggested to my literary young friend, buy a pair of cats.

Yes, a pair of cats. Siamese by preference; for they are certainly the most ‘human’ of all the race of cats. Also the strangest, and if not the most beautiful, certainly the most striking and fantastic. For what disquieting pale blue eyes stare out from the black velvet mask of their faces! Snow-white at birth, their bodies gradually darken to a rich mulatto

Colour. Their forepaws are gloved almost to the shoulder like the long black kid arms of Yvette Guilbert; over their hind legs are tightly drawn the black silk stockings with which Felicen Rops so perversely and indecently clothed his pearly nudes. Their tails, when they have tails-and I would always recommend the budding novelist to buy the tailed variety; for the tail, in cats, is the principal organ of emotional expression and a Manx cat is the equivalent of a dumb man-their tails are tapering black serpents endowed, even when the body lies in Sphinx-like repose, with a spasmodic and uneasy life of their own. And what strange voices they have! Sometimes like the complaining of small children; sometimes like the noise of lambs; sometimes like the agonized and furious howling of lost souls. Compared with these fantastic creatures, other cats, however beautiful and engaging, are apt to seem a little insipid.

Well, having bought his cats, nothing remains for the would-be novelist but to watch them living from day to day; to mark, learn, and inwardly digest the lessons about human nature which they teach; and finally-for, alas, this arduous and unpleasant necessity always arises-finally write his book from Mayfair, Passy, or Park Avenue, whichever the case may be.

Let us consider some of these instructive sermons in cats, from which the student of human psychology can learn so much. We will begin-as every good novel should begin, instead of absurdly ending-with marriage. The marriage of Siamese cats, at any rate as I have observed it, is an extraordinarily dramatic event. To begin with, the introduction of the bridegroom to his bride ( I am assuming that, as usually happens in the world of cats, they have not met before their wedding day) is the signal for a battle of unparalleled ferocity. The young wife’s first reaction to the advances of her would-be husband is to fly at his throat. One is thankful, as one watches the fur flying and listens to the piercing yells of rage and hatred, that a kindly providence has not allowed these devils to grown any larger. Waged between creatures as big as men, such battles would bring death and destruction to everything within a radius of hundreds of yards. As things are, one is able, at the risk of a few scratches, to grab the combatants by the scruffs of their necks and drag them, still writhing and spitting , apart. What would happen if the newly-wedded pair were allowed to go on fighting to the bitter end I do not know, and have never had the scientific curiosity or the strength of mind to try to find out. I suspect that, contrary to what happened in Hamlet’s family, the wedding baked meats would soon be serving for a funeral. I have always prevented this tragical consummation by simply shutting up the bride in a room by herself and leaving the bridegroom for a few hours to languish outside the door. He does not languish dumbly; but for a long time there is no answer, save an occasional hiss or growl, to his melancholy cries of love. When, finally, the bride begins replying in tones as soft and yearning as his own, the door may be opened. The bridegroom darts in and is received, not with tooth and claw as on the former occasion, but with every demonstration of affection.

At first sight there would seem, in this specimen of feline behavior, no special ‘message’ for humanity. But appearances are deceptive; the lids under which civilized people live are so thick and so profusely sculptured with mythological ornaments, that it is difficult to recognize the fact, so much insisted upon by D.H. Lawrence in his novels and stories, that there is almost always a mingling of hate with the passion of love and that young girls very often feel (in spite of their sentiments and even their desires) a real abhorrence of the fact of physical love. Unlidded, the cats make manifest this ordinarily obscure mystery of human nature. After witnessing a cats’ wedding no young novelist can rest content with the falsehood and banalities which pass, in current fiction, for descriptions of love.

Time passes and, their honeymoon over, the cats begin to tell us things about humanity which even the lid of civilization cannot conceal in the world of men. They t ell us-what, alas, we already know-that husbands soon tire of their wives, particularly when they are expecting or nursing families; that the essence of maleness is the love of adventure and infidelity; that guilty consciences and good resolutions are the psychological symptoms of that disease which spasmodically affects practically every male between the ages of eighteen and sixty-the disease called ‘the morning after’; and that with the disappearance of the disease the psychological symptoms also disappear, so that when temptation comes again, conscience is dumb and good resolutions count for nothing. All these unhappily too familiar truths are illustrated by the cats with a most comical absence of disguise. No man has ever dared to manifest his boredom so insolently as does a Siamese tom-cat, when he yawns in the face of his amorously importunate wife. No man has ever dared to proclaim his illicit amours so frankly as this same tom caterwauling on the tiles. And how slinkingly-no man was were so abject-he returns next day to the conjugal basket by the fire! You can measure the guiltiness of his conscience by the angle of his back-pressed ears, the droop of his tail. And when, having sniffed him and so discovered his infidelity, his wife, as she always does on these occasions, begins to scratch his face (already scarred, like a German student’s with the traces of a hundred duels), he makes no attempt to resist; for, self-convicted of sin, he knows that he deserves all he is getting.

It is impossible for me in the space at my disposal to enumerate all the human truths which a pair of cats can reveal or confirm. I will cite only one more of the innumerable sermons in cats which my memory holds-an acted sermon which, by its ludicrous pantomime, vividly brought home to me the most saddening peculiarity of our human nature, its irreducible solitariness. The circumstances were these. My she-cat, by now a wife of long standing and several times a mother, was passing through one of her occasional phases of amorousness. Her husband, now in the prime of life and parading that sleepy arrogance which is the characteristic of the mature and conquering male(he was now the feline equivalent of some Herculean young Alcibiades of the Guards), refused to have anything to do with her. It was in vain that she uttered her love-sick mewing, in vain that she walked up and down in front of him rubbing herself voluptuously against doors and chair-legs as she passed, it was in vain that she came and licked his face. He shut his eyes, ye yawned, he averted his head, or, if she became too importunate, got up and slowly, with an insulting air of dignity and detachment, stalked away. When the opportunity presented itself, he escaped and spent the next twenty-four hours upon the tiles. Left to herself, the wife went wandering disconsolately about the house, as though in search of a vanished happiness, faintly and plaintively mewing to herself in a voice and with a manner that remind one irresistibly of Melisande in Debussy’s opera. ‘Je ne suis pas heureuse ici,’ she seemed to be saying. And, poor little beast, she wasn’t . But, like her big sisters and brothers of the human world, she had to bear her unhappiness in solitude, uncomprehended, unconsoled. For in spite of language, in spite of intelligence and intuition and sympathy, one can never really communicate anything to anybody. The essential substance of every thought and feeling remains incommunicable, locked up in the impenetrable strong-room of the individual soul and body. Our life is a sentence of perpetual solitary confinement. This mournful truth was overwhelmingly borne in on me as I watched the abandoned and love-sick cat as she walked unhappily round my room. ‘Je ne suis pas heureuse ici,’ she kept mewing, ‘je ne suis pas heureuse ici.’ And her expressive black tail would lash the air in a tragical gesture of despair. But each time it twitched, hop-la! From under the armchair, from behind the book-case, wherever he happened to be hiding at the moment, out jumped her only son (the only one, that is, we had not given away), jumped like a ludicrous toy tiger, all claws out, on to the moving tail. Sometimes he would miss, sometimes he caught it, and getting the tip between his teeth would pretend to worry it, absurdly ferocious. His mother would have to jerk it violently to get it out of his mouth. Then, he would go back under his armchair again and, crouching down, his hindquarters trembling, would prepare once more to spring. The tail, the tragically, despairingly gesticulating tail, was for him the most irresistible of playthings. The patience of the mother was angelical. There was never a rebuke or a punitive reprisal; when the child became too intolerable, she just moved away; that was all. And meanwhile, all the time, she went on mewing, plaintively, despairingly. ‘Je ne suis pas heureuse ici, je ne suis pas heureuse ici.’ It was heartbreaking. The more so as the antics of the kitten were so extraordinarily ludicrous. It was as though a slap-stick comedian had broken in on the lamentations of Melisande-not mischievously, not wittingly, for there was not the smallest intention to hurt in the little cat’s performance, but simply from lack of comprehension. Each was alone serving his life-sentence of solitary confinement. There was no communication from cell to cell. Absolutely no communication. These sermons in cats can be exceedingly depressing."

Aldous Huxley (Sermon in Cats)

Music at Night


"...*.The power of literature is almost comparable to the power that religion formerly exercised. As religion was formerly, so literature is today spiritually sovereign. It may seem for a while to be held in line by politics or economics, but then it suddenly recollects that it is free and launches a backhand blow at the prevailing economic system. Since, in a democratic nation, thought is really free, the power of literature is unlimited. Literature sways the idealist and the snob, the sentimentalist and the mere curiosity seeker. It compels a large part of the nation to consume plays and novels which apparently do not concern it. More than that, they are works that question the very social foundations of the reader. When a man with a bankbook goes to see Erskine Caldwell's Tobacco Road, he is acting as much against his own interests as the French nobleman of the eighteenth century who enthusiastically attended Beaumarchais' Figaro."

H.E. Jacob

Six Thousand Years of Bread 



"It is perhaps hard to accept that scholarly study, and all the time and energy which implies, can appropriately be lavished on a ludicrous fantasy….yet is a great mistake to suppose that the only writers who matter are those whom the educated in their saner moments can take seriously. There exists a subterranean world where pathological fantasies disguised as ideas are churned out by crooks and half-educated fanatics for the benefit of the ignorant and superstitious. There are times when this underworld emerges from the depths and suddenly fascinates, captures, and dominates multitudes of usually sane and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsible people, who thereupon take leave of sanity and responsibility. And it occasionally happens that this underworld becomes a political power and changes the course of history."

Norman Cohn

Warrant for Genocide


""Nothing stinks like a pile of unpublished writing."

-Sylvia Plath


"All of us learn to write in the second grade. Most of us go on to greater things."

Bobby Knight


"The multitude of books is a great evil. There is no limit to this fever for writing."

-martin Luther


"How can I continue to remain chained, day after day and far into the night, to this chair in a little room (in order to write) at a time when civilization threatens to destroy itself?"

-Bernard Malamud


   "Last summer, as I began to acquaint myself with American history, and as I talked to readers and writers and pondered the Heathian "social isolate," there was growing inside me a realization that my condition was not a disease but a nature. How could I not feel estranged? I was a reader. My nature had been waiting for me all along, and now it welcomed me. All of a sudden I became aware of how very hungry I was to construct and inhabit an imagined world. The hunger felt like a loneliness of which I'd been dying. How could I have thought that I needed to cure myself in order to fit into the "real" world? I didn't need curing, and the world didn't either; the only thing that did need curing was my understanding of my place in it. Without that understanding--without a sense of belonging to the real world-it was impossible to thrive in an imagined one."

-Jonathan Franzen

How to be Alone Essays


 selections from the index to Issac D'Israelis Calamities of Authors

Bayne, Alexander, died of intense application.......72

Castell, Dr. ruined in health and fortune by the publication of his Polygot....189

Churchyard, Thomas, his pathetic description of his wretched old age...26

CotGrave ,Randle, falls blind in the labour of his 'Dictionary'.....72

Drake, Dr. John, a political writer, his miserable life...........11

Dryden, in his old age, complains of dying of over-study......204

Greene, Robert, a town wit, his poverty and death............23

Henry, Dr., the Historian, the sale of his work, on which he had expended most of his fortune and his life, stopped, and himself ridiculed, by a conspiracy raised against him.........136

Heron, Robert, draws up the distresses of a man of letters living by literary industry, in the confinement of a sponging-house, from his original letter.....81

(Taken from Kevin Jackson's "Invisible Forms" A Guide to Literary Curiosities)


"Little is known about the Abecedairens or Abecedarians, which one French authority describes only as "une petite secte peu connue" (a small, little-known sect). The society opposed what it saw as the excesses of printing, believing it to be a medium for the dissemination of false knowledge. For Abecedariens, the only knowledge of value came directly from the Holy Spirit.

   This society seems to have developed within a few years of Johannnes Gutenberg's introduction of movable type in 1456. However, the Abecedariens did not long endure."

Alan Axelrod 

The International Encyclopedia of Secret Societies & Fraternal Orders


   "Writing that is incomprehensible or near-incomprehensible and yet impresses readers has spread like a toxic fungus across Western culture since Fichte, Shelling and Hegel were the first philosophers of note to make cynical use of it. All three of those philosophers had important things to say, but all three were also highly manipulative in their attitude to their readers; and most of their epigones have shared their manipulative ness without possessing anything like their genius. In the twentieth century such writing has been particularly widespread since the Second World War. It aims, usually, at two main objects: one is to give the impression that because what is being said is so difficult to understand then it must be profound, and the other is to cast an incant Tory spell over the reader so that he feels in some way hypnotized by what he is reading. Characteristically, the two combine to leave the reader spellbound by what he has read and yet unable to explain to anyone what it says. In our own time the exploitation of this kind of charlatanry has become stock in trade of whole departments of academe. It is a deep and bitter irony that some of the worst hit departments of all departments of literary studies. There are some in which no one writes directly and openly: they are all hiding behind approved jargons, hoping to conceal the unremarkable ness of what they have to say by clothing it in either inflationary rhetoric or a professional idiom that only the initiated can penetrate....."

Bryan Magee

The Tristan Chord


Book: "The Story of Writing" by Andrew Robinson

Book: "Shakespeare After All" by Marjorie Garber

Book: "Literary Occasions: Essays" by V.S. Naipaul

Book: "A Dictionary of Writers And Their Works" Ed. by Michael Cox

Book: "ReadingLike A Writer: A Guide for People Who Love Books and for Those Who Want to Write them" by Francine Prose

Book: "Shaggy Muses: The Dogs Who Inspired Virginia Woolf, Emily Dickinson, Elizabeth Barrett, Browning, Edith Wharton and Emily Bronte" by Maureen Adams

Book: "The Invention of Literature: From Greek Intoxication to the Latin Book" by Florence Dupont

Book: "Finding Your Voice: How to Put Personality in Your Writing" by Les Edgerton

Book: "Maps of the Imagination: The Writer as Cartographer" by Peter Turchi

Book: "On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft" by Stephen King

Book: "How to be Alone" by Jonathan Franzen

Book: "Literary Feuds: A Century of Celebrated Quarrels-from Mark Twain to Tom Wolfe" by Anthony Arthur

Book: "The Scholar Adventurers" by Richard Altick

© 2001



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